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October 16, 2017

Savor, Sip and Sparkle at California Grill

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We attended the Celebration at the Top - Savor, Sip and Sparkle event at California Grill on Sunday, October 1. This was a MNSSHP night at Magic Kingdom, so we started at 9:15PM with fireworks at 10:15. Times vary with the MK fireworks schedule.

We arrived and checked in at the California Grill podium on the second floor, then we were escorted up to the restaurant and shown to the event rooms. They had a table with "glow" flutes of sparkling wine as we exited the elevator. There was a large room with tables and a bar on one side, and a smaller room with maybe 8 small tables and the food stations on the other side.

Each table had a light-up necklace for each guest to take home as a party favor. We decided to sit in the smaller room since the seating in the larger room was already almost full. The waitstaff were wonderful and made sure our glasses were always full. In addition to the sparkling wine they had a full bar available, but we did not order anything from the bar.


Food selections were sushi rolls - California, Veggie, and Spicy Tuna.

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There were mini lobster rolls topped with micro greens on the sushi table as well.

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For hot selections we had pork belly Bao buns, chicken satay skewers, and 2 choices of flatbread - BLT or Cheesesteak. The appetizers are all served buffet style so guests can serve themselves and come back for additional bites at leisure.

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We struck up a conversation with a lady at the next table who was traveling solo from the UK, and before we knew it we were headed out to the observation deck for Hallowishes. The music was piped in and we had a lovely view of the show. At the conclusion of the fireworks we went back inside for dessert.

The dessert offerings were an assortment of "mini" portions including fruit tarts, chocolate ganache cupcakes, and vanilla cheesecake. We chose to have coffee along with dessert.

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They had one of the photo frames for guests to pose with to commemorate the evening as things were winding to a close.


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We really enjoyed this event! It is offered on select Sundays for $99 per person.

September 3, 2017

The Galleries of Epcot – Morocco: Gallery of Arts and History

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by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

What if I told you there was a great attraction to visit that did not need Fastpass and has no queue to wait in? Well, there is such a place -- it’s the Gallery of Arts and History located in World Showcase's Morocco pavilion in Epcot.

Epcot is home to many unique galleries that house rotating exhibits, like the one located in the the Morocco pavilion. These galleries are a great place to take a break and learn about the host country, and even get out of the sun or rain for a bit. I especially like the Morocco gallery because it is usually not very crowded.

The exterior of the building itself, as shown in the photo above, is elaborately decorated, from floor to ceiling.

The current exhibit in the Morocco pavilion is "Moroccan Style: The Art of Personal Adornment," and it showcases traditional clothing, jewelry and body art. This photoblog will showcase some of the items currently on display.

When entering the museum there is a large display of a man and his horse, both are modeling a fantasia costume. The fantasia is a cultural display of horsemanship that is usually performed at festivals.

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There are also displays showing common men’s accessories...

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As well as women’s accessories.

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In addition, there is a display showcasing some of the jewelry and other items used in wedding ceremonies…

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… as well as eye makeup which is used by both genders.

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Henna tattoos, a temporary tattoo created by using a dye from the henna plant, also play a part in the wedding ceremony.

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(As an aside, did you know you can get your own temporary henna right in the Morocco pavilion, as well as over at Animal Kingdom? Check out Deb Koma's blog about it HERE.)

Once you're done looking at the exhibits in this gallery, don't forget to check out the interior of the building, too. Look up to see a beautiful wooden beamed ceiling.

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There are several other museum-type galleries around World Showcase, such as the American Heritage Gallery in the American Adventure, and the Bijutsu-kan Gallery in the Japan pavilion.
I highly recommend that you check one out on your next trip!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J. Scott Lopes is a long-time Disney fan who first went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1989 and has enjoyed traveling to Orlando ever since. He is interested in all things Disney Parks and is especially interested in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.





August 15, 2017

The Galleries of Epcot -- Japan: Bijutsu-kan Gallery

by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Kawaii Exhibit

Epcot is home to many unique galleries that house rotating exhibits, one of which is located in the rear of the Japan pavilion. These galleries are a great place to take a break and learn about the host country, and even get out of the sun or rain for a bit.

Currently the exhibit in the Japan pavilion showcases Japan’s Kawaii or "cute" culture and how it ties in to everyday life. This photoblog will showcase some of the items currently on display.

Kawaii is rooted in Japan's Shinto past and is a means of self-expression from all walks of life. A replica of a modern Tokyo apartment is part of the exhibit. Artist Sebastian Masuda explains: "The meaning of kawaii is that personal cosmos filled with the collection of things one madly loves. 'Kawaii' is not something fashionable -- dressing up for others or trying to be someone else -- but rather collecting things because you simply love them. Fashion is just a statement to show what you love!"

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The exhibit starts off showing the many items that a person could have in their everyday lives, including items that they carry with them, all of which embrace the Kawaii culture.

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Next up is a section that displays common cute items that can be found in the home, such as cute shower curtains or toilet paper in the bathroom…

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… snacks in the kitchen…

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Or stuffed animals and sheets in a bedroom.

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There is also artwork on display, in addition to small statues.

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There is also a small display of netsuke. Early Japanese people would wear kimonos, which do not have pockets, so they would hang items from their sash using a cord. A netsuke would be attached to the end, keeping it from slipping though the sash.

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In the middle of the exhibit space, there is a large statue that is filled with toys, jewelry, and other colorful objects representative of the Kawaii culture.

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There are several other museum-type galleries around World Showcase, such as the American Heritage Gallery in the American Adventure, and The House of Whispering Willows Gallery in the China pavilion, which currently features models and more from the Shanghai Disneyland Resort.

I highly recommend that you check one out on your next trip!

About the Author:

J. Scott Lopes is a longtime Disney fan who first went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1989 and has enjoyed traveling to Orlando ever since. He is interested in all things Disney Parks-related, especially in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.





July 31, 2017

Now it's time to say goodbye: Marty Sklar's family, friends, colleagues pay tribute to a Disney GIANT

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Marty and Leah Sklar, center, are surrounded by family members prior to last year's Walt Disney Family Museum Lifetime Achievement Award ceremonies. Marty was the second recipient of the prestigious honor. [Courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum]

Oct. 11, 2015, dawned cool and crisp along the New Jersey shore, a far cry from the 100-plus degree days Marty and Leah Sklar left behind in Los Angeles before heading east. They made the long coast-to-coast flight for two reasons: To visit with family members on the East Coast and for Marty to promote his latest book, One Little Spark!, in Toms River, N.J.

After he retired from the Walt Disney Company in 2009, no one would have blamed Marty if he decided to kick back a little, take it easy and play the role of the stereotypical senior citizen, especially when you consider he spent more than five decades on the job. But if you ever had the pleasure of meeting the retired leader of Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s creative wing, you know that slowing down was simply not an option. There was just too much pixie dust left to spread around.

“I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I did that … slowed down and took it easy,” he mused on that perfect autumn day as he held court in the large, grassy space outside the Ocean County Library, where he would give a presentation and sign copies of One Little Spark! a little more than an hour later.

Marty and his bride of 60 years, Leah, as well as Marty’s cousin, Sue Torrisi, her husband Victor and their daughter, were making their way across the courtyard toward the library’s entrance when he was recognized by some early arrivals. Marty was wearing a dark blazer with an open-collared shirt and no necktie – a style that’s been all the rage among Disney’s top executives. Attached to the lapel of his jacket was a silver dollar-sized pin sporting the words Walt Disney Imagineering.

Ever gracious, Marty stopped to greet the handful of fans, posed for photos and exchanged pleasantries. During the impromptu meet-and-greet, he was given a colorful drawing of the Disney character Figment [of Journey Into Imagination attraction fame, where the song One Little Spark! was the featured soundtrack] by a young girl; he would absolutely thrill her at the beginning of his presentation when he showed the drawing to the 250 or so people in attendance. He then asked her to join him on stage, where her wide grin and blushing cheeks spoke volumes.

It was obvious by the smile on Marty’s face that he had no problem stepping out of the spotlight for that moment and letting it shine brightly on his new friend. It was yet another example of Marty’s compassion and humility.

Marty Sklar, who touched so many lives in so many different ways during his 83 years on this planet, passed away on July 27. He left behind a legacy at the Walt Disney Company that few will ever match, as well as a grieving family and a legion of fans and colleagues who loved and respected him. Among his myriad interests was his passionate support of Ryman Arts, the arts scholarship program and he his beloved wife Leah co-founded.

In the second half of One Little Spark!. Marty reached out to dozens of his former charges and asked them for their input. He asked them to talk about themselves, their careers and how they navigated “the road to Imagineering.” Through Marty, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to interview and cultivate relationships with many of those same people. He was never shy about telling me: “Get in touch with so-and-so. He/she should be able to help you” if I had a question. And then he’d supply me with an email address, a phone number, or both. With his personal “letter of recommendation,” I have spoken to an amazing group of Marty-certified individuals.

The day after he died – much like Marty had done for One Little Spark! – I contacted many of Marty’s friends and former colleagues and asked them to share their thoughts and memories of a man they all held in the highest regard … a man they truly loved.

Here are the responses I received:

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Former Imagineer Zofia Kostyrko poses for a photo with Marty at one of his "Dream It! Do It!" book signings. [Courtesy of Zofia Kostyrko]

Zofia Kostyrko, former Disney Imagineer

“Behind every legend, there is a man. The Marty Sklar I knew was one of the best kind: Generous, approachable, funny and smart, fair and honest. He was my mentor, my teacher and a personal friend. Not the kind that I hung out or partied with, but nevertheless one that always had my back, looked out for me and pushed me beyond my self-imposed limits during my Imagineering tenure. He recognized and rewarded my efforts, and made me feel valued and heard.

“Once I was ready to leave WDI, he opened many doors and gave me tools and knowledge to succeed on my own. We stayed in touch. He saw my potential long before I could, and when I doubted it. He believed in me, as he did in so many of my colleagues and friends. With many thousands of people that he crossed paths with during his long life, he made so many of us feel personally special to him, so blessed with his interest, concern and support. He truly saw us and listened. We knew it because he remembered small details about our lives, families, work, dreams and ideas.

“When you were in his presence and conversation, he was there with you. I felt like he always listened well, was never too hurried or busy to make time for me, and was genuinely interested in what I had to say. I remember that he listened more than he talked. He asked questions more than he gave directions or orders; he gave the creatives room and support to solve seemingly impossible puzzles on our own, by simply nudging us in the right direction and let us work out the impossible. Marty was a great editor and writer, with a wonderful sense of humor. He was a gifted story-teller.

“His mentorship in my work changed my professional and creative life. His personal friendship and kindness saved a life dearest to my heart. When my daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, I called him first in panic, late in the evening, seeking his advice. His immediate help led us directly to the doctor that saved her life. I shall never be able to repay this debt of gratitude.

“We spoke the day before he left. He was so enthused and full of ideas, and generous remarks about people we both knew. I am so deeply grateful that he was a key part of my life, and so sorry that he left us. My thoughts and prayers are with Leah and his children and grandchildren. I am so sorry to see him go.”

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Disney Files Magazine editor Ryan March proudly takes a photo with Marty prior to a D23 event at Walt Disney World last year. [Courtesy of Ryan March]

Ryan March, Disney Files Magazine editor

“As a Disney fan born after the passing of Walt Disney, people like Roy E. Disney, Richard Sherman and Marty Sklar have always been more than just legends to me. They’ve been my generation’s connection to a man whose work continues to have such a profound impact on my life. It was their limited degrees of separation from Walt that, for much of my youth, placed these uniquely talented individuals among my vaunted heroes (pedestals shared in my childhood by everyone from Michael Jackson to the Dukes of Hazzard to anyone in a Dodger uniform).

“As a (relative) grown-up, my Disney career has afforded me extraordinary opportunities to get to know many of my heroes (at least my Disney heroes – the Dukes of Hazzard never answered my letters). Whether interviewing these Disney Legends in private for a Disney Files Magazine feature or on a stage before of an audience of Disney Vacation Club Members at a live event, my questions through the years became less about Walt and more about them. And along the way, they stopped being my heroes and started becoming my friends.

“But my relationship with Marty was different. He wasn’t just the casual friend with whom I’d connect at an event or interview for a feature. He was the guy with whom I’d correspond multiple times a week; the guy who became a Disney Files columnist and copied me on his hundreds of thoughtful replies to reader emails. He was the guy who would send a handwritten thank you note after every event…and fire off a snarky text whenever his UCLA Bruins outperformed my Oregon Ducks. He was the guy to whom I’d vent my frustrations and share my joys. He was the first person outside of my family to learn that my wife and I were expecting a baby.

“Hearing the news of Marty’s unexpected passing hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Truth be told, it’s still difficult to comprehend. But here’s what I do understand: Marty was the very definition of a Disney Legend. I’d go so far as to say he’s the standard by which other all legends are measured.

“For decades, he was our company’s conscience, our Jiminy Cricket, if you will. And because he spent so much of his life mentoring countless Disney cast members like me, this place is now crawling with crickets. Marty may be gone, but his influence isn’t going anywhere.
“While I feel tremendous sadness in a world without my dear friend, what I feel most is gratitude. My world is better, not just because Marty was in it, but because he helped create it. And for that, I will be forever grateful.”

Frank Reifsnyder, Walt Disney Imagineering

“Marty was always revered much in the same way as a favorite grandfather is respected. His memory of even the smallest details was always so sharp and he had a talent for storytelling, as all the great Imagineers have had. He was kind and generous of his time, both to non-profit organizations and to his former colleagues.

“It was an honor to be with Marty in Shanghai during the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland, with Marty being the only individual who attended the opening of all 12 of Disney's theme parks. When we discussed the opening several months prior, he seemed doubtful that he would come out for it, so it was a delight to see him there enjoying the work of so many of his mentees.

“His stories will continue to live on through his books and the countless Imagineers he mentored, and in the thousands of fans he spoke to over the years. He was truly one of a kind.”

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Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet president and founder Don Morin presents a check to Marty bound for his beloved Ryman Arts foundation. [Courtesy of Don Morin]


Don Morin, President/Founder Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet

“Marty has touched so many in this world with his work, caring, guidance, written word and encouragement. I am so honored and fortunate to have known him.
“He was always so encouraging and supportive of me, Michelle, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and all our guests over the years. I cherish each and every email, conversation and our time spent together. I may never have been an Imagineer or even a Disney employee, but he treated me as if I was just as important.

“He gave so much of himself and his time to people from all corners the world to educate, to share and to chat Disney ... to have had the opportunity to bring him to the Pacific Northwest several times over the years so that so many others could have the chance to hear his stories, to meet him and to experience what a kind, generous and amazing man he was ... that means the world. My heart goes out to his wife Leah and their family. This is a tremendous loss for everyone. Thank you, Marty! Thank you for everything. We will miss you dearly.”

Leslie Sklar, Marty’s daughter

“The thing about my dad's books is that you can hear him in them. … He was always happy to represent Disney and recently spent many hours signing books in that famous red felt tip pen and meeting fans at the recent D23 Expo.”

Bill [Sully] Sullivan, Disney Legend

"We are all sorry to hear about Marty. He was true Disney, through and through. He was dedicated to preserving the excellence of Disney! He will be sorely missed."

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Paul Comstock worked closely with Marty during his days as the principal landscape architect for Disney's Animal Kingdom. [Courtesy of Paul Comstock]

Paul Comstock, Principal Landscape Architect for Animal Kingdom

“I have one really fun memory which stands out among the hundreds of encouraging, uplifting and inspiring moments I shared with Marty.

“As the humble and virtuous ‘Paladin of Imagineering,’ Marty protected and supported our creative dreams. Along with scores of RED-INK notes of guidance and encouragement, a delightful memory often fills my head. After many ‘sit-downs’ on the couch in Marty’s gold coast office, I became fascinated with a very rare and unusual tree outside of his window which shaded his desk from the scorching afternoon sun. I determined it was a rare Bishofia javanica, or commonly called Bishop’s Wood tree from Indonesia. It was a very unusual tree to be growing in an industrial park landscape.

“How it got there no one knows. After mentioning its beauty and botanical interest to Marty, I expressed my desire to plant the tree for guest enjoyment in a Disney landscape. With a half-smile and a shrug, Marty casually gave me permission to relocate the tree. Well … six to eight months later, over a weekend, we removed the tree from outside Marty’s window. We dug and boxed the Bishofia for transplantation. Barbara, Marty’s long-time executive assistant, told me he came in the following morning and said, ‘What the heck!!!’ Less than an hour later, security delivered to me a RED INK note with an Imagineering Sorcerer’s Apprentice name pin, but instead of my name, the pin spelled out my new Imagineer’s name in big, blue letters: TREE THIEF. That pin is my treasure.

“Note: For those fellow tree huggers who are interested in where the Bishofia was planted, it’s labelled as Marty’s Tree and is now thriving outside the west entry doors of the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Oh, yeah … one more time, Thx Marty.”

Michael Eisner, former Walt Disney Co. CEO

“Marty Sklar was my partner and friend, building seven parks in my 21 years as Disney CEO. We lost a true gentleman!”

Bob Iger, Disney Chairman and CEO

“Everything about Marty was legendary – his achievements, his spirit, his career. He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence.”

Wayne Hunt, Board President, Ryman Arts

“I never took a paycheck from the Walt Disney Company but worked with Marty and his Imagineers nearly continuously as a graphics consultant since 1974 [last year we saw two nice assignments fulfilled in Shanghai]. Until a few years ago, I knew him only as one tough and demanding client. He had a finger on the pulse of everything around him and no detail was too small for his often acerbic red pen. You went into Marty meetings prepared or else.

“But then around 2006, I joined him on the board of his beloved Ryman Arts foundation and got to know the real, or whole, Marty. The patient, inspiring, almost fatherly guy who worked tirelessly to shape Ryman Arts into the nationally respected arts teaching organization. Watching him lead a board meeting was also inspiring and a great learning experience in itself. He was a master fund-raiser, he said because he believed so much in the cause. Marty was a prolific personal note writer, inscribing each of hundreds of invitations to Ryman Arts events each year, yes, in red marker.

“In 2014, I took over for Marty as board president of Ryman Arts – talk about gigantic shoes to fill! – and that’s when I really found out what he had done so beautifully for 25 years. Let me tell you, it ain’t easy being Marty.

“For any of you diehard Marty fans, your most meaningful tribute to him would be a donation to Ryman Arts, in any amount [www.rymanarts.org]. You won’t get a red-pen note back now, but you’d help fulfill one of his biggest dreams.”

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Marty poses with three fellow Disney Legends at the recent D23 Expo in Anaheim. From the left are Marty, Tom Nabbe, Orlando Ferrante and Ron Logan. [Photo by Ken Nabbe]

Tom Nabbe, Disney Legend

“Marty loved sharing his Disney heritage and Disney history with anyone who would listen, through his books and interviews. He was one of the few of us that had direct contact with Walt. He wrote Walt’s scripts! Who would know Walt better than his script writer? In his retirement, he kept the Disney image alive with his involvement in the different Disney fan conventions and his help in developing the D23 program to what it is today. In addition to promoting Disney, he helped to develop young, up-and-coming Imagineers and artists.

“I worked for Marty during the Epcot project. Even though he was on the top of the organizational chart, he would always recognize us and offer encouragement in getting the job done. I’ve done a lot of interviews and every once awhile, I would get a note from Marty praising my comments during the interview, such as, ‘You hit the nail right on the head’ or ‘That’s what Walt would have said.’

“I’ve been lucky to have had contact with Marty on so many occasions at various Disney events throughout my retirement. Every discussion or panel with him was a learning experience.”

Kevin Rafferty, Walt Disney Imagineering

“Marty was a huge fan of the Disney fans and of his Imagineers. He loved and lived all things Disney. Right to the end, he kept on going with boundless energy and creativity.

“For decades he was the THE creative funnel through which all of our ideas and projects poured. Marty came from a family of educators and he was actually one himself because there was no better teacher in the themed entertainment industry. He taught his Imagineers well and cared for each and every one of us deeply. He sent out thousands of personal notes of congratulations or encouragement to his Imagineers through the years and these notes can be found tucked away amongst our greatest treasures.

“No one has had more influence on Imagineers and Disney parks since Walt Disney himself. Marty, like Walt, was an American original, a powerhouse of creativity, a courageous pioneer, a game-changer, a life-changer, a dreamer and a doer. And like Walt, he was loved by all. We could not have asked for a better boss, mentor, teacher, advocate and dear and cherished friend.

“But to me he was more than that. He was family. He ‘raised’ me in my career and I feel so blessed I was there during Marty's remarkable, prolific era when he was the heart and soul of Walt Disney Imagineering. I could not be more proud that I was one of his ‘kids.’”

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Marty and Bob Gurr were long-time friends and colleagues who were not shy about tossing a well-meaning insult at one another. [AllEars.Net]

Bob Gurr, Disney Legend and former Imagineer

“Within hours of Marty's having Gone West [an aviation term of the Quiet Birdmen], so many of his dear friends created loving observations of his Imagineering life … all well told.

“On a personal note, let me tell you about Marty. A fun friend of more than half a century, we relished a special relationship of insults and hugs. A wordsmith of the highest skill, he delighted in skewering me in communications, baiting me for a counter reply.

“I fell for his tease, never coming close to matching his wit. Over many years we both unknowingly collected a file of exchanges … mine named The Marty Barbs. He used these on me publicly once in a Bob Gurr Roast. Touche, dear sir!

“Now, let me really tell you about Marty. As long as I've known him, he never failed to send personal, hand-written thank you notes to those who helped him with his many projects. In the form of a thick vertical name imprinted postcard, Marty's thanks were always penned in red.

“I've treasured all the ones Marty blessed me with for decades … another file, this one labeled The Marty Grams. With his personal words which I can return to anytime, Marty and I live on together.”

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Marty and Wendy Lefkon, Editorial Director of Disney Editions, sign copies of Marty's "One Little Spark!" book in Ken Shue's office at the Disney Studios in Glendale, Calif.


Wendy Lefkon, Editorial Director, Disney Editions

“Marty was one in a trillion. I was lucky enough to have known him for more than 30 years.
“We first met when I started my career writing the Birnbaum Guides to Walt Disney World and Disneyland. We worked on many projects together over those years as I published lots of Imagineering-related books. But once he retired, my dream job commenced. Working with Marty on his two books, Dream It! Do It! and One Little Spark! was truly a joyous journey. For me, Marty played many roles – teacher, mentor, friend and a little dad thrown in.

“We’ve all lost a special man, a guiding star.”

David Cohen

"Marty was one of Walt's most trusted advisors and made his own mark on the company, a legacy that will last for all time.

"I met him years ago at a Disney Leadership conference and then I had the pleasure of meeting him again just last November. He shared many of the amazing memories of his legendary Disney career.

"Afterwards, I saw him in the hallway and we had a wonderful conversation. He was just a regular guy, very down-to-earth. It was a thrill chatting with an all-time Disney great."

Tony Baxter, Disney Legend and former Imagineer

“I was lucky to share the stage with Marty two weeks ago at the D23 Expo. He was in terrific form ... the top of his game and very funny! Just two days before his passing, he was making plans to attend Epcot's 35th anniversary in October.

“We shared stories and memories of the wonderful people at Imagineering who have influenced our lives. It says more about Marty than I can put to paper. That will require a book and I'm not up for that yet!”

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At a book signing in 2013 in a Barnes & Noble location in Fullerton, Calif., Marty, left, was joined by Dave Bossert, Roy Patrick Disney [Roy E. Disney's son] and Mindy Johnson, left to right. [Janet Schmidt]

Dave Bossert, animator and author of Remembering Roy E. Disney

“Marty Sklar was one of the nicest people that I got to know at Disney. He was a genuinely kind person who continuously had an upbeat and positive view of the world. Anytime I saw him, it was always an uplifting and inspiring conversation. He was someone that had such a wealth of knowledge about the company and was always happy to make time for you, to help you out, and offer up invaluable advice as well as great stories from over the years.”

“This is a tremendous loss not just to his friends and family but also to the corporate memory at Disney. Marty was one of the last links to Walt Disney himself and in a sense, he was the embodiment of all the values and principles that define what Disney is to millions of fans the world over.”

“Marty was active right up to the end. I saw him two weeks ago at the D23 Expo, ever smiling, and we chatted briefly. He was so enthusiastic, and asked how one of my book projects was coming. He never stopped and I am so glad that in the later years he wrote several books, lectured, and just continued to give back – just a wonderful human being and a radiant spirit.”

Janet Schmidt

"What I admired most about Marty was that he never made it all about Marty. He always took the time to thank each and every person who came to see him, especially the young girl who had drawn him a picture at the Toms River book signing. Considering what he had accomplished in his life, he was always humble ... warm, kind, polite and gracious: A true gentleman. I'm still saddened by his loss."

Eddie Sotto, former Imagineer

“We lost Marty Sklar, our leader. He taught us all never to fear the blank sheet of paper. So sad!”

And last but certainly not least …

Jack Lindquist, Marty’s dear friend, who died in 2016

“Marty was always a big troublemaker. He’d bring water guns to work and, right there in our offices above City Hall in Disneyland, we'd have shootouts! Either that, or he was always throwing footballs around the place.”

I couldn’t resist. Thanks to all who shared their thoughts and memories of Marty, a man who impacted so many lives … a man of integrity and honor who will never be forgotten by those whose lives he touched.

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Microphone in hand and a smile on his face, Marty prepares to answer a question during an appearance at a Disney fan convention. [Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet]






March 20, 2017

This blogger's been busy: Two new books recently released

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The entrance to Disneyland Park in France goes under the Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]


When my first book was published, I had what can be best described as a George McFly moment.

You remember the scene from Back to the Future: Surrounded by his family, George proudly opens a box containing copies of his newly released book. He's obviously excited about adding the title of "author" to his resume as he glances, chest puffed out, at the hot-off-the-press finished product.

Even in this age of portable devices, telecommunications and digital wizardry, it's still quite a thrill to see your name on the cover of an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper book. As the author, you know how hard you've worked and how proud you are to see the finished product; the only thing that's left now is waiting on the public's response, which, of course, you hope is positive.

I had another George McFly moment the other day when not one, but two of my books arrived at our doorstep in a plain cardboard box -- the re-release of my first book, Disney's Dream Weavers, and the brand new An American in Disneyland Paris .

I must admit, there's always a bit of trepidation when something you've written "goes public." The hope is that everyone loves what you've written ... the fact is, some people may not. As in life itself, you take the good with the bad.

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The cover of "An American in Disneyland Paris."

It's truly gratifying, then, when an unsolicited comment comes your way from someone you've known and respected for years.

"What great journalism you are doing," wrote Rick Sylvain, the former print and on-line manager for Walt Disney World media relations. "Your deep dive into the personalities that shaped Disney is important reading, not only now, but for future generations. As Charlie Ridgway and others pass on, their stories live on."

Humbling, to be sure, but much appreciated.

And so, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I steer you toward my latest releases:

** Disney's Dream Weavers

** An American in Disneyland Paris


Disney's Dream Weavers was first released in 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing. It was a three-year labor of love that began innocently enough when I filled in for a columnist colleague at the Staten Island Advance, who missed work for several months after surgery.

His column dealt with the people and places on Staten Island in bygone eras from the 1940s into the 1980s. For reasons I can't really explain, I decided to write several substitute columns on Staten Islanders' participation at both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World's Fairs, both of which were held on the same site in Flushing, Queens.

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The cover of "Disney's Dream Weavers."

The highlights of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair were, of course, the four Disney-created attractions: Ford's Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, it's a small world and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Illinois state pavilion.

I researched the 1964-1965 Fair, corresponded with folks who had attended and also drew on my own experiences as a Fair visitor. As I dug into the Fair, I came upon references to another amusement park popular during that era - Freedomland, which also was open in the early 1960s and was located relatively close to the Fair in The Bronx.

I had attended Freedomland as well, and have fond memories and some grainy photos to prove it. In researching Freedomland's story, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a link [a common thread, if you will] that ran through Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Freedomland [1960-1964] and the World's Fair.

Many of the people who had helped bring Walt Disney's dream of a park where parents and children could have fun together [the people who had, as I wrote, brought Disneyland from "fruit field to fruition"] also made significant contributions to both Freedomland and the World's Fair.

Unbeknownst to most of us, at about the same time Freedomland was shutting down and the World's Fair was in full swing, Walt Disney and some of his trusted lieutenants were scooping up land in central Florida to build what would turn out to be The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

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A German band plays a song in front of the Eastman Kodak building at Freedomland in 1962. The building to the left is a replica of the R.H. Macy's store in Manhattan. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

As the idea of putting together a book on that link among the four venues began to take shape, I was able to score interviews with a number of key people ... like Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Charlie Ridgway, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe and Tony Baxter on the Disney side, and Ben Rossi, Bob Mangels and Mike Virgintino, speaking on behalf of Freedomland. Their combined insight helped, in my mind, to legitimize the book.

When Bob McLain of Theme Park Press agreed to re-release Disney's Dream Weavers, I could think of no better person to write a foreword to it than Mike Virgintino, who grew up near the park as a youth and has written about it extensively over the years. Along with a group of other "Friendly Freedomlanders," as they call themselves, he helped spearhead an initiative that resulted in the placement of a commemorative plaque near where the park's entrance once stood in the Baychester section of The Bronx.

Mike also has been a huge help to me in promoting my books over the years. I'm happy to report that he's currently working on his own book dealing exclusively with Freedomland.

An American in Disneyland Paris came about thanks to my ability to take notes no matter where I am. My wife and Janet and I joined our friends Gail and Julian Robinson on the trip of a lifetime in September of 2015, seven months after I had retired from the newspaper business. We visited Paris, France, Disneyland Paris and then sailed on the Disney Magic for its trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruise. [As luck would have it, also on that cruise were Deb and Linda!]

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Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Montparnese Tower. [Julian Robinson]

The fact that Julian grew up in England and had visited Paris on many occasions over the years allowed us to see the City of Lights not as first-time tourists, but as seasoned visitors [For example: Our trip to the Montparnese Tower, where we were able to view magnificent Paris from 56 stories above, right before sunset]. We saw things that very few tourists see and, if nothing else, his experienced hand allowed us to navigate the complicated underground rail system quite smoothly.

And when it came to Disneyland Paris, both Gail and Julian were park veterans. During our five-night stay, we got to enjoy things we probably might have overlooked, like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Walt's, a Club 33-type restaurant on Main Street that's open to the public.

To top off our trip, we flew from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Disney Magic for an unforgettable 11-night adventure.

Among the highlights: Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where one can see two continents, Africa and Europe, by simply turning your head; a day-long visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira; a number of presentations by several Disney Imagineers, giving incredible insight into what goes on behind the magic; behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, and a glorious finale on Castaway Cay.

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The Portuguese island of Maderia is located off the coast of northwest Africa. [Julian Robinson]

Photos taken by Gail and Julian during the trip enhance the book immeasurably.

Some time in May, another book I had a hand in will be published. It centers around some amazing, real-life adventures experienced by former Walt Disney World boating supervisor Ted Kellogg.

March 6, 2017

Disney Legend Marty Sklar learns that inspiration can be a two-way street

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Marty Sklar, center, poses for a photo after his presentation at the Festival of the Arts in Epcot in February. From the left are Julian Robinson, Chuck Schmidt, Marty, Janet Schmidt and Gail Robinson. [Courtesy of Gail and Julian Robinson]


"One little spark, of inspiration, is at the heart, of all creation." - Richard and Robert Sherman

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes, all you need to be inspired is just one little spark.

Take, for example, the young woman who told an inspirational story during a question-and-answer session at a recent Festival of the Arts workshop conducted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar in the Odyssey Festival Center in Epcot.

"This is more of a comment than a question," she began. "I was trying to decide what type of career path I wanted to take when my college professor suggested that I read your book, One Little Spark! I did, and it inspired me to pursue a career as an Imagineer. I'm currently working as an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering."

Add that woman to the very long list of people Marty Sklar has inspired over the years. And, in a roundabout way, add Marty Sklar to the list of people the woman has inspired during her still-young career. More on that later.

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The artwork of both Herb Ryman, above, and Mary Blair were on display at the Odyssey Festival Center at Epcot during the inaugural Festival of the Arts. [AllEars.Net]

Marty's workshop at the Festival of the Arts was part of a troika of appearances by the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering at his beloved Epcot: There was the sold-out presentation at the Odyssey on Feb. 11, then a book signing on Feb. 12 in the Art of Disney at Epcot, and finally a return to the Odyssey on Feb. 13 for a talk about the artwork of Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Mary Blair.

During his Feb. 11 workshop, Marty talked about his two books, Dream It! Do It! and the aforementioned One Little Spark!

"My first book was sort of takeoff on one of my favorite songs, '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,' by Paul Simon, although that in no way reflects my real life. My wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary on May 12th.

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Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar have done a number of Disney events over the years, the most recent being a presentation at the Texas Transportation Forum. [AllEars.Net]

"It was more about 50 ways to get started. Nothing I had done prepared me to write Dream It! Do It! I first had to come to grips with the question: 'Do I really have something worthwhile to say?' In the end, I found out that writing a book takes a lot of patience, research and flexibility.

"And every writer needs a good editor and I was fortunate to have been able to work with Wendy Lefkon from Disney Editions. Her support and help, particularly with accessing material from the Disney Archives, was very important."

His follow-up book, One Little Spark!, took a deep dive into the world of Imagineering. It also provided a guide map for people aspiring to join the Walt Disney Company's much-heralded and respected creative wing.

Both of Marty's books have been unqualified successes and have resulted in book-signing tours over the last few years that have literally spanned the globe ... from Shanghai, China, to Toms River, N.J. "I just signed a contract with a Brazilian publisher for Portuguese editions of both books," Marty said. "Dream It! Do It! already has Japanese and Mandarin Chinese versions."

I asked Marty if there is another book in the works. That's when I learned that inspiration can be a two-way street.

"Yes, I've started working on another book, but it's hard to get motivated," he admitted. "But the Festival of the Arts audiences – including my separate book signing on Sunday – have inspired me to get moving."

During his workshop on Saturday, Marty said he was "really excited about the first-ever Festival of the Arts. It's wonderful to see the works of the Disney artists on display her at Epcot. Forgive me if I get a bit emotional. I worked on Epcot from 1973 until it opened in October of 1982 ... almost 35 years ago. Today, Epcot is the sixth-most visited park in the world. It's great to see the arts have joined in the fun here."

Inside the Odyssey, some of the works of Legendary Disney artists Herb Ryman and Mary Blair were on display, serving as a fitting backdrop to Marty's presentation, as well as the Festival in general.

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A poster advertising the Texas Transportation Forum had a very Disney feel to it.

Marty's appearance at Epcot capped off another whirlwind stretch for the now 83-year-old. Prior to his Epcot stint, he and fellow Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who is 85, gave presentations at the Texas Transportation Forum, which ran from Feb 5-7 in Austin.

The title of their keynote talk was "Imagineering a Legacy: How Disney's Designs Influence Today's Transportation." Who better to talk about transportation issues than two of Imagineering's guiding lights, two Disney giants who were always pushing the envelope and developing creative and forward-thinking solutions to a myriad of problems?

Both Marty and Bob gave perspective and context on how Imagineering's "great sense of innovation can be applied to the transportation problems of today," according to the event program. "The Imagineers had to think outside the box to overcome many issues, including developing new and innovative transportation systems."

"I guess we were a big hit." Marty said. After their presentation in front of 1,500 people, "another 500-600 were at our Breakout Session. They said some of the government people [doing other Breakout sessions] were not thrilled – we had by far the biggest audience!"

"Yes, we both had a blast," Gurr added. "1,500 Texas government folks, all friendly Republicans. Well organized and ready for tall tales from Disney's past more than issues of transportation. The panel presenters did all of that, while we made up stories."

Stories that no doubt inspired those in attendance to dream up new and creative ways to tackle many of today's pressing transportation issues.

February 6, 2017

Monorail guru Bob Gurr talks about Monty ... and his concept drawing of the famed transit vehicle

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Bob Gurr's original drawing of the monorail, sketched in late 1958. The color was added by Disney Legend John Hench.

Hey, Bob Gurr ... now that you've completed a documentary showing the world just how you designed some of the world's most innovative theme park attractions, what are you going to do next?

"My next project is gonna be a movie about Monty the Monorail."

Makes sense. Gurr, the father of Disney theme park monorails, has intimate knowledge of the sleek, futuristic modes of transportation that glide along on a single beam of concrete. When Walt Disney wanted to place a monorail system within the confines of Disneyland in the late 1950s, he turned to Gurr, his go-to transportation guru, to make that dream happen.

All these years later, the affable 85-year-old wants to turn a monorail into a living, breathing entity. Enter Monty the Monorail.

Here's the backstory: Turns out there's a guy who bought the front carriage of a Walt Disney World Mark IV monorail and turned it into something of a tourist attraction. "The guy treats it as if it's a character," Gurr said recently. "He fills it up with rock music and flashing lights and smoke and rides it around on an old flatbed trailer."

"I've met the guy and I want to do a movie about the monorail where I do a long voice-over. I look at the situation of a monorail who is a living character. And he has relatives and the relatives go way back to his great-grandfather in 1959. The movie will be really funny, full of graphics and this voice talking like it's his mommy.

"It'll be very tongue in cheek, taking an inert machine and making it into a human. When Monty was traveling across the country, every city was waiting for him and they'd throw a big party. Hundreds of people met Monty all across the United States.

"That's the next project."

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Bob Gurr takes a walk around viewing area atop Disney's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World.

Bob Gurr is uniquely qualified to talk about the monorail, be it the nuts, bolts and Fiberglass version or the living character reincarnation.

It was Gurr who was tasked with getting the monorails designed and up and running for Disneyland in 1959. Mind you, he also was challenged with designing the track system for the Matterhorn Mountain bobsleds, as well as designs for a new Autopia car and the submarine voyage ... all at the same time!

Like most of the things he designed over his illustrious career, the monorail started with a simple sketch.

"I did the first sketch of the monorail in October of 1958," Gurr said. "I did about a 10-minute sketch in my house one morning and I brought it back to the office the next day and it took about two hours to complete it because I knew exactly what I wanted.

"Then [Disney Legend] John Hench put the coloring on it. Disney publications are always full of errors; they said John Hench designed it. Then one day years ago, the Disney Archive Department suddenly showed up with my original drawing. And they said, 'See, John didn't draw it, you did.'

An almost life-size mural depicting Gurr's iconic drawing currently adorns the Top of the World Lounge atop Disney Vacation Club's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World. In the lower left-hand corner is the signature R.H. Gurr.

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Bob Gurr, center, offers some suggestions to Imagineers working on a refurbishment of the Autopia attraction in Disneyland several years ago. [The Walt Disney Company]

"If you go up there slightly after the sun rises, in the morning when the bar is closed, go over to the windows on the west side. The mural is back-lit so gorgeously in that room. It's just a stunning sight to see," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not when the bar is open."

His signature on the mural proved to be a bit problematic.

"The first time I signed it, the cleaning people came in and wiped it off. The next time after I signed it, they broke the corner off one of the panes. The third time I signed it, they sprayed plastic on it" to preserve it.

"That picture is actually what I've been saying all along: The inspiration comes from the top, not the bottom. Somebody asks you to figure something out and somehow, your brain has life experiences and suddenly, you can't sketch fast enough. It's so vivid in your mind. You've got to get it down on paper really quickly.

"The fact that that thing [the monorail] has turned out to be an icon at Disneyland and all over Florida ... The fact that that picture of the Mark I is in a bar at Walt Disney World, well, that's kinda cool."

December 26, 2016

Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who passed away Dec. 24: There will never be another like him

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Charlie Ridgway conducts an interview on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World prior to the beginning of WDW's 15th anniversary celebration in 1986. [The Walt Disney Company]


"There will never be another like him."

In the hubbub of the holiday season, the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway on Dec. 24 may have gone unnoticed to most casual Disney fans ... but not to the people who knew him, worked for him, admired him and flat-out loved him.

"I wanted to let you know that our dear Charlie, 93, passed away today," former Walt Disney World publicity director Rick Sylvain messaged me on Christmas Eve.

Our dear Charlie.

That pretty much sums up the feelings of so many people whose lives were touched by the kind-hearted gentleman from Missouri, whose humble beginnings as a radio disc jockey and Midwestern newspaperman belied his legendary status in Disney's star-studded firmament.

Charlie, the master of spinning Disney's world as the company's chief press agent at both Disneyland and WDW, followed in his father's footsteps and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Despite his journalism pedigree, he began his career in radio because his father, who covered the agricultural beat for the Chicago Tribune, told him that "newspapers are bound to be a dying breed and encouraged me to get into radio. He was pretty wise."

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Charlie sets up a publicity photo of Donald Duck in the shadows of Cinderella Castle. [The Walt Disney Company]

Charlie landed a job at a 5,000-watt radio station in Erie, Pa., in the late 1940s after serving honorably during World War II. After about three years, though, he got a job offer from the Erie Dispatch, "my first job as a newspaperman. That job lasted about a year before I decided I needed to get into a bigger market. I had fallen in love with Los Angeles during the war, so I decided to go out there in 1952."

Charlie, his wife Gretta and their young family moved west, to a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. He got a job as a general reporter with the Los Angeles Mirror-News and became aware of a construction site near their house when he and his family passed it on their way to the beach on weekends.

That construction site, rising up from large fields of orange groves, was to become Disneyland. It was Charlie Ridgway who was among the first journalists to do a story on Disneyland in early 1955 prior to opening ... and it was Charlie who was among the hundreds of frazzled journalists on hand to cover opening day on July 17, 1955.

Indeed, Charlie covered Disneyland for several years, for both the Los Angeles Mirror-News, then the Long Beach Press-Telegram, before he accepted a job offer from Disneyland in 1963 in the park's publicity department, doing the bulk of the office's writing.

A legendary career with Disney was launched.

From his tiny office above the police station near City Hall, Charlie dreamed up new and creative ways to get the word out on Disneyland, among them the press event he helped set up for the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in 1967.

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Charlie signs a copy of his book, "Spinning Disney's World," several years ago.

"We sailed all the press people around in the sailing ship Columbia and then came in and fired the cannons and had a big sword fight on the deck." In addition, buccaneers boarded the ship from smaller craft and pirates fell from the ship into the river during their duels. Once the press folks were in a swashbuckling mood, they disembarked the ship and "stormed" the entrance of the Pirates of the Caribbean to gain access.

"I was in on that," Charlie said proudly during an interview with me in early 2014.

In the years that followed, Charlie was the go-to guy when it came to dreaming up fun and creative ways to publicize the park. Then, in 1969, Charlie was asked to move to central Florida to drum up publicity for Walt Disney's "latest and greatest dream" ... Walt Disney World.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York. I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major newspapers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic."

Look Magazine wanted to be the first publication to have a cover story on WDW, but the Magic Kingdom was still six months from completion. "It was way too early," Charlie said. "There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done."

Charlie also played a key role in the classic photo that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine a few weeks before WDW opened.

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The Life Magazine cover prior to the opening of Walt Disney World in 1972 which Charlie Ridgway helped set up. [Life Magazine]

"I suggested we do a mob-scene photo and we carried forward from that point," Charlie said. "We went to Life with the idea and they liked it. They sent down one of their very best photographers [Yale Joel]. He got up on a stand with an 8 x 10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that was the one we shot in front of the castle. We assembled as many cast members [3,000 of the 5,000 on staff at the time] as we could get there."

Charlie also was the architect of many elaborate press events during his years at WDW, events that saw literally thousands of members of the media invited to experience first-hand the magic and wonder of The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Perhaps the most significant press event in Charlie's eyes was the grand opening of Epcot in October of 1982. It was the first time in broadcast history that television stations from around the country were able to carry an event live, thanks to a still-untested satellite uplink technology. "It was a rather feeble attempt, by today's standards," Charlie said, but it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

It was Charlie at his finest. "We used to sit around marketing meetings dreaming up crazy ideas," he said.

Charlie's "crazy ideas" left a lasting impression on those folks who were privileged to work with him.

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The author with Charlie Ridgway during lunch in 1992. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

"I don't think he realizes how important he is to all of us and how much influence he's had on our careers," Michelle Baumann, who was hired by Charlie more than 25 years ago, told me a few years ago. "To give you an idea of what kind of person Charlie was, I was hired back during the time when photo captions had to be pasted onto the backs of the publicity photos, which was pretty tedious and time-consuming, but Charlie would be right there with us, doing the grunt work, not giving it a second thought.

"Every once in a while, we'll be stumped with something and someone in the office will say, 'What would Charlie do?' He made that much of an impression on us."

Rick Sylvain and a bunch of Charlie's "old guard" were scheduled to take him out to lunch on Dec. 14, but the luncheon had to be scrapped because of Charlie's failing health.

"So many of us owe so much to that man," Rick said. "I know he rescued me from a nasty newspaper strike in Detroit in 1995 and launched me on 20 years that I will never forget.

"There will never be another like him."

December 12, 2016

A November to remember for Disney Legend Marty Sklar

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Mickey Mouse joins Neil Patrick Harris in presenting Marty Sklar with the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

If there's such a thing as a rock star in the world of amusement parks, it's Marty Sklar.

Who else in the vast Disney cast, current or retired, can draw hundreds of adoring fans to book signings or presentations around the country? Who else would spend five hours signing autographs for nearly 500 people after an event in Chicago this past summer? Who else would be sought out by today's generation of Imagineers to offer his unique insight into projects they're currently working on?

That's right. It's Marty Sklar, rock star.

Marty is someone who understands his place in the history of the Walt Disney Company ... and someone who understands how he's viewed by his former colleagues and his legions of fans. Through it all, he's remained humble about his life's work, yet more than willing to give the people what they want when it comes to his knowledge and perspective on all things Disney.

I've always known how important the former leader of Walt Disney Imagineering is to the history of the Walt Disney Company, how influential he's been. Apparently, Walt Disney's family knew it, too.

It was Walt's surviving family members, starting with son-in-law and former Disney CEO Ron Miller, right down to Walt's many grandchildren, who saw fit to honor Marty Sklar as the second recipient of the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's annual fund-raising gala on Nov. 1.

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Marty joins the Dapper Dans and belts out a tune with the help of Neil Patrick Harris. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

Marty, surrounded by many members of his own family, as well as numerous members of his extended family, accepted the award in the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland.

"When Ron Miller called me about the award, of course I said yes," Marty told me during a recent interview. "I felt that in accepting the award, I could be useful in helping to raise money for the museum."

For those who don't know him, that's typical Marty. If you're going to give me an award, he's saying, I might as well turn it into a positive thing for you, too.

"I've tried to help out the museum as much as I can over the years," Marty said. "I've visited the museum at least six times in the 10 years since it opened. It means a lot to me to preserve Walt's legacy. Diane Disney Miller [Walt's daughter and the founder of the museum] was always intent on doing just that. I've always appreciated what she tried to do ... to focus on Walt the man, and what he accomplished. That was always her goal."

In Marty's eyes, the museum is a must-see. "It's hard to get past the first section of the museum, it's so enticing. There's a lot of early Disney memorabilia, things that Walt had recorded. All of us who knew and worked with Walt can really appreciate those things. They didn't whitewash anything. It's the whole story of Walt in a direct and interesting way."

And, Marty noted, the Walt Disney Family Museum is branching out, getting involved in educational programs for children in the San Francisco area.

Marty was pleased that many of his family members were able to attend [son Howard, who lives with his family in Finland, couldn't make it]. But during the evening, "There was one thing I screwed up," he said. "I had written a thank you script that I was going to read, but under the circumstances, it was impossible to do that. I wanted to introduce all my family members in the attendance and I wanted to mention that my wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary next May. I didn't get a chance to mention it; fortunately, Leah wasn't mad at me."

Was this the most important award he's ever received?

"The Disney Legend Award will probably always be No. 1. It's the top award given out by the company. But this award is very special, in part because it's only the second time it's ever been given out [the first recipient was composer Richard Sherman, who was on hand during Marty's big night to sing a special song dedicated to his long-time friend]. They started giving out the award after Diane passed away, and it was the members of her family who said that I should be this year's recipient, so that's quite an honor."

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Marty Sklar accepts the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The night itself was "a lot of fun, in addition to raising a lot of money for the museum," Marty said. Master of ceremonies Neil Patrick Harris surprised Marty by inviting him on stage for an impromptu session with The Dapper Dans, a Disneyland mainstay for decades. "I fumbled a little during the song, but Neil guided me through it."

The Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award was the beginning of a typically busy month for Marty, who turns 83 in February.

Later in the month, Marty flew to central Florida for a whirlwind week that would have exhausted most folks half his age. First, he attended the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions [IAAPA] convention in Orlando, where he took part in a panel discussion, adding what he called "context about the industry."

"There were something like 30,000 people from all over the world in attendance" during the convention, Marty said. "They even set up new rides in the parking lot outside the convention center. And they had these little kewpie dolls on sale, which I found very reassuring that this amusement business we've been involved with for decades is going to go on."

On Friday, Nov. 18, Marty gave a talk to a group of about 100 Disney Vacation Club cast members at the DVC headquarters in Celebration. Ryan March, the editor of the Disney Files Magazine, served as the moderator. "I like to do things like that," Marty said of the hour-long session in front of a clearly rapt audience. March added that it was Marty who approached him about doing the presentation.

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Marty is surrounded by his family prior to the Walt Disney Family Museum gala on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

"It gives me the opportunity to find out what people are thinking. They, of course, look to me to tell them stories of Disney's past in hopes that they can then relate them to what they're doing now. They asked some really good questions, which I really enjoyed."

During the hour-long session, March asked Marty a series of questions about his long career and the many people he's worked with. He started by introducing the Disney Legend to the audience, saying "Marty is one of those rare people who's not interested in who gets the credit," as long as the job is well-done. He then related how Marty started his Disney career in 1955 by creating The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests for 10 cents. To which March added: "I can't believe our company ever sold anything for 10 cents."

Among the questions March asked:

"What's the best advice you ever heard?" Marty: "Don't avoid cliches. They're cliches because they work." That advice came from Star Wars creator George Lucas.

"What did [Disney artist and Legend] Herb Ryman mean when he said 'Poor taste costs no more'?" Marty: "Herb always believed in striving to do your best. He was very clear about that. He believed that if you didn't do your best, lesser ideas would be accepted and become reality."

To reiterate that point, Marty talked about legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who was an inspiration to Marty when he covered the team for the Daily Bruin campus newspaper in the early 1950s. Among Coach Wooden's many famous sayings was this gem: "Make every day your masterpiece."

"People really notice when you don't give it your best shot," Marty added.

In between these events, Marty was invited by several of his Imagineering protégés ["They're all like my kids," he said of the hundreds of people he's inspired over the years] to visit several projects they're currently working on, most notably the much-anticipated Pandora: The World of Avatar land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Marty came away from that visit amazed. "Guests will be blown away" when the new land opens during the summer of 2017, he said.

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Marty chats with Neil Patrick Harris in Disney's California Adventure after the awards gala. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The World of Avatar will feature two cutting-edge attractions, one a boat ride through the Navi River, the other a Soarin'-type flight simulator on the wings of a banshee. "And with Animal Kingdom's new emphasis on night-time shows, Pandora will be over-the-top in the dark," Marty said.

He also was shown the new Frozen attraction at Norway in Epcot and he came away impressed. "The Audio-Animatronics figures are really well-done ... excellent. There was one problem; the boat ride was a little rough in spots."

Marty missed the new holiday show over Lake Buena Vista between the new Disney Springs and Saratoga Resort. "I was sorry I didn't get to see the drones," he said. "From what I've heard, it's really a unique way to present a show outdoors."

To top off his whirlwind week, Marty gave an engrossing presentation at the D23's Destination D: Amazing Adventures, a two-day gathering at The Contemporary Resort. Marty's talk focused on the development of the Adventurelands that are featured in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He took guests on an audio and visual tour through the early concept days through completion, sprinkling his talk with fascinating stories about many of the people who helped bring those original ideas to life.

During his presentation, Marty showed a photo of Walt Disney talking to guests Disneyland near the entrance of Adventureland. Walt was leaning up against a trash can. "Walt loved to walk through the park and talk to the guests. He wanted to find out what they thought and wanted to see what was working and what wasn't. Here, as you see, Walt's 'office' was a garbage can."

Prior to Marty's presentation at the D23 event, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek updated guests on future attractions coming to Disney, other than Pandora.

Specifically, he mentioned how changes would be coming to Epcot in conjunction with that park's 35th anniversary. Chapek talked about making Epcot "more Disney, more relevant, timeless and more family friendly."

Marty, one of the key architects of Epcot in the 1970s and early 1980s, was happy to hear about the changes. "Over time, a lot of Epcot has become dated. I'm happy to hear they're looking into bringing some new ideas into play. It's time."

After the Destination D event, Marty headed back to southern California, where he ended his month the way he started it: Surrounded by family members for a big celebration, this time Thanksgiving.

Although a bit hectic at times, it was truly, a November to remember for the revered Disney Legend.

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Members of Walt Disney's family were on hand for the gala. From the left are Jennifer Goff, Tammy Miller, Joanne Miller, Walter Miller and Chris Miller. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]
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Neil Patrick Harris joins Disney Legend Richard Sherman for a musical tribute to Marty Sklar. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

December 10, 2016

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for Teens and Young Adults

by Evan L. Weston
AllEars® Guest Blogger

We're deep into the heart of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party season, and that means the scramble is on to snatch up passes for the Magic Kingdom's premier specially ticketed event.

In my feature article in the November 15 edition of the AllEars® newsletter, I discussed how Magic Kingdom tends to be the most difficult park to convince the teen and young adult demographic to try, and the Christmas Party can exacerbate some of those perceptions. The event is built not around thrills or a club atmosphere, but around exclusive character meets and once-a-year shows and parades. But don't let the surface events fool you; there's plenty of fun to be found for our subset, including every young adult's absolute favorite thing in the world. Say it with me...

FREE FOOD!

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Yes, there are not one, not two, but eight complimentary treats included with your Christmas Party admission! The offerings include four different cookies, three beverages, and what turned out to be my girlfriend's favorite, a blue raspberry snow cone that you should definitely have before it gets too cold! On the food side, the best offerings are the snickerdoodle cookies, on hand at Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland, and the peppermint bark cookies from Tomorrowland's Lunching Pad. If you're out on a cool Florida night, you can pick up hot chocolate at both of those locations, but I tended towards the spiced hot cider, located all the way in the back of the park at Pete's Silly Sideshow. It's worth the trek, if only to gawk at the sometimes three-hour line to meet the Seven Dwarves!

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party also includes a benefit you shouldn't discount: some of the shortest waits you'll ever see on the Magic Kingdom's flagship attractions.

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With capacity limited and most of the attention focused on the shows and parades, attractions that normally see wait times exceeding an hour often can be done in under 20 minutes. Space Mountain, for instance, never went higher than 25 minutes at any point during our Friday night visit to the Christmas Party. Line times plummet further after Holiday Wishes and especially after the final parade; just after 11 p.m., only the uber-popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a wait higher than 20 minutes, sitting at a very doable half an hour.

Lastly, for those looking to get into the Christmas spirit, Holiday Wishes is well worth your time. Don't bother waiting forever in front of the castle for a premium view, though; instead catch it from the side of the castle (where plenty of the show is still visible) and stay near a hub exit, ready to break back for the rides before the crowd disperses. It's really not a bad view:

Holiday Wishes

For other entertainment, Tomorrowland features four performances a night from VoicePlay, a supremely talented, Orlando-based a cappella group that came to fame on NBC's "The Sing-Off." The shows are, for whatever reason, never particularly crowded, and offer a very cool theatrical experience. It's absolutely wild what these guys can do with just their voices!

Between free food, short waits, and a little bit of Christmas magic, be sure to remember that Magic Kingdom, even Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, has something for everyone in the family!

Mickey & Minnie

November 6, 2016

Changes at Ft. Wilderness

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

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This past summer Fort Wilderness went through a huge change when they took a popular cabin loop and turned it into a camping loop. Many guests were disappointed as they watched "their" cabins disappear from the Fort. For many weeks you could actually see some of them sitting on the old landing strip on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

Work began to make new sites for RV camping. Concrete pads were built and electrical and water connections were put together for each site. I think everyone had thought that these new sites would be premium sites meaning long pads, high quality picnic tables, and all the other amenities of premium sites. The 2100 loop finally opened late summer and it was a surprise to see that it is now an added Full Hook-up loop and not Premium.

The pads are different from the other four Full loops, 1600-1900. The new pads have short concrete pads with a very small amount of sand pad in front of them. They have instead added a larger area of sand pad to the side and its just big enough for the picnic table. The loop itself is a very pretty loop with many large trees and some sites backing up to a drainage stream. The pads and area are very level and most sites appear to have easy access for backing into them.

There is an old comfort station located in the middle of the loop but at this time it is not available. Thus, two loops will now use the comfort station located next to the 1100 Loop.

Check out the pictures showing the different configuration of the pads.

These are the older pads in the 1600-1900 loops.

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These are the pads in the new 2100 camping loop. The 2100 loop will be a quieter area but the pads might not best meet your needs with your longer RV.

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Fort Wilderness is looking good these days. Lots of trimming and sprucing up the area has taken place. All cabins have been refurbished and are beautiful and include big screen TV's and queen beds. You can often catch a sight of the many turkey and deer who also call this resort their home making it a very special place to stay.

October 29, 2016

Teen Talk: Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

by Kacie Brady
AllEars Guest Blogger

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As you probably know, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a "spook-tacular" event held every year at Disney’s Magic Kingdom from mid-September through the end of October. This hard-ticket event includes trick-or-treating, riding rides, character dance parties, buying special treats, and more! Parents and children alike can dress up, have fun, and indulge their spooky side.

When attending any Halloween party, the first thing to consider is what costumes to wear. Most everyone is dressed in costumes, including adults, at Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. My family has always been into matching costumes, and this year we went as Star Wars characters!

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We saw several cute costumes at the party, but my favorites were Becky and Gerald from Finding Dory. Get creative with your costumes, because in Disney World no one is too old to dress up like their favorite characters. If you are not into costumes, consider getting the family matching Halloween shirts. There are some cool photo ops at the party, and it is always fun to take pictures in costumes.

Another thing you need to decide before you get to the park is what things you would like to do at the party. The park is open to people going to the Halloween party from 4 o'clock to midnight, however the Halloween activities do not start until 7 p.m. It is good to plan ahead on how to spend your hours at the party, as it offers events for families of all ages. Trick-or-treating and meeting characters might be fun for younger kids and the parades and shows are fun for all ages (they were my favorite!).

Once you are in the park, there are several things your family can do. If your family would like to ride rides, the wait times are shorter than usual during the party. We did notice that the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train only had a 20-minute wait! So, if your family is full of ride enthusiasts, this would be a good time to ride them.

My family wanted to do more of the unique experiences than the rides, but we rode a few, which were welcome breaks from the walking.

There are 13 trick-or-treating locations around the park at which cast members pass out candy. Trick-or-treating is a lot of fun, especially for me since I am too old to trick-or-treat in the "real" world. At Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party, kids of all ages are able to join in the trick-or-treating fun! Disney does not skimp on the candy, as all four of us left with two bags of candy each! Also, there are two Allergy-Friendly Centers at the park, where you can get a special trick-or-treat bag that lets cast members know you have an allergy. You can then get allergy-friendly candy at the trick-or treat locations.

The unique character meet and greets at the party are also great. You can meet characters from Nightmare Before Christmas, Aladdin, Tarzan, and many more. You can also get your dance on with the Monsters Inc. characters in Tomorrowland at a fun Halloween dance party, an event that that only happens at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. They hand out candy during the dances, and you can dance with your favorite monsters to tunes like,“I Want Candy.”

Some more unique experiences of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party include Happy Hallowishes, Mickey’s Boo-to-You parade, and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular. I feel like Happy Hallowishes, Mickey’s Boo-to-You parade, and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular were the stars of the party! Happy Hallowishes had elaborate firework displays set to spine-tingling villainous songs. Mickey’s Boo-to-You parade was very entertaining, and the Boo-to-You song will stick in your head for hours. The parade floats, the synchronized dancing, and the special characters were all wow factors of the parade. The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular was a wonderful stage show. It was humorous, had cool effects, and had many favorite villains.

There is also special merchandise and food for sale that is unique to the party. Some of the special foods available include candy corn soft-serve ice cream, pumpkin spice cupcakes, spider cupcakes and worms and dirt, and creepy ice cream cookie sandwiches. Some of the special merchandise includes event t-shirts, Magic Bands, and trading pins.

As I said, the park lets people in for the party at 4 o’clock, but the special Halloween attractions are not open that early, so my family and I went to grab a bite to eat and ride some rides. This ended up being a good decision, because during the party all of the dining was packed, and we were able to enjoy other things. While we were eating, we looked at the party map and planned our method of attacking all the fun. It helps to know what everyone wants to do, that way when it gets crowded you are not trying to decide where to go.

Once the party started at 7, we went to the trick-or-treat lines. Although the lines looked dauntingly long, we never waited long in them, because the cast members kept them moving quickly. I would recommend doing the trick-or-treat lines during a show or parade. We went through the lines during the first parade, and it was not that crowded at all. First stage shows are always more crowded than the later ones, so it may be wise to do trick-or-treating during the first show, and watch the later ones.

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After we hit all of the trick-or-treat locations, we decided to go to Tomorrowland, and dance with the Monsters Inc. characters. The dance party was lots of fun, and we got to see several monsters including Sully, Mike Wazowski, and George. The cast members also passed out candy during the song “I Want Candy”. They taught us different dances, and everyone made a conga line!

We then decided to ride some more rides before the Happy Hallowishes firework show started. The Happy Hallowishes fireworks were incredible! There were fireworks that surrounded the park, and the villains singing the songs made the whole thing feel spooky and magical. After Happy Hallowishes was over, we decided to watch the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular. Since the entertainment was one after the other, we were unable to get to see all three up close, so we decided to sit on the parade route to watch the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, and Happy Hallowishes. However, even without a good view, it was a highly entertaining. The show featured the Sanderson Sisters from the movie Hocus Pocus, and it was a Broadway–caliber performance. The show included special lighting on the castle, fireworks, and some familiar villains including Oogie Boogie, Dr. Facilier, and Maleficent.

After the Villain Spelltacular, we watched Mickey’s Boo-to-You parade. Although we could not see the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular as well, it was good we got our spots for the parade early, because there was not even standing room available later on. The Boo-To-You parade was my favorite event of the whole night. We loved the dancing ghosts, the Pirates of the Caribbean float, and the villains. You could smell candy as the Wreck-It Ralph parade float went by, and the bears from the Country Bear Jamboree pretended I was choking them when I "used the force!" After we watched the parade, we had time to ride one more ride.

Around midnight we decided to call it a night and head back to the resort. We left the party happy and satisfied with our experience and also with several bags of candy! Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a wonderful event that allows people of all ages to act like kids on Halloween. Every event that Disney puts on is spectacular, and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary did not disappoint -- we will definitely be going again!

July 6, 2016

Animal Kingdom Date Night

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

Over the years I have been asked many times about where can parents, grandparents, and couples go at Walt Disney World for a fun "date night". Disney has many superb dining options and lounges throughout the property but I think I found something that will offer you more then just a good meal.

The Animal Kingdom park has evolved to offer evening hours, new dining options, special shows and entertainment. My husband and I had a quick trip to Disney this past week and we decided to visit the Animal Kingdom to check out all the new offerings. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable, relaxing evenings ever spent.

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We started the evening with dinner reservations and we opted for a dining package for the new restaurant, Tiffins. The dining package includes a three course dinner and reserved seating for the 9:00pm Jungle Book Show. This park has needed another table service option for a long time and Tiffins fits this need. It is a place where you will want to walk around and see the decor and all the details that were used to make it very authentic. There are three dining rooms with different themes and decorations but all three share the same menu.

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One of the highlights is the big and beautiful Nomad lounge available to all guests whether you are there for dinner or not. There is comfortable seating inside and out and a fun and extensive drink menu.

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Dinner was very relaxing and service was superb. Portion sizes for the most part were adequate and the flavors and uniqueness of the choices were excellent. Although our dining room was full we never felt crowded and the noise level was low making conversation easy which is always nice when out on a date.

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After dinner it was time to stroll the park. This was probably my favorite time of the evening as we were drawn by the music being played in different locations. African dancing and songs were being enjoyed by many guests. It was easy to add a smile and move your own body to keep in time with the rhythm. The shops were open and it was an excellent time to browse or purchase as the crowd levels were lower in the evening.

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You can simply walk and enjoy the atmosphere or head to some of the many attractions that are open in the evening. One of the most popular will be the evening Safari adventures. Watching the animals as the sun begins to set is exciting and many of them will be waking up from their day long naps and moving about. If you are looking for something more exciting then head to Everest where you will truly get the best view of a sunset in the park as you climb the mountain.

We were not interested in hitting the attractions but did notice that wait times were very short so it didn't seem to be necessary to have FastPasses at this time.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to head to the seating area for the Jungle Book show. For the dining package guests it is directly across from the Finding Nemo show entrance. For the FastPass guests the seating is across from Everest. We were told to be sure and get there by 8:30pm as at 8:45pm they will open all sections up for standby guests to fill. There were cast members who were interacting with the guests which made the time go by quickly. There are handicap areas in the first rows for wheelchairs and ECV's and they will direct you to that area when you arrive. I will share a word of caution about the seating. The benches are hard and quite hot. It will be like sitting on a rock that is out in the open sun all day. So come prepared and have something to sit on and it will make it much more enjoyable.

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The Jungle Book show is something that was pulled together when there was a delay to their premiere show, Rivers of Light. I watched with little expectation but we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. Every guest will have a good view, the sound was not too loud, and the entertainment was fun. This show is not necessarily the best Disney has produced but it certainly was a fun way to enjoy an evening. The water images were not clear and if you had not seen the Jungle Book the images would be hard to understand. But whether you have seen the movie or not the entertainment was fun. My favorite part of the show were the three fire twirlers....what an amazing group of talented cast members. And I don't want to forget the incredible dancers and singers who participated.

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As we exited the show area we again felt the draw of music and found an entertainer playing near the Flame Tree Barbecue. In a matter of minutes the Tree of Life came to life with its own new story of projections and lights. It was magical and a perfect way to end our evening in the Animal Kingdom Park.

We found this a perfect "date night" opportunity but it doesn't have to exclude the families. There are so many different things to do in this park to fill an evening between signature dining at Tiffins to authentic street entertainment to an exciting show. The crowd numbers were well handled so it didn't feel like you were among the masses. And it was interesting but all the guests seemed to be in a more relaxed mood then at many of the other parks in the evening. You can add excitement by enjoying attraction rides or you can just walk and enjoy the ambiance and sunsets. I am confident we will be heading back to an evening in the Animal Kingdom park on our next visit.

June 20, 2016

Disney fan clubs have captured people's imaginations, and fueled their passion, for years

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The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet planning committee. That's founder Don Morin, second from the right. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

During the weekend of May 14-15, 2011, I attended my first Disney fan convention. I walked through the doors of the Contemporary Resort's Convention Center at Walt Disney World at 8 on that Saturday morning and stepped into a different version of Disney's world ... a world populated by people wearing Mickey Mouse ears and Figment T-shirts, Disney-themed leather jackets and multi-colored vests adorned with the faces of Disney characters ... a world where nostalgia and memories were about to be rekindled and celebrated, with the help of many of the people who played such an integral role in generating all those warm memories in the first place.

I was walking into D23's Destination D: Walt Disney World's 40th. Even though I was a first-time fan event attendee, I felt a kinship with all those in attendance and anxiously looked forward to drinking in everything the two-day experience had to offer.

It turned out I was late on this very important date. Even though the first of the speakers and presenters wouldn't take the stage for another hour and a half, the queue stretched farther than the eye could see, from one side of the massive entrance lobby to the other, then around a corner and beyond. I walked to the end of the line, official event lanyard dangling from my neck, and joined the others, who didn't seem to mind the long line at all.

After the doors opened and everyone filed into the massive auditorium, I began to understand what all the excitement was about: What followed was a weekend worthy of an E Ticket park attraction: Exciting, thrilling, fun and entertaining, with memories that will truly last a lifetime.

D23, of course, is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Company. It was formed in 2009 as a way to keep Disney fans "in the middle of the magic." The group has its own website, throws a huge biennial Expo in California and even publishes its own magazine four times a year.

At each D23 Expo, the past, the present and the future all share the spotlight during the always jammed-to-the-rafters event in Anaheim, Calif. Disney Legends reminisce about their glory days, product displays give attendees an idea of what's hot on the market now, while Disney's top executives take the opportunity to introduce new theme park attractions or upcoming blockbuster movies to appreciative audiences.

In addition to its Expo, D23 offers a variety of events around the country for its members, including behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive movie screenings. On Nov. 19-20, they'll be hosting a major event at Walt Disney World. It's called Destination D: Amazing Adventures, to be held in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Presenters and panelists will include Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter; Walt Disney Imagineers Joe Rohde, Chris Merritt, Jason Grandt and Wyatt Winter; producer Don Hahn (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast); and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline. A selection of exclusive Imagineering merchandise as well as limited-edition pins, T-shirts and collectibles themed to the event will be available for purchase by eager fans.

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Disney Legend Marty Sklar signs a copy of his first book, "Dream It! Do It!", during an appearance at a Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

But D23 is far from the only Disney fan club out there. Regular gatherings, whether they are once a year, every other year or every few months, are the hallmarks of these groups ... as is their affection for all things Disney. They get together to share that mutual love, reveling in the past while keeping a watchful eye on what's planned for the future.

One of the most popular fan gatherings, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is held in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle, each year [it'll run from July 9-10]. Guest speakers this year include Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar, as well as Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin. In addition to its main event, the group also hosts smaller 'mini-Meet Ups' throughout the year both locally, in the parks and at other select locations, including at the D23 Expo.

Founded in 2009 by Don Morin, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet strives to capture the essence of what it means to be a Disney devotee. Morin is proud to say his Mouse Meet is "by Disney fans, for Disney fans."

Morin's love of Disney began in 1974 when his grammar school class was asked to write a report on a famous person from the 1900s. He chose Walt Disney. The experience "had a profound affect on me, for sure," he said. From that point on, with his Disney switch flipped, "I had a desire to learn who was creating all this magic."

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Stacia Martin, an artist and Disney historian, will be featured during this year's Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet]

The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet grew out of that quest to take a deep dive into Disney history and culture. Morin says he devotes hundreds of hours into giving guests as rewarding an experience as possible; he has many hard-working volunteers helping him to achieve that goal. The work includes "prep on so many levels. Contacting vendors and guest celebrity speakers; working with the convention center and the volunteer team; updating the website; planning, building displays and securing photo ops; writing, producing and recording videos, scripts, travel, set-up and so much more. It's definitely a love and a passion for what I do for Disney fans."

This year's event is already sold out, with a crowd of about 500 fellow Disney fanatics expected to be on hand for presentations, product displays, memorabilia sales and, as an added treat, Dole Whips.

Marty Sklar, the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering, has high praise for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and Don Morin.

"It's the second time for me, and I know it is for Bob [Gurr]. Don Morin runs such a great show and is a grand host. He's had Tony Baxter, Don Hahn, Kevin Rafferty and many other Disney and Pixar people participate in the past."

Getting Disney's blessing is a major coup for Morin. In 2015, D23 participated in the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet by supplying guest speakers. This year, D23 will be a sponsor. [The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet has a number of sponsors, including AllEars.Net].

"Earning the respect and partnership of so many people over the years has been key to longevity, growth and building of the PNW Mouse Meet brand," Morin said. "From early on, guest celebrities have been so impressed with the event, how it is run, what it represents and what it offers the guests, that these guest celebrities go back home and talk to others about the event and even recommend them being a part of the event in the future.

"One Disney Legend has been noted as stating several times, 'The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet is by far the best fan run Disney fan event in the country.'"

During the 2013 event, Morin presented a donation to Marty Sklar earmarked for Ryman Arts, a cause near and dear to Marty's heart [he and his wife Leah, as well as Lucille Ryman Carroll, Sharon Disney Lund and Harrison and Anne Shaw Price founded the arts education group in 1990 in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman].

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A poster advertises the upcoming Disneyana Fan Club event where proceeds will benefit Ryman Arts. [Courtesy of Disneyana Fan Club]

Another well-known Disney fan group, the Disneyana Fan Club, will be holding a dinner and fundraising event of its own on July 13 in Garden Grove, Calif., with proceeds also going to Ryman Arts. "This event is our 'big' fundraiser for Ryman Arts," said Dennis Ritchey, Ryman Arts Fund Raising Event Coordinator for the Disneyana Fan Club. "This will be our 10th year doing this and currently we are about $4,000 away from having donated $100,000 to Ryman Arts over the past 10 years." The club also holds fundraisers throughout the year for other worthy causes.

The Disneyana Fan Club is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Walt Disney. Its common goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. The group also publishes a member newsletter, called the Disneyana Dispatch.

The Disneyana Fan Club holds an annual gathering, called DisneyanaMania Convention, July 13-16, while staging other events at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

"In addition to our annual convention in July, we usually have several special events," Ritchey noted. "Last year, we had an event at the Smoke Tree Ranch, and a great afternoon at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, where Lisa Henson accepted our Legends Award posthumously for her father."

Cathy Perrone, a Disneyana Fan Club board member in charge of special events, adds that the group "hosts events that showcase some of the finest talent the Disney brand has to offer. ... A recent outing was a weekend at Walt's 'happy place,' Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. Our group was able to see Walt and Lillian's two homes, learning why they were so special to them."

Ms. Perrone added that Disneyana Fan Club prides itself "in bringing 'intimate' experiences so our members and their guests are able to speak to, shake hands with and, yes, get autographs and pose for pictures" with some of Disney's most prominent Legends.

"One of our personal favorites was a magnificent luncheon in the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. There, we were treated to a rare opportunity with eight of the original Mouseketeers. They surprised us with interviews, live music and dance. To top off that special day, Tommy Cole sang 'Annette,' which was written by Disney Legend Jimmy Dodd."

At its DisneyanaMania Convention, "we have an annual Luncheon with a Disney Legend. This is an opportunity for our organization to honor and salute those individuals who have helped make so many of our dreams come true through their talents, skills and artistry.

"We began this tradition in 1993 and to date have bestowed this honor to 137 individuals," Ms.Perrone added. "While a few have been presented posthumously, I'd say 98 percent of all those honored were able to attend in person and were very moved by this honor. It is a highlight of our club and one that makes it very special."

According to Ritchey, "there are Disneyana Fan Club chapters throughout the country and we have members worldwide."

There are other clubs out there, as well ... smaller, less well-known, perhaps, but drawing devoted Disney fans to the fold. Many are popular online sites, some are tied to the Disney Vacation Club, like Mouseowners. But all have one thing in common: A desire by its participants to spread the word about Disney and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions about their passion.

June 6, 2016

Waxing nostalgic about Disney memorabilia

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The cover of a long-playing Mickey Mouse Club record. The album features 21 hit Mouseketunes. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

What do you think of when you think of Disney?

World-class theme parks, with so many iconic rides and attractions, to be sure. And all those classic animated feature films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Frozen, and live-action epics like Star Wars and the Marvel franchises ... beloved characters ... a respected cruise line ... a popular time share enterprise ... numerous retail outlets in the theme parks, in malls and online ... a leading television network ...

And let's not forget nostalgia.

"Makin' memories," as they used to say at the Imagination pavilion at Epcot, is a key component to Disney's unparalleled long-term success. A few years back, Disney Parks initiated a year-long campaign called "Let the Memories Begin," because they have long recognized how important memorable experiences are to the fabric of most families.

As a natural extension, memorabilia and collectibles are an integral part of the world of Disney. Just ask anyone who has ever attended a Disneyana or D23 event and you'll get an idea of how great the appeal is for Disney's storied past [more on that in a future blog].

Like most hard-core Disney fans, I love Disney of old. Which goes a long way in explaining why, every time I visit a Disney theme park, I grab several guide maps ... one for use that day in the park, the others to be filed away for future reference. Thankfully, I've done this ever since our first visit to Walt Disney World in 1972. To me, these seemingly innocent maps serve as a window back in time, a glimpse at the way things used to be, a barometer of how things have changed.

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Marty Sklar wrote this in the author's copy of "Walt Disney's Disneyland." [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

Over the years, I've managed to put together a collection of Disney memorabilia that I'm quite proud of. Some of these items I've secured on my own [usually with the help of my wife Janet], others were given to me by family and friends who know of my love of all things Disney.

One of my first "finds" was securing a copy of Walt Disney's Disneyland, a wonderfully detailed book written by none other than my friend Marty Sklar. The books were sold at Disneyland in the late 1960s into the early 1970s as a souvenir of your visit. In truth, the book is a remarkably well-done work, rich in detail about the Happiest Place on Earth.

I found my first copy [Janet and I now have three] of the book at a yard sale in Colts Neck, N.J., in the 1990s.

Years later, in 2011, I had Marty sign the book for me during "a dinner and a conversation" fund-raising event that he headlined in Orlando the night before the D23 event celebrating Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary. It's a cherished keepsake, on many levels.

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The cover of Life Magazine in October, 1971, featuring a "mob-scene" photo of the cast in front of Cinderella Castle. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

A colleague at the Staten Island Advance, Steve Zaffarano, was cleaning house one day in 2010 when he came across a copy of the iconic Life Magazine edition, dated October 15, 1971, featuring the Walt Disney World cast posed in front of Cinderella Castle.

He brought it to work the next day and asked me if I'd like to have it. A no-brainer, on many levels. A few years after Steve's generous gift, I was fortunate to speak to the man who was chiefly responsible for setting up that classic photo, as well as several other pre-opening magazine features ... Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway.

After making significant contributions to the success of Disneyland, Charlie and his family moved to Florida in 1969 following him being named Walt Disney World's first director of press and publicity.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York," he told me in 2014. "I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major papers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic.

"The managing editor of Look Magazine (Pat Carbine) said: 'We want to be the first ones with a cover story' [on Walt Disney World]. They wanted to have their reporter come down in April [of 1971; the Magic Kingdom wouldn't open until October], which was way too early. There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done.

"We laid some artificial grass on Town Square so we could shoot City Hall. I think there was a ladder still up on the balcony when we shot it. Look had a very good layout."

As for the Life Magazine cover photo and story: "The idea of going to Life was Sandy Quinn's, who came down in 1967 and was the first Disney guy on the ground ... he became very friendly with a lot of the local news media," Charlie said.

"At the time we were getting ready to plan for the opening, I suggested we do a mob-scene picture and we carried forward from that point. We went to Life with the idea and they liked it and they sent down one of their very best photographers, a guy named Yale Joel. He got up on a stand with an 8x10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that one we shot in front of the castle.

"We assembled as many cast members as we could get there. We actually had 5,000 employees, of which we were able to gather 3,000 at one time for the photo." The magazine is a wonderful keepsake, made even more special after getting input from the man involved in bringing it to Life [pun intended].

Disney memorabilia comes in all shapes and sizes, from Mickey Mouse watches to character figurines to Davy Crockett coonskin caps to vintage stuffed animals ... a.k.a., plush. Vinyl records — you remember them, don't you? — also fall into this nostalgic category.

Our son's mother-in-law, Cindy, came across several Disney recording gems at a flea market a few years ago and gave them to me. All three records — one is a 12-inch long-playing record, the other two are smaller 6- and 7-inch discs — feature the Mickey Mouse Club and The Merry Mouseketeers, as they were sometimes referred to during the show's prime in the 1950s.

One of the smaller records is a Disneyland Record and Book titled "Mickey Mouse, Brave Little Tailor," while the other is titled "Songs from the Mickey Mouse Club" and was part of a series of official Mickey Mouse Club Records.

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"The Mickey Mouse Club March" was featured on this vintage record. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

The liner notes on the cover of that record are priceless: "Exclusively on these low-priced official Mickey Mouse Club Records are the voices, songs and games from Walt Disney's wonderful daily one-hour TV show. Here are Mickey, Donald and Jiminy Cricket — Jimmie Dodd and The Merry Mouseketeers for your child's enjoyment, participation and education."

The LP — "Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club, Mousekedances and Other Mouseketeer Favorites," on Disneyland Records — features a colorful cover, with drawings of Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy sharing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse stage with likenesses of club leader Jimmie and Mouseketeers Karen, Cubby, Bobby and, of course, Annette Funicello. The songs on the album run the gamut of what was played during a typical "Mickey Mouse Club" television show, which was broadcast on ABC in glorious black-and-white Monday through Friday in the mid- to late-1950s.

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This letter, from Walt Disney to then-Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, was up for auction several years ago. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

Several years ago, an auction house sent me photos of several Disney-related items that they were about to put up for bidding. One of the items was a letter from Walt Disney to California Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, sent in December of 1958. It's fascinating, on many levels.

The point of the letter, on official Disneyland stationary no less, was to alert Gov. Knight that he was receiving his Disneyland Gold Pass for the 1959 season. In reading the letter, it's obvious that Walt is quite proud of the fact that many new attractions would be opening at Disneyland during the year, including the Matterhorn bobsleds, a monorail system and a submarine voyage.

If need be, according to the letter, Gov. Knight could contact Walt's secretary, Tommy Walker, by calling her at VIctoria 9-3411. If you manage to get your hands on a time-traveling device, make sure to give Walt a call when you go back to the 1950s. Gov. Knight was among the many honored guests on hand during Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955.

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A newspaper article, circa 1939-1940, and in French, dealing with Walt Disney's new film, "Fantasia." [Chuck Schmidt Collection]


Mike Virgintino, my Friendly Freedomland pal, occasionally stumbles on Disney-related gems and he generously sends them to me to add to my collection. "I know they'll get a good home with you," he says.

One such item is quite interesting. It's a newspaper clipping, circa 1939-1940, of a story on Disney's upcoming new film, Fantasia. The article features a photo of one of the film's segments, Beethoven's "The Pastoral Symphony."

The only problem is: The article is in French [any French students out there?].

The clipping adds to my Fantasia collection: I have [on loan from my mother] an original program movie-goers received when they saw the movie during its long-running engagement at the Broadway Theatre in Manhattan. The booklet features a wealth of information about the ground-breaking cinematic achievement, including portraits of Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor and the making of the classic.

There's also one critic's succinct take on the movie: "Fantasia will Amasia." ... as will most items from the Disney vault.

May 2, 2016

You're Stronger Than You Seem

by Laura Schmitt
AllEars Guest Blogger

Laura Schmitt “Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. - AA Milne”

Christopher Robin says the above to Pooh Bear, as they sit side by side. This bear of little brain may not ever bounce high like Tigger, or soar like Owl, but he is always a source of love and strength for the entire Hundred Acre Wood family through his constant simplistic loving nature. Pooh, fluff protruding and stitches popping, manages to pull together an unlikely cast of characters and hold them with the most important strength of all... love and friendship.

If we look at Pooh Bear, we may only notice a worn stuffed toy, but if we focus on the heart of the character, we can find ourselves tumbling into a wealth of strength that bounces and soars. It is because of this bit of magic that we all learn to look deeper while we search for surprises in the world of Disney. Like Pooh Bear, my oldest child hides an extraordinary strength that others will not see by looking with their eyes, but anyone who knows her will experience and appreciate what that really looks like.

Ten years ago, a mom, dad, 6-year-old girl and her 4-year-old sister visited Walt Disney World for the first time. During that visit, the 6-year-old marveled with astonishment at how large Piglet was in person, and how lovely it was to run through the Hundred Acre Wood in real life. All smiles, gasps of astonishment, and laughter, we delighted to such an extreme during that first visit that we went back to Walt Disney World nine times in the decade that followed.

Life brought us many changes during that time. The most notable for my daughter was the introduction of her disease. Our daughter was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a disease of the connective tissue that affects the entire body. For her, this meant a deterioration of her joints and daily shoulder dislocations that have progressed to hip subluxations and fainting. Life turned upside-down for all of us as we tried to smooth all paths for a child who could no longer bounce her way through life.

As EDS has claimed more and more of our child, we found that in Disney World, the magic is "one size fits all." When she could no longer walk, or ride jarring rides, or stand for long periods, we found that in the parks, and with a wheelchair, she could still be that strong little bear who delighted at a towering Piglet and lit up at the sight of a real life castle. Disney offers its magic to everyone in the same loving and inclusive way that Pooh Bear embraces Piglet. He doesn’t look at his frightened little friend and think, "This won’t be for you." Instead, he stands by him and they travel each path together. Disney manages this by allowing access to disabled people through cleverly designed park spaces, handicapped entrances, and wonderfully trained cast members across the parks. The system for transferring to and from a wheelchair is as graceful and easy as stepping in and out of a ride when working with the incredible cast members.

Even the entertainment comes in bursts of spectacle geared for any body's ability. There are new amazements to enjoy, experience and encounter with every new trip to the parks.

Planning for a visit Magic Kingdom over a very busy spring break, we plan ahead and go into the park for an advanced dining reservation before park opening. This helps our daughter by letting her avoid that large and incredibly frightening crowd upon entering the park. We glide from a wonderful breakfast straight to the honeypots that tour us through Pooh’s magical storybook, and laugh the whole time. I don’t know if she remembers her early years of story time on my lap, as we read this very adventure day after day, or if her own readings of A.A. Milne are fresher in her mind, but I watch the words falling from the pages and marvel that we are back in the story, again.

Because the park is flat, and the lines allow the width of her chair, it is easy for us to navigate with her confined to her safe space. From that ride, we move on to other family favorites, all accommodating for her abilities, such as Haunted Mansion, Mickey's PhilHarmagic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and more. If she has enough energy to stay into the afternoon, we watch the parade from the safe wheelchair-designated space roped off by cast members, and maybe even enjoy some dairy-free root beer floats from Main Street.

It can be hard for a bear of little brain to "think, think, think," and in the stories we find Pooh frustrated that he can’t remember what he set out to do. For my daughter, it's hard to see eyes on her for being in a wheelchair. She feels like people are judging her, or wondering what is wrong with her, which from natural curiosity, they may be. You see, she can stand up and walk for a bit, and everything will look completely normal. She does not look like she has a disability.

What others can’t see is that as she freezes and grimaces, her shoulder has slid out of its socket, or her hip has subluxated partially out of its socket. She concentrates on putting it back where it belongs without further injury, and this happens so many times each day, we have given up keeping count. Another thing they cannot see is the blinding, burning, and sometimes numbing pain.

Because May is Ehlers Danlos Awareness month, I wanted to share this with our fellow Disney fans. Like us, you may embrace the parks, the movies, the magic, and we may even see some of you at Magic Kingdom on a day in the near future. I’d ask that you remember that not all disabilities are visible.

Despite the pain and struggle my little bear faces each day, she shows remarkable strength. She doesn’t know it. She meekly thinks of herself as a scared and timid little Piglet in many ways, but the fact that she perseveres through pain, dislocations, and fainting sessions and keeps moving forward is enough to make me cheer for her every day: “You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!"

At Disney World, where she is included in all aspects of the magic, her laughter soars and her smile bounces throughout our time away. The magic in the air is almost healing in a way, because she seems lighter and happier where it is so easy to be immersed in good times with family and old storybook friends.

There is no cure for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but we keep hoping that the marvels of medicine will come up with something in her lifetime. If Disney has taught us anything it’s that anything you can dream can come true, so we keep raising awareness, dreaming big, and savoring our magical moments together whenever and wherever we find them.

Ten years after their first visit to Walt Disney World, a mom, a dad, a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old girl are heading back to their favorite, inclusive and magical place. The very first thing they will do is stop in for breakfast and a hug from their favorite storybook friends at Crystal Palace. You may even see them as you go about your own magical sort of day. You can be certain that "wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place... they will always be playing." -- A. A. Milne

About the Author: Laura Schmitt and her husband Eric live in Illinois with their two daughters, Taylor and Ella. Laura is a freelance writer, an avid Disney World enthusiast and a nutrition educator who is helping her daughter raise awareness for EDS through http://ehlersdanlossyndromehere.blogspot.com/

April 27, 2016

Review: Early Morning Magic at the Magic Kingdom

by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

My husband and I had a short Walt Disney World vacation planned when I noticed that Disney was offering something new called Early Morning Magic. I am always one to want to experience what is new in the World so I jumped on this opportunity and made reservations for the first date it was being offered, April 26.

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We were told to be at the Magic Kingdom queues around 7:30am to check-in and we would then enter the park to be escorted to Fantasyland at 7:45. Not knowing if early morning buses would be running we hopped in a taxi and arrived in plenty of time. We checked in and received a yellow paper band for our wrists and stood in line for the queues.

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It was soon apparent that everyone who had bought this experience was grouped with all those guests who had early morning dining reservations. It was a bit of a crowded experience and a lot of waiting. We waited to go through the queue and then waited again as a mass group right before the entrance tunnel. Then one more time we waited inside the tunnel as a group. I was never quite sure why we had to wait in all of these locations and why the Early Morning Magic guests were not separated from the others. It was confusing for everyone.

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When they let us loose it was around 7:45am and it was a calm walk down Main Street to Fantasyland. We did not stop for the castle photo but also did not rush. We were not escorted as the information had mentioned but it was nice to just enjoy an empty park and stroll at our own pace.

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The Early Morning Magic event offered three Fantasyland attractions for us to enjoy: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan's Flight. We headed to what we knew would be the most popular choice, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We were met with no lines and no wait and hopped right on and enjoyed our first attraction of the day. When we exited you could go right back to the loading area without leaving the building which was nice.

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We opted to head to Peter Pan's Flight and do our next attraction. Again there was no line and no wait and we were on immediately to enjoy my husband's favorite ride. Next stop was the last attraction offered, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and again walked right on. I checked my watch and saw that we had done all three attractions and it was only 8:03am. My question to myself was now what were we going to do for another hour.

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My husband isn't a lover of roller coasters of any kind so I decided to head back to the Mine Train and do it again solo. I actually could have done it another ten times if I had wished to ride that many times. They were asking guests to get out of the cars after each trip but you literally could just walk back on.

One of the perks to getting this extra park event was that it included a full breakfast. So that is exactly where we headed next. Breakfast is served in Pinocchio Village Haus located right in the center of Fantasyland.

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Two identical buffet sides were set up and the offerings included scrambled eggs, vegetable frittata, two kinds of sausages, bacon, potatoes, fruits, assorted pastries, assorted cheeses and cold meats, and waffles. Two juice flavors were options as well as milk and water. They also had a coffee station offering regular coffee, decaf coffee, and assorted teas. We thought the food selections adequate and everything tasted great. We were not disappointed in the all you can eat buffet that was included in this special ticket. Breakfast was offered until 10am so if you wanted to ride the attractions for the full hour you could still come and enjoy this private dining event once the park opened.

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After breakfast I decided to do the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one last time. It was now about 8:45 and with the park opening at 9am that morning it was good to get the most popular attraction under my belt once again before the crowds descended. What surprised me and disappointed me was the fact when we walked over we saw that the stand-by line was filling up. Why? Because th queue included some of the early dining guests. We had heard the announcement of the park opening show as we left breakfast so didn't think guests could all be there yet but wondered about the crowds building.

I walked through the FastPass line and was immediately stopped by a cast member who asked if I had a FastPass. I was stunned and said no but that I had bought the Early Morning Magic ticket and showed her my yellow wristband. She was hesitant but allowed me to join the line. Yes, I am saying the line now. They were allowing all the standby line guests to enjoy the attraction and I had to join into that line. Of course the wait was not long but I was just surprised that it was inferred that only those guests who paid for this special ticket would enjoy the three attractions until park opened at 9am.

My opinion of this event is mixed. Unless you have family members who are avid Seven Dwarfs Mine Train fans this will not appeal to older children who would rather be on Space Mountain. You will also have to be careful that your group can all enjoy the three attractions that are offered as I saw a few times that young children did not meet the height requirement for the Mine Train and they were very disappointed.

I personally felt that they certainly could have at least two more attractions open such as Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and Its a Small World as they both are in the same area if they wanted to keep it compact. If not then Dumbo and Barnstormer would be great additions. But three attractions just didn't offer enough to do for the hour in the park. I appreciated not waiting in the long lines those attractions draw during the day but I found we had so much extra time on our hands and didn't know what to do.

The cost for the Early Morning Magic ticket is $69 for adults and $59 for children 3-9. This is on top of the admission ticket you must have for the park that day. It does include a full breakfast and the opportunity to experience three attractions but I felt that was a bit steep. Characters were not out and if they wanted to make it a better value for their guests it would be nice to have one character meet and greet and at least two more attractions open to enjoy. It was difficult for me to find out how many Early Morning Magic tickets are sold for each date but I finally was told that it was around 200 so if this is something you wish to experience you will need to grab a reservation quickly.

Because of the cost of the ticket I hope they will encourage the three attractions that are included to stay open only for the ticketed guests until the published time of the park opening which is 9am. I understand that the Magic Kingdom will often open early if crowds become heavy at the entrance but it was disappointing that with my ticket I lost 15 minutes of private enjoyment of the attractions.

All in all we enjoyed our quiet time in the park but I doubt we will encourage our family to purchase this special event ticket if it is continued past June unless more is added to enjoy.

March 28, 2016

In greenlighting Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland, Card Walker cemented his Disney legacy

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Walt Disney Company president Card Walker, left, and Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Co. sign an agreement in 1974 to join forces in the creation of Tokyo Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

On Oct. 24, 1982, E. Cardon Walker stepped onto a small podium in front of a giant geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth and read the following words:

"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all. May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

With that short dedication speech, Card Walker opened the gates to Epcot, bringing to a close a decades-long odyssey that began with a sketch on a napkin by Walt Disney. Over that time span, Epcot evolved from Walt's concept of a futuristic city of tomorrow into an eclectic, two-pronged experience: Future World, where technological advances and glimpses into innovative products on the horizon would be displayed, all in an atmosphere conducive to learning; and World Showcase, where several of the world's countries would be able to show off all their nations had to offer ... kind of a permanent world's fair.

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Card Walker reads the dedication during opening day ceremonies for Epcot Center on Oct. 24, 1982. [The Walt Disney Company]

Right from the start, Epcot was different, unlike anything that had ever been created before ... or, frankly, since. While most people were blown away by the shear innovative nature of the place, as well as the richly detailed architecture in World Showcase and the product displays [such as cell phones and personal computers] in Future World, some people were puzzled. Many surmised that if the Magic Kingdom was mainly for kids, then Epcot was a place devoted strictly for adults.

For one thing, Epcot in 1982 was devoid of thrill rides and, for that matter, lacking in any sort of amusements for young children. For another, the Disney characters, so prevalent in the Magic Kingdom, were virtual no-shows at Epcot during the early days.

But Epcot, like every other Disney theme park after their openings, evolved and changed to meet public demand, and after a few years, the park hit its stride and became an overwhelming success.

What many people don't realize or appreciate is that during the design and construction of Epcot, Card Walker and the Walt Disney Company had undertaken the unprecedented task of building another theme park ... this one, thousands of miles, one vast ocean and another continent away. A Japanese firm named Oriental Land Co. Ltd. had approached Disney in 1974, inquiring about the possibility of building a Disney park in the Land of the Rising Sun. Oriental Land Co. did an extensive feasibility study, met with many of Disney's corporate leaders and even took them on a helicopter tour of the proposed site.

Building Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland almost concurrently "split our staff quite a bit," recalls former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar. "At the point where we were in the height of construction at the two sites, we were the largest design company in the world. We had to take some of our best people and send them to Japan."

The projects pushed Disney's creative staff to the limit. "It meant that a lot of people were doing double duty," Marty added. "We had to designate people that had to live in Japan because the Japanese had no idea how to do the things that were needed to build a park. We used a lot of outside help in both projects. In building Epcot, there were so many different pieces, so many different contractors. We needed people from just about very craft that you can imagine.

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With Cinderella Castle as a beautiful backdrop, Disney's fabled Partners statue adorns The Hub area of Tokyo Disneyland. [Gregg Schmidt]

"In Tokyo, we were dealing with landfill for the first time. [Tokyo Disneyland] is built all on reclaimed land. What they have there is something called differential settlement. Even today, the castle there is actually on jacks, and the jacks have to be adjusted from time to time. One part will drop, because different parts of what's underneath are going to change character ... drop an inch or two. So they're dealing with differential settlement on a regular basis."

While building a Disney park in Japan offered many new challenges, then-Disney president Card Walker had to come to grips with something on a deeply personal level: Some 35 years before Disney and Oriental Land joined forces, Walker served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war against Japan. He was a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945.

"Card had a really tough time dealing with the Japanese," Marty said. "The hardest part for him was coming to grips with the loss of so many of the people he served with on the carrier. Many of them were his friends."

Walker eventually came to terms with the dilemma and Disney and Oriental Land forged a strong partnership. Eleven years after Oriental Land had begun exploring the possibility of creating a theme park in Japan - and roughly nine years after design and construction had commenced on the Disney-Oriental project - Tokyo Disneyland opened its gates on a rainy April 15, 1983.

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A topiary of Mickey Mouse can be seen outside the entrance of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. [Gregg Schmidt]

Before the gates opened, Masatomo Takahashi, president of Oriental Land, and Walker cut a ceremonial tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on.

In front of about 3,000 opening-day guests, Mr. Takahashi addressed the attendees from a platform set up in World Bazaar: "On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!"

Card Walker offered the following words of dedication, just six months after doing similar honors at Epcot:

"To all of you who come to this happy place, welcome. Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."

Soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Walker retired as an executive, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until 1990. After 61 years of service - which started in the Disney Studios mailroom - Card Walker retired from the board of directors in 1999 and was designated an emeritus member of the board.

He died on Nov. 28, 2005, in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., his legacy firmly established, his contributions to the company legendary ... and his debt to Walt Disney more than paid off.

March 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

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Spaceship Earth, Epcot Center's icon, during the early stages of construction. [The Walt Disney Company]


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

"What are we going to do about Epcot?"

With those words, first spoken in 1974, then-Disney president Card Walker got the ball rolling on what is arguably the most ambitious project ever taken on by the Walt Disney Company after Walt's death in 1966.

According to former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar: "That was the start of eight years of figuring out what to do, and it was a pretty fantastic eight years, I must say. But that was really the start. I give Card a lot of credit, because he didn't let that dream die."

"That dream" was Walt Disney's vision for a city of the future, a Utopian complex that would tackle the problem of urban blight and would introduce new, forward-thinking ideas on how to improve the human condition.

"Some aspects, some version [of Walt's Epcot concept] would have happened and it would have changed a lot, because the evolution of these projects is so dynamic," Marty said. "I have this ad I kept in my office all the time. It was from IBM. It said 'The Future is a Moving Target.' And nobody saw that as clearly as Walt Disney did, believe me."

Once Card Walker decided to give the go-ahead for Epcot, it was up to a team of individuals -- Marty Sklar, John Hench, Carl Borgirno, Don Edgren, Jack Lindquist and Randy Bright among them -- to figure out exactly what Epcot's mission should be ... and, perhaps more importantly, how that vision would be paid for.

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An aerial view of Epcot during construction, with Spaceship Earth taking shape and many of the monorail beams in place. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the outset, the team was emphatic what Epcot shouldn't be ... namely, another theme park. "If you think about it, at that time, and even today, it had to have that contrast," Marty said. "Why should we go into competition with ourselves? So the contrast was good."

So the team embarked on a crusade of sorts, reaching out to a variety of leaders from a diverse field to get their thoughts and ideas on the ambitious, first-of-its-kind project.

"We decided we had to test the water, so we held what we called The Epcot Future Technology Forums, starting in 1976," Marty said. "Ray Bradbury [the noted science fiction writer who contributed to Epcot's communication theme] was the first speaker. And we invited people from academia, from government, from corporations and just smart people that we found through our research and it was really fascinating because we had these long discussions.

"We'd show Walt's film and we had translated that into potential directions. It was very early on. And after every one of these conferences, these people would say to us, 'The public doesn't trust government to do this, the public doesn't trust what industry tells them, but they trust Mickey Mouse. So you guys have a role in this.' Well, that was very nice to hear people say that, but what the heck do you do about that?

"I went back to Card Walker, who was a marketing man from his experiences with the studio, and we decided to go back to the whole idea that Walt had said, that no one company can do this by itself. And that's when we started going out to all the big corporations and said, 'OK, here's what we're planning to do and we want you to be part it.'"

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Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar on-site during Epcot's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

Getting American industry to fall in line "was a huge selling job," Marty remembers. General Motors was the first company to hear the pitch about Epcot. The automotive giant had put together a committee of its own, called The Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, which was formed to help chart GM's course for the future.

So Marty and company "packed up two truckloads of models and artwork and we hired John McClure Sr. John had been the art director for the Hall of Presidents, but more importantly, he was one of the great art directors in Hollywood. He did Hello, Dolly and Cleopatra, among other things, so John set up our presentation.

"They gave us their whole design center in Warren, Michigan. They had an area where they introduced their cars. It was big ... huge. They gave us the whole thing. We set up these models and Card Walker put together all the people that were key to the project — Donn Tatum, Dick Nunis, Jack Lindquist and the new Disney Channel people, who were just getting started. Everybody that was gonna be part of making this thing work" was there.

"We made a big presentation to Roger Smith and his Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, and when we were finished, Roger said 'I want to do this. There's only one problem: I've got to convince my management.' He was the vice president of finance at the time, later chairman. Jack Lindquist and I were left behind and the next day, at 7 o'clock in the morning, we made a presentation to Pete Estes, the president of GM, and they became the first ones to sign a contract at the end of 1978."

Suddenly, corporate America became intrigued with this exciting Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

General Motors' participation "broke the dam, if you will, and Exxon was right behind them," Marty said. "We made so many presentations that we figured out that we couldn't get the top people to go to Florida or California, so we went to RCA and said, 'Do you have a place that we could set up as a presentation center,' and they did.

"They had a recording studio at the Avenue of the Americas and 46th Street where Andre Costellanez used to do his recordings and they said we could have it for a year. And so we rented it and we brought all our models and artwork and we put a staff there and any time of the day or week, if we wanted to set up a meeting, with companies headquartered in the New York area, as most of them were in those days, they could call up and say, 'Yeah, I'd like to have my chairman come in and see your project.'"

At that point in time, Epcot had morphed from a city of the future into two separate sections of one park, one focused on American industry and new technologies, the other one showcasing as many countries as possible in a permanent, world's fair-type setting.

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Card Walker and other dignitaries break ground during ceremonies kicking off Epcot Center's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

"That's how we communicated to the companies," Marty added. "We started out with trying to do two projects. One was international and the other was so-called Future World area, and we found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both, so we pushed the two of them together basically and that became Epcot Center."

Journalists who had seen detailed drawings of a domed city with futuristic modes of transportation had a hard time accepting this new Epcot. "Walt left a very sketchy outline," Jack Lindquist said. "It was developed at that time (1966) to influence the Florida legislature. We needed something bigger, bolder, more dramatic than another Disneyland."

Walt asked famed Disney artist Herb Ryman — who had made a name for himself in 1954 by drawing the first rendering of Disneyland which Walt used as part of his pitch to potential investors — to help conceptualize Epcot. "Draw me something to talk about, Herbie," he said. But what Ryman came up with was far more grandiose than almost anyone had imagined. It turned out to be more fantasy than fact-based.

Still, "The media wouldn't let that Epcot go away," Lindquist said. "They had that image [of a domed city] in mind, but nobody really knew what Epcot was."

"I'd say we are doing exactly what we talked about when Walt was alive," John Hench said when asked if the company was departing from Walt Disney's original vision. "Walt introduced ideas as, you might say, the title in Scene One. He knew better than to drop the big scene into people's minds at the beginning. We're engaged in Scene Two now."

Scene Two would take years to be completed and would run up over a billion dollars in construction costs. It was a huge gamble on the part of the Walt Disney Company and its president, Card Walker, especially when you consider that after ground was broken in central Florida for Epcot, plans were put in motion to build another first-of-its-kind Disney park ... thousands of miles and one vast ocean away, in Japan.

The man known as Card was rolling the dice ... and the stakes couldn't have been higher.

Next time: Card Walker comes to terms with a Disney presence in Japan.

February 29, 2016

Under Card Walker's guidance, Epcot begins to take shape

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One of the many concept drawings, done in the mid-1960s, depicting the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow -- Epcot. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In early 1956, several months after E. Cardon Walker hired Marty Sklar to produce The Disneyland News, Card was named vice president of advertising and sales for Walt Disney Productions, getting the word out such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The promotion was the start of a meteoric rise up the company ladder for Card who, like Marty, was a graduate of UCLA. In what seemed like rapid succession, Card was appointed to the company's Board of Directors in 1960. In 1965, he was named vice president of marketing, then executive vice president of operations in 1967, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1968. In 1971, he became company president. Five years later, he was named Disney's chief executive officer.

During his tenure as a top executive in the Disney corporate ranks, Card not only oversaw the creation of Epcot, but Tokyo Disneyland and The Disney Channel as well, providing a steady hand at a time when the company was still trying to find its way after the deaths of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

With the success of The Disneyland News on his resume, Marty Sklar returned to UCLA in the fall of 1955 to complete his studies. After graduation in 1956, Marty accepted a position in Disneyland's publicity department, working with the likes of future Disney Legends Eddie Meck, Jack Lindquist and Milt Albright. Marty and his PR cohorts dreamed up a number of noteworthy initiatives, including Vacationland Magazine, all of which made great strides in promoting the park because, as Marty put it years later, "Disneyland wasn't a slam dunk during those first few years."

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marty's relationship with Card Walker remained strong.

"I had the good fortune to come out of a group that reported to Card at Disneyland," Marty said, "and I stayed very close to him over the years. Even after I had gone to WED [WED Enterprises was the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1961 to work on the New York World's Fair, I still did a lot of writing for publicity and marketing. I also was responsible for the annual report. Card kept me close to him all that time.

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Walt Disney poses for a photo after recording The Epcot Film in 1966. Two months after filming, Walt died. [The Walt Disney Company]

"To have somebody in that position trust you so much to continue to promote me, if you will, talk me up with Walt and other executives in the company, was quite an honor. And he knew I had written all that material for Walt for Epcot, of course."

Marty was responsible for writing the script for what became known as The Epcot Film. In it, Walt presented, in meticulous detail, his vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow ... a city of the future that was the heart and soul of Disney's planned move to central Florida. Included with the film were concept drawings, many by artist Herb Ryman, a Disney Legend. Many of Ryman's renderings depicted a futuristic metropolis featuring monorails, PeopleMovers and a dome encasing the entire complex.

Filming of The Epcot Film took place in October of 1966; Walt Disney died just two months later, leaving the company he had founded and nurtured for decades in a lurch. With plans already in motion for the move to Florida at the time of Walt's death, Epcot was put on hold and the company concentrated on opening the world's first destination resort: A Disneyland-style theme park, on-property hotels and expansive recreational facilities.

Questions persisted about Epcot

After Walt died, "we continued to get questions about Epcot," Marty said, particularly from those people who had seen the early concept drawings. "After Roy [Walt's brother, who took over as company leader after Walt's passing] died in December of 1971, Card and Donn Tatum took up the mantel. I really think Card felt he had a debt to pay to Walt and he had to fulfill that debt as chairman of the company."

In May of 1974, Card Walker took Marty Sklar aside and asked him one of the most important questions of his career: "What are we gonna do about Epcot?"

Walt's original concept for Epcot, to create a city of the future where residents would live and work and where news ideas and systems would be introduced, was problematic, if next to impossible to bring to reality, at least without Walt Disney's guidance. "We knew we couldn't experiment with people's lives," Card said. "You couldn't have spectators peeking in people's kitchen windows."

Still, the Disney company was committed to building something on the property that reflected and fulfilled Walt's dreams of a great, big beautiful tomorrow.

"In a real sense, the concept of Epcot has been unfolding from the very beginning," Card said. "From the outset of planning and through the design, construction and installation stages of Walt Disney World, Epcot has been the ultimate goal."

According to Marty, "Card made a number of different speeches about ideas for Epcot. These speeches evolved into his vision of the project.

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As his wife Rosalynn looks on, left, President Jimmy Carter chats with Disney executive Card Walker in the Contemporary Resort. Seen over Walker's left shoulder in the background is Marty Sklar.

"I have a photo in my office of president Jimmy Carter in 1976 at the International Chamber of Commerce conference at the Contemporary. President Carter spoke to the conference. We brought all the work we had done to that point and put it in a ballroom at the Contemporary. We invited President Carter to come see, as well as leaders from all over the world."

The photo shows Card Walker talking to President Carter, with First Lady Rosalynn Carter to their right and Marty Sklar standing in the background. Donn Tatum is behind Mrs. Carter.

"Card really felt indebted to Walt for his whole career. This [Epcot] was Walt's big dream. He made a number of different speeches around the country," trying to get as many corporate leaders on board. "He was a good salesman. For example, The Living Seas pavilion. It wasn't part of the pavilions on opening day. It came about when Card was playing golf with Harry Gray, the CEO of United Technologies. [The Living Seas, now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends, opened in 1986, four years after Epcot's opening.]

"Walt always said that no one company can do this [Epcot] by itself," Marty added. "Participation by the country's major companies was the key" to bringing Epcot to life.

One of Marty's chief responsibilities at the outset was to help bring as many of those companies on board as possible. "It was the start of eight incredible years of trying to figure out just what to do."

Next time: The long and winding road leading to Epcot's opening day.

February 15, 2016

Marty Sklar and Card Walker: A winning combination

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In very real sense, Marty Sklar is the keeper of the flame ... the Disney flame, that is.

Since retiring from the Walt Disney Company in 2009, Marty has gladly taken it upon himself to ensure the stories of Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company and the many wonderful people he worked with during his 54 years of service are presented in a fair, accurate and truthful manner.

When you speak to Marty about the most influential people in his career, there's one man near the top of his "most respected" list. It's the man who hired him in 1955 and who, 15 years later, presented him with his most daunting challenge.

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Card Walker

The story of Esmond Cardon Walker -- or Card, for short -- is one of those classic American tales that should both inspire and educate us. It's the story of a man who started at the lowest rung of the Disney corporate ladder and rose to become company president, overseeing the construction of both Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland and, along the way, proving decisively that nice guys do finish first.

As then-CEO Michael Eisner said of Walker in 1990: "In a very real sense, Card is the link between the small, family-owned film company of the '30s and the major global corporation we are today. I'm grateful to have had the benefit of his experience, his judgment, and his convictions about the 'Disney way' of doing things."

Card Walker was born on Jan. 9, 1916, in Rexburg, Idaho. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1924. After graduating from UCLA, he began his business career in humble fashion in 1938 in the Disney Studio mail room, a place where Walt Disney felt new hires could experience every facet of the studio operation. And Card learned his lessons well. He was transferred to the camera department and would go on to serve as unit manager on short subjects in the production department.

In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Card enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945. After the war, he returned to Disney and rose to the position of vice president of marketing and sales.

It was during the mid-1950s, with construction of Disneyland nearing the final stages, when Marty Sklar and Card Walker crossed paths.

"I was fortunate the have known Johnny Jackson," Marty said. "He was the executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association. I had received a scholarship to go to UCLA. The tuition at the time [1952] was 50 dollars. My scholarship was full tuition ... 50 bucks!

"At some point in 1954, Johnny went to work for Disney. He, along with several other people, reported to Card Walker. When they decided to do a tabloid newspaper to be sold on Main Street, I was about to become the editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA.

"In the spring of 1955, I got a call at my fraternity. When I got the message, I thought one of my frat brothers was playing a trick on me because his father worked at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I didn't return his call because he said someone named Card called. I thought it was a joke. It was my good fortune that Card was a graduate of UCLA and was a big booster.

"I eventually went in for an interview and they hired me."

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Card Walker looks over Walt Disney's shoulder during a visit to the Florida property in the mid-1960s. [Walt Disney Company photo]

Marty then told me a story about how a person at the Disney Archives recently sent him a memo he had discovered regarding his hiring.

"It was an inter-office communication for Disneyland, Inc. It was from Ed Ettinger, who was my first boss at Disneyland. The memo read:

Subject: Editor for newspaper-Disneyland.

We have an editor for the Disneyland newspaper. Martin Sklar will be editor of the newspaper. He was thoroughly checked out from every angle. He comes highly recommended.

"The memo," Marty added, "was copied to Card Walker." Marty was particularly amused by the "thoroughly checked out from every angle" line.

One month after being hired, Marty had to present the concept he came up with for The Disneyland News to none other than Walt Disney.

"The meeting with Walt took place at Disneyland in the conference room in the Administration Building, which was [Disney Legend] Ron Dominguez's former house. [The Dominguez house, part of a large orange grove that was owned by his family for decades, was located near where the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction now stands. The property was purchased by Disney and the house subsequently was moved to an area behind the Main Street Opera House, serving as an administration building for about 10 years.]

"The key thing to me was Walt had the time for this little thing I was doing. It really fell into place when I realized why Walt had time for it. Main Street, for him, was a real place. A story point and a detail."

The Disneyland News, like Disneyland itself, was a huge success. And for both Marty Sklar and Card Walker, the newspaper and the theme park would provide a springboard to future success for both men.

Next time: Card Walker pops the big question to Marty Sklar: "What are we going to do about Epcot?"

December 8, 2015

Review - Holiday DLights Tour

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by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

December is the month that draws many guests to Walt Disney World to see their famous holiday decorations and events. This year I decided to take one of their premiere tours, Holiday D-Lights, which takes you into three parks to see some of these amazing sights.

The tour begins and ends in Epcot making it easy to figure out the transportation. Park tickets are not required and you meet outside the Guest Relations window in front of Epcot. The tour has a maximum of 40 guests which is very manageable and transportation from park to park is on one of the Disney cruise/Magical Express buses.

Our guides and tour coordinators appeared and met us singing and in festive moods making everyone excited about the next few hours on tour. Name Tags and paper work were taken care of quickly and we were soon on our way to the Wilderness Lodge for dinner. Our guides for this tour were Donna, Jim, and Nancy and they were all wonderful and informative.

Whispering Canyon was not open to the public yet so we had the entire restaurant for the group. They were ready for us and soon we had amazing barbecue feast platters set on the tables with baskets of cornbread. The food consisted of ribs, pulled pork, chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, baked beans, and yummy mashed potatoes. Guests with dietary restrictions were easily taken care of and offered great alternatives by the chef. Drinks included water, coke, and ice tea and were constantly being refilled by the service staff. We were not given dessert but told we would have a surprise later in the evening.

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Time was provided to take pictures of the Wilderness Lodge lobby and a bit of history was given about the tree. We observed,in my opinion, one of the prettiest resort trees on property as it's decorated with canoes, teepees, and Indian drums and obviously very unique for the resort.

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Back on the bus and on our way as we headed to the back stage area of the Magic Kingdom. Our next stop was to visit the Event and Decorating Support Team. They work out of a massive warehouse and put together not only the castle lights but also special staging pieces that might be needed or requested for the parks or groups. The main emphasis was learning how they decorate the castle with the lights using LED light strands and special dyed and flame retardant netting.

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Every strand of lights are checked at least three times before they are put on the castle and this whole process actually begins in May. Work on the castle cannot begin each night until all guests leave the park so when the Magic Kingdom is open late it just makes it a little more difficult to get it all done on time. But Disney is used to making magic and it always happens and most never know what it took to get the amazing outcome.

After learning about how the castle is lit we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Magic Kingdom to see the castle lighting show. Our guides provided us with listening devices so crowd noise would not be an issue while in the parks. The group was divided into two making the numbers much easier to handle and we were then dropped off back stage and walked a short distance to the Castle hub where we then observed the great lighting of the beautiful castle. With a theming from Frozen the castle went from a lighted structure to a magical sparkling icicle wonder. This is probably the most magnificent piece of holiday magic Disney offers its guests.

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Time to head to Hollywood Studios! We were given a Rice Krispie holiday treat as we entered the bus and were shown a short video of how all the Disney castles worldwide are decorated for the holidays. The actual castle lighting idea began at the Paris Disney park and only the Tokyo Disney castle is not lit as it is actually not a Disney owned park. It was very interesting to learn facts about not only Walt Disney World but about the parks around the world.

Our next spectacle of Disney lights was the Osborne Family lights in the Studios. It was bittersweet to visit this amazing street filled with millions of LED lights as it is the last year for this display at Disney. We kept to our two smaller groups and were led down the street listening to more amazing facts from our guide Jim. Some of the great trivia he shared include that at the far end of the lights you will see many blue angels flying overhead. Look for a white one and that is representing Jennings Osborne, the patriarch of the Osborne family and who started this light tradition for his daughter. In this same area you will find a large Mickey and Santa shaking hands which is supposed to represent the agreement Jennings Osborne and Disney made to bring the lights to the park. If you look closely you will see they are shaking left hands which is the hand that is closest to the heart.

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As we moved down the street we were told to look for over 150 lit Mickeys and also the purple cat.

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The story behind the cat is when they shipped the decorations this one Halloween cat got mixed up with the Christmas lights and the Osborne family told Disney to just keep it. So every year the cast enjoys placing the cat in different locations and changes it almost every week so guests can hunt it down.

By the large tree in the center of the street you will see toy soldiers surrounding the bottom. The soldier in the center is a bit different as he proudly wears Mickey ears. This is to honor the cast member, Dan, who was responsible for inventing the different relay lighting systems needed for the show each night. He passed away a few years ago and they found his name tag in his locker and if you look closely this soldier is also wearing a Disney name badge.

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Continuing down on the left side you will see what appears to be crossed light sabers in the upper floor window. The story goes that this is now marking the spot where they will begin the dismantling of the Osborne Lights to begin the new construction of the future Star Wars Land. Not sure if this is true but it does make a nice Disney story.

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Cross the street here and in the first floor windows you can see photos of the actual Osborne Family light displays from their home in Arkansas.

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The last bit of trivia to add is heading back up the street and in a little alcove. Look up and you will find Kermit sitting up high playing a banjo. The word is that he is actually using a banjo pick from the famous Mulch, Sweat, and Shears group that entertained guests in the Studios for years but are now gone. There are many, many more things to see and observe and on this tour it was fun to have someone share some of the more unknown stories and facts.

Once again we were back on the bus and again headed to a backstage area of Epcot. Our last special treat of the evening was the incredible Candlelight Processional. It was fascinating to learn that the Candlelight show was started in Disneyland with Dennis Morgan as the first narrator. Walt met with the USC music director, Dr. Hirt, who suggested the format that is still used today. Guest choirs, full orchestra and guest narrators are brought together for this moving spectacle. It was later moved to Walt Disney World where it held shows for a few years at the train station in the Magic Kingdom. Rock Hudson was the first narrator there and when Epcot was built it found its permanent home in this park where we watch it today.

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Watching the Candlelight Processional is always moving and inspirational but I was disappointed in our reserved seats. We were led to the second and third last rows and had a few trees to dodge to get unobstructed views. This was the end of the tour but everyone had the opportunity to stay and watch Illuminations if they chose to do so.

This tour is one of Disney's most expensive tours at $269 plus tax per person so one needs to think hard about what they hope to see and do for their time and money. I think it is a great choice for the guest who might have a very limited time at Disney and who wants to experience as many of the holiday events as possible. Park tickets are not required which is a savings and you are offered a meal that is included. To be able to see the Magic Kingdom castle lighting, the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and the Candlelight Processional (and Illuminations on your own) in one evening is amazing. Plus you get some backstage stops and professional guides who can answer questions and offer information you might otherwise not receive.

The biggest disappointment was the fact that seating for the Candlelight event was in the far back rows. You would hope that paying a large amount of money for a tour would also get you better seats to a show. You would actually get front seats if you chose to do a dinner package instead. We were sitting among guests who had been in the stand-by line. It would also have been nice to offer water on the bus at some point. The tour is five hours long and many of us were needing refreshment. The Rice Krispie treat is cute but not much of a dessert treat, again on what they tout as their premiere holiday tour.

This tour can accommodate guests who use scooters or wheelchairs but they must provide their own. They cannot use Disney park rentals. The minimum age for the tour is 16 as you will be visiting backstage areas. Cameras are welcome but guests must adhere to rules about not using them in backstage areas. Backpacks and bags are allowed but you will be subject to bag inspection at all parks even though you enter through backstage areas. Closed toe and heel shoes are also required as I believe this is also a rule for anyone using backstage areas.

I am not sure what they will do next year when the Osborne Lights will be gone. I would imagine they will reinvent a holiday tour to include possibly something else. If you are planning a several day Disney vacation at this time of year you can easily do the events on your own. This is especially true if you plan on being in the parks to do other things and buying a daily ticket is not an issue. Besides a commemorative pin for the tour and backstage access you are not getting anything special beyond what the normal guest would experience on their own. That was disappointing for the price but as I said before this is a great tour for the guest with one night to see it all.

November 16, 2015

REVIEW: Breakfast at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

Sci Fi Breakfast Mickey Waffle

by David S. Abel
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Usually all the new things open or start just days after I return home from a trip to Walt Disney World. Therefore I was quite excited when I saw that the Sci-Fi Dine-In at Hollywood Studios was going to begin offering breakfast during my recent visit! And naturally I had to make reservations for the first day.

Sunday, November 1, my traveling party arrived at the Sci-Fi Dine-In about 10 minutes early for our 9:30 a.m. breakfast reservation. The four of us were promptly seated in a car that seats six towards the back of the drive-in and were given our road maps (menus).

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The breakfast is a fixed price of $23.99 per person, which seemed a bit high, but once we figured out exactly what was included, it didn’t really seem that bad.

Each person receives three pastries (a croissant, a double chocolate muffin and a cinnamon bun), choice of a yogurt parfait or fresh fruit, choice of entrée and a beverage.

Sci Fi Breakfast Pastries and Yogurt Parfait

Amongst our party we ordered the Steak and Eggs, Shrimp and Grits and Mickey Waffle. We all started with the yogurt parfait which included raspberry and vanilla yogurts with fresh berries and granola. My Steak and Eggs was very tasty, and the platter was served as you might expect at an expensive gourmet restaurant.

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There was a slight delay from ordering our beverages until they were delivered and our order taken. I chalked that up to the fact that it was the first day and they didn’t have everything running smoothly yet. Otherwise our server was good and really played up the drive-in/car themes.

The movie screen seemed to show the same sci-fi clips they usually show. I thought it would’ve been neat if they showed more [space-related] cartoons during breakfast.

I had read some speculative comparisons to the breakfast offered during Star Wars Weekends when this was first announced, unfortunately I’ve never experienced that breakfast so I can’t confirm any similarities.

I can say, though, that we all left full and happy, and that we had an enjoyable breakfast. I believe this could be a nice alternative to the sit-down breakfast at Hollywood & Vine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Breakfast at Sci-Fi is being tested from November 1, 2015 to January 23, 2016. This is a fixed price breakfast. $23.99 plus tax adults, $12.99 plus tax ages 3-9.

REVIEW: Merry and Bright Osborne Lights Dessert Party

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By Guest Blogger Kay Belin and Comments by Deb Wills

Fabulous lights, wonderful music, and delicious sweets certainly bring out the festive spirit in all of us. Disney has put all three of these ingredients together to offer the 90 minute Merry and Bright Dessert Party at Hollywood Studios.

This special ticketed event allows guests to enjoy the famous Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights while enjoying some holiday sweets and drinks in a private area at the end of the Streets of America.

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Every guest of the party will be given a large light-bulb sticker to wear. This sticker was always coming off and it would have been a nice touch to perhaps have some sort of plastic credential to wear around your neck instead. Be sure to put the bottom section in a safe place - you will need that to get your special blanket when you are ready to leave.

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When you entered you were given unique glasses to wear while enjoying the lights. I have to say I expected to see millions of Mickeys when wearing them but instead something else surprised me. I think I will keep it a surprise to all of you planning on enjoying this party!

Tables are set up to accommodate everyone (or so it seemed) and seat 4 persons. Most tables have wonderful views of the lights and the light shows taking place around them. It was quite enjoyable to have a seat to relax and take in the beautiful views. It was especially nice to listen to the music but not have it so loud that you could not have conversations with those around you.

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KAY: Unfortunately, the tables were a bit too close together making it difficult to wind your way back with a full plate of sweets or drinks without taking many detours or hitting chairs.

DEB: I totally agree on the closeness of the tables. For an event at this price point, I would want a roomier table set up and not have to balance my food while navigating the chairs and tables. Also, while the location is great, you still need to venture out into the actual Osborne Lights to see displays on both the sidewalks (see below) and the color canape!

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There is a section of tables for wheelchairs and ECV's. Getting around the dessert tables and drink stations is more roomy than the seating area which makes it nice for all guests.

Now it's time to talk about the sweets and drinks. I was amazed at the great offerings for this dessert party. There are two stations with the same desserts on each and two sides allowing for many guests to serve themselves at the same time. There was never a line so you weren't spending your whole evening standing waiting for food and drink.

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Some of the offerings, and they could change from party to party, include light-bulb eclairs, lemon and raspberry cups, chocolate truffle wreaths, rice crispy bon bons, white chocolate peppermint mousse, and coconut cakes. The mousse and coconut cakes were favorites while the eclairs were a bit messy to eat and not as appealing.

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Another station served pecan and apple pies with buttered popcorn vanilla gelato and these were both very good and popular.

KAY: I especially appreciated their effort with those guests who needed gluten free desserts as they will provide a cute box with a variety of sweet items for them. If you have such a need or need no sugar added desserts please note that when making a reservation so they can be ready to serve you your special items.


DEB: My favorite was the Gelato :) To me the desserts available were not as good or varied as other Hollywood Studios dessert parties I have attended. The addition of the ever popular Mickey Ice Cream Bar would have been nice.

DEB: Even noting a special dietary request on your reservation does not necessarily guarantee a special dietary box. Go over to the dessert area after getting your table and ask cast members for the Gluten Free or No Sugar Added. I was told the Gluten Free box is almost always on site. However, on the night we went, there weren't any "no sugar added" options. The manager did offer to go to a restaurant and get something but I declined. Here is a photo of the Gluten-Free dessert box. Also note there are 2 items on the dessert bar labeled as "No Gluten Added". Scroll Down for contents of Gluten Free Dessert Box.

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The coffee station included several flavored additives (hazelnut or caramel cane sugar syrup; zero calorie French Vanilla syrup) as well as tea and hot cocoa complete with peppermint and marshmallow offerings. Water, soda, cider and juice are available.

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Four alcoholic choices were found at the bar and were given special holiday festive names such as Jack Frost, Snowflake Flurry, Warm Mistletoe, and Cinnamon Crush. The warm mistletoe is indeed a warm drink and probably not the best choice on a hot night , although I did enjoy the flavor. It was nice to see even the bar themed for the evening.

Pictured below:

The Cinnamon Crush - Hot Apple Cider with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey -- think a sweet cinnamon red hot ~!

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Warm Mistletoe - Hot Chocolate, Bailey's and White Chocolate Syrup

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In addition to bottled water and sodas there are 2 Merry and Bright non-alcoholic beverages. The Elf Warmer is hot apple cider garnished with dried apple slice. The Rosy Cheeks, has passion, orange, and guava juice with a touch of Grenadine.

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Remember the light bulb sticker I mentioned at the start? Well, be sure and pull it back out so you can get your parting gift as you leave! It is a very nice lap blanket which is something very special this year since it has the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, 2015 written on it. Since this is the last year of the lights this will be a keepsake you will cherish. The blanket comes in either blue or red and measures approximately 42" x 52".

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CONCLUSIONS:

KAY: I enjoyed the event and recommend it but, I find it better suited to a date night situation or adults versus families. With the cost being $69 for adults and $39 for children (3-9) I don't feel the food offerings for the children would make it cost worthy. Most children enjoy simple sweets such as cookies and these choices are very sophisticated and more for the adult tastes. Although you can come and go as you wish during the party wiggle worm children will want to be out on the street getting up close to the lights and the action and counting how many lighted Mickeys they can find.

DEB: I, again, agree with Kay. To me, this event is about sitting, relaxing, noshing and sipping on the sweetness, and enjoying the ambiance of the lights. While you can come and go, I would wait until you are ready to leave the event (or it concludes) and then go visit the lights up close and personal. If you or your group don't want to sit, relax, and enjoy the evening I suggest you attend Minnie's Holiday Dine (review coming) and then go walk the lights on your own.

This is sadly the last year for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights in Hollywood Studios and this Merry and Bright Dessert Party would be a great way to say good-bye. Being able to sit and look upon the lights and not be in the throngs of people moving down the Streets of America is relaxing. Add to that some tasty sweets and drinks makes for a wonderful evening.

You still have a chance to book the party as it will continue until December 30 excluding 11/17, 12/9, and 12/18. Party time is 7-8:30pm until 12/24 and then 8:30-10pm until 12/30. Check in may begin as early as 6:30pm.

Admission to Hollywood Studios is required and you are not able to use Disney Dining entitlements for this event. In case of rain it will be moved under cover. You can book on line or by calling 407-939-3463.

This is a bittersweet year for many of us who have enjoyed seeing this incredible light display for the last twenty years. Change is hard and we have lots to look forward to ahead in the Studios. Take this opportunity to say good-bye with this comfortable and festive dessert party.

CONTENTS of the Gluten Free Box:
Housemade Popcorn and dried cranberry mix (small)
OMG It's Gluten Free Fudge Brownie
Housemade Cookes (3)
Larabar Cashew Cookie
Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie
Enjoy Life BoomChocoBoom rice milk crunch bar

Please leave your comments and questions below!

DISCLAIMER: Kay and Deb were guests of Walt Disney World as media. This did not affect our story, and our opinions our own.

November 3, 2015

Ft. Wilderness Renovated Cabins

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

Since the end of summer, crews have been busy refurbishing the Fort Wilderness cabins. Guests will be pleasantly surprised at the changes that have taken place and will continue to make it a sought after resort reservation. The cabins are especially enticing for the larger families since they can sleep six. In the past this was a tight squeeze but now it is a much more comfortable option. Work is currently going on in Loop 2600.

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The cabins themselves have stayed the same structurally. Since this is technically a wetlands area they cannot change the building profile. So Disney used their magic and pixie dust on the inside.

Guests will find new carpets and window treatments and new flooring throughout. There is also updated and new lighting. All cabins have had new decks built outside.

Probably the biggest change is the addition of a queen bed in the bedroom. With the bunks remaining as well as the nightstand I thought this might make for a very tight room but was pleasantly surprised that it looks and feels great. The new queen bed is also one where you can store your luggage or other gear underneath giving you more room. The closet and drawers remain the same and maybe during the next renovation they will address the small size of the closet.

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The bathroom has been updated with new countertop, tile backsplash, hardware etc. You now have four storage drawers as well as a large area of the countertop to keep personal items close at hand. Although the cabins have only one bathroom it is a large area for several to use at one time.

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The largest area of the cabins is the kitchen/dining/living room. Disney has added a great coat rack at the main door entry so you have a place for those pesky rain ponchos on rainy days.

The dining table is the same with the bench seat and three additional chairs allowing for six or more to sit and eat comfortably.

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Big changes happened in the kitchen and it all looks wonderful. New countertops and cabinets seem to open the room up and they have moved the sink and appliances to different locations. Disney removed the stove and oven and replaced them with a two burner cooktop and large convection/microwave unit. Some guests are intimidated by a convection oven but I can assure you that it is just as easy to cook food in it as a normal oven. I cook foods from meatloaf, pies, brownies and more in my small convection oven in my motor coach. There are new refrigerators and dishwashers making the kitchens some of the most updated ones on property.

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The final changes to mention are the ones that happened in the living area. The Murphy Bed is gone! In its place is a new queen sleeper sofa upholstered in a material that will repel just about anything that you could think of spilling on it including red wine! I find the color a bit too light for the decor but am happy that they addressed the possibility of spills happening on the furniture.

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The old small tv and cabinet have disappeared and in its place is a 55" flat screen tv mounted where the murphy bed once was located. Under the TV they have added 6 drawers helping overcome the small closet space.

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I am excited about the changes and excited that Disney is listening to the needs of the guests. The cabins have needed a true refurbishment for a long time and the results are definitely positive.

Check out over 50 new photos of the Ft. Wilderness Cabins!

Take a video tour!!

October 2, 2015

Downtown Disney Transforms Into Disney Springs!

by

Denise Preskitt
AllEars® Guest Blogger

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Downtown Disney has been in transformation for over two years, with a slew of new restaurants and shops opening over the past months. Signage has also been added through the past year with the moniker Disney Springs, but that name is now official as of yesterday, September 29th, 2015.

This past week has seen the opening of two new venues. Last week, the already extremely popular Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar opened to rave reviews. We were the first in the door when it opened to the public, and we had the opportunity to go back during a media event that included a visit to not only Jock Lindsey's, but also the new Morimoto Asia. In between the two restaurants, we attended a brief ceremony to cap off the Disney Springs name change.

Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar is themed to the adventures of the pilot to Indiana Jones. The reason it was geared toward the lesser-known character – as opposed to Indiana Jones – is to allow for a new backstory to be written. It gave Imagineers a lot more freedom.

Food and drinks at Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar are outstanding. Not only did the Imagineers utilize their creativity to the fullest, but the chefs did as well. There are items on the menu that I've never had anywhere else. We recommend almost everything, and the price point is very reasonable. From the Snack of Ra (a full meal in itself, regardless of everything being an appetizer) to the Rolling Boulder Meatballs, the dishes are served with aesthetics and taste buds in mind.

From Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, we walked outside for the Disney Springs name change ceremony. It was open to the public, between Jock Lindsey's and the recently opened (and also fantastic) restaurant The Boathouse. ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Senior Vice President Maribeth Bisienere and Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis spoke. Mark Daniel introduced Bisienere, who talked about the making of memories, story creation and even making the parking situation easier. Disney Springs will have 4 sections: The Landing, Town Center, Marketplace and the West Side. Kalogridis said that the project will have provided a total of 1200 construction jobs when everything is complete, and will add 4000 operational roles. He also continued,“One in every 50 jobs in the state of Florida is tied directly or indirectly to Disney."

The finale of the Disney Springs name change event was the switching of large cards that spelled out Downtown Disney, flipped to say Disney Springs. The weather held out just long enough to see almost the entire ceremony before the rain began, when umbrellas emblazoned with the Disney Springs logo were lifted almost in unison.

The last portion of the media event was visiting Morimoto Asia, which was just one day from opening to the public. Chef Masaharu Morimoto was featured both as a speaker during the opening ceremony, and later showcasing his culinary skills as he filleted a 100-pound tuna. A lion dancer helped open the ceremony, and Bisienere again was a speaker. She welcomed Patina Group CEO Nick Valenti and Chef Morimoto. Morimoto is apparently a huge fan of Mickey Mouse, wearing a Mickey pin and introducing Chef Mickey to the podium. He later proposed a toast over a special container of sake, joined by Kalogridis, Valenti, Bisienere, and Disney Springs Vice President Keith Bradford.

Morimoto Asia is a beautiful restaurant, with chandeliers that seem to go on forever. The restaurant fills the space of the former Pleasure Island Mannequins nightclub. Mannequins was one of the nightclubs I didn't spend any appreciable time in, so the space feels totally new to me. There are two levels, with an open kitchen on the first level and bars on both the first and second floors.

Chef Morimoto drew a large crowd when a 100-pound tuna was brought to him to filet. With quick agility, the tuna was soon looking like a meal and no longer like a fish. And within a half-hour or so, pieces of sushi with fresh tuna were brought out to guests.

The food we tried were some appetizer items, including Tuna Pizza and Duck Caesar Salad. What we had was tasty, and we look forward to enjoying a full meal at the restaurant in the future!


August 21, 2015

Shop Disney Parks App

by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars Guest Blogger

Have you just returned home from a recent Walt Disney World vacation? Or are you fantasizing about being there? Do wish you had purchased something you had seen at the Walt Disney World? Are you currently in Walt Disney World, wondering where you can find a particular merchandise item?

Well, look no further! Disney has recently released a great new app, Shop Disney Parks, which can be used to locate and purchase items from Walt Disney World Resort.

Using the app, you can browse or search for an item...

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Or just scan the barcode of the item to find it.

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Once you select an item, you can save it to your shopping bag for purchase or bring up a map with the locations that carry the item.

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This is a great must-have app for Disney fans, and is available for both iOS and Android.

iOS:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shop-disney-parks/id973805417?mt=8

Android:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.disney.shopdisneyparks_goo


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: J. Scott Lopes is a long time Disney fan who first went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1989 and has enjoyed traveling to Orlando ever since. He is interested in all things Disney Parks-related, especially the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.


July 2, 2015

Pre-Ordering with Food Allergies? No Problem at Be Our Guest

by Laura Schmitt CNE
AllEars Guest Blogger

With an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, I was excited to try out Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. I was unable to secure a reservation at this popular destination for dinner, but I did manage to grab a lunch reservation. To bypass one step upon ordering, you have the option of selecting your meal in advance. (Note that there is also the option to wait and order at the restaurant.) I was curious if this was something that would work for people with basic food allergies, and here is what I discovered.

When you have a reservation for lunch, you will have the option to choose lunch menus for your party. There is a "Filter" button on the bottom of the ordering screen.

Click that button to see the window titled "Allergens". If your allergies are among this list (corn, peanut, soy, wheat, egg, milk, shellfish, treenut, fish), then you may feel comfortable pre-ordering.

There is an allergen disclaimer at the bottom.


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I noticed that “gluten” was not listed, and only “wheat”, for example, so a person who has Celiac disease may want to inquire about this.

I selected two filter items, Wheat and Milk.


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I proceeded to the next screen of entrees where I found several choices that would work for those allergy restrictions. I chose the quinoa salad.

By adding the menu item from this "filter" window, it tags the foods as "wheat free" and "milk free" on the summary page to follow. If you order the same entree item without first applying the filters it will not mark it as "wheat free" or "dairy free". So, I would definitely make sure to mark your filters first. (See photo below for orange triangle followed by warning of "Does not contain: Wheat.")

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While there was an option for a gluten-free dessert, there was nothing that came up as wheat-free and milk-free. I did find two sorbet options that are marked dairy-free and no sugar added (lemon and raspberry). I felt comfortable with the sorbet, so I ordered that for myself. For my daughter, I ordered the gluten-free cream puff, as she can eat dairy.

When we arrived at Be Our Guest on our reservation date, we found that if you do the pre-order option, a chef will not be sent out for you to consult with, as at other Disney World restaurants. You will have to seek one out immediately upon check-in or your food will be brought to you as pre-ordered. This is another reason why it would likely be best to pre-order only if the current filters work for your allergy needs.

After checking in, we were told to seat ourselves. We found the system a little confusing because no one explained how it would work. For example, no one told us to get a drink, or said that they would come out to find us. I was able to ask a very friendly cast member, though, and we figured it out.

My husband was not excited about the system of ordering and he was already determined to dislike the meal. To his surprise it was his favorite of the trip. My daughter agreed that the wheat-free pork roast was delicious! She absolutely loved her lunch and she proclaimed the green beans and potatoes were also very tasty.


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I had ordered the quinoa cake and salad, because I knew I would want a lighter lunch option. It was also quite good, but I only ate about half of it after having a huge breakfast. The quinoa cake was well seasoned and the beet cubes on top were delightful. The olives chopped into the salad greens were a nice touch.


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My daughter has always wanted to try French Onion Soup, but we have never found one that was gluten-free and dairy-free. When you order the soup with the wheat filter, it gives you the option to get the French Onion Soup without the bread crumb and cheese topping. This was confirmed on our receipt, so when I saw all the cheese on the soup they brought out to us, I sent it back. They brought out a second batch without any cheese and they explained that they did make it gluten-free, but they had left the "safe" cheese on for my daughter. It was not clearly labeled this way in ordering, so that was a bit confusing. She ended up eating the cheese-free version (which her tummy appreciated). She loved it, and she was so happy to have tried French Onion Soup at last.


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The soup and entree were the stars of the show. My daughter was disappointed with the gluten-free cream puff. She said the dough was very hard (rock-like) and that the lemon filling was incredibly tart, which she did not enjoy. As it turns out, a scoop of rice dream would have been a better choice for her, but it was fun to try something new.


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As I said earlier, I had ordered the only dairy-free option I could find, a lemon sorbet, which turned out to be bitterly tart. I ate a little, but left the rest behind. While Be Our Guest has mastered the lunch entrees, they have room for improvement in the world of gluten-free, dairy-free dessert offerings. We are still disappointed that the French Meadow Bakery items are no longer offered on property, or the Babycakes/Erin McKenna’s in a restaurant like this. I did ask the Special Diet department via email if there were any other options for us, but they did not get back with an answer.

A benefit of pre-ordering and using our dining plan credits is that we didn’t have to wait in a line to order at a kiosk, nor did we have to wait in a line to pay. Our meal was already paid for, so we could dine and dash. This worked beautifully, minus the confusion here and there. As we look back on our experience, my family all raves about this beautiful restaurant experience as the best of the trip and a definite “must-do” for future visits.

While we felt comfortable with our pre-order options using the filters available, it is clear that each individual will have to consider their own allergies and determine if pre-ordering is a viable option, or if it would be better to wait and ask to speak to a chef upon arrival before ordering. I suspect this will not add a considerable amount of time to your lunchtime, and the atmosphere is very fun to explore.

For a “quick service” lunch credit, I felt quite spoiled by the great options for everyone in my family at Be Our Guest.

April 21, 2015

Jim's Attic: The Birth of Walt Disney World Golfing

Jim's Attic: The Birth of Walt Disney World Golfing By Jim Korkis

When Walt Disney World opened October 1971, the Disney company had to educate the general public that the new entertainment venue was not just like another Disneyland, but was an entire "vacation destination" featuring a wide variety of leisure activity from boating to horseback riding to dining, and, of course, golf.

Beautiful golf courses were always part of the original Florida Project plan as conceived by Walt Disney himself. Walt had briefly taken up golfing as a hobby to alleviate stress. However, like other beginning golfers, he often found more stress on his early hours on the course before going to the Disney Studio and quit.

In 1971, both the Magnolia and Palm golf courses, designed by Joseph L. Lee, opened. In 1993, Lee renovated the Magnolia.

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Sandy Quinn was head of marketing for WDW in Florida through construction, the opening and several early years of operation.

"You have to credit two people [with opening Walt Disney World on time]. Joe Fowler, the Admiral, created all the levels of contractors and suppliers. He planned the invasion. Dick Nunis took them across the channel. They made a great team," Quinn recalled.

With a few weeks to go before the opening of Walt Disney World, Quinn was given the task of setting up a PGA golf tournament before the end of the year. Quinn knew nothing about arranging golf tournaments, but he did know that famed golfer Arnold Palmer was in town at his new Bay Hill development.

"I sent somebody over to see if he would come by and at least talk to us about it," Quinn said. "Well, he came over and we're starting to talk and all of a sudden he looks off in the distance, curious about something. I walk over and see he's watching the train engineers put the new cars on the monorail. Right away he gets interested and wants to know if he can take a ride.

"Well as luck would have it, the engineers were running a full scale test on the whole system that day -- and they were delighted to have Arnie as their first passenger. But not nearly as delighted as Arnie. He jumped in one of the cars and that's where he stayed for about four hours. He was just like a kid, going 'round and 'round, waving and laughing, having a wonderful time.

"We said a small prayer, hoping the thing wouldn't fall down or something while he was in it. When he was through, we started talking a little about a golf tournament. 'No problem,' he says, 'Sign me up. I'll call a few friends.' And that was it. In no time at all, we had a full-fledged PGA golf tournament."

The Walt Disney World Open $150,000 Golf Championship was scheduled November 29 through December 5, 1971. A $5,000 Pro-Am Tournament would take place December 1, 1971. Golfer Jack Nicklaus won that year, and the following year (1972), and the year after that (1973). Golfer Tiger Woods has won twice at Disney, including his rookie year on tour in 1996.

Jack Nicklaus

In 1973, the Walt Disney Open Invitational changed its name to the Walt Disney World Golf Classic. Golfing at Walt Disney World was so popular that the 125-room Golf Resort opened December 15, 1973, adjacent to the golf courses and near the Magic Kingdom.

In 1986, the Golf Resort became the Disney Inn, shifting the golf theme to a Snow White theme. It became the Shades of Green Resort, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort, when the U.S. Department of Defense leased the hotel from Disney in 1994 (and purchased it outright in 1996). It now has almost 600 rooms.

While many Disney guests have enjoyed the professional golf courses over the decades, few realize how it all began thanks to golfer Arnold Palmer loving the WDW monorail.


RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND

"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


April 20, 2015

Disney on a VERY Limited Budget

DISNEY ON A BUDGET.......AN EXTREME BUDGET!
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By Guest Blogger: Kay Belin


Summer is coming and it is time to plan vacations so it is a good time to discuss a trip to Walt Disney World. Recently, I was asked by a family with very limited means to see if there was a way they could bring their two children to the parks for a long wished for vacation. They were willing to do anything but their budget was extreme. It had been a dream for them for many years to surprise their two children.

After hearing their story I knew I had to do some deep research and figure out what they could do as I wanted to make magic and tell them this trip was indeed possible. So here is one way you can do a Walt Disney World trip on a VERY limited budget. Each day and month prices and deals do change so this is planned on the general prices. Always check to see what is being offered during the time you wish to vacation as you might be able to save even more.

One of the best times to come is September when the summer crowds have gone home. Prices at resorts are generally at their lowest during this time as well. For this limited budget for a family of four (2 children over age of 12) I chose this month and attempted to not exceed $2000. Impossible you say? Well not really but you have to be adventurous and willing to try something new perhaps. For this family I was helping they were willing to do almost anything to be able to bring their children.

Camping.........this is a great way to enjoy family time together and save money versus paying for more expensive hotel rooms. With modern technology you are not longer sleeping on hard ground or fighting off flying friends at night. At Disney camping is almost called "glamping" which means glamorous camping. The sites at the Fort Wilderness campgrounds come complete with grills, picnic tables, water, electricity, and cable hookup right at your own site.

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The comfort stations are pristine with wonderful restrooms, individual shower rooms, laundry facilities, telephones, and ice machines. There are multiple trash pickups each day so you don't worry about critters coming to visit to see what you have left over. The pads are level and half of each one is concrete with the other half a dense sand making staking out tents very easy.

Disney has thought of everything you might require when it comes to camping so even if you have never done this it is a great place to start. Each site will have trees for some shade so you are not baking in the Florida sun. Bus transportation is within feet if you choose to leave your car at the site for the day. You can boat to the Magic Kingdom and take the Disney bus transportation to all of the other parks.

The beauty of camping at Disney is the simple fact that you can save money on your food. Driving will generally be the best option when traveling down to Walt Disney World so it allows you to bring coolers of food with you. Because you will not have a freezer it is recommended that you bring food staples for breakfast and a lunch that are not highly perishable and then find a nice spot in the parks or on property to have one bigger meal each day.

Character dining and shows will be more expensive but you can find great quick service locations offering good meals for the lowest prices. Fort Wilderness also has a wonderful restaurant, Trails End, which is open for breakfast and dinner buffets and menu lunch service. Breakfasts average $18-$20 per person, lunch around $25, and dinner about $26.

Fort Wilderness is almost a secret park in its own right. You will have two pools to choose from for swimming pleasure, fishing in the canals, hiking and walking trails, canoe and bike rentals, and a free Chip and Dale campfire Singalong each night followed by a Disney movie under the stars. You are likely to see many deer and turkey in the area and there is a peacefulness in the campgrounds that is a refreshing change from the hectic crowded atmosphere of the parks.

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For a family of four (two children over the age of ten) staying at the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds in the tent sites for three nights and purchasing four day park tickets for each family member, they can enjoy a Disney vacation for $1473.64. This is the package price when booking and purchasing at the same time with Disney via phone or at www.disneyworld.com. If you opt to reserve your tent site only that cost is $168.75. To add four day park tickets for each comes to $1299.32 showing a difference of only about $5 from the package price. All of these prices include tax and can change at any time. If you budget about $30 a day per person for one meal in the parks or resorts for three days you will need to add $360 which still keeps you below the $2000 number. If that still is above what a family can afford you can drop one day of park tickets and save about $127.80 from the vacation price above.

You can find rental tents at many sports retail stores and if you want to simply rent one from Disney they will have it set up for you on your site at your arrival. Rental of a Disney tent will add to the cost as they are $30 a night. The convenience might be worth it so all you need to bring are coolers, air mattresses, and sleeping bags. During almost any month of the year I would also suggest you bring a fan.

If you are not adventurous then your next best budget bet is to head to the All Star resorts. Staying at the same time in September at All Star Sports will cost you almost an additional $300 and for those on an VERY limited budget this is a lot of money.

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So can a family of four do Disney for four days and three nights with park tickets under $2000? Absolutely yes, with a dose of adventure and fun mixed in! A Disney vacation can come in all budgets and experiences but no matter how your family wishes or needs to travel I can guarantee it will be filled with pixie dust all along the way.

What are your ideas for spending time at Walt Disney World with your family while on a very limited budget?

November 17, 2014

Rhode Island Comic Con

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by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars Guest Blogger

If you don't think you can find much Disney at a Comic Con event, think again! Over the weekend of November 1-2, the Rhode Island Comic Con was held at the RI Convention Center. This was the third year of the event and was the biggest so far.

Besides meeting Star Trek stars such as William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig, I decided to set off on a mission to find as many Disney-related things there that I could.

The Stars

There were numerous stars on hand over the weekend, including many who have Disney ties. Rebecca Mader, an English actress who played the role of Wicked Witch of the West in ABC-TV's Once Upon a Time, was at the event signing autographs for a long line of fans.

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Christy Carlson Romano, voice of Disney Channel's old show Kim Possible, was also on hand to sign autographs and record voicemail messages. I was able to speak to her briefly before the show floor was open to the general admission ticketholders, and she discussed with me how she liked working for Disney and tries to keep in touch with them. She is also working on a new TV movie, Where Fate Meets.

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Brian Muir, a famous sculptor who created the Darth Vader helmet and armor, talked to me about how it took about a month to create the costume. He is currently working on the new Star Wars VII movie but was unable to comment further on that. He has also worked on other Disney/Marvel Comics movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy.

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There were other personalities, too, such as Michael Kingma, who played a Wookiee in Star Wars: Episode III, and other illustrators and artists.

The Merchandise

There were many opportunities to purchase Disney-related items and artwork. From prints, to Frozen-inspired jewelry, to patches with Disney princesses -- there were items that would appeal to fans from all branches of the Disney universe, including Star Wars and Marvel Comics fans.

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The Fans

Cosplay, the art of dressing up as your favorite character, is another popular thing to do at Comic Con. Here are a few folks who dressed up as characters with Disney affiliations:

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Kids Con

Also at the convention, there was an area that had many sessions devoted to kids' interests. There was even a story time with Disney princesses, Frozen characters and Merida from Brave.

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Everything Else

There were also many replicas on display as well, such as a replica of a truck from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Star Wars, too, was well-represented, with a replica of a landspeeder from Star Wars on hand, as well as an R2D2 roaming the halls.

I wanted to get in on the action, so for a small donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation I was able to jump into a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark and swap the idol!


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Overall, this was a great event, and I am looking forward to going again next year. It's going to be a huge undertaking to top this year's event! This event is one that every Disney and Marvel comic fan should attend.

October 20, 2014

Gluten Free Dining at Walt Disney World

Hi All Ears Readers. My name is Christy Fish and I am a Disney Vacation Club Member, Disney Enthusiast, and avid All Ears Reader. I also happen to have Celiac disease and need to eat gluten free. Below please find my latest information from my last trip my husband Blake and I took to Walt Disney World. Happy Reading!

2014 Gluten Free Dining at Walt Disney World
(on the dining plan)

*Standard Dining Plan we chose includes: 1 counter service meal (Entrée, drink, dessert), 1 table service meal or buffet (entrée, drink, dessert), and 1 snack.

*All of the table service restaurants we have dined at have had the Ener-G Tapioca rolls. Feel free to request them to be served warm and toasted, as they taste much better this way.

*Please take note that if your gluten sensitivity is severe, you may need to be much more careful and ask locations to clean off their grills, and consume only fried items in a dedicated GF fryer. Please discuss your gluten free concerns in depth with any manager or chef at each location you dine.

Animal Kingdom

Counter Service: Flame Tree Barbeque (Discovery Island)

I ordered the Half Rotisserie Chicken, but substituted fries instead of the baked beans/coleslaw combo out of personal preference. Blake ordered the ½ slab of St. Louis Ribs served with baked beans and coleslaw. Both items were GF. This is my favorite counter service location any where in WDW. My husband stated his ribs were amazing, tender, meaty, and perfectly seasoned. The chicken was tender, had a wonderful dry rub that was flavorful but not spicy. The fries were excellent and fresh out of the fryer. I was assured this location has a dedicated GF fryer. For dessert, they had a few selections of pre-packaged GF brownies and cookies. I chose the Enjoy Life pack of Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies. This location had a manager out to take my order right away and made all the food fresh.

Table Service: Tusker House (Africa)

What a wonderful buffet experience. I stayed away from buffets since being diagnosed with Celiac disease, but this restaurant had me singing a happy tune. The chef came over within 15 minutes, as they were extremely busy during this breakfast buffet. I informed him that I love Mickey waffles and was wondering if he could make them gluten free. He said of course and then walked with me to the buffet to show me everything I could have. I could eat a lot of buffet items. Eggs, sweet potato hash (so delicious), fruit, cheese, bacon, sausage, ham, pork tenderloin, and the oven roasted potatoes to name a few. After we sat back down from the buffet, he brought me a plate of mickey waffles and a GF muffin. The food was excellent and service very accommodating.

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Epcot

Counter Service: Sunshine Seasons at The Land (Future World)

This is my favorite counter service location at this park. There are many different food bays to choose from. I chose the Pork Chop with BBQ Chutney and Mashed potatoes with no gravy. It was a hearty and thick pork chop that was tender and not dry. The BBQ Chutney is also sweet, tangy and delicious. Mashed potatoes were thick and creamy as always.

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The dessert here for me was a treat: Crème Brulee from the baked goods section.

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Table Service: Coral Reef (Living Seas-Future World)

I ordered the Grilled NY Strip Steak served with Roasted Potatoes, Mushrooms, Spinach, and Red Wine Sauce. I ordered sans Mushrooms out of personal preference. The Steak here was cooked medium as I requested and it was a good meal. The steak at Le Cellier is far superior in quality and flavor in my opinion. The service at Coral Reef and atmosphere was well done. The dessert I ordered was The Chocolate Wave with fresh Raspberries and Raspberry Gelato. I order this every time I eat here. This dessert is flourless and always GF. It is decadent, rich, and heaven on a plate. I apologize for no pictures on this one as I think I may have been too busy devouring it.

Table Service: La Hacienda de San Angel (Mexico-World Showcase)

I give this restaurant's food, décor, and atmosphere a 10 out of 10. I ordered the Pollo al Pastor which is Achiote marinated chicken served with roasted vegetables, beans and pineapple relish; served fresh with homemade corn tortillas and rice. It was wonderful. One of my new favorite places. The food was fresh and light. The marinade on the chicken was sweet, and the pineapple relish was delicious. The Mexican rice flavored with tomatoes was fantastic. It felt so nice to have a meal that did not feel really heavy. For dessert I chose the Nieves or traditional Mexican sorbets. I had mango and raspberry. It was the best sorbet I have ever had. Two very large scoops with chunks of fresh fruit. This is a meal I will continue to come back for every year at WDW. Oh, and did I mention if you wait a little longer for a table by the window, you can watch Illuminations from this restaurants windows. It sits right on the water.

Hollywood Studios:

Counter Service: Rosie's All American Café (Sunset Blvd)

I ordered the 1/3 lb. Angus Cheeseburger with fries on a GF bun. It took a very long time for a manager to come to take our order at this location. The bun was not very good, but the fries and burger itself were nicely done. The normal run of the mill burger and fries. For Dessert: Enjoy Life Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Table Service: Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano (near Muppet Vision)

Mama Melrose's is my favorite table service restaurant at Hollywood Studios because I usually have a hard time eating GF at Italian locations. Not here at all. We dine here every trip. The head chef Frank whom my husband and I have seen every year since our honeymoon is absolutely fantastic. The first time we dined here I asked him what I could have that was GF and he responded by saying, "What would you like, I can make you anything on the menu Gluten Free." For people with Celiac disease that is one of the most amazing things to hear at any restaurant.

This trip I ordered the Carne D' Italia Flatbread with pepperoni, house-made sausage, pancetta, and spicy marinara sauce on a GF crust. This crust was delicious. It was on the flat bread side, but still had a doughy texture to it. The sauce, cheese, and toppings all tasted very fresh.

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My husband ordered the Penne alla Vodka with GF rice pasta and chicken. I tried it and it was delicious.

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Dessert: Flourless chocolate fudge cake made on premises, which the server told me, is not on the menu, but they always offer it to GF patrons. This dessert is dense, fudgy, and outstanding.

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Other years I have also ordered the following dishes GF and all were outstanding: Oven-baked Chicken alla Parmigiana with marinara sauce topped with melted mozzarella (no breading) with GF pasta, and the Charred Strip Steak with GF five-cheese baked macaroni.

This restaurant has also done several magical things for us in the past as we often celebrate our anniversary here. We have received fast passes, champagne toasts, and gluten free cheesy garlic bread. This was not all in one experience, but little bits over the 4 years we have dined here. They really know how to bring out the Disney Magic at this location.

Magic Kingdom:

Counter Service: Be Our Guest (Fantasyland) Lunch Only

We were unable to secure reservations for dinner at Be Our Guest, but did not want to miss out on seeing it this trip, as it was not open during our last trip. We stopped by the restaurant the day before and asked a cast member what time we should arrive. She kindly informed us that lunch starts at 10:30am and we should arrive 30 minutes prior to get in line as it gets very long quickly. We arrived in the line at 10am and were the 4th party in line. Doors opened promptly at 10:30. What a beautiful restaurant. It is exactly like stepping into the movie. I was in awe.

The way to order was through kiosk, which I like. And they had an allergy option. It was so nice to not have to wait for a manager to come over to take my order. They serve your food on an adorable cart right to your table with real silver ware. I ordered the Carved Turkey Sandwich served on a GF bun with Dijon mayonnaise and Pomme Frites.

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For dessert, a GF Lemon-raspberry cream puff . The dessert was very good here. Especially because it is difficult to make a GF cream puff.

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The food, sadly it was not good at all. The fries were cold and limp, and the sandwich was made on the GF bread. The greens on the sandwich looked old and rotten, and the turkey was not very good quality. I am unsure why the food didn't taste fresh since we were some of the first lunch guests of the day. I feel this restaurant is definitely worth going to just see it once. I have never had dinner there, so we will be trying that our next trip to see if table service has better quality food.

Counter Service: Columbia Harbor House (Liberty Square)

Service here is always impeccable and very accommodating. I ordered the GF Chicken Tenders and Fries. These are the best GF chicken tenders I have had on Disney property. They also have a dedicated GF fryer. Dessert: OMG GF Brownie. It was huge, fudgy, and excellent for a pre-packaged dessert.


Counter Service Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café (Tomorrowland)

Service is also fantastic and very accommodating here as well. I ordered the 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and a seasonal vegetable and Blake ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwich with a GF bun with fries. Both were delicious. Fries were made fresh, as was the rest of the food equally hot and tasty. Dessert was an OMG GF Brownie and Enjoy Life Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Downtown Disney:

Table Service: Raglan Road

Raglan Road is my favorite Downtown Disney table service location because the entertainment is wonderful and the food is delicious. The service was outstanding and musicians/dancers fantastic. We left very full. I ordered the Mammy's Roast Chicken which is a lemon thyme roasted half chicken with mashed potatoes. It was wonderful and fresh as always.

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My husband ordered Keen Eye for the Shepherds Pie. Both dishes were GF. My husband stated the meat in the Shepherd's Pie was tender and flavorful. He stated it tasted fresh and was very filling.

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For Dessert: Strawberry & Apple Crumble which was fresh strawberries and apples in a tart with berry compote and vanilla bean ice cream. This dessert is not naturally GF; but the server informed us they could make special GF ones! This was a perfect combination of tart and sweet. Most definitely one of my very favorite desserts at Disney.

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Port Orleans French Quarter Resort:

Quick Service: Sassagoula Float Works

We came here specifically for the GF beignets. I have never had any beignets and was afraid I never would with Celiac disease. We asked to speak with the chef. He was so nice and from Paris. I have never had real beignets but my husband has and he said the GF ones were delicious and very close to tasting like real beignets.

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Below you will find a list of other places we have eaten on some of our past trips to WDW.


Animal Kingdom:

Table Service: Rainforest Café (Entrance to Park)

Very accommodating. Did not have GF bread or rolls at the time we went, or dessert other than ice cream. Chef came out and spoke with me directly. I was able to easily order the rotisserie chicken.

Counter Service: Pizzafari (Discovery Island)

Amy's Rice Crust GF pizza. I am not a fan of this brand, but if you like Amy's you will love this location.

Epcot:

Table Service: Le Chefs De France (France, World Showcase)

Accommodating. I was able to order rotisserie chicken, but no dessert available other than sorbet.

Table Service: Marrakesh (Morocco, World Showcase)

I was able to order chicken, and any kebabs. I was unable to have rice, as it was not GF here. Sorbet was the only option for dessert.

Table Service: Le Cellier (Canada, World Showcase)

This restaurant has become a signature dining experience and now requires two table service credits per person per meal. This restaurant carries my favorite steak on Disney property. I usually order the filet mignon with cream cheese mashed potatoes and the GF maple crème brulee for dessert. The steak is always cooked perfectly to order, the cream cheese mashed potatoes are to die for, and the maple crème brulee is the best I have had anywhere. This restaurant truly sets itself above and beyond all standards .The service has always been spectacular and chefs extremely accommodating.


Counter Service: La Cantina de San Angel (Mexico, World Showcase)

I was able to order the nachos and tacos de pollo as they are made with corn tortillas. Chips are corn as well, but fried in a fryer with non-GF items. Service was a little tough, and food was average.

Counter Service: Electric Umbrella (Future World)

I was able to order the 1/3 lb. Bacon Cheeseburger on a GF bun with fries. The service was good, and the food average. Nothing outstanding.

Hollywood Studios

Counter Service: Backlot Express (near Star Tours)

I have ordered the GF chicken tenders and fries multiple times at this location. It is very crowded and often takes a bit of time for a manager to come over and take our order. Once that is done, I must say the GF chicken tenders and fries have always been delicious and fresh at this location.

Magic Kingdom

Table Service: Tony's Town Square (Main Street)

We have only eaten here once because although the service was great, the food was a bit bland and lack luster for my taste. I ordered the GF pasta with marinara sauce. This is a good solid choice for anyone wanting good service and the adorable Lady and Tramp décor.

Counter Service: Pecos Bill Café: (Frontierland)

I ordered a cheeseburger on a GF bun and fries. It was fresh and good. The fixins bar here has a wide variety.

Snacks: Aloha Isle (Adventureland)

I have to admit one of my favorite Disney treats is a vanilla Dole Whip root beer float. I also love all the other flavors of Dole Whip. They are not only GF, but dairy free as well.


Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House

Counter Service: The Mara

I ordered the rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes. It was excellent. The chef came out and informed me that he could make almost anything on the menu GF. He even told me he could prepare GF zebra domes, which is Animal Kingdom Lodge's infamous dessert. I also noticed in the grab and go case that they had Babycakes GF desserts pre-packaged.


Boardwalk Resort and Villas

Counter Service: Boardwalk Bakery

I have ordered the smoked turkey sandwich on GF bread, fruit cup, chips, and they often have some sort of pre-packaged cupcake. Main meal good at this location, GF cupcake not so much.

Table Service: Big River Grille and Brewing Works

Food here is good, but not great. Service is always excellent. I usually order the NY strip steak. I have been unable to get dessert here that is GF.

Table Service: ESPN Club

Service was excellent. I ordered a burger on a GF bun with fries. Dessert option was gelato only.

Contemporary Resort

Table Service: California Grill

We have only eaten here once and it was on our honeymoon. The manager and waiter knew the occasion. Service from the manager who found us a wonderful seat by the window was impeccable. Our waiter was okay. View and fireworks amazing. The GF bread was warm. I ordered the oak fired filet of beef with roasted potatoes. It was prepared nicely, but lacked much flavoring. The potatoes were a bit dry and bland. When I asked the server about dessert, he stated they had a pre-packaged GF brownie. He did not offer to do anything special with it. I asked if they were able to make me a brownie sundae with ice cream and hot fudge using the pre-packaged dessert. He said yes and put the order in. This is a signature dining experience, which requires two table service credits. I was very surprised they did not have a GF dessert that was not pre packaged. The waiter came back with the brownie sundae, which was still mostly frozen in the middle. The ice cream was good, but there was no hot fudge, just cold chocolate sauce. This may have just been an off day for this restaurant as I have read that many people have had wonderful experiences here. I plan to try it again on our next trip.

Downtown Disney

Rainforest Café and T-Rex

Both are very accommodating, but no GF bread or buns at current time we dined. Ice Cream Sundaes were the GF dessert option.


Bongos Cuban Café

Wonderful service, food, and atmosphere. We often go for a late dinner on a weekend night when they have a live salsa band. I have ordered the Arroz con Pollo and the Pollo Asado. My husband usually gets the Churrasco a lo Cubano (Cuban style Skirt Steak). GF dessert option was flan at the time. I am not sure if they still carry it.

October 10, 2014

Yia Sou Kouzzina

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by David Abel
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

It's always a sad day when something comes to an end, so it almost seems poetic that Kouzzina by Cat Cora served its final meals on a dreary rainy evening. We were only slightly concerned about our dining experience. Would they be running out of food? Would the staff be annoyed they were losing their jobs?

All of our worries proved to be unfounded. We arrived right on time for our 6:25 p.m. dinner reservation. The cheerful hostesses greeted us and escorted us to a table on the far side of the open show kitchen. The half-empty dining room was abuzz with energy and excitement. Within 15 minutes, the dining room was full.

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Our server, Bruce, took our orders and brought us bread with olive oil for dipping and olives. He only poured one type of olive oil as they were out of the other. This was the only apparent item the restaurant was out of. We were even offered additional olives, so they apparently had an abundance of those.

I'd ordered the Pastitsio (Greek-style Lasagna) with a side of Sauteed Brussels Sprouts, and my partner ordered the Traditional Whole Fish. Both meals arrived in a reasonable amount of time. The server filleted the fish right at the table, and this was almost a show in itself. Everything was tasty, up to their normal standards. We passed on dessert because we were too full, in fact, I couldn't even finish my meal.


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Although I'm sad to see this fine restaurant close, I'm glad that it went out on top, maintaining its standards of food quality and service to the very end. For those of you afraid you won't see your favorite server(s) again, fear not. They're being re-allocated for a few weeks and then will be brought back to Trattoria al Forno for its opening. And the new restaurant is even expected to retain a few of the popular dishes from Kouzzina's menu!

So for now, we must say Yia Sao (or Good-bye) Kouzzina.

September 20, 2014

Walt Disney World Hidden History - Book Review

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Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes,
2nd edition by Kevin Yee
By Alice McNutt Miller

If your family is anything like mine, when you arrive at one of the parks at Walt Disney World, say the Magic Kingdom, you sprint down Main Street USA toward whichever attraction for which you have your first FastPass+, without looking up, down, or around you. You miss the little details. A LOT of little details: references to Disney films and former attractions; tributes to Imagineers and prominent Disney personalities; and many other hidden gems. What you really need is a guidebook to show you where to look.

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Keven Yee has just released the 2nd Edition of Walt Disney World Hidden History, a comprehensive update of the 1st edition of the book, reflecting the myriad changes in the parks since its original publication in 2011 (See Review) .

This edition includes over 150 new and updated references, and tons of color photos. The format of the new book is the same as in the first edition, taking the reader on a virtual tour of each of the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) starting with the entrances, and moving through each of the "lands." There is also a "General Walt Disney World" chapter that includes references found throughout the resort, including in the water parks, resort hotels, Downtown Disney. Yee also throws in a bonus chapter on "History at Universal Studios Florida" and includes helpful lists of current and former attractions and of the individuals honored in the Main Street USA windows in the Magic Kingdom, as well as a comprehensive index.

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New inclusions of note include those devoted to references in the Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse, Storybook Circus and other New Fantasyland areas. After reading Yee's book, I think Disney history buffs who have not yet taken in the sights in Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse (including me!) would be well advised to do so. This area is full of subtle and not-so-subtle references, including tributes to famous (animators Wilfred Jackson, Fred Moore and Ward Kimball) and not-so-famous (marketing executive Scott Tilley) Disney personages, and installations celebrating Disney parks and attractions throughout the world.

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The New Fantasyland section sheds light on some of the newer references that park-goers may have certainly noticed, but not understood. Whose portrait is that hanging prominently in the back of the Bonjour Village Gifts? Why Magic Kingdom Vice President Phil Holmes, of course! Next time you are in the gift shop, take a closer look: "Numerous winks in the painting pay tribute to changes during his tenure: a ring with '40' stamped on it (the 40th anniversary of the park in 2011), Aladdin's lamp (the addition of Magic Carpets of Aladdin), Snow White's apple (the closure of Snow White's Scary Adventures), peanuts (for the addition of Storybook Circus), bronze statue of Donald Duck (the trinket given to Cast Members when they pass 40 years of service), and a map of the Magic Kingdom showing Mickey's Toontown Fair (the first land to close).

While I very much enjoyed the updated edition of the book, I still wish that it were organized in a more user-friendly way. Other than separate chapters for each park, , and without sub-headings for the various park locations, the topic headings are rather random, referring alternately to attractions, names of Imagineers, dates and other unrelated items. The best way to make sense of the flow would be to read the book, in order and with a park map next to you, as the references will take you on a relatively linear tour of the parks.

The book has been painstakingly researched, however, and color photos enhance the presentation. I'm not sure Yee has missed any references, as he seems to have scoured every inch of the parks for them. Readers-serious Disney history buffs and casual park visitors alike-will certainly find something to enjoy. And something to search for on their next visit!

Disclosure: The author provided a complimentary review copy, however my opinions are my own. The above link to the book is via the AllEars Amazon affiliate store.

August 26, 2014

Recreation and Relaxation at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

Andrew Rossi

While Part One focused on an overview of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, we will now start to delve into all that the resort has to offer. The resort is really one that caters to all types of vacationers, from those who are looking to stay constantly active to those that just want to relax. It is the type of vacation destination that allows you to do as much (or as little) as you like.

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Enjoying the Sun and Surf on the Beach:
One of the most alluring aspects of Disney's Vero Beach Resort is its location on Florida's Atlantic coastline. No matter where you are at the resort, you are just a short walk away from the beach. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, but resort guests are also allowed to bring their own chairs. For those looking to play on the waves, boogie boards, sailboats, jet skis, kayaks, and banana boats are all available for rent at the beach as well.

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Playing by the Pool:
For those that would rather spend their time by the pool than on the beach, the resort offers plenty of space to lounge and relax. The pool area has numerous lounge chairs available, but there is more to do here than just soak up the sun.

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Dominating the pool area is the "Pirate's Plunge," this 163-foot water slide spirals around the pool's signature lighthouse and can be enjoyed by all members of the family. Keep an eye out for the "Pool Games" on the recreation schedule because this is where, amongst other activities, children and adults alike can be timed coming down the slide to see who can get from top to bottom the fastest.

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Adjacent to the water slide is the Tiger Lily Play Area. This is a special splash zone for children where they can play on a pirate ship complete with water cannons and their own miniature water slide.

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For those kids that want to play out of the water, there is also a nearby playground.

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The kids can also keep themselves entertained in the air condition of the nearby Blinkers Arcade.

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In this same area, guests can also find Port Holes, a nine-hole miniature golf course themed to Peter Pan. While not up to the same quality as Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland at Disney World, this course is still fun and entertaining. Plus, a round of golf for non-DVC Members is just $2 and only $1 for DVC Members.

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As guests make their way around the course they have to navigate around ships wheels, treasure chests, and shark fins. A couple of the holes are actually quite challenging.

If you are looking for a little more activity in your day, the pool area is also where you can also find the Anchors A-Weigh fitness center, which features a good variety of exercise equipment.

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Rentals:
One final component of the pool area is Eb and Flo's Rentals. This is where guests can visit for any of their recreational needs. A good number of the rentals available are actually complimentary. Among these are shuffleboard (which can be played on the adjacent court), tennis racquets, basketballs and footballs, as well as bocce and croquet. These latter two can be played on the resort's beautiful sports lawn right in front of the Inn.

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This lawn is actually named Lasorda Field after former Dodger's manager Tommy Lasorda. It is yet another way the resort pays homage to the history of Vero Beach, which form many years served as the home of Dodger's Spring Training.

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Eb and Flo's is also where you can rent bicycles. At just $5 an hour for DVC Members and $7 for non-Members, bicycles are a great way of getting out and seeing some of the area surrounding the resort. There are actually a few bike trails that are located near the resort that take you along the Indian River and allow you to enjoy more of the natural beauty of the area.

Eb and Flo's also has a variety of board games available to rent. These are complimentary and can be brought back to the guest rooms to play. If you are looking for DVD and Blu-Ray rentals, these are available (and also complimentary) at the Island Grove Packing Co. in the resort's lobby.

The Lake Side:
Just across the street from the resort is additional recreational area for guests to enjoy. Situated around a beautiful lake, this area is accessible via a tunnel than runs beneath the street.

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With most guests enjoying the beach or the pool, this area may go unnoticed by many but actually has a lot to offer. This is where you will find the resort's tennis and basketball courts as well as areas for beach volleyball and soccer.

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Around the lake guests can also find the Treasure Trail. This is a quiet nature trail that allows guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Throughout the trail there are a number of signs that point out the various flora and fauna native to the area.

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The Spa:
If you want to pamper yourself while on vacation, then The Spa at Disney's Vero Beach Resort is the place for you. The spa is located right inside the Inn adjacent to the lobby. Featuring everything from messages and facials to manicures and pedicures, the spa takes relaxation to a whole new level.

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Organized Activities and Excursions:
Disney's Vero Beach Resort features a variety programs that are great for all members of the family. For kids, there are a number of organized activities just for them. Among these are the Disney Discovery Club, which is for children ages 4 to 12 and allows them to take part in scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and other fun programs. For older kids there is the Teen Geo Challenge, where teens ages 13 to 19 learn new skills on a resort-wide scavenger hunt using GPS technology. There are also TeeNightz where teens ages 13 to 19 gather for a night of sports, games, and trivia around the campfire.

For the entire family there are adventures that take place both at the resort and the surrounding areas. Fishing Fundamentals allows guests to learn the basics of fresh water fishing at the resort's private lake. The Lagoon Adventure takes guests to the nearby Environmental Learning Center at the Indian River Lagoon for a hands-on interactive experience. Here guests will have the opportunity to catch and release a number of different native fish and get up close encounters with other native wildlife. The Kayak Adventure also takes guests to the Indian River Lagoon for an afternoon paddling around the lagoon's waterways and small islands. There is also the Pelican Island Bike Tour that allows guests ages twelve and up to explore the nation's first wildlife refuge along with a naturalist who will help identifying the many plants and birds native to the area.

If you are visiting the resort from May to October there is also the Turtle Outing. This special excursion allows guests to learn more about sea turtles and get an up-close view of them during nesting season. Turtle Troop is a similar experience just for kids ages 7 to15 where they learn about sea turtles as they walk on the beach, identify tracks, and discuss nesting behaviors.

The resort's recreational offerings even continue into the night with a campfire every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening. Ingredients for S'mores are available for purchase.

The Surrounding Area:
With so much to do at the resort many guests may just opt to stay there, but the surround area offers even more to see and do. Nature lovers can enjoy the beauty of Sebastian Inlet State Park, the Sebastian River Preserve, and the McKee Botanical Gardens. For those looking to do a little shopping there is the nearby Indian River Mall (which also features an AMC Movie Theater) as well as the Outlets at Vero Beach. The surrounding area also features a number of both private and public golf courses as well as a wide variety of restaurants.

With so many different activities and excursions available both at the resort and the surrounding areas, Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers something for everyone. Whether you are visiting the resort following a trip to Disney World and just need to relax and wind down or maybe a stay at Vero Beach is your vacation, there is more than enough to do that will keep all members of the family entertained. No matter what you do while visiting, one thing you can expect from Disney's Vero Beach Resort is that the service and quality are up to the high standards you would expect from any other Disney resort.

See past blog entries by guest blogger Andrew Rossi here.

August 24, 2014

Discover One of Disney’s Best Kept Secrets at the Vero Beach Resort

Andrew Rossi

We all know that vacationing at Walt Disney World may not always be the most relaxing experience. Waking up early in the morning to get to the parks for opening, running from attraction to attraction, dealing with the heat and the crowds, it can be a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining experience. Sometimes it may even feel like you need a vacation from your vacation. Wouldn't it be great if there was somewhere nearby that you could go to relax and unwind for a few days following all of this? Or maybe you are just looking for the kind of vacation where you can sit by the pool or at the beach without having to worry about running around from place to place? Fortunately, Disney has just the place and this hidden gem is located conveniently close to Walt Disney World. Disney's Vero Beach Resort is the perfect escape and a great way to end a Disney vacation or be a vacation unto itself.

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Location, Location, Location:
Even though it is located less than a two hour drive southeast of Walt Disney World, Disney's Vero Beach Resort feels like an entirely different world. It is close enough to Disney World and Orlando International Airport to be easily accessible to Guests travelling to the Orlando area and yet far enough removed that it offers an escape from the crowds and congestion.
Vero Beach is located right on the Atlantic Ocean in an area known as Florida's Treasure Coast. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Indian River on the other, the area features miles of beaches to enjoy in addition to the natural beauty of nearby botanical gardens, wildlife preserves, and state parks.

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The resort's location is certainly one of its main allures; every room is just steps away from the beach and a majority have views of the ocean. While here, you definitely do not want to miss the stunning views of the sunrise each morning.

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A Taste of Old Florida:
The resort's style is one that harkens back to a bygone age with an old-fashioned elegance and charm; it has an upscale feel that is at the same time warm and inviting. The resort celebrates the splendor of Old Florida with an architectural style reminiscent of the grand hotels found along Florida's northeastern seaboard at the turn of the 20th century. In addition, the resort's relatively small size (just 211 rooms) makes it more intimate, quiet, and far less crowded than the resorts at Disney World.

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The resort's rooms are split up between the main Inn, three Villa Buildings, and six Cottages. Located in the Inn, resort's lobby is certainly a sight to behold, with its high ceilings and numerous windows giving it a very open and airy feel.

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The lobby is also where you can find the Island Grove Packing Co., which is the resort's gift shop featuring an array of resort-specific merchandise in addition to many items that can be found at Disney World. The shop also offers an array of groceries.

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Throughout the resort, in both the common areas and Guest rooms, there are various design elements that pay tribute to the legacy of Old Florida. This theming helps set the tone for the resort and immerses Guests into the history of the region. Along the walls you will spot everything from black and white photographs and newspaper clippings to old postcards and paintings; it is really like stepping back to an earlier time. The three main themes that carry through the resort are citrus, treasure, and the environment.

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Citrus:
The number one industry in Indian River County is citrus. The area produces over ten varieties of oranges and grapefruits and is home to twelve packing houses. In fact, many of the local groves contributed authentic labels to the resort which are now displayed throughout the lobby. This theming also makes its way into the Guest rooms, which feature various citrus-inspired décor and motifs in their design.

Treasure:
Indian River County is one of three counties located on Florida's Treasure Coast. The area got its name due to all of the shipwrecks that occurred off of its shores and treasure continues to be found to this day. The region's history also includes a number of notorious pirates who would use the barrier islands as hiding places for the riches they plundered from European vessels. Throughout the resort there are a number of authentic pieces and replicas that help to document this part of the region's history.

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Environment:
Vero Beach was chosen as the site of Disney's first oceanfront resort due, in part, to the richness of its surroundings. Due to the uniqueness of its location, the Indian River Lagoon has one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the continental United States, supporting over 3,000 species of animals and plants. During the resort's construction, every effort was made to leave all the existing trees intact and those that had to be removed were relocated to a nearby environmental learning center.

With all the natural beauty of the area, it is not surprising that it plays a large role at the resort and it is sea turtles that take center stage. Disney's Vero Beach Resort shares space with the native nesting grounds of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The Walt Disney Company has a long history of conservation efforts and the Vero Beach Resort continues that legacy. The beachfront resort was specifically designed to create minimal impact on the turtles' nesting patterns. In addition, since moonlight acts as a beacon to guide the hatchlings safely to the ocean, the resort's east-facing windows are tinted to diminish the impact of interior lighting, and no exterior lights face the ocean. The resort also offers a variety of educational programs for both children and families to learn more about sea turtles and their nesting habits.

In addition to this important conservation message, sea turtles feature prominently throughout the resort's décor. Most notably amongst these is the mosaic in the center of the lobby.

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Accommodations:
Disney's Vero Beach Resort is part of the Disney Vacation Club and, as such, its various accommodations are similar to those that you would find at other DVC resorts in Disney World. One unique element of Vero Beach, however, is it's Inn Rooms. These rooms are similar to a Studio but instead feature two queen beds rather than one bed and a pullout couch.

The resort also features One and Two Bedroom Villas, both of which have full-sized kitchens. These units are located in buildings adjacent to the main Inn.

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The most unique element of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, however, are its Beach Cottages. It was in one of these that I had the fortune of staying during my last visit to the resort. In all, there are six cottages that sit overlooking the beach and each has a name that pays tribute to sea turtles. For example, the particular cottage that I stayed in was "The Loggerhead Cottage."

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These cottages are perfect for a big family vacation as they can accommodate up to twelve people between three bedrooms and a pullout couch in the living room.

All of the bedrooms and bathrooms are located on the lower level of the cottage. Two of the bedrooms feature a pair of queen-sized beds while the third "master" bedroom features a king. This third bedroom also has a jacuzzi-style tub in its bathroom.

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Making your way to the upper level, it is clear to see that the cottages were constructed to maximize the incredible views. The most notable feature is its huge windows on all sides that allow in ample sunlight.

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The upper level of the beach house features a living room (with pullout couch) along with a full kitchen and dining room.

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There are also two balconies off the upper floor, one facing towards the Inn and the other towards the beach. The balconies feature tables, chairs, and lounges for those looking to catch some sun without having to walk to the pool or the beach. It is a great location for enjoying breakfast, lunch, or dinner with an ocean view.

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With all of its amenities, these cottages really are a home away from home.

Dining:
While not exactly a large resort, Disney's Vero Beach does offer a number of different dining options. The first dining location is Shutters, a casual restaurant with a nautical theme that is good for the entire family and open for breakfast and dinner. The menu specializes in fresh Florida seafood, but also features wood-fired rotisserie chicken, slow-roasted pot roast, and flatbreads prepared in their onstage wood-burning pizza ovens. If you are looking for character dining, Shutters is home to "Goofy's Beachfront Breakfast" on Saturdays . The restaurant also has a "Beachfront Sunday Brunch," which includes your choice of champagne, mimosa, or Bloody Mary.

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Sonya's offers a more adult-oriented, quiet, and intimate atmosphere with rich wooden décor. Sonya's specializes in wood-fired steaks, fresh Florida seafood, as well as other seasonal specialties.

Bleachers is the resorts quick service option located conveniently right by the pool. Open for lunch, this dining location is the place for hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, ice cream, and an array of tropical ad specialty drinks.

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Finally, there is the Green Cabin Room. Interestingly enough, in the original planning of the resort, this space was first intended to be a library but was then converted into a bar. With spectacular ocean views and cushiony chairs this is a great place to relax in a quiet setting. Light lunch offerings and appetizers can be found on the menu alongside a number of cocktails and specialty coffee drinks. It's the perfect place to stop for cocktails before your meal or after-dinner drinks.

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Now that you have been familiarized with an overview of the resort, the Part Two will highlight the various (and numerous) recreational offerings that can be found at Disney's Vero Beach Resort. Whether you just want to relax or have a day full of activities, there is something for all members of the family.

See past blog entries by guest blogger Andrew Rossi here.

July 16, 2014

Jim's Attic: The Boardwalk Mutoscopes

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The Boardwalk Mutoscopes by Jim Korkis

Located in the Disney Boardwalk Inn and Villas resort hallway directly across from the restrooms near the Belle Vue Lounge are a green and a red Clamshell Mutoscope. At one time, there was also a mutoscope that was painted white with gold trim.

Mutoscopes were originally manufactured from 1895 to 1909 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

The red and green mutoscopes are authentic operating machines from this time period and you can still clearly see the appropriate markings on the front of the machines.

The cast iron clamshell was one of the most durable styles and is so named because of the clamshell design pattern on both sides.

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Mutoscopes were basically a huge mechanical "flip book" with about 850 sturdy photographic prints on individual cards attached to a central core and flipped by a hand cranked ratchet. Each coin-operated machine only had a single reel, often an excerpt from an existing silent film but sometimes original and lasting about a minute.

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Here's something that I learned about mutoscopes in 1996:

The viewer could control the presentation speed but only to a limited degree. The crank could be turned in both directions, but this did not reverse the playing of the reel. Nor could the patron extend viewing time by stopping the crank because the flexible images were bent into the proper viewing position by tension applied from forward cranking.

Stopping the crank reduced the forward tension on the reels causing the reel to go backwards and the picture to move from the viewing position; a spring in the mechanism turned off the light and in some models brought down a shutter which completely blocked out the picture.

How did I learn all this information about mutoscopes? Because the red and green ones were rescued by me in 1996 which is why they are still around today.

For the opening of Walt Disney World, the Disney Company bought a very large collection of authentic mutoscopes, mechanical games and Orchestrions (music boxes like "Big Bertha" at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) from Paul Eakin in the 1970s and moved them all from where they were being displayed and stored in Missouri to Florida. (Some machines from the Disneyland collection were also shipped out to Florida.)

Eakin's collection of machines operated for many years at the Million Dollar Museum in Sikeston and The Gay 90s Melody Museum located in St. Louis. Both Missouri museums were closed when Eakin sold the bulk of his collection to Walt Disney World.

These two particular mutoscopes were part of that collection and were enjoyed by Disney guests at the Main Street Penny Arcade until it closed March 19, 1995 to become part of Main Street Athletic Company.

A handful of the machines were eventually moved to the Main Street Train Station while the rest were stored under Cinderella Castle in a small, leaky room in the Utilidoors. Most of the collection is no longer in storage but was sold off to private collectors in 1997.

In the early part of 1996, I was hired as an animation instructor at the Disney Institute. One of the programs I developed and taught was on animation history. I was able to convince my manager Larry Lauria that having a mutoscope or two would add greatly to the guest experience.

I was the representative who was sent to examine the machines in storage and decide which two should be selected since some were in pretty bad shape. I was shown how to open the base and make minor repairs using a large, twisted paperclip since the interior equipment was no longer produced.

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To my surprise, the older cast member, who was the only one to care for the machines and who has long since retired, asked me what reels I wanted for the machines.

He led me to a storage cabinet and on the shelves were unopened boxes of reels. My heart soared when I found a silent Felix the Cat excerpt "Cat in a Bag" where Felix hides from a boxing bear in a bag (probably a selection from the 1921 "Love Punch" short animated by Otto Messmer and now long out of copyright) and then found another still unidentified silent animated film clip.

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When the Disney Institute stopped offering individual programs to guests in 2000 and then later left the physical space in 2002, I feared for the fate of the machines but they found a new home at the Boardwalk where a little tender loving care may help them spring back to life to continue to delight guests.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND

"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


July 6, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News 1981

Gary Cruise banner

According to The Walt Disney Archives, the Magic Kingdom's first map wasn't a guide map as we know it today, but a multi-page newspaper called The Walt Disney World News. The first edition, with a huge headline "Vacation Kingdom Opens," celebrated the opening of the park with photos of company founder Walt Disney, Walt Disney World Ambassador Debby Dane, and the Windsor family, the first visitors to enter the park on Oct. 1, 1971. It also told the story of how, in order to be the first guests admitted, the entire Windsor family, mom, dad and sons slept overnight in their Volkswagen in a nearby parking lot.

Alas, we do not have a copy of that newspaper in the Tickle Trunk, but I was able to find a few pages from it on the Disney Parks Blog site. The park's first map appears on page 4 of the newspaper and is followed, on pages 4 and 5, with a listing of attractions, shops and restaurants in each themed land.

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It must have seemed comical when guests opened these 8-page tabloid-sized newspapers to find their way around the parks. It would have been quite a handful!

The Magic Kingdom Park Map, as we know it today, appeared in late 1972 but the production of the tabloid-style newspaper continued into the 1990's. Once the park map was introduced in 1972 the purpose of the newspaper seems to have changed. The content became more focused on things outside the Magic Kingdom. In my opinion, the entire purpose of the publication may have been to demonstrate to guests that Walt Disney World was more than just a theme park, a whole lot more! It promoted the many activities guests could enjoy in the resorts and in the shopping area at Lake Buena Vista.

The newspaper was printed monthly and included in the check-in package guests received when they arrived at Disney resorts. Copies were available to all other guests at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom. Carol and I have copies of ten different editions of the newspaper in the Tickle Trunk, spanning the years 1981 to 1992 and I'll share them with you over the next few months.

Let's start with the two issues from 1981, January and February. Carol received them both that year, while she was staying at Polynesian Village Resort.

Before we get started, let's look at the time frame . . . what was happening at our happy place?

There was still only one theme park, The Magic Kingdom, but EPCOT was nearing completion and would open in less than two years.

Disney resorts consisted of The Contemporary Resort, The Polynesian Village Resort, The Golf Resort (renamed The Disney Inn in 1986 and Shades of Green in 1994) and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

The shopping area, opened in 1975, was known as The Village at Lake Buena Vista; in 1989 it was renamed Disney Village Marketplace and then in 1995 it became Downtown Disney.

Here is what the January 1981 issue looked like:

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Page 1 had an interesting article about music at the Magic Kingdom, in all it's venues. The Dapper Dans are jumping and clicking their heels in the lead photograph!

The second article on page 1 invites guests to shop at Walt Disney World Village. The photo shows the Empress Lily in the background. We now know her as Fulton's Crab House.

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Pages 2 through 4 focus on dining, entertainment, golf, tennis and fishing. Here are a few noteworthy articles:

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The first Character Meal - Dinner á la Disney at the Golf Resort.

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Fine dining at the Contemporary Resort's Gulf Coast Room!

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Even fishing - there was something for everyone her!

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Guests could enjoy some smooth jazz at the Village Lounge.

Let's take a look at the February 1981 issue which Carol picked up on the same trip.

The front page as well as page 4 were almost identical to the January edition, only the park hours section on page 1 had changed.

There were a few differences inside though.

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On page 2, The Fifth Dimension and Mickey Finn had finished their gigs at The Top of the World (today known as California Grill), Mel Tormé and Billy Eckstine now rounded out the list of entertainers.

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On Page three there was a terrific description of Discovery Island.

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A world of shopping awaited at The Village.

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Naturally there were some cute advertisments.

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You could arrange tennis lessons for the whole family at the Contemporary Resort.

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There was even a "wee links" course at the Golf Resort.

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Adventurous guests could taste exotic south seas treats at the Polynesian Village.

Even with only one theme park there was so much to see and enjoy at Walt Disney World in 1981. It was, and still is, a pretty amazing playground for kids of all ages!

And there's still plenty of good reading left in that old Tickle Trunk, this is just a small sampling. I hope you enjoyed it!

July 2, 2014

Jim's Attic: The History Behind the Saratoga Springs DVC Resort

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Jim Korkis: The History Behind the Saratoga Springs

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa officially opened May 17, 2004 with a "health-history-horses" theme. The Development Manager for the project was Kevin Cummings which was ironically appropriate.

Cummings was born and raised in Saratoga Springs, New York, the city that was the inspiration for the new Disney Vacation Club resort. In fact, at the time, his twin brother still lived in that historic upstate New York town so Kevin would go back to visit several times during the year, especially to attend the races.

In his role as a Development Manager, Kevin oversaw the hiring of the project's design professionals, from the design architect to the working architect, to all the engineers.

"I coordinate them as a team to come up with the design for our project," he told me when the resort first opened.

As soon as Kevin heard that the new resort was to be inspired by the tranquil towns of upstate New York in the 1800s, he told everyone, "It's got to be Saratoga! We took trips up there to look at the architecture, and I'd show my friends around since I knew the lay of the land. I knew exactly where to look, where the best architecture was"North Broadway, Union Avenue, and all the special buildings that we took bits and pieces of our design from for the resort."

Working with Boston-based Graham Gund Architects (who had worked on Disney's Vero Beach Resort, the Celebration Hotel in Celebration, Florida, and Disney's Coronado Springs Resort), the team, according to Kevin, "went up and down the East Coast looking for different elements to be put to use for our buildings. Of course, the major part of the architecture is based on Saratoga. But we were very careful to use actual design elements"it's really real, what you're seeing, we didn't make this stuff up.

"Of course, I knew the history from growing up and going to school there, the local history, and the history of the racecourse. It's not a racetrack "it's a racecourse" the oldest racecourse in the United States, going all the way back to 1863. In the 1920s and '30s, especially, Saratoga was the place for the upper class to summer, and they all went during the racing season. It was known as the 'August place'. Saratoga Springs used to have more hotel rooms than any other U.S. destination."

Kevin helped develop a binder filled with photos from the research trips so that the smallest details like the awnings would be accurate.

Kevin was also instrumental in naming many of the features like the High Rock Spring Pool after one of the actual "healing springs" found in the city and frequented by celebrities like U.S. Presidents.

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Street names such as Union Avenue and Broadway will also be familiar with people who know Saratoga Springs. Kevin wanted to see the name of the street he grew up on included, but it didn't make the cut.

What most reminded Kevin of his hometown were the three towers. "We have three different building types, and we have three different tower designs on the Guest room buildings. They're right at the entrances, and they rise 70 feet into the air"those elements really strike you. You'll see them all over Saratoga, even the colors. The blues, greens, reds, and yellows we used to paint the buildings"the greatest homes in Saratoga Springs have those colors. That's what really hit me"the colors of the buildings...and the towers. No doubt about it."

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Having a reference to Saratoga Springs on WDW property is nothing new.

Since the opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971, there has been a major architectural reference to Saratoga Springs, New York in the Magic Kingdom. The majestic train station is an adaptation of one that was in that city at the turn of the century and has greeted Disney theme park guests for over forty years to remind them they are on the East Coast.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS

Saratoga Springs Fact Sheet

Saratoga Springs Videos

In-Depth Look at Saratoga Springs - Three Part Blogs

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


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!

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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!

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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.

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There were some very unique buttons when EPCOT first opened.

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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!

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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 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.


May 24, 2014

Star Wars Weekends for a non-Star Wars fan

by Guest Blogger Phillip Creglow

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am not a fan of Star Wars.

Wait...what? Not a fan of Star Wars?!?

Yes, it's true. While I have seen each of the movies once, recognize most of the popular characters, and hum along to the theme music, my interest in the franchise is casual at best. Sort of like someone who only follows college basketball during March Madness, fills out a bracket for the office pool because everyone else is doing it, yet has no emotional investment in a team before the big event.

In this case, the big event is Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I had a general understanding of this annual event based on conversations with running friends. Now that I live in Orlando and could easily commit to finding out for myself what Star Wars Weekends had to offer, I planned my first visit for opening day, Friday, May 16.

My day at Hollywood Studios started at 10:30 AM and upon entering the park I picked up a Star Wars Weekends park guide.

Photo1%E2%80%93SWW-Park-Guide.jpg

Since I had done very little planning, the guide was the perfect reference point in deciding how to manage my time. The park was already busy and people were lining up all along Hollywood Boulevard in preparation for the 11:30 AM "Legends of the Force" Motorcade and Celebrity Welcome. I immediately walked toward the event stage at the base of The Sorcerer's Hat. Cast members were recommending viewing locations so I found a spot near the American Idol Experience. This location provided an acceptable view of the motorcade characters, most notably the large assembly of Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers.

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Sadly, this viewing location did not provide a close look at the classic Disney characters dressed as Star Wars Pals or the Star Wars celebrity guests, as they were dropped off at the event stage for the post-motorcade show. Later on I was able to get a closer look as the Disney characters and celebrity guests make their way back down Hollywood Boulevard following the post-motorcade show. Clearly it pays off to arrive early and get a spot on Hollywood Boulevard. Lesson learned.

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Photo3B%E2%80%93Jedi-Mickey.jpg


After the "Legends of the Force" motorcade, I made a quick exit to get in line for a look at the merchandise featured at Darth's Mall. The line had queued up well outside the main entrance and I shouldn't have been surprised given the number of people carrying multiple large shopping bags while exiting. My total wait time was close to 40 minutes, which actually offered a nice break from the sun. The downtime was fortuitous because once inside, it was a madhouse!

Photo4%E2%80%93Darth%E2%80%99s-Mall.jpg


Much like a runDisney expo, the merchandise space was crowded and people were filling shopping baskets to the brim. Toys, apparel, art work, glassware in addition to separate lines for character greetings, snacks and collectibles. I picked up a Star Wars Weekends coffee mug and quickly found the checkout line. Little did I know, that same mug along with other event merchandise could be found at multiple locations throughout the park. Lesson learned.

Photo5%E2%80%93StarWarsWeekendsmug.jpg

Given the crowded scene at Darth's Mall, I decided to skip the afternoon events at the Premier Theater and focus instead on the character greetings in the park. With multiple characters roaming select areas of the park, the atmosphere is best described in one word: energized. While I enjoy visits to Hollywood Studios, the park can often feel empty and subdued outside of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. This is not the case during Star Wars weekends.

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Photo6B%E2%80%93Character-Greetings.jpg

With character greetings taking place near Streets of America, Commissary Lane, and Star Tours, there was a noticeable energy and excitement from guests unlike anything I had ever witnessed outside of Magic Kingdom. Even if I didn't recognize certain characters, other guests were there to help. Notable character experiences included a Stormtrooper demanding, "Let me see your identification!" and a sizeable crowd - mostly adults - letting out an audible "Auuguuguuurrrggghhhh!" as Chewbacca held court outside of Star Tours - The Adventures Continue.

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Photo7B%E2%80%93Chewbacca.jpg


I closed out my day on Star Tours - The Adventures Continue, which had a surprisingly short 30-minute wait. Another surprise was the small number of guests dressed in Star Wars costumes. Honestly, I can't blame anyone for choosing comfort over a costume given the warm weather. Additionally, I was surprised how often I found myself looking up information about Star Wars characters on my iPhone. Still a non-Star Wars fan, you ask? For now, let's just say I am more intrigued and plan to learn more about the franchise.

Overall, I enjoyed my Star Wars Weekends experience and I am planning to return in the near future.

Here are a few helpful tips that I will utilize during my next Star Wars Weekends visit and may be helpful to you as well:

- Arrive early for the "Legends of the Force" Motorcade! I should have grabbed a spot on Hollywood Boulevard when I arrived at the park an hour before the start of the motorcade. Since I was there by myself, I could have found a better viewing spot up to 30 minutes prior, but more time is required if you are visiting as part of a larger group. Next time I will try and get closer to the event stage but still maintain a position on Hollywood Boulevard.

- If you want Star Wars Weekends commemorative merchandise, you might consider skipping Darth's Mall and dedicate that time to an attraction or show at the Premier Theater. Most of the commemorative items (including my coffee mug) were available at other merchandise locations throughout Hollywood Studios. For my next visit, I am also planning to use a FastPass+ reservation for a show at the Premier Theater instead of a regular attraction.

- Stay for the fireworks! Sadly, a prior commitment kept me from staying into the evening for the Symphony in the Stars fireworks show. Just following the commentary on Twitter, I regretted not being able to stay into the evening. Plus, fireworks shows are rare at Hollywood Studios so why not take advantage of a special occasion? Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling.

Next time I will be better prepared, more knowledgeable of the characters, and be sure to experience the evening entertainment.

"You will find only what you bring in," said Master Yoda.

Lesson learned.

Phillip 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.

May 21, 2014

Jim's Attic: Humphrey the Bear at Wilderness Lodge

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Humphrey the Bear at Wilderness Lodge
By Jim Korkis

Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort is the only Disney resort hotel to have an official mascot, the brown bear. Images and allusions can be found throughout the resort including bear tracks imbeded in the walkways.

To make that potentially fearsome mascot more friendly for younger guests, some of the brown bear images are of the Disney animated character Humphrey the Bear, a lovable, overweight brown bear who lives in the fictional Brownstone National Park.

Humphrey is most prominent on a totem pole on the outside of the Mercantile Store in the lobby of the resort. A smiling Humphrey is at the bottom of the pole supporting frontier garbed Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck on top of him.

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Over the years, the store has sold exclusive merchandise featuring the image of Humphrey.

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In addition, Humphrey pops on signage throughout the resort that many guests fail to notice. On the road leading to the Wilderness Lodge, just to right before the archway, is a round metal sign with silhouettes of Mickey Mouse being followed by Humphrey.

At the entrance to the Villas at Wilderness Lodge is another metal sign with the silhouettes of Mickey walking along and Humphrey riding on top of an old fashioned penny farthing bicycle to mark the bike crossing path.

humphrey-1.jpg

Only seven Disney cartoon characters have starred in their own theatrical cartoon series. Humphrey the Bear was the last one to do so before the Disney company decided to stop making theatrical cartoon shorts.

Humphrey starred prominently in four Donald Duck cartoons, Rugged Bear (1953), Grin and Bear It (1954), Bearly Asleep (1955), and Beezy Bear (1955).

humphrey-grinandbearit.jpg

He was so popular that Disney gave him his own series but only two cartoons were completed, Hooked Bear (1956) and In the Bag (1956).

hookedbear.jpg

In addition, Humphrey appeared in the opening credits for the original Mickey Mouse Club television series in 1955 holding the trampoline on which various characters bounce Mickey Mouse high into the air.

Humphrey the Bear does not speak but communicates through expressive grunts supplied by voice man Jimmy MacDonald who also did the voice of Mickey Mouse. Sometimes, director Jack Hannah would step in to supply some of the grunts.

Hannah directed all the Humphrey the Bear animated appearances in the Golden Age of Disney animation and since he lived in the same city where I grew up, I got a chance to interview him many times. He was actually the very first Disney animator I ever interviewed.

"For the sake of something new, we tried the Duck with a bear and it seemed like an immediate success for them to play against each other," Hannah revealed to me in an interview. "Later, when we started thinking of another picture for the bear, it seemed natural to be in a National Forest and that's how the Little Ranger came into being. The Little Ranger always treated his bears like his own pets and I always found that funny as did the audience."

Humphrey has also appeared in cartoons made for television including House of Mouse and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He even has a short cameo at the end of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

While Humphrey never appeared in any cartoon featuring him in the circus, he was recently revived to be included in the New Fantasyland expansion. He is prominent on the sign for Big Top Treats "Circus Snacks Galore" with him happily munching away on a caramel apple. In addition, that same image is used on a Storybook Circus poster.

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However, while he may sneak over to the Magic Kingdom to grab a tasty treat, his official Walt Disney World home is Wilderness Lodge.

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


May 10, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - The Prequel

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I are very excited to be joining some old friends, and some friends we have yet to meet, as we board the Disney Fantasy and sail the western Caribbean on the 2014 AllEars Group Cruise. We board the Fantasy Saturday May 10th for a seven day adventure.

2014_AllEars_Cruise

This will be our 10th Disney Cruise and our 4th AllEars Group Cruise. We really enjoy cruising and it's fun to enjoy the experience as part of a group who share so many of our interests.

2014_May_Cruise_Itinerary

If you have ever wondered if Disney cruising might be right for you, or if you wondered what a group cruise would be like - come along and join us as we sail. I will be blogging daily to report on our activities and would love to have you along for the ride!

Here's a bit of a teaser to whet your appetite - a few highlights from our stay at Walt Disney World before we set sail!

Flower_&_Garden

Boat_to_Fort_Wilderness

Buzz_Lightyear

Malificent

Mother_Nature

Kermit_&_Miss_Piggy

Sunset_at_EPCOT

Tune in every day to see what we've been up to on our cruise!

May 7, 2014

Jim's Attic - Snow Queen Ride

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The Snow Queen Ride
By Jim Korkis

The most recent Walt Disney Feature Animation film, Frozen (2013), is the highest grossing animated feature film ever produced, winning Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song.

The Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot was so overwhelmingly successfully that the new Disney princesses now take up residence at the Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom to better accommodate their huge number of fans.

Anna and Elsa in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot:

Walt Disney himself had been interested in the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Snow Queen as early as 1943.

Walt was in discussions with MGM film producer Samuel Goldwyn to collaborate on a film biography of the famous writer.

MGM would handle the live action sequences and Disney would create short animated sequences of some of Anderson's most famous tales including The Little Mermaid, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and, of course, The Snow Queen.

The project never developed any further but periodically over the years just like with the story of the Little Mermaid, the Disney artists would review the material to see if they could develop a story about The Snow Queen.

The big challenge was that the Snow Queen was basically a villain and all of the Disney animated feature films were about heroes who defeated the villain.

In 2002, Disney came close, even having songwriter Alan Menken compose several terrific tunes including "Love Can't Be Denied". Animator Glen Keane was deeply involved in the film but left when CEO Michael Eisner considered giving the film to Pixar to do. Fortunately, the project was revived again with a new team in 2008.

A few years before his official retirement in 1978, Imagineer Marc Davis designed an attraction for Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Fantasyland that was based on the story of The Snow Queen and was entitled "The Enchanted Snow Palace".

The massive white and blue show building would have looked like a glacier but slowly as guests got closer and looked more carefully, they would have realized that it seemed almost like carvings of towers, windows, doors and more.

Guests would have boarded a boat (just like on it's a small world) to drift pass dancing audio-animatronics polar bears, walruses, penguins and more to the background music from "The Nutcracker's Suite".

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Soon, the guests would drift into a snow cave with frost fairies (like the ones in the film Fantasia) and snow giants carrying icicle clubs. Eventually, the boats would come to the throne room of the Snow Queen herself who was about to leave on her sled for her journey through her kingdom.

To speed her passage, she conjures up a blizzard and the guests are caught in a brief snow storm just before they exit into the hot summer reality of Fantasyland.

Davis felt that a leisurely beautiful, literally cool attraction that could be enjoyed by guests of all ages would have been embraced by guests eager to get out of the heat and spend a restful moment on a boat ride.

However, at an estimated cost of fifteen million dollars, the Disney company decided to pass on the attraction and look to more thrilling rather than artistic experiences.

Now, with the continuing popularity of Frozen, the latest rumor is that the Maelstrom attraction in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot might be re-designed into a Frozen attraction, perhaps adapting some of the work done by Davis. Others feel that it might be more appropriate to have such an attraction in the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.

Whatever the final decision, it is important to remember that decades before the film, the story of Andersen's Snow Queen was very much a part of the Disney heritage.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


April 27, 2014

The Tickle Trunk – Memories of Disney

Gary Cruise banner

Carol has a Tickle Trunk. It's filled with wonderful Disney memories!

Most Canadian readers will remember Mr. Dressup, Casey, Finnigan and the Tickle Trunk . . . but for others, I will explain. Mr. Dressup was the star of a children's show which ran on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network from 1967 to 1996. His sidekicks were two hand puppets, Casey and Finnegan, a child and a dog who lived in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup's back yard.

Mr_Dressup

In most episodes Mr. Dressup would get a costume from a big, brightly painted steamer trunk which he called his Tickle Trunk. The costume might be for an animal, policeman or fireman. Donning the costume (after all, he was Mr. Dressup), he would play the role suggested by the outfit. The Tickle Trunk appeared to be charmed - it always had the right costumes, in the right sizes, neatly folded at the top. That simple steamer trunk really was magical; it transported Canadian children to some very imaginative places for three decades!

Tickle_Trunk

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood aired in Canada too, but if you ask any Canadian kid of that era they will assure you, "Mr. Dressup was waay more fun!"

I've mentioned before that Carol saves every piece of paper from each Disney trip, tickets, park maps, resort check-in packages, brochures, flyers, napkins . . . you name it, she probably has it! When she gets home all of that material finds a permanent spot in a big wooden trunk - for years now we've called it Carol's Tickle Trunk!

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Of course, Carol's Tickle Trunk is magical too. Whenever she opens the lid we are instantly transported to our happy place! The best of memories come floating out!

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As you might expect, the trunk has been full for years. It takes some management! When we get home from a trip some new treasures go in and some older treasures get culled and placed in new homes.

When Carol started collecting pins in earnest in 2001 she scoured the Tickle Trunk and pulled out some classic old pins. They now have a special place of honor in her pin collection.

Her collection of Disney buttons, acquired over the decades, now live in a button bucket!

The resort registration packages from each Disney trip, along with park maps, timetables, and plenty of other paper now fill a filing cabinet drawer. Each trip is in its own folder.

But there's still plenty of treasure in that magical wooden trunk!

Just a week or two ago I was writing a blog about Disney park tickets, so naturally we had to go to the Tickle Trunk to find a few old ones. On the way to the bottom of that trunk, where those tickets from 1977 live, we uncovered some buried treasure!

What did we find? Here's a small sampling:

Ten old copies of the "Walt Disney World News"
This four-page newsletter was produced by Disney, a fresh copy each month in the early years, and included in check-in packages at all Disney resorts. The tabloid sized papers are full of fascinating information!

WDW_News_Jan_1981
1981

WDW_News_1990
1990

Magic Kingdom Club/Disney Club Membership packages
Who knew Disney had so many clubs . . . The Magic Kingdom Club, the Magic Years Club and the Disney Club. Carol has old membership cards, brochures and magazines for all of them!

Club_Memberships

Magic_Years_Magazine_Winter_1993
1993

Disney_Club_News_January_2003
2003

Dinner á la Disney & Breakfast á la Disney Tickets
Before there were character meals there was Dinner á la Disney! Dinner was served in the Trophy Room at the Golf Resort, now known as Shades of Green. Breakfast á la Disney was served aboard the Empress Lily, now known as Fulton's Crab House. There were no character meals in the Magic Kingdom in the early years!

Dinner_a_la_Disney

River Country / Discovery Island Tickets
River Country was the original Disney water park, located beside Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Two slides dropped guests into a man-made pool. The rest of the slides and water adventures took place in the natural waters of Bay Lake.

River_Country_Tickets

River_Country_Postcard

Just across the water from River Country was Discovery Island, a tropical paradise filled with exotic birds and blossoms.

Discovery_Island_Tickets

Disney Matchbook covers
In days of yore cigarette smoking was allowed in most areas at Walt Disney World and most resorts and restaurants had matches available for guests. Carol's collection lives in a pretty metal box in the Tickle Trunk.

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Children's "Wonders of Walt Disney World" Books
This program of day-long seminars was offered by Disney for children from 10 to 15 years of age. Son Rob went on two of the four seminars they offered in the mid 80's and Carol has the proof!

Wonders_Brochure

Wonders_Text_Book


Disney Post Cards
Yes, there are postcards. Lots and lots of postcards.

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Postcards_2

Postcards_3

But there's something all those things have in common. All of that stuff, all those oddities and curios which remain in that trunk; they are all filled with fond memories of happy days. Sweet recollections from magical Disney trips!

Stay tuned, once in a while I'll pull something out of the Tickle Trunk and tell you a little bit more about it in a new blog.

April 23, 2014

Jim’s Attic: Theater of the Stars Handprints Part One

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Theater of the Stars Handprints Part One
By Jim Korkis

Most Disney fans are aware that the handprints in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater at Disney Hollywood Studios are real. Between 1989 and 1995, some well-known entertainment celebrities placed their hand and foot prints into the wet concrete blocks.

Many of those blocks were not installed but stored backstage. In addition, depending upon the willingness of the participants, a duplicate or two were made in case of damage to the original.

When Sunset Boulevard opened in July 1994, a new Theater of the Stars (designed to be reminiscent of the fabled Hollywood Bowl) was opened. In the forecourt entrance to the 1,500 seat theater, some of those previously unused blocks were placed in that location.

Originally, the theater was located on Hollywood Boulevard at approximately the area where Sunset Boulevard begins today from May 1, 1989 to May 2, 1993. The overwhelming popularity of the park dedicated to the Hollywood that Never Was but Always Will Be resulted in immediate plans for an expansion.

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Without fanfare, in a effort to enhance the re-location of the theater, the Walt Disney World Imagineers decided that they would use some of the celebrity imprinted blocks that were in storage and the most logical place was the new Theater of the Stars.

Here is a chronological listing of all of those blocks. Some blocks were undated. Many of these entertainers had long and varied careers with many triumphs. Because of space, I have limited the identifications to their best known credit which in most cases was television oriented.

Sherman Hemsley 5/23/89
George Jefferson on the CBS television series All in the Family (1973-1974) and The Jeffersons (1975-1985)

Loretta Swit 5/28/89
Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan on M*A*S*H (1972-1983).

Martin Mull 6/7/89
Block includes a caricature of his face
Leon Carp, Roseanne Conner's boss (and later business partner), on the TV series Roseanne (1991-1997).

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James Doohan 7/3/89
Block says "Beam Me Up".
Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, Chief Engineer of the starship the U.S.S. Enterprise, in the original television series and original film series Star Trek (1966-1991).

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John Astin 8/26/89

Gomez Addams on The Addams Family (1964-1966)

Bob Denver 10/15/89

Block also includes the name "Gilligan"
The hapless shipwrecked sailor Gilligan on Gilligan's Island (1964-1967)

McLean Stevenson 12/19/89
Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H.

Howie Mandel 2/2/90
Judge on America's Got Talent starting in 2010.

Lou Ferrigno 4/18/90
The green monster known as the Hulk in the television series The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982) and as himself in the sitcom The King of Queens (2000-2007).

Monty Hall 6/14/90
Block says "Let's Make a Deal"
Developer, producer and host of tv game show Let's Make a Deal (1963-1991)

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Tom Poston 6/24/90
He placed an extra upside down hand in between his two hand prints
George Utley, bumbling country handyman of the Stratford Inn, on sitcom Newhart (1982-1990). He was nominated three times for an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series for this role.

DHS-theater-of-the-stars-tom-poston.JPG

David Leisure 7/7/90
Charley Dietz in the sitcom Empty Nest (1988 - 1995) and fictional (and "lying") automotive commerical "pitch man" Joe Isuzu.

Charlotte Rae 8/28/90
Edna Garrett, the housemother of Eastland boarding school, in the sitcom The Facts of Life (1979-1988)

George Wendt 8/31/90
Norm Peterson on the television show Cheers (1982-1993)

In Part Two, I will document the remaining blocks and why you might consider taking a look at them soon to photograph them or to place your hands in the prints and see how you measure up before they fade away.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


April 13, 2014

The Evolution of Disney Tickets

Gary Cruise banner

Walt Disney World tickets have certainly changed over the years!

No, I'm not going to rant about the price of tickets; other folks have that very well covered! I think that Disney tickets have always represented great value, so I'm going to talk about the tickets themselves. Let's look at the form of the tickets; are they paper or plastic? What they will buy for you? How have they changed through the years?

1971_Ticket_Card

In the beginning there were E-Tickets. Yes, I know . . . there are at least two generations of folks out there who don't know what old geezers like me are talking about when we refer to an E-Ticket. So, let me explain!

In 1971 when Walt Disney World opened they used the same ticketing system that had worked successfully at Disneyland since 1959. Guests paid a small General Admission fee ($3.50 for an adult) and then paid an additional fee for each attraction they visited. The attraction fees were paid using pre-packaged booklets of tickets which guests could purchase at the Ticket and Transportation Centre or at several booths in the park.

1971_A_Ticket

1971_B_to_E_Tickets

The most popular attractions were referred to as "E-Ticket Rides" since they required an E-Ticket from your book. The mildest or least popular attractions required an A-Ticket. All rides and attractions were marked with the type of ticket required!

1971_Ticket_Table

In those early years there were several "Adventure Magic Key Ticket Books" with tickets for 7, 9 or 11 adventures. The 11 Adventure Magic Key Ticket Book cost $5.75 in 1971 and contained one A-Ticket, one B-Ticket, two C-Tickets, three D-Tickets and four E-Tickets. Additional tickets could be purchased individually if you needed them.

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At each attraction guests would tear the appropriate ticket out of their booklet and present it to the cast member. It sounds cumbersome by today's standards, but that's the way things worked 40 years ago and it worked well.

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Prices slowly increased during the 70's and the ticket booklets changed as well. By 1976 there was a 2 day 18 Adventure Book.

When I first visited the Magic Kingdom in 1977 things were a bit different; they were still selling books of tickets, but guests could now purchase a 2-Day Magic Kingdom Passport which covered Magic Kingdom admission for 2 days, all rides and attractions, two days transportation to Magic Kingdom and the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Center. This was my first Disney ticket; although the Adventure books continued until 1982 - I never used an E-Ticket!

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Things changed in late 1982 when EPCOT opened. The ticket booklets were phased out in June of that year and guests could only purchase one day passports for either park or multi-day World Passports which included both parks and allowed access to all attractions. These paper tickets were stamped with the date as guests entered the park. Re-entry was permitted with a hand-stamp. (The "Park-Hopper" was born! However, it wasn't until 1994 that the term "Park-Hopper" was coined by Disney and added as a ticket option.)

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The first Annual Passport was introduced in 1982; what a bargain at $100.00. Alas, I have no picture of one of those original passports. Today Annual Passports entitle holders to discounts in many Disney shopping and dining venues as well as periodic discounts at some Disney resorts. I have been unable to determine if these discounts were available in the 80's.

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The Annual Passport pictured below, purchased in November 1989, was the first of many Annual Passports for my wife Carol. In addition to unlimited entry at the theme parks, it also provided free parking and a discount at Disney resort hotels.

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Disney-MGM Studios opened May 1, 1989 and that brought some more changes. The one-day ticket now cost $28.00 and covered any one of the three parks, with a re-entry privilege, but no park-hopping.

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The three, four or five-day World Passports did allow park-hopping.

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The 1990's brought a multitude of changes. In 1990 a 5-Day Plus Super Pass was introduced. It covered all three theme parks, plus Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country and Discovery Island. Wow - that's a lot of park hopping for $110.00

What could possibly be better than 5-Day Plus Super Pass? I'm so glad you asked! In 1991 along came the 5-Day Super Duper Pass - it included unlimited admission to the Disney-MGM Studios, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center any five days with no expiration date, plus unlimited admission for seven days to Typhoon Lagoon, River Country, Discovery Island and Pleasure Island. Naturally it included unlimited use of the transportation system linking the parks.

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In 1992 technology began to creep into the ticketing process. Disney switched from all hand stamped tickets to turnstiles that automatically read the ticket's bar code, stamped the admission tickets and punched out a number from the lower left corner of the ticket each time an admission was used. At the same time, 4-Day All Three Parks Passports were replaced by a 4-Day Super Pass and a 4-Day Super Duper Pass.

In 1994 they discontinued sales of the Super Pass and Super Duper Pass and coined a new term, Park Hopper, when they introduced the 4-day Park Hopper and the 5-day World Hopper. Disney introduced the first Premium Annual Passport this year, to the best of my knowledge this was the first plastic card, credit card sized. The Premium Annual Passport included unlimited access to the three theme parks, two water parks, Pleasure Island and Discovery Island.

I haven't been able to determine when Walt Disney World began adding guest pictures to Annual Passports, but it was 1989 or earlier since Carol's picture is on that 1989-90 passport pictured above. Those guest photos were discontinued in 1996, the same year that mylar paper tickets with a magnetic strip on the back replaced the previous paper tickets with bar codes.

For the first time, different categories of ticket displayed the same image on the face of the ticket. A 5-day ticket and a 10-day ticket might look identical on the surface; the magnetic strip contained information on the guest's entitlements and privileges. Biometric finger scanners were added in conjunction with the new magnetic strip tickets.

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Both Disney's Animal Kingdom and DisneyQuest opened in 1998. Admission to the Animal Kingdom park was included in all multi-day Park Hopper passports and admission to DisneyQuest was included in the Premium Annual Passport.

The next significant change in tickets took place in 2005 when the "Magic Your Way" ticket was introduced. This ticket plan has changed a bit but remains in effect today. Guests could purchase a one, two, three or four day Magic Your Way Base Ticket which gave access to any one park each day of the term - there was no Park Hopping with the base tickets. There were also five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten day Magic Your Way tickets which gave guests the option of purchasing a Park Hopper feature and a Water Park Fun & More feature.

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In March 2010 the new Premier Passport was offered. This ultimate passport includes all the features of the Premium Annual Passport, unlimited access to the four Florida theme parks, the two Florida water parks and DisneyQuest but it also includes unlimited entry at both Disney theme parks in Anaheim California. Sounds like a "must-have" for every true Disney fan! Carol and I used Premier Passports in 2010 and again in 2013. We really enjoyed the 20% discount on merchandise and food purchases and were disappointed when Walt Disney World reduced it to 10% in 2013. The discount is still 20% at Disneyland Resort in California.

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This brings us to the most significant ticketing change in Disney history - Magic Bands.

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Disney is spending about a billion dollars (that's right - billion - with a "B") to take advantage of RFID technology. The program started trials in September 2013 with selected resort guests and was very recently expanded to include Annual Passholders. These guests now receive a wrist band which contains an RFID chip.

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The ticketing structure and pricing remains unchanged and guests still receive a plastic ticket in the form of a Key To The World Card or Annual Passport, but all of their entitlement data is programmed on the RFID chip. There is no need to show your ticket when you enter a park, just hold your Magic Band up to a scanner, place your finger in a biometric reader, and away you go.

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The band also unlocks the door to your room in a Disney resort and it will open the entry gate when you drive into the resort. If you have a credit card on file with Disney and have elected to have charging privileges, the band even acts as your credit card - just scan it and enter your PIN.

What else can the bands do? Well, some pretty amazing stuff! You can use them with the "My Disney Experience" program to manage FastPass+. Up to 60 days before your trip to Walt Disney World, from the comfort of your own home, you can go online and book up to three FastPass+'s for each day of your trip.

On the appointed day, during the pre-determined one-hour time window you simply head to the FastPass Return line, scan your Magic Band and away you go! There is no need to get to the park early and rush off to pick up a FastPass. How cool is that! Alas, you can only get FastPass+'s for one park per day - no Park Hopping. I hope that option comes along soon.

A quick word of advice - be sure to use My Disney Experience to book your FastPass+'s in advance. All the old FastPass distribution machines have been removed from the parks. There are a few FastPass+ kiosks in the parks but at this point in time the lines are long. Very long!

So, in 43 years Disney has moved from little booklets of tear-out tickets to the amazing RFID technology of today's Magic Bands. I don't know about you, but I have certainly enjoyed the journey!

I wonder what the next step in the evolution will be?

P.S. AllEars.net Archivist Jack Marshall has compiled a very detailed list of prices for specific tickets, year by year, and pictures of hundreds of vintage old tickets. Click this link to see more: WDW Ticket History

April 9, 2014

Jim’s Attic: The Story of Beacon Joe

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The Story of Beacon Joe
By Jim Korkis

Which original Disney character appears in three different attractions at Walt Disney World and was originally created for Disneyland?

I always hated it when teachers asked questions like that and they already knew the answer" and I was a public school teacher for several years after I graduated college so I always tried to help the students with the right answer.

The answer is in the title of this blog installment: Beacon Joe.

However, for many Disney fans that can still be a puzzling answer. When The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction opened in May 1967, it was the last Disney attraction personally overseen by Walt Disney himself.

It was Walt's idea to have the shallow boats drift leisurely through the Blue Bayou before plunging down a hidden waterfall to begin the pirate adventure. The musical chirp of unseen crickets and the faint glow of fireflies against the background of an indigo sky dotted with stars and slowly wafting clouds artistically frames this location to give it a false sense of calm.

The always innovative Walt Disney conceived of a quiet, upscale restaurant that would actually be inside an attraction. It was an idea that had never been done before and it was an instant hit with the many visitors to Disneyland. (My favorite treat at Disneyland is a Monte Cristo sandwich in the restaurant.)

There were discussions of including live entertainment in this quiet, restful environment but after a dress rehearsal during a trial dinner, Walt reportedly said, "In this restaurant, the food is going to be the show, along with the atmosphere".

Right across from the Blue Bayou restaurant and to the left of the guests in the boats is a shack where a bearded man wearing overalls leisurely rocks back and forth plucking out a tune on his banjo. That's Beacon Joe.

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Disney Legend Marc Davis designed both the character and the shack. In fact, the initial concept drawings came from his original designs for a Thieves Market that was going to be part of the attraction when it was planned to be a walk-through experience.

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was initially not going to be installed in Florida so to brighten up the steamboat voyage around the Rivers of America in Frontierland, Davis installed Beacon Joe and his shack just around an upper curve in the river.

Joe was not there at the opening in 1971 but made his appearance sometime in late 1972 just before the opening of Tom Sawyer's Island in 1973 along with other residents added to the river banks like the Native Americans in their village.

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Joe is the last outpost of civilization before guests drift into the frontier wilderness.

He sits on the porch of his shack in front of Alligator Swamp smoking his corncob pipe. He keeps track of the river's occasional course changes and marks the river accordingly for the river traffic.

His faithful dog intensely watches a jumping fish (that looks suspiciously like a repainted piranha from the Jungle Cruise) with his head turning from left to right.

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Beacon Joe also appears in Tokyo Disneyland. He can be seen fishing, surrounded by barrels and with his faithful dog on the nearby stairs, near the large trestle of the Western River Railroad as the steamboat maneuvers around the Western River.

However, I mentioned that Beacon Joe appears in three different attractions just at Walt Disney World. It is not unusual for the Disney Company to re-use audio-animatronics sculpted figures. For instance, President Thomas Jefferson shows up as a sheriff on a balcony in The Great Movie Ride, along with some Caribbean pirates re-used as gangsters earlier in the attraction.

The character sculpt of Beacon Joe is used in The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction as the standing pirate in the last jail cell at the end of the ride trying to coax a dog to give him the key to the door. He also shows up clean shaven and wearing a crown at the ballroom banquet table in The Haunted Mansion.

Just like a supporting character actor in a film, Beacon Joe quietly makes his appearances to help the storytelling but never feels the necessity to be the star of the show. However, now, you know where he is and why he is there so give him a wave or a shout on your next visit.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

March 28, 2014

Disney Vacation Club Member Magic at Splitsville

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by David Abel
AllEars® Guest Blogger


Back in February, Disney Vacation Club announced "Member Magic," featuring a collection of discounts and events especially for Vacation Club members. One of the new events featured is Member Night at Splitsville Luxury Lanes™ at Downtown Disney. My traveling party during the Flower & Garden festival opted to experience this new event, so we booked a 5 p.m. session the first week of March. (At the time, there were 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. sessions. Now the DVC Members' website indicates only a 6 p.m. event.)

We arrived at Splitsville a few minutes early and checked in at the main desk, providing our names and shoe sizes. Once our shoes were ready, we were escorted to our lane, lane #1 along the windows on the first floor. We soon found out we'd be joined by another family bringing the total number of bowlers on our lane to eight!

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As with any bowling outing, the event was only as fun as you make it. We had two full hours of bowling time, but with everything going on (including the food to be talked about shortly), we only bowled one full game and about four more frames.

With the package, which cost $188 for a party of four, we each received a 'Signature beverage' (a glass of beer or wine, or a refillable souvenir [soda] cup), a shared appetizer (one for every two people) and an entree. We ordered the Blazing Chicken and Alley Nachos for our appetizers, and then we ordered a Steak Fajita Bowl, Cheeseburger Deluxe and two Cheese Pizzas.

When a server came for our drink order, I asked for a raspberry ginger ale and was told they didn't have that. When I commented that I thought they had a 'Coke Freestyle' machine, I was told that wasn't included in our package, so we just ordered four regular sodas. The server brought us our beverages and then he never came back. I noticed DVC members at other lanes receiving the souvenir cups for the Freestyle machine. These members told me that the cups were included, so I asked the server taking care of the lane next to us, and she brought us our cups.

The food pretty much came all at once and we hardly had enough room on the table for all of it!

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At the end of the event, we were given a 'bill' even though we had pre-paid. The waiter explained that we didn't need to pay it, but that it was only 'informational,' as gratuity was not included. On our way out, I asked about the 'special gift' listed on the website and we were each given a pair of Splitsville socks.

So how do I really feel about the event? Having been a Disney Vacation Club member since the very beginning, I must say this is the most disappointed I've been with anything related to DVC. Most of this disappointment falls directly on Splitsville, but some I feel also falls on DVC.

In the recent issue of Disney Files Magazine, there's a description of the event: "The special package includes an extended bowling time of an hour and 45 minutes with shoe rental, a shared appetizer, a select entree, a signature beverage and a special Disney Vacation Club gift, all for a fixed price that represents a significant savings off the regular cost of a standard bowling session with equivalent food and beverage. Special decor and entertainment, including music by Radio Disney, add to the festive atmosphere."

The 'extended bowling time of an hour and 45 minutes' is confusing as that's the time shown on Splitsville's website for 6-8 people, and we actually bowled for two hours. Maybe this is a misprint in the magazine.

The amount of food, coming as it did all at one time, was too much for the tables at the alleys, especially since we had eight people bowling and eating. I would have preferred to have the appetizers while we bowled, and then the entrees afterward (when our bowling clock was done ticking).

Maybe I set my expectations too high, but I don't really consider a pair of Splitsville socks to be a "special Disney Vacation Club gift." I was hoping for an exclusive pin designed for the event.

I also question whether the "fixed price represents a significant savings off the regular cost." As I said before, I was charged $188 for the four people in my party. By my calculations, the regular cost of our event was $213.80, indicating there was indeed a 12 percent savings. However, had we really been there "on our own," we would have used our Tables In Wonderland card on the food and beverages and we wouldn't have purchased the Splitsville socks. Our bill would have been $167.84, which would have been 10.7 percent less than the DVC's "significant savings" price.

As for the special decor, there were balloons tied to the ball returns. Maybe there was music by Radio Disney, but we didn't really pay notice to that. We didn't see or meet any representation of Disney Vacation Club, or anything that made it really special.

Splitsville was hosting a major reception event the night we were there, and the whole second floor was dedicated to that. I wonder if that event had not been going on, would we have had a different experience? I really hope other members have better feelings about this event than I did.


March 12, 2014

Jim’s Attic: A Short History of Tony’s Town Square Restaurant

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A Short History of Tony's Town Square Restaurant By Jim Korkis

When Main Street U.S.A. opened at the Magic Kingdom in Florida in October 1971, right there in Town Square was the Town Square Café with an open air porch where patrons could watch the stream of guests rushing in and out of the park.

The food and beverage location offered breakfast, lunch and dinner and was themed to the elegant Victorian era. Originally, the venue was going to be sponsored by a coffee company but the proposed participant backed out.

It ended up being sponsored by Oscar Mayer from 1971-1981. Diminutive spokesman for the company, Little Oscar (actually affable George Molchan) in his white chef's hat, was there greeting guests and handing out the iconic wiener whistles to eager children.

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However, it was not a variety of Oscar Mayer hot dogs that were served at the location but upscale fare like a Monte Cristo sandwich and Crepes Jambalaya. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were available as well on the menu.

When Oscar Mayer declined to renew its sponsorship, the location was taken over by Hormel who handled the operation from 1981 to 1989. The menu was a large four page newspaper entitled "Town Square Times" with the first page devoted to the history of the Hormel company. The new sponsor still sold a Monte Cristo sandwich along with a Main Street Deli Plate and Fresh Catfish.

When Hormel decided not to continue sponsorship in 1989, the Disney Company did an extensive rehab of the restaurant converting it into Tony's Town Square Restaurant.

The restaurant references the Italian restaurant in the Disney animated feature classic Lady and the Tramp (1955) where two canines shared a romantic moment over a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.

The proprietor of the film's eatery is a larger-than-life, black-mustached, friendly character named Tony voiced by actor George Givot, known for his dialect comedy and fine singing voice, who passed away in 1984.

After a recent rehab, Tony's image is now smiling from a brand new overhead sign.

The waiting area has a television playing a clip from the film and the interior of the restaurant is decorated with Lady and the Tramp artwork as well as a sculpted fountain.

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For over thirty years, Don "Ducky" Williams has been a Senior Character Artist at Walt Disney World. During that time, he supplied artwork for memorable pieces of merchandise like the special limited edition lithographs for the Disney Cruise Line and the Disney Vacation Club.

Sometimes, his talents were tapped for unusual projects like Tony's Town Square Restaurant.

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"I did the artwork for all the china, signage, menus, etc. In fact, when it first opened, it had plates, saucers, creamers and more with my Lady and the Tramp artwork on it," commented Williams when I interviewed him. "They found the guests loved it so much that they kept stealing it so they replaced them with regular china. The remainder they had they sold at Disneyana conventions.

"Do you see all those framed paintings on the wall? There are twelve of them and I did them all. Those are the original paintings framed under glass, not prints or reproductions. If they ever change out that place, I would love to have those back to put up in my house."

Don Ducky Williams

Disney enthusiast Greg Ehrbar was responsible for writing the original two-sided kid's menu that was designed to resemble the comics section from the "Main Street Gazette". Besides the menu, it featured games and puzzles and an original comic strip. Unfortunately, this particular menu has been retired.

Some Disney fans are unimpressed with the menu offerings at Tony's but everyone is appreciative of the artistic "theming" of the space and how it captures the spirit of one of Disney's most beloved animated features. I wonder if there are any left over hot dogs in the back from Oscar Mayer for Tramp's many friends?

Deb's Note:
Ducky was a special guest of AllEars during our December to Remember Celebration in 2011. We designed a special AllEars Trading Card dedicated to his work at Tony's Town Square.

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RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


February 26, 2014

Jim's Attic: The Hidden Handprints of The Magic of Animation

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The Hidden Handprints of The Magic of Animation

On May 1, 1989, the Disney MGM Studios officially opened with a dedication ceremony led by then CEO Michael Eisner. However, not long afterwards on that same day, there was another dedication ceremony in front of The Magic of Disney Animation building.

Roy E. Disney talked at podium set up in the front of the attraction where he emphasized that hand drawn animation was really the focal point of the Disney Company. He continued that animation was the start of the Disney Company and that with the newly opened Disney Feature Animation Studio Florida "a new day for animation will be dawning".

The Little Mermaid would debut in November, just six months later, proving Roy absolutely correct.

Joining in the dedication were several Disney Legends who had made significant contributions to animation: Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Marc Davis, Ken O'Connor and Ken Anderson.

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The one snag in the ceremony was a literal snag as the cover over the elaborate animation film strip sculpture at the front of the building did indeed get caught on a pointy outcropping of the sculpture. Amid the fanfare, releasing of balloons and applause, several Disney executives struggled in a tug of war to release the red cover from it entanglement and eventually succeeded.

There was also a ceremony where these six animation legends put their handprints and autographs into cement blocks to be placed in an alcove of the animation courtyard inside the building.

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Originally, the attraction was configured so that guests could not see these three rectangular blocks placed in the ground. However, today, the area (head to the Meet and Greet section and the area is between the Animation Theatre Exit and the Character Department) is open for guests to discover them and take photographs.

While Ken Anderson, Marc Davis and Ward Kimball were Imagineers at the time, they got their starts in the world of animation. Davis was responsible for the design of characters like Tinker Bell and Princess Aurora. Kimball was the animator who designed Jiminy Cricket and the Cheshire Cat. Anderson was the designer of Shere Khan and Pete's Dragon, Elliot. All of them had contributed significantly to many of the Disney animated features.

Ken O'Connor was known as one of Disney's top layout artists and art directors. His work included the magical coach in "Cinderella," the marching cards in "Alice in Wonderland," and the dancing hippos in "Fantasia".

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston stayed in animation their entire career but also collaborated on several books including the definitive book on Disney animation entitled "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life". Their animation began with work on the dwarves in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and continued through The Fox and the Hound where both worked on the young Tod and Copper.

The original intention was that there were would two legends to one block as demonstrated on the one featuring Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, longtime friends as well as co-workers. Their hands and signatures are neatly and symmetrically imprinted, along with an impression of their pencils. This was how all the blocks were to look.

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However, another block features three handprints and signatures: Marc Davis, Ken Anderson and Ken O'Connor, once again with impressions of their drawing pencils. Yet, Anderson's signature seems crowded and his last name curves downward as if squeezed for space or an afterthought.

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The secret is clear on the final block knowing the behavior of the exuberant Ward Kimball, an extrovert known for being an unpredictable maverick. Not only did he make sure his pencil was broken before being imprinted unlike his fellow legends, he also spread his fingers wide so he could make a second impression and close examination will reveal that he has six fingers on each hand, something that most guests miss at a casual glance.

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Also, in a fit of high spirits, he filled the bottom half of the block with a quick drawing of Mickey Mouse's head in the space that was going to be filled by Ken Anderson. Who would be so bold as to wipe out a Mickey Mouse drawing by the legendary Kimball? Apparently, no one. So Anderson squeezed in to a space on another block.

Today, these hidden handprints are available for every DHS guest to enjoy and now, you know the secret behind them.

If you have earlier photos of these handprints to share, when they were much newer, please let us know!

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


February 23, 2014

A Taste of Northern Italy on the High Seas at Palo

Andrew Rossi

The Disney Cruise Line delivers the same high quality, service, and entertainment that you would expect at one of the Disney theme parks to help create a truly magical experience at sea. Although the Magic, Wonder, Dream, and Fantasy share some common traits, they each have their own unique style and charm and offer different experiences for their Guests. Being newer and larger ships, the Dream and Fantasy were able to improve and expand upon many of the features of the Magic and the Wonder.

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Having just recently cruised aboard the Dream, I am continually amazed by the sheer size of the ship and yet attention is still paid to the tiniest of details. Whether it is the staterooms, shops, clubs, or restaurants, everywhere there are examples of the great theming and storytelling that make cruising with Disney so special.

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Of course, no cruise would be complete without food and the Disney Dream offers plenty of options to choose from. One of the unique features of Disney Cruise Line is the concept of rotational dining. Rather than having just one main dining room, aboard the Disney ships each night offers something different as you move between three completely distinct dining experiences. Aboard the Disney Dream, the first of these restaurants is Royal Palace, which draws its inspiration from classic Disney films such as Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, and offers diners a French-inspired fare.

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Next is Enchanted Garden, which takes its cue from the beautiful gardens of Versailles and features a menu of continental European cuisine in a setting that magically transforms from day to night throughout the course of the meal.

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Finally there is Animator's Palette, which may provide the most unique dining experience of them all. Unlike its sister ships, the Magic and Wonder, Animator's Palette aboard the Dream does not transform from black and white to color during the course of dinner. Instead, the dining room is magically submerged under water and throughout the meal Guests have the opportunity to interact with Crush the sea turtle from Pixar's Finding Nemo all while enjoying a menu of Pacific Rim cuisine.

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If you are looking for something a little more special, however, the Disney Dream also offers two additional dining experiences for an extra cost. While Palo (an additional $25 per person) highlights the elegance of northern Italian cuisine, Remy (an additional $75 per person) provides diners with an array of gourmet French-inspired dishes. Both of these restaurants are the equivalent of a Signature restaurant at Walt Disney World, providing unparalleled service in an upscale atmosphere with beautifully-presented dishes made with the freshest ingredients. While I have yet to try Remy, Palo is an absolute must-do whenever I am on a Disney cruise.

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Atmosphere:
Located high above the sea on deck twelve, Palo offers tremendous ocean views in an elegant setting. The name Palo actually refers to the long poles used by gondoliers in Venice and it is easy to see this Venetian influence throughout the restaurant.

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The dining room features a warm color palette of gold and red highlighted with subtle touches of blue and green.

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As soon as you enter the restaurant your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the magnificent light fixture hanging overhead, which has a look reminiscent of the iconic glass creations of Murano (a small island less than a mile north of Venice).

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One of the most distinctive features of Palo are the beautiful paintings of Venice that adorn the walls, all of which were custom-made for the restaurant.

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The painting help add a splash of brighter colors that really make them pop against the more subdued tones throughout the rest of the dining room.

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The low-light of the dining room combine with the richly upholstered furniture, lush carpeting, and warm dark wooden paneled walls to create a very upscale and romantic setting. Although larger than its counterparts on the Magic and Wonder, Palo aboard the Dream still has a limited seating capacity with tables that are spread out to make for a quiet and more intimate dining experience. On a cruise ship that certainly caters to families and children, Palo proves that it can appeal to adults as well.

One feature on Palo aboard the Dream that is not found on the Magic and Wonder is a private dining room that even includes a window into the restaurant's kitchen.

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Of course, one of the aspects of Palo that the restaurant is best known for is its tremendous ocean views. Throughout the dining room, every table has tremendous view. This is thanks not only to the floor-to-ceiling windows, but also tiered seating that places diners at the back of the dining room on a higher level than those closer to the windows.

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No other dining location aboard the Dream, save for Remy, can match the majestic vistas offered at Palo. This setting alone really helps set the tone for a truly memorable dining experience.

The Menu:
Palo specializes in fine northern Italian cuisine, featuring classic dishes presented with a bit of a contemporary twist. There is certainly no shortage of options on Palo's menu. In fact, the most difficult decision you will have to make is which of the delectable dishes you want to order. This starts with the appetizers which include Tuna Carpaccio brushed with the chef's special lemon olive oil, Mozzarella and Plum Tomatoes topped with balsamic dressing, Sicilian Pesto Marinated Grilled Shrimp served atop a mussel, crab and cherry tomato ragu, Grilled Portobello Mushroom served over polenta and topped with a roasted shallot sauce, Fritto di Calamari served with deep fried cherry peppers, a Fresh Arugula Salad with choice of Palo's dressings, Tuscan White Bean Soup with prosciutto and parmesan cheese, and Cioppino, a traditional Italian tomato fish stew with calamari, clams, shrimp, and halibut.

The next course is the pasta dishes as well as risottos. First is the Risotto di Mare featuring a saffron risotto served with fried zucchini, shrimp, mussels, and clams. There is also the Wild Mushroom Risotto topped with freshly-shaved parmesan and a chianti reduction. For pasta there is the Lobster and Mascarpone Ravioli with a light white truffle sauce, Chianti Braised Beef Ravioli tossed in a rich red wine reduction, Gnocchi con Gorgonzola e Asparagi served with gorgonzola sauce and asparagus, Pappardelle con Aragosta featuring lobster, parsley, and fennel with chili and a fresh tomato sauce, and Penne Arrabbiatta with a spicy fresh tomato and basil sauce topped with grilled shrimp.

Then, after all this, come the entrees. For Pesce (seafood) dishes there are the Grilled Sea Scallops accompanied by borlotti beans and pancetta topped with a tomato sauce, Rombo al Finocchio, a pan seared turbot served with fingerling potatoes, porcini, pancetta and fennel with walnut butter, Branzino in Cartoccio featuring sea bass with spaghetti-cut vegetables and a ginger-orange glaze, and Grilled Tuna Piemonte atop a truffle-infused potato risotto with garlic marinated artichokes. The Carne (meat) offerings include Pan-Seared Calves Liver served on a polenta cake with caramelized apples and onions, Fagotti di Petto di Pollo, a baked chicken breast filled with ricotta, basil, and red peppers served with a pinot grigio reduction, Osso Buco, a slow roasted center-cut veal shank with risotto Milanese, Oregano and Parmesan Crusted Rack of Lamb with roasted shallots, baked Roma tomatoes, potato pave, and herb jus, and the Beef Tenderloin Palo topped with either melted gorgonzola cheese or Palo's signature red wine sauce (or with both served on the side).

With all this food you might find it difficult to save room for dessert, but you definitely want to make sure that you do in order to try Palo's signature dessert, the Chocolate Soufflé. In addition to this, other desserts include Palo's Homemade Tiramisù, Panna Cotta with strawberry-basil sorbet, Pistachio Cake with amaretto cream and hazelnut meringue, Layered Chiffon Cake glazed with ganache, and Zabaglione with berries.

For my meal I chose to start with the Cioppino. With so much food to come, this fish stew was a nice lighter option to start the meal. Although Italian in name, this dish actually originated in San Francisco. It was the creation of an Italian immigrant fisherman who made it from whatever seafood was leftover when the boats returned from sea. The presentation of the dish was absolutely stunning and the amount of seafood very impressive. The stew included shrimp, calamari, halibut, clams, and mussels. It was not a stew in a traditional sense, but rather more like seafood garnished with a light broth. The broth itself was tomato-based, its flavor enhanced with garlic and basil. Although light in consistency, it provided a tremendous amount of flavor that paired perfectly with the fresh seafood.

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The next course was the pasta dish, for which my server highly recommended the Chianti-Braised Beef Ravioli. I decided to go with his recommendation and I was certainly not disappointed. Whereas the Cioppino was served in a very light broth, the ravioli came in a rich red wine reduction; this is what absolutely made the dish. This pasta dish was just the perfect size since it was a far heartier offering than the fish stew. The ravioli themselves were cooked perfectly al dente and the beef was very tender and flavorful. The red wine reduction stole the show with a rich flavor that really popped, but at the same time still complimented the beef very well. This is a perfect example of how Palo can take a common dish like beef ravioli and give it a completely unique and contemporary spin.

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When it came to the main course I was torn between so many options, but I finally settled on the Osso Buco since it is a dish that I had never tried before. Osso Buco is Italian for "bone with a hole," a reference to the marrow hole at the center of a cross-cut veal shank. The distinguishing feature of this dish was its incredible flavor. The veal shank is slow roasted in white wine and broth so that it absorbs a tremendous amount of flavor. Extremely juicy and tender, the veal literally fell apart at the touch of a fork. The veal was then topped with a tomato sauce that added even more flavor to the dish. Accompanying the veal was a rich and creamy risotto. Risotto Milanese is prepared with beef stock, cheese, and then colored with saffron and its creamy cheesiness was a nice contrast to the veal, but it was also very filling. The hardest part was not eating too much in order to save room for dessert.

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The reason for pacing yourself throughout the meal and saving room for dessert is Palo's signature dessert (if not its signature dish), the Chocolate Soufflé. If you are dining at Palo, this is one dish that you absolutely cannot miss. It is no stretch to say that this is one of the best desserts that I have had in any restaurant anywhere. Upon being seated at your table, you are asked if you will be ordering the soufflé for dessert since each are cooked to order and take the duration of your meal to prepare. Presentation is a major component of this dessert as, at the table, your server will puncture a hole at the top of the soufflé and then pour in the chocolate and vanilla sauces. There is nothing not to like about this dessert. Served piping hot, this is extremely rich and decadent and comes served alongside a scoop of vanilla gelato, which provides a light and refreshing contrast. Even after all the food you have throughout the course of your meal, you cannot help but eat this entire dessert.

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Service:
This is yet another area in which Palo excels. To be fair, no matter where you are dining aboard the Disney Dream the service is tremendous but Palo takes this service to an entirely different level. Your server is always there for you, the smaller size of the restaurant meaning that each server has fewer tables to wait upon. This also means that each server can really take their time to get to know you and get a sense of what types of dishes you would like to try. In the times that I have dined at Palo, I have had multiple servers bring out additional dishes that I did not even order because they thought that it would be something I might like to try. One time I even had a server who said, "Just let me take care of you" and proceeded to bring out dish after dish without me even choosing anything from the menu. Another quality of the service at Palo is that they really allow you to take your time and enjoy your meal at a relaxed pace. It is not uncommon for a dinner here to last anywhere from two and a half to three hours, so be sure to plan accordingly. Dinner at Palo is more than just a meal, it is meant to be an experience and the service and pace of the meal both contribute to allowing you to enjoy every dish and drink to the fullest extent.

The Overall Experience:
With the meals on a cruise included in the price, some might question whether paying the extra $25 to dine at Palo is worth it. My answer to this is absolutely yes. While Royal Palace, Enchanted Garden, and Animator's Palette are all very good in their own right, Palo is at an entirely different level. Everything about the dining experience, from the elegant atmosphere to the northern Italian-inspired cuisine to the attentive service, is of the highest quality. With a prime location on deck twelve, the views are unmatched by any of the other dining locations aboard the ship. Meanwhile, its smaller size makes for a much quieter and more intimate dining experience. If you are looking for a romantic night out or for a little alone time away from the kids, there are few better places to go aboard the Disney Dream. It is unquestionably one of the best dining experiences I have had at anywhere on land or on sea.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of the Disney Dream's Palo and post your own too!

February 12, 2014

Jim's Attic: The Walt Disney World Time Capsule That Never Was

The Walt Disney World Time Capsule That Never Was
By Jim Korkis

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

One of the hardest things for me over the decades is having someone tell me a great story and then immediately make me promise never to tell the story because they intend to use it in a book that they are going to write some day. My frustration comes from the fact that the book never gets written.

Over a decade and a half ago, Disney executive Ron Heminger made me promise not to tell all the stories he shared with me. Heminger began his Disney career in 1955 as one of the dancers at the Indian village in Frontierland where his father was a chief. He worked his way up into managerial roles, finishing out his decades with Disney working at Epcot which is where I first encountered him.

While he freely told terrific stories to those of us interested in listening, he warned each of us that he was going to write a book about his experiences and didn't want any of us telling some of the great stories before the book came out.

He had boxes and boxes of 8mm home movies, memos, memorabilia and more that he had gathered in half a century to use as a resource. There is no indication he ever started writing his book. He disappeared and is supposedly happily living in a trailer somewhere out West where even his closet friends and family members have not been able to locate him.

Some of Heminger's stories were about the building of the Magic Kingdom. Since Coors Beers was only available on the West Coast and it was a favorite of some of the California people working on the Magic Kingdom in Florida, they arranged for it to be shipped out in boxes from the West Coast marked as equipment for the Peter Pan's Flight attraction.

"Yeah, Ron was right," Disney Legend Bill "Sully" Sullivan who was also there at the building of Magic Kingdom told me with a laugh. "This guy brought out Coors Beer in boxes marked 'small tools and parts.' He almost got fired because he had used company trucks. We also had things like refried beans shipped out so we could have good Mexican food. Ron took that package that the company offered years ago and he is now in some double wide trailer in Colorado or somewhere. He was half-Sioux, you know."

One of my favorite Heminger stories is about the Walt Disney World Time Capsule That Never Was. Several years after Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, he was walking with his supervisor through the theme park and reminiscing about the frantic time of opening the place on time.

"One of the things I really regret is that we never did the time capsule," Heminger shared. "We prepared the spot but just ran out of time."
His supervisor, who was not there in those months of construction, laughed and told him that it was just an urban legend and that there were never any plans for a time capsule.

Heminger knew better and insisted that it was true and that a place had been prepared at Cinderella Castle. The discussion started to escalate and Heminger finally told the supervisor to meet him at Cinderella Castle a few hours after park closing, after the guests and maintenance staff were not there.

When the park closed, Heminger and one of his cohorts went to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and took a full skeleton. Then they went to Cinderella Castle and carefully removed a plaque. There was a hollowed-out hole behind the plaque. It was clear that a space had indeed been prepared for something. They dressed the skeleton in a WED (Walt Disney Imagineering) hard hat and vest, stuffed it into the opening and then replaced the plaque.

Later that evening, Heminger met his supervisor and gave him a flashlight. With some theatrical difficulty, Heminger removed the plaque while he told how things were so hectic in the final days of building the Magic Kingdom that they basically spent their energy during the last few days just making sure everything was covered up for the guests until they could get to it again.

The supervisor was surprised to see a wide hole hidden behind the plaque. Turning on the flashlight, he curiously stuck his head deep inside and peered below".where he saw the supposed remains of a hapless WED employee inadvertently trapped and forgotten for years. I am sure the readers of this column can imagine the reaction much more effectively than I could ever describe it.

I hope Ron, wherever he is, gets a laugh out of this story and forgives me for sharing it in hopes that it will motivate him to start writing that book about his time at Disneyland and Walt Disney World because his stories were great.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


February 9, 2014

Liberty Tree Tavern: A "Revolutionary" Dining Experience

Andrew Rossi

As soon as you set foot in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom you feel as though you have been transported back to 1776. Although it is the smallest of any of the Magic Kingdom's lands, it may be the best themed of them all. From its replica of the Liberty Bell to its colonial architecture, wooden stockades, and even smaller details such as a window with two lanterns signifying the "two if by sea" of Paul Revere's midnight ride, Liberty Square provides a view into what life was like in the thirteen original colonies. If Walt Disney were around today, Liberty Square would probably be his favorite place in the Magic Kingdom as he was once noted as saying, "If you could see close in my eyes, there's an American flag waving in both of them."

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Liberty Square features a little bit of everything. It has two of the most classic Disney attractions in the Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents, various little shops such as Yankee Trader and Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, as well as a number of dining experiences, such as Sleepy Hollow for snacks and the counter service restaurant Columbia Harbour House. Even though Magic Kingdom has a limited number of sit-down restaurants, Liberty Square's Liberty Tree Tavern still tends to be overlooked by many as they make their way past toward Frontierland. However, this restaurant provides Guests a tremendously themed dining experience that helps make it one of the best dining options at Magic Kingdom.

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Overview:
The Liberty Tree Tavern's very name is one filled with history and heritage befitting of Liberty Square. In 1765 the British government imposed a Stamp Act on the American colonies. It required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. In August 1765, a crowd gathered in Boston under a large elm tree to protest this hated tax. Patriots who later called themselves the Sons of Liberty hung an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the colonist chosen by King George III to impose the Stamp Act, in the branches of the tree. It was the first public show of defiance against the Crown and spawned the resistance that led to the American Revolution. A sign saying "Tree of Liberty" was later nailed to the trunk of the tree and soon other cities and towns across the thirteen colonies began creating their own Liberty Trees with lanterns hung amongst the branches. As resistance to the British grew, flags bearing a representation of the Liberty Tree were flown to symbolize the spirit of liberty. Liberty Square features its own Liberty Tree and the restaurant that bears its name pays homage to several of the Founding Fathers who played a major role in the creation of the nation.

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Atmosphere:
One of the most endearing characteristics of the Liberty Tree Tavern is how well it carries the overall theme of Liberty Square inside the restaurant. Every element of the restaurant, from the lighting to the furniture to the costumes worn by the servers, all contributes to the Colonial/Revolutionary Era feel. One of the first words that comes to mind to describe the feel of the restaurant is quaint, with a tremendous level of detail and authenticity that give it an old-world charm. The restaurant is divided into a series of smaller rooms, giving it a much more intimate feel. As you walk through the dining area you feel as though you are passing through different rooms in a house, each having a different look and feel in terms of décor, color, and architecture.

Each of these rooms, in fact, is specifically themed to one of the Founding Fathers and the architecture and décor of each reflect their different backgrounds and the roles they played in gaining American independence. Among the Founding Fathers honored are Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, as well as Betsy Ross.

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In addition to featuring their portraits, each room features various themed elements that help to tell the story about that particular person.

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It comes as no surprise that the John Paul Jones room has strong nautical influences with model ships, navigation equipment, and nautical knots. Both the Jefferson and Washington rooms on the other hand have a decidedly more upscale feel, reflecting their well-to-do Virginia lifestyle.

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Meanwhile, the Paul Revere room has a much more simple appearance reflecting his humble occupation as a silversmith.

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The level of detail found throughout the entire restaurant is outstanding and there are probably many elements that go unnoticed by most Guests. While larger objects such as the faux fireplaces, portraits and paintings of the Founding Fathers, and colonial-era muskets all contribute to the overall theme of the restaurant, it is really the smaller items which greatly add authenticity to the dining experience.

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Everywhere you look throughout the restaurant your eye always seems to pick out some new detail, with many of the items looking as though they could belong in a museum. Some of the more interesting items included ceramic pipes, a copper tea kettle, maps of the thirteen colonies, an old-fashioned flat iron, a butter churner, and an alphabetical list of members of the Sons of Liberty.

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Whether it be maps, lanterns, blankets and quilts, cooking utensils, or pewter dishes, all these little details complete immerse you in the overall theme of Liberty Square and make you feel as though you are dining in a colonial-era home. This level of detail and theming found in the Liberty Tree Tavern is definitely Disney Imagineering and storytelling at its best.

The Menu:
The Liberty Tree Tavern is a restaurant that gives you a totally different dining experience depending on whether you go for lunch or dinner. Lunch offers an al a carte menu featuring an array of classic Americana cuisine. Meanwhile, dinner is an all-you-care-to-eat meal served family style that includes roast turkey breast, carved beef, smoked pork loin, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, herb bread stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. Given the choice between the two, I prefer lunch over dinner because the lunch menu has a number of interesting choices and at a cheaper price than the family-style dinner. While the menu features nothing overly exotic or elegant, it does offer many traditional Americana favorites.

For lunch, the appetizer offerings include the Crab and Spinach Dip for Two ($10.99) featuring blue crab combined with spinach and cream cheese served with warm flatbread, Declaration Salad ($5.49) combining field greens and vegetables tossed with your choice of tavern-made dressing or roasted garlic buttermilk dressing, Tavern Fried Cheese ($5.99) served with marinara sauce, New England Clam Chowder ($7.49), and Today's Soup Kettle ($5.99), which happened to be chicken noodle on the day I was dining there.

The menu also features a good array of entrée offerings ranging from New England Pot Roast ($18.99) with braised beef in a cabernet wine and mushroom sauce served with mashed potatoes and garden vegetables to Freedom Pasta ($19.99) featuring fusilli pasta with sauteed chicken, seasonal vegetables, and mushrooms tossed in a cream sauce, The Liberty Boys BLT ($13.99) topped with slow roasted pork, fresh greens, and tomatoes on house-made bread with caramelized shallots and a mushroom-mayonnaise spread, the Pilgrims' Feast ($15.99) which combines traditional roast turkey with herb bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and garden vegetables, the Colony Salad ($14.49) featuring apples, sweet pecans, applewood smoked cheddar, dried cranberry craisins, and grilled chicken tossed with field greens in a honey shallot vinaigrette, an Angus Chuck Cheeseburger ($13.99) topped with bacon and cheddar or mushrooms and provolone, and the Vegetarian Burger ($11.49).

There are also several delectable desserts available. Among these are the Ooey Gooey Toffee Cake ($7.49) featuring a vanilla cake with a toffee filling, caramel sauce, and vanilla ice cream, Martha Washington's Cake ($7.99) which is a slice of rich chocolate cake, layered with a chocolate coffee icing, Fruit Crisp ($5.49) combining baked seasonal fruits with a crisp streusel topping and homemade ice cream, and Johnny Appleseed's Cake ($7.49) filled with apples and craisins and topped with ice cream.

For my entrée I decided upon the New England Pot Roast, which happens to be one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. After sampling just a few bites I could see why this dish came so highly recommended by my server. The braised beef was cooked to perfection and so tender that it fell apart at the touch of my fork. Alongside the beef were a generous portion of carrots, celery, mushrooms, and onions all atop a heaping helping of mashed potatoes, which had a smooth and fluffy consistency. Topping it all off was a rich cabernet wine and mushroom sauce that provided a tremendous flavor that soaked into the beef and potatoes. This is the type of home-style comfort food that you can expect at the Liberty Tree Tavern and was the perfect meal to warm up on a cool January afternoon.

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For dessert I chose the Ooey Gooey Toffee Cake, which has become one of my favorite desserts in all of Disney World. One of the things I like most about this dessert is the mixing of so many different flavors. The chocolate, caramel, toffee pieces, and vanilla ice cream all have their own distinct flavors, but combine together deliciously. The cake itself was served warm with the appearance and taste of a big, thick chocolate chip cookie. Topping the cake is a large scoop of vanilla ice cream whose refreshingly light taste provides a nice compliment to the more rich and heavy cake. The toffee pieces that top the dessert give added flavor and texture along with a healthy amount of chocolate and caramel sauce. It is certainly a filling dessert and can easily be split by two people, but it is so good that you might want to eat the whole thing yourself.

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Service:
I was very impressed by the efficiency of the service at Liberty Tree Tavern. Even though the restaurant was a little crowded during the lunchtime rush, I was still seated very quickly and, upon placing my order, the food was brought out in a very timely manner. However, the meal did not progress so fast that I felt like I was being rushed. I also noticed that the restaurant had good number of servers, which gave each a smaller number of tables to wait upon and allowed them to offer more attentive service to their Guests. My server frequently checked in on me to make sure that I was enjoying everything and to see if he could get me anything else that I might have needed. In fact, he was so attentive that never once did my glass of water get more than halfway empty before he came around to fill it back up. My server was also very helpful in pointing out several of his favorite items on the menu, which dishes were the more popular choices, and provided a little description of each.

Dining on a Budget:
If you are looking to save a little bit of money, then lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern is definitely the way to go rather than dinner. Not only are the lunch prices more reasonable, but you also get a fairly wide selection of choices on the menu and portion sizes that are generous. One of the best values on the menu is probably the Pilgrims' Feast, which gives you a full Thanksgiving dinner for just $15.99. Other economical options would be the Colony Salad for just $14.49 or the Liberty Boys BLT that costs $13.99. Seeing other people get these I noticed that the portions are likewise a very good size, but if you still wanted a little something more you could always split an appetizer or dessert. Speaking of appetizers, the Tavern Fried Cheese is a great value at just $5.99.

The Liberty Tree Tavern is on the Disney Dining Plan and worth one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. Thus, if you are on the Dining Plan, you would actually get a better value for your money by going here for dinner, which regularly costs $34.00. While the restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland, there are no further discounts for either Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club members.

The Overall Experience:
While Magic Kingdom may not have many sit-down restaurants, this lack of quantity does not necessarily mean a lack of quality. I highly recommend the Liberty Tree Tavern because it is truly the type of dining experience that you expect to get from Disney. It all starts with a great theme which is carried throughout the restaurant in the tiniest of details and creates a fully immersive dining atmosphere. This combines with food that may be simple and traditional, but is also extremely tasty and generously portioned. Along with efficient service and reasonable prices, this all helps to create a memorable dining experience that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Next time you are at the Magic Kingdom and are looking for a little break from all the hustle and bustle, lunch (or dinner) at the Liberty Tree Tavern is a great way to relax, refresh, and get reenergized for the rest of your day.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Liberty Tree Tavern and post your own too!

January 29, 2014

Jim’s Attic: Imagineer Marvin Davis, Master Planner of Walter Disney World

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Imagineer Marvin Davis, Master Planner of Walter Disney World
By Jim Korkis

While Disney Imagineer Herb Ryman did the famous sketch over a long weekend that sold the idea of a Disneyland to bankers and more, his imaginative concept drawing was based on the layout sketches of Imagineer Marvin Davis, who had been a film art director.

Many Disney fans confuse Davis with another Disney Legend, animator Marc Davis, but Marvin was a distinctly different individual with a background in architecture and film that aided him in making Walt Disney's dreams into three dimensional realities.

Marvin Davis developed the first diagrammatic plan for Disneyland. On the morning of August 8, 1953, Walt reviewed the site map that Davis was working on and picked up a No. 1 carbon pencil and drew a triangle around the plot of land to indicate where he wanted his railroad to run. That historic drawing still exists today. For two years, Davis worked on more than 100 different versions of the master plan for Disneyland.

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While he is sometimes given credit as the master planner of Disneyland, he was also responsible for the diagrammatic layout for Walt Disney World.

In 1955, Davis had married Walt Disney's niece, Marjorie Sewell. So when Walt was visiting Florida anonymously to check out the property in the 1960s, he borrowed the Davis last name since he was part of the family. On these visits, Walt used the pseudonym, "Walter E. Davis," and the initials "WED" matched the initials on Walt's luggage and other monogrammed material. Davis accompanied Walt several times to Florida.

In 1965, Marvin Davis returned to WED (Walt Disney Imagineering) from his work on art directing Disney films at Walt's request as a project designer for Walt Disney World in Florida. He devised the master plan for the Magic Kingdom theme park but also contributed to the design of the resort hotels like the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Golf Resort.

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As Imagineer Marty Sklar remembered at the time of Davis' death at the age of 87 in 1998, "Marvin was a bulldog. He pushed things and kept pushing them until everyone, especially him, was completely satisfied with them. He was just extremely thorough and professional. Determined was the right word for Marvin. It took him 69 versions or more of the Disneyland master plan before Walt said, 'OK.' It was a difficult situation. No one had ever done anything like Disneyland before, but he just kept pushing.

"A source of great pride for him, though, was that when he came back to Imagineering to do Walt Disney World, it took him only seven versions. That's remarkable considering that Walt Disney World was 27,000 acres, a big puzzle that he had to sort out and make understandable for guests. A lot of people worked on that plan, but it was Marvin who brought it all together."

Disney Legend Bill Evans recalled this encounter with Davis, "The remarkable thing about Marvin was his attitude. He could have been angry about his ailment (Marvin suffered from the effects of polio) but he was always up, always positive, always in good spirits. He never let it affect him. He was cheerful, creative and an inspiration to everyone who knew him.

"One time in the summer of 1967, we were trying to get a better look at the site in Florida. It was hotter than Hades that day, 100 Farenheit and humidity in the 90s. We crammed into Land Rovers and ours got really stuck in the mud. There was no one around the 28,000 acres at that time except for an occasional hunter chasing a deer so I had to leave Marvin behind while I slogged through the mud looking for the others. When we finally got back to him, he wasn't as cheerful as usual, but I guess you wouldn't be either if you had to sit in that heat and humidity for several hours."

Davis was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1994 but like so many people who labored to make Disney magic a reality, he is too often forgotten by guests who enjoy Walt Disney World today.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================

Marvin Davis is one of the Imagineering Legends in the book Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends!

Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

January 21, 2014

Earl of Sandwich: A Simple Meal Fit For Royalty

Andrew Rossi

One of the great things about dining at Disney World is that there are no shortage of options, even if you are just looking for a quick bit to eat. While many of Disney's full service restaurants garner great popularity and acclaim, there are also numerous compelling counter service options to be found as well. Just because you may not have the time to devote to a sit-down meal, or even if you are dining on a more stringent budget, does not mean that you have to suffer in terms of the quality food that you are receiving. While some of these locations feature the staple burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, there is such a great variety of food to be found at counter service restaurants across the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney.

One of my favorite counter service restaurants at Disney World is actually found at Downtown Disney. The irony of this restaurant is that it is not actually Disney-owned, but part of a chain that has locations all across the United States. Nevertheless, when it comes to counter service dining, there are not too many locations at Disney World that can match Earl of Sandwich.

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Located at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Earl of Sandwich offers great variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads at a very reasonable price; it comes as no surprise that the restaurant is always packed with people. The Earl of Sandwich alone is a worth a visit to Downtown Disney and, if you do not feel like waiting maybe an hour or more for a table at one of the full service restaurants, offers a great alternative for both lunch and dinner.

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Overview:
The story of the invention of the sandwich helps provide the back-story for the Earl of Sandwich restaurant. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was commander of the British navy, a noted explorer, as well as someone who greatly enjoyed gambling and card games. As the story goes, Montagu was so busy that he had very little time for food and came up with the idea (possibly while playing a game of cards) of putting meat between two slices of bread for a quick and easy meal that could be eaten on the run. As a result, in 1762, the sandwich was named in honor of its inventor. Now, nearly 250 years later, the Earl of Sandwich restaurant continues this tradition and boasts that it is home to "The World's Greatest Hot Sandwich." The Earl of Sandwich's illustrious history and tradition is set forth in the restaurant's official charter and aptly describes the restaurant's premise and objective:

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Atmosphere:
Earl of Sandwich has become extremely popular and is always crowded no matter what time of day you go, but especially during the peak dining times. For this reason, seating (or lack thereof) can become a real issue. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a table. This can clearly be seen on extremely hot or colder days because people do not want to eat outside and there is not enough indoor seating to handle everyone. The seating area inside is not very big and the tables are packed very tightly together. Combined with the large crowds, this makes it a little loud inside the restaurant. If you are looking for a quieter dining experience, it is probably best to find a table outside.

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All that being said, there are several aspects of Earl of Sandwich's atmosphere that are very appealing. The restaurant's high ceilings give it a much-needed open feel (especially with the tables being so close together) and the light fixtures, book shelves, faux fireplace, and fresh-cut flowers on every table give a little touch of refinement to what is an otherwise very causal and laid-back environment.

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The classical music playing in the background is also a nice added touch, even though it can be somewhat difficult to hear at times. All this helps to give the restaurant a little taste of 1762; you can almost feel as though you are sitting in John Montagu's parlor waiting to play a game of cards.

An aspect of the atmosphere that probably goes unnoticed by most guests is the Earl of Sandwich Historical Society. Located around the corner from where you place your order, the Historical Society is a full wall that features maps, pictures, paintings, and other information about the history of John Montagu.

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Here you can find, among other things, a portrait of the Earl of Sandwich as well as the family coat of arms. It really helps to give the restaurant a level of detail and history that goes beyond what you would typically expect to find in a counter service restaurant.

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The Menu:
One of the things that stands out most about the menu at Earl of Sandwich is the sheer number of options. Each of their sandwiches are $5.99, are made to order, and served on one of their fresh artisan loafs. The menu includes The Original 1762, with fresh roasted beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce, The Earl's Club, featuring roast turkey, smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sandwich sauce, the All American, topped with roast turkey, buttermilk ranch, cranberries, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato, the Italian, which includes salami, capicola, roasted ham, mortadella, mozzarella, tomato and a zesty Italian dressing , The Full Montagu, featuring roast beef and turkey with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and the Earl's mustard sauce, Cannonballs, with meatballs, mozzarella parmesan cheese, and marinara sauce, the Tuna Melt, featuring albacore tuna salad and Swiss cheese, the Chipotle Chicken Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocade, lettuce and chipotle sauce, the Hawaiian BBQ, featuring roasted ham, grilled chicken, Hawaiian BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, and fresh pineapple, the Ham and Swiss, topped with roasted ham with Swiss cheese and the Earl's mustard sauce, the Holiday Turkey, complete with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, the Caprese, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with grilled chicken, roasted red and banana peppers, and a spicy jerk sauce, and the Best BLT, featuring smoked bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and seasoned mayonnaise.

The menu does not stop with sandwiches, but also includes an array of wraps, all of which are $5.99 as well. Among these are the Buffalo Chicken, with grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, buffalo sauce, and ranch dressing, Chicken, Bacon & Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, romaine, avocado, bacon, tomato, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Baja Chicken, featuring grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, fajita seasoning, chipotle seasoning, and balsamic vinaigrette, the BBQ Ranch Chicken, which includes grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing, the Thai, with grilled chicken, romaine, Chinese cabbage mix, sweet chili sauce, and Thai peanut dressing, the Chicken Caesar, topped with grilled chicken, parmesan, romaine, croutons, and Caesar dressing, and the Spicy Tuna, which includes albacore tuna salad, romaine, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, chipotle sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette.

For those looking for something a little on the lighter side, there are also a number of salads available, which are also $5.99. These include The Earl's Cobb, topped with grilled chicken, smoked bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, cranberries and ranch dressing, the Baja Chicken, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, avocado, tomato, roasted corn, black beans, tortilla strips, and a red wine vinaigrette, the Chicken Caesar, with grilled chicken, field greens and romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, croutons, classic Caesar dressing, the Chicken, Berry and Almond, featuring spinach, grilled chicken, fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Greek, which includes romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, feta, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, and a zesty Italian dressing, the Asian, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, mandarin oranges, almonds, wontons and an Asian dressing, the BBQ Chicken, which includes field greens, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, and the Thai Chicken, with field greens, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, sweet chili sauce, wontons, and a Thai peanut dressing.

There are also various side items available for purchase, including potato salad ($1.99), pasta salad ($2.29), the coleslaw ($1.99), and potato chips ($1.29). It is really a menu that offers something for everyone and the hardest part is really deciding what you want to order.

Despite all the variety on the menu, I have a small number of mainstays that I gravitate to each visit. This time I decided on The Original 1762, with fresh roast beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce. I think the best place to start talking about the sandwiches is the bread because this is really what makes them so special. While bread alone does necessarily not make a sandwich, it can certainly break a sandwich. At Earl of Sandwich, however, is a highlight unto itself. Every sandwich is made to order so you know it is always going to be fresh and hot. The bread is perfectly toasted so it is slightly crispy on the outside but still soft and warm on the inside. The bread is so good that I could just go there, order some toasted bread, and be completely satisfied.

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There have been times that I ordered The Original and the roast beef was a little too rare for my liking, but most of the time it is cooked absolutely perfectly with just a slight hint of pinkish color. For those of you who might be scared away by the horseradish sauce, it is not too strong at all and really serves compliment the roast beef rather than being too overpowering. The horseradish helps add to the flavor of the sandwich and gives it just a little bit of a kick, making it something more unique than your standard roast beef sandwich.

Along with the sandwich I chose a side of potato salad. The light and refreshing flavor of the potato salad provided a perfect complement to the heartier flavor of The Original. The potatoes were red-skinned and were cooked just right so as to be not too soft and mushy nor too hard. The potato salad did have a strong mayonnaise base, but also featured a slight hint of dill to provide some extra flavor. While the potato salad did not have the same "wow" factor as the sandwich, it was still a good accompaniment for the meal.

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Dessert at Earl of Sandwich is definitely something that should not be overlooked. Even though the sandwiches can be very filling, it is worth saving room for dessert. Like the rest of the menu, there are a good number of dessert offerings to choose from, ranging from fresh baked chocolate chip cookies ($1.99) to brownie bites ($3.99), brownie sandwiches ($2.49), cupcakes ($2.49), bread pudding ($2.49), strawberry shortcake ($2.99), and even ice cream sandwiches ($3.29).

My favorite dessert by far is the Peanut Butter-Filled Brownie Sandwich. The one word I could come up with to describe this dessert is heavenly. The brownie is extremely moist and also has chocolate chunks throughout that gave it added texture and flavor. The peanut butter filling is extremely smooth, sweet, and creamy; the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is just perfect. This is a very rich and heavy dessert and is easily big enough to be split by two people (but it is so good that you may just want to eat the entire thing yourself).

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Service:
Like with every quick service dining location, the Earl of Sandwich is able to serve a large number of guests in a small amount of time. Because the restaurant is so crowded, this efficiency takes on an even greater importance. Guests place their order at one end of the counter and are then given a pager to let them know when their food is ready. Everyone then makes their way down to the other end of the counter to pay. The service is often so fast that, by the time you pay for your meal, your pager is already vibrating to let you know to go pick up my order.

The service at Earl of Sandwich is so quick in part because they have so many people working behind the counter. The only problem I noticed was that they sometimes resorted to yelling as a way of keeping the guests moving in line. While it seemed that they were doing this in order to serve as many people as possible, it was unfortunate that it came at the expense of their interaction with the guests. I have seen other quick service locations throughout Disney World that are able to provide speedy service but still have Cast Members who are able to interact with guests in a way that is both pleasant and personable. This might be due to the fact that Earl of Sandwich is not a Disney-owned restaurant.

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes to dining on a budget, there are not too many places in Disney World that are better than Earl of Sandwich; it may be the best value on all Disney property. The prices are all very reasonable, the food is great, and the portion sizes are big. With sandwiches, wraps, and salads all just $5.99, this is cheaper than most of the offerings found at other counter service locations across the parks and resorts. When you also take into account that side items are just around $2.00 and desserts range between $2.00 and $3.00, you can have a whole meal for a very reasonable price. If you are dining on a budget, Earl of Sandwich is definitely the place to go.

It is also worth mentioning that Earl of Sandwich is on the Disney Dining Plan and worth one counter service credit.

The Overall Experience:
One of the reasons why I like Earl of Sandwich so much is consistency. All the times that I have been there I have never been disappointed. I always know my sandwich is going to be hot and fresh, the portion size is going to be big, and the price is going to be reasonable. This is the recipe for success that has made Earl of Sandwich so popular. The quality of food is definitely worth having to wait in what can often be a long line. Even though it is a chain restaurant, Earl of Sandwich has become synonymous with Downtown Disney. Next time you are looking for somewhere to eat at Downtown Disney, and you do not feel like waiting a long time for a table at one of the sit down restaurants, definitely consider giving Earl of Sandwich a try. Its cuisine may be simple (just sandwiches, salads, and wraps), but its quality is top notch and the prices are extremely affordable. After you try it once, you will want to go back again and again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Earl of Sandwich and post your own too!

January 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Tinker Bell: An Evolution

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Tinker Bell: An Evolution

By Mindy Johnson with a Foreword by John Lasseter

Disney Editions has recently published a lavish tome dedicated to the development and history of the beloved, but slightly naughty, fairy Tinker Bell, designed in collaboration with the Animation Research Library. The book traces the history of the sparkly sprite from her origins as essentially a circle of lamplight in J. M. Barrie's original "Peter Pan"� stage play to a fixture in Disney Parks, flying over nightly fireworks shows, to a character with a voice and a bevy of forest friends residing in Pixie Hollow in recent Disney movies.

The first part of the book delves into Disney's long quest to bring Barrie's play to the big screen, reflecting the same perseverance shown by Walt when he decided that he absolutely had to secure the rights to another beloved story that is chronicled in the current Disney film, "Saving Mr. Banks." Disney received the okay to move forward with the project in 1939 after securing the rights from the Great Ormond Street Hospital (to which Barrie had left the rights on his death). Production ground to a halt during the 1940s as a result of a number of difficulties, including an artist's strike in 1941 and the war in Europe. During that time, Disney turned its attention to making money by doing work in support of the war for the government, including military training films. The movie came back into development in 1945 after the war ended, and inched along for years as the company tried to get back on a firm financial footing. After years of developing the story, the film got the final green light to move forward from Walt in 1950, and a team was assembled to work on the film.

During this time, legendary Disney artist Mary Blair got involved in the film. "Her conceptual work on "Peter Pan" defined the role of Tinker Bell as the ever-present wisp who darts along on Peter's adventures." Johnson explains that in developing the overall story for the film, Disney artists invested a great deal of time and effort into developing the appearance and personality of Disney's most famous fairy. "It seems reasonable to conclude that when concocting their recipe for Tinker Bell, the Disney animators combined equal parts Blue Fairy and Fantasia sprite -- with a generous dollop of personality thrown in." The film was finally released in 1953-- after thirteen years of development, three years of active production, the painting of over a million animation cels and $4 million in production costs -- and a star was born.

When Walt made his early forays into television in the 1950s, he realized that he needed a character to help introduce the shows. Tinker Bell was the "perfect blend of magic and wonderment," and became a fixture in the opening sequences of several of the Disney shows, and now in the opening sequences of Disney movies. Tinker Bell has been an ambassador and symbol for the Disney brand for decades, also appearing "in person" in the parks -- she first "flew" over the park in 1958 and has continued in various iterations ever since -- and helping to sell merchandise as varied as park souvenirs and peanut butter.

This lovely book is chock full of photos and previously unseen concept art, as well as well-researched history of both the Tinker Bell franchise and Disney's long journey in getting J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" to the screen. It book will delight both Tinker Bell and Peter Pan fans, and will look gorgeous on any Disney fan's coffee table.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

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 now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Tinker Bell: An Evolution through AllEars.Net's Amazon.com store:
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/1423172019


January 15, 2014

Jim’s Attic: Farewell to Cap’n Jack’s

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Farewell to Cap'n Jack's
By Jim Korkis

Cap'n Jack's Restaurant was an informal, New England-ish, nautically-themed restaurant at the Downtown Disney Marketplace on the east side. The restaurant had been a staple on the waterfront since The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village opened in 1975. In fact, both opened on the very same day and for years afterward Cap'n Jack's was considered the place to visit on WDW property in the evenings.

Originally, it was called Cap'n Jack's Oyster Bar and was a location where adults could grab cocktails and appetizers in the early days of Walt Disney World. Obviously, it specialized in seafood and was one of the very few locations on or near WDW property that was open until the wee hours.

When it became an official "restaurant" around 2000 the menu expanded and featured seafood, steak, pasta dishes, and kid friendly items like chicken strips and hamburgers. In fact, from an adult lounge, it had transformed into a family friendly location but was unable to compete with newer additions like the Rainforest Café.

Not only was it the longest surviving original business in the Downtown area, it was the last remaining Disney operated restaurant in that area as well. It was born along with now forgotten locations such as the Gourmet Pantry, the Village Spirits and so many others.

The entire area was not just a way to satisfy guests staying on Walt Disney property so that they didn't have to find transportation to downtown Orlando. It was meant to be a hub from which a housing community composed of town houses, condominiums and more would grow.

As part of the Phase Two plans for Walt Disney World property, the monorail was to be extended to stop at the shopping and dining area and some stanchion foundations were put in place and county clearances had been obtained.

Pricey shops selling elegant goods from clothes to wine were included to attract the local population as well as the tourists who could purchase items that they would be unable to find anywhere else in Orlando.

Cap'n Jack's unique hexagonal-shape offered wonderful views of the lake and Downtown Disney's marina where guests could rent watercraft to leisurely cruise the nearby waterways. In the earliest days, there was not much else to see from the windows except cypress trees and water until the Empress Lilly debuted in 1977.

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Cap'n Jack's was built out into the lagoon and was described as a "floating" restaurant. The outside porch for Cap'n Jack's was intended for live female models to walk and display the newest in swimsuits from the nearby shop, the Windjammer Dock Shop (that had a red-headed mermaid as its logo).

The restaurant was not named for Captain Jack Sparrow, who would not be born for several decades. It was named after Disney Legend Jack Olsen who had a fondness for sailing and fishing. Olsen retired from the Disney Company in 1977 but was instrumental in shaping the Disney theme park merchandise mentality since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.

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It was Olsen who jumped into dumpsters to rescue Disney animation cels, trim them into a cardboard matte and then sell them for a dollar or so to early park guests. He was the one who insisted that Disney park merchandise be distinctly different than what guests could get anywhere else.

Like many of Disney's top executives, he relocated from California to Florida to open Walt Disney World where he was the Vice President in charge of Disney Merchandise.

Cap'n Jack's last day of operation was in mid-August. Its closure was part of the conversion plan for the new Disney Springs.

However, the name lives on at the Cap'n Jack's Margarita Bar dockside and as the name of the marina.

The famous drink at the original Cap'n Jack's Oyster Bar was the Strawberry Margarita. Actually, it was the first East Coast appearance of this drink but was quite popular with the California WDW cast members who had relocated to Florida and that spurred its introduction.

That tradition lives on in Cap'n Jack's Margarita Bar so a little of the spirit (in every sense of the word) of the original shopping village still lives on as well.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================

Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

December 18, 2013

D23’s Holiday Splendor

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D23's Holiday Splendor Event Friday, December 6 and Saturday, December 7, 2013

What if you had an opportunity to view the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights with just a handful of others, all of you with special ears that blink in time with the lights and music? How about reserved seating for the Candlelight Processional and a private dessert party while you watch IllumiNations, Reflections of Earth? Are you interested in Disney history, and how the holidays have been celebrated at Disney Parks throughout the years? If so, D23's Holiday Splendor event may be for you! The schedule for the event starts with an evening viewing the Osborne Lights in the Hollywood Studios, then continues the next day with a full day of scheduled events in Epcot. (Please pardon the quality of the following photos. Somehow I got out of the house without a real camera on this trip, and only had my phone to snap pics with.)


Friday, December 6. Private viewing of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

The event began with check in at 8:15 p.m. on Friday evening at the Premier Theater in Disney's Hollywood Studios (near the Lights, Motors, Action show at the back of the park). Guests who did not have park tickets were able to check in at the entrance to the Park, and were escorted to the Premier Theater. After checking in we were given a set of "Glow with the Show" ears,

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and a pair of special glasses, that we were instructed to bring with us the next day as well. (I wish that the cast members had actually let people know what the glasses were for, as I saw that some folks never put them on.)

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After getting the goods, we were instructed to meet at the Studio Catering Company at 8:50 p.m. to gather for our private viewing time. At 9 p.m., after the rest of the park guests exited, the Lights were turned back on just for us! We had 15 minutes as a group to wander around and see the lights. It was a pretty amazing sight, as everyone in the group (I'd guess about 100) had on the Glow with the Show ears, which were blinking in unison with the music. The glasses made the lights look like little Mickey's. I think I remember them being handed out to everyone as they entered the viewing area a few years ago, so these might have been leftovers from then. It was a great start to the event!

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Saturday, December 7. Breakfast, holiday presentations, The Scavenger Hunt, access to the Hospitality Suite in The American Adventure pavilion, reserved seating for The Candlelight Processional, dinner in the Rotunda in The American Adventure pavilion, Illuminations Dessert Party.

At 9:30 a.m., check-in started at the Odyssey pavilion in Epcot. Today, everyone attending the event needed to have valid park admission. If you had checked in already the night before, showing your lanyard to the cast member at the door gained you admission to the lobby of the pavilion, where a "light" breakfast buffet was spread. Guests who had not attended the Osborne Lights portion of the event the night before checked in and received their Glow with the Show ears and Mickey glasses.

I was pretty impressed with the "light" breakfast, having expected maybe some pastries and coffee. Offerings included a selection of mini muffins, a nice fruit salad and an egg, hash brown and sausage casserole. There was also coffee, tea, orange juice and water.

As guests entered the room to claim seats, there was a display of yummy holiday pastry treats to be oohed and aahed over, in addition to a display of some choral robes for the Candlelight Processional.

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After everyone sat down with their breakfast, Laura Sanchez, from D23 Events kicked things off with a welcome and an overview of the day.

Steve Vagnini, Disney Archivist, presented Walt at Christmastime, showing archival photographs of Christmases and Christmas traditions throughout Walt's lifetime, from wishing for a new pair of boots to keep him warm on his childhood paper route, to the lists he kept of presents that were given to the children of Disney Company staff, to the television Christmas specials of the early 1960s.

Disney pastry chefs, Jeff Barnes (the Contemporary) and Yoly Lazo Colon (Epcot), then talked about Holiday Sweets, particularly focusing on the processes involved in creating the amazing gingerbread houses, trees and other displays throughout the resort (they get started making the gingerbread in January!), but also including other yummy treats on offer.

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Here are some photos of several of the creations the chefs discussed that I took later in my trip:

The Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread tree at the Contemporary (which had to be specially anchored because of the vibrations of the monorail passing through)

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and the gingerbread installation in the Land Pavilion at Epcot, which has contributions from all of Disney World's head pastry chefs.

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(May I also say that the Linzer cookie that I bought at the Contemporary was just about the most amazing cookie that I have ever eaten! If you can, you should run right over there and buy one now!)

Next up was Forrest Bahruth, Show Director, Candlelight Processional, who gave a very interesting history of the event, starting with a group of a capella singers in Disneyland in 1955, continuing to the opening of the show in 1994 at Epcot. Bahruth also explained some of the changes made this year to the current show, including changing the backdrop, adding new "stained glass windows" on the sides of the stage, updating the choir robes, and changing the shape of the "tree" made of singers, and updating the narration to be more understandable for international guests.

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Behind the Magic of Glow with the Show was the topic of the next presentation, from Erin Catalano, Disney Park Merchandise. Swearing us to secrecy, Catalano gave us a basic explanation of the technology behind the operation of the ears, which light up and blink in sync with the music and visuals of several shows in Disney parks around the world. The special ears were first developed to be used in conjunction with The World of Color show at Disney's California Adventure, and were then adapted for the fireworks show at Disneyland Paris. At Walt Disney World, the ears can currently be used with Fantasmic! and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at the Hollywood Studios, and Celebrate the Magic and Wishes at the Magic Kingdom. Tip: Batteries can be replaced free of charge at any shop that sells the ears.

Finally, Graham Allan, Historian, presented Seasons Past, a presentation of remembrances from seasonal presentations of the past thirty years in the parks. He showed clips of various Christmas parades in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and a particularly interesting clip of a special Christmas water pageant at Tokyo DisneySea.

After the presentations, it was time for The Scavenger Hunt! (Alternatively, guests could take time to view the Holidays Around the World offerings, ride the rides or just hang out in the Hospitality Suite in the American Adventure Pavilion.) I opted to do the scavenger hunt, and spent a crazy four hours trying to track down all of the 100 items. (YOU try to count all of the red baubles on the main Epcot Christmas tree, it is not as easy as it sounds.) Next year I need a team!

At 5:45, we gathered in front of the American Adventure Pavilion to be escorted to our reserved seats for the Candlelight Processional, which was being narrated by Whoopi Goldberg that evening. I was a bit disappointed as our seats were way at the back on the side, and did not offer a very good view of the stage. Guests with dinner packages were seated in front of us. I did enjoy the show, however, and made special note of the changes that were pointed out earlier in the day by Forrest Bahruth.

After the Processional, we proceeded to dinner in the American Adventure Rotunda. As we entered the Rotunda, servers were waiting with, wait for it, trays of wine and beer. After the exhaustion of the scavenger hunt, I was ready for that adult beverage (and there was an open bar at the back, if anything other than wine or beer was desired).

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The dinner was served buffet-style and was really quite delicious.

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After dinner, the winner of the scavenger hunt (with a score of 91!) and the runners up (73, and 74, I believe) were announced, and we were directed to the back of the room, where two special guests were waiting to meet all of us!

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As we left the Rotunda, we picked up our goodie bags, which included special artwork prepared just for the event, and a yummy cookie among other fun items.

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The group was then escorted to the Terrace des Fleurs near the France Pavilion for a Dessert Party and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth viewing. The desserts were yummy, and the view of Illuminations was amazing!

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So in the end, did I think that the Holiday Splendors event was worth the relatively steep purchase price of $205? Considering that the event allowed premium viewing opportunities for three of the major Disney World Holiday events (the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the Candlelight Processional and the holiday version of IllumiNations), included two substantial meals (and alcoholic beverages!), the Glow with the Show ears, a bag full of goodies, in addition to the presentations, I actually do feel that it was a good value. I did wish that the event were run a bit more like a tour, however, as I felt that we were simply turned loose on the Osborne lights without any real welcome, and there were no introductory remarks for either the Candlelight Processional (also our reserved seats for this were pretty terrible) or IllumiNations, either. I understand that this was the second year for this event, and it would be great if they offered it again next year, as I REALLY would like to win that scavenger hunt!


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

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 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.


December 9, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms

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Disney Editions has just released "Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," an engaging and informative book by Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and longtime leader of Walt Disney Imagineering. With introductions by Ray Bradbury and Richard M. Sherman, and a number of interesting photographs, the book is sure to delight all kinds of Disney fans.

"Somewhere in the world, there's a Disney park open every hour of every day; literally, the sun never sets on their operation on three continents around the globe." In an article about his book in a recent edition of Disney Files Magazine (a Disney publication for Disney Vacation Club Members), Sklar explained that he had four major reasons for writing this book about his career (and I am paraphrasing): 1) he had a unique experience among all Disney Cast Members in that he is the only one to have participated in the openings of all of the 11 Disney Parks around the world; 2) he wrote a large amount of personal material for Walt Disney during the early years of his career (many of which are widely quoted, and well known); 3) he was the creative director for the Imagineers during two very distinct periods in Disney history "after Walt" (basically the pre- and post-Michael Eisner years); and 4) he wanted to provide readers with a special view into Walt Disney Imagineering.

There have been many books published about the history of Disney and its companies in their various iterations, many of which were written as memoirs by the men and women who took part in that history. I have not read any of them (until now!), but they have been written. I am a big Disney fan, and love planning vacations, going to the Parks and watching Disney movies. I once discovered pretty quickly, during a Disney cruise trivia contest, that while I may have experienced the results of the Disney creative processes, I know very little about the processes themselves, or about the rich history surrounding the Disney approach to "Imagineering." ("At WED, we call it "Imagineering" -- the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.") So, when I read the article in Disney Files, I thought it was time that I dug in, and Sklar's book looked like just the place to do it.

Firstly, I'm not sure whether to call this book a history, a memoir or an autobiography, but it really doesn't matter. Sklar presents his material in a generally chronological, but also thematic format. As noted in the subtitle, "My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," much of the book focuses on Sklar's contributions to the openings of all of the Disney parks throughout the world, from Disneyland in 1955 to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005, and the beginnings of Shanghai Disneyland, which is expected to open in 2015. Sklar has been involved in the openings of all of the eleven Disney parks (Trivia question: can you name them all? Caveat: in this case do not include the water parks or DisneyQuest.), and was instrumental in helping to shape the attractions and experiences that millions of guests enjoy every year.

Sklar started his Disney career in 1955, as the result of a telephone message that was waiting for him at his fraternity house at UCLA while he was still a student. The call was from Card Walker, then the head of marketing and publicity for the Walt Disney Company. He initially thought that the message was a prank, as one of his fraternity brothers' fathers was an executive at a Vegas casino, and that "Card Walker" must have been a "card dealer." He did end up returning that call, and having been recommended for a writing job by a UCLA alum on the basis of his work as the editor for the UCLA Daily Bruin, started down a long, creative and storied path toward becoming a Disney Legend.

During his early years, Sklar was a writer and "ghostwriter" who was responsible for creating copy for many official Disney publications (including annual reports and public relations pieces) and for scripts for Disney leadership (including Walt) for personal and television appearances. Many quotes that are familiar "Waltisms" were actually written by Sklar! ("The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It's something we can keep developing and adding to.") In reading these examples, and in a quote that appears to have come directly from Walt -- which Sklar includes near the end of the book -- it is clear that he was very successful in capturing (and perhaps heavily influencing) Walt's signature, folksy speaking style.

Sklar spent a good deal of time in the book discussing the development of attractions for the 1964 New York World's Fair, particularly on how Disney used the development of those attractions to set the groundwork for upcoming attractions in the Disney Parks. "In fact, Walt's vision for using a temporary event as a testing ground for permanent attractions proved to be a stroke of genius." These attractions involved: the first use of audio-animatronics (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the State of Illinois, Carousel of Progress for GE, Magic Skyway for Ford), a greater focus on ride capacity ("it's a small world," Carousel of Progress), and on innovations in transportation (WEDway PeopleMover technology). He noted that technology often had to catch up with Walt's vision (and still does): "A good idea may come back to life in the world of Disney . . . but a great idea will find its way into our parks somewhere in the world." For example, Walt wanted to build a rollercoaster-style ride in the dark in Disneyland, but it took years for that idea to take off with the development of Space Mountain (pun intended).

Sklar also goes into great depth about the development of Epcot, particularly on efforts to line up critical corporate sponsors for many of the attractions, which was by no means easy and meant numerous trips from California to other parts of the country to nail down the sponsorships. Sklar was instrumental in developing the sponsorship nomenclature for sponsored attractions: "XX Attraction presented by XX Company" as in SPACESHIP EARTH presented by Siemens. "A key to maintaining the Disney standard is consistency around the world." As a result, all sponsored attractions in any Disney Park, wherever they are located, are named this way.

He also recounted the painstaking development of Epcot's vision of technology and the future, and answering the question of how Disney could tell "entertaining and meaningful stories about energy, transportation, communications, food." In one entertaining anecdote, Card Walker asked Sklar how the Imagineers planned to entertain guests on the planned boat ride in the Land pavilion. Sklar replied: "Don't worry Card, we'll be watching lettuce grow!" Sklar recounts that Walker was not amused, but guests have been enjoying watching lettuce (and bananas and nine-pound lemons) grow from the boats in the Living with the Land attraction for decades.

Since this book is an official Disney publication you might be thinking that all will be shiny and bright, with no recollections that would tarnish the Disney image. However, while the book is certainly not a tell-all, and Sklar had great praise for many of his fellow cast members, he does not pull any punches when it comes to those with which he bumped heads. I did find it gratifying, however, that it did not seem in these few critical passages that Sklar was trying to "trash" any of his fellow employees (particularly Paul Pressler) or others with which he had less than positive encounters along the way. Rather he used these occasions to point out how there are always tensions in the creative process, and that while normally this tension is central to success, in some circumstances it is not at all helpful.

Sklar also devotes quite a bit of the book, particularly the last chapters, to his philosophies of leadership and "followership." "The luckiest and smartest leaders I watched as role models as I grew up at Disney always surrounded themselves with people who were smarter, and more talented and productive than they were." Any reader who either is a boss or has a boss (in other words, pretty much all of us) would do well to pay close attention to Sklar's expanded "Mickey's Ten Commandments." Sklar feels strongly that leaders need to be mentors, and should work hard to train and develop young talent, a view that I'm sure was closely informed by the mentoring that he was given as a young (not even out of college!) Disney employee. " . . . Walt never hesitated to interweave age and experience with you and exuberance . . . " and neither did Marty Sklar.

Not having a solid background in Disney history, I did find myself wanting to draw organizational diagrams and family trees to try to keep track of the myriad names and changes in organizational structure over the years. The amount of detail presented in the book was gargantuan. Finally, when I just relaxed, read along, and didn't worry about keeping track of who was who, and who worked where when, I enjoyed the book much more. For those who already have a strong historical knowledge, I am sure that you will have no problem following along, and will be delighted to hear some new stories (or new takes on old stories) about your favorite personalities. I highly recommend this book for fans of Disney history, particularly related to Imagineering, who would enjoy Sklar's first-hand recollections and insightful musings on leadership.

As Marty Sklar exhorts us: "Life is like a blank sheet of paper. You never know what it can be until you put something on it. So Dream It! Do It! And work hard to do the best possible job. What are you waiting for?"


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

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 now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Marty Sklar's book through AllEars.Net's Amazon.com store:
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/1423174062


November 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney!

by Keith Gluck
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Ever wonder what Walt Disney World was like way back when? Each month, we rummage around in the archives for this featurette, which indulges in a bit of nostalgia, taking you back in history for a glimpse of Walt Disney World and The Walt Disney Company through the ages. This month, we take a look back at... Walt Disney himself!

Thursday, December 5, 2013, marks the 112th anniversary of the date of Walt Disney's birth. Even though his story has been told time and again, we wanted to take this occasion to share some of his amazing life with you.

When Walt Disney was young, a fortune-teller told him he would pass away in December, but specified he wouldn't make it to the age of 35. Walt was not a superstitious man, however the prediction still affected him deeply, and he lived his entire life racing against the clock in order to accomplish everything he wanted to do. The reality is, Walt could have lived to be 100 and still wouldn't have had enough time to see all of his visions realized. When the clock did eventually catch up with him, 10 days after his 65th birthday, he was working on one heck of a vision.

After the success of Disneyland, Walt was initially opposed to the idea of building a second one. His position on the matter began to change, however, once he realized he had a chance to do more than just build another theme park. In the late '30s, he loved the ability to plan every little detail during the creation of the Burbank studio. Disneyland was also meticulously planned, however Walt was always bothered by the fact that less quality-focused businessmen had surrounded his Magic Kingdom with a "second-rate Las Vegas." Additionally, he was concerned by what he considered to be a decline in the quality of American life. Friend and author Ray Bradbury once remarked, "Walt was troubled by the diminution of the neighborhood." Walt saw cars, shopping malls, and crime on their way in, and the cordial confines of the community on its way out.

The evolution of Walt's ever-curious mind, combined with his propensity for "plussing" and his decades of experience in planning and creating functioning environments, led to what many folks consider to be his greatest dream: the creation of a model city.

Research for Walt's new project began as early as 1958, when he commissioned the firm Economics Research Associates to determine the best location for "Disneyland East". The answer, Florida, was serendipitous, as Walt was already leaning towards the Sunshine State. Among the many advantages was Florida's warm weather, allowing the park to enjoy year-round operation. The lone disadvantage in the report cited the state's modest population of 6.5 million, which was only 1.5 million more than Disneyland's annual Californian visitors. An unfazed Walt stated, "We just gotta get the folks up north to want to come down."

The following year two more surveys were performed: one to locate the ideal location within the state of Florida, and the other to evaluate the possibility of a "City of Tomorrow" accompanying the theme park. The results indicated Palm Beach would be the most favorable location, however Walt was against the notion of not only competing with the beach venue, but also the exposure to the humidity and hurricanes. "I want to be inland, Walt said. "We'll create our own water."

A 1961 survey revealed the best location to be Ocala, and the runner-up, Orlando. Even as Florida was declared the prime location for Walt's latest endeavor, several more sites were considered before anything was made official. By 1963, St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and a site between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. were all considered. It was on the flight home from surveying these cities that Walt made up his mind. Shortly before landing in Burbank, he stated, "Well, that's the place-central Florida."

Walt's futuristic city needed a name, so he took it upon himself to come up with one. While eating lunch with some staff from WED, he commented, "What we're talking about is an experimental prototype community of tomorrow. What does that spell? E-p-c-o-t. EPCOT. That's what we'll call it: EPCOT."

So consumed with EPCOT was Walt that he prepared to entrust a large amount of the studio's endeavors with others. Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller remembered, "He was so excited about EPCOT. Walt always looked for new challenges, and EPCOT was his fresh and new challenge." Walt later told Miller that he planned to hand over complete control of the films to him, along with Bill Anderson, Jim Algar, Bill Walsh, and Winston Hibler. Walt wanted to concentrate solely on EPCOT, and predicted he would need roughly 15 years to see this latest dream through to completion. Even during the planning meetings of Disneyland's East Coast counterpart, he grew tired of discussing the theme park aspect. "You guys know that by now," he said. "I don't want to discuss what we learned in the past; I want to talk about the future."

Looking to the future was a trait Walt possessed his entire life, perhaps never more so than during his final days. While the planning of EPCOT and Disneyland East (which became known as "the Florida project") was in full swing, Walt was rarely without a book about city planning. Two such titles were The Heart of Our Cities by Victor Gruen, and Garden Cities of To-Morrow, by British urban planner Ebenezer Howard. He was obsessed with every detail, both big and small. "I vividly remember sitting next to Walt on a plane, when he pointed to the center of EPCOT, an oval-shaped area," mused Disney Legend Bob Gurr. "Walt said, 'When this EPCOT gets up and running, and we have all the participants there, this spot with a little bench is where Lilly and I are going to sit and watch.' "

Sadly, Walt wouldn't live long enough to see his greatest dream physically take shape, passing away before ground was broken. It consumed him until the end, however. Disney Legend John Hench recalled, "Roy Disney told me about his last visit to Walt in the hospital, when Walt was talking very excitedly about the Florida project, which Walt was envisioning on the ceiling of the hospital room." Had Walt lived just a little bit longer, he would have changed the world (even more than he already had).

Walt Disney was born in the upper bedroom of 1249 Tripp Avenue, Chicago, on December 5, 1901. He was a visionary like few others, and his legacy will continue to bring joy to people's lives for centuries to come. On behalf of everyone here at AllEars.Net, I'd like to say, "Happy birthday, Walt. Thanks for everything."

SOURCES

Inside the Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney
by Katherine & Richard Greene

Walt Disney: An American Original
by Bob Thomas
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0786860278

November 18, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told

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Vault of Walt Volume 2
Jim Korkis has followed his books "The Vault of Walt: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2010, Ayefour Publishing, out of print) and "The Revised Vault of Walt" (2012, Theme Park Press) with "The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2013, Theme Park Press. Readers may be familiar with Korkis' work through his frequent contributions to the AllEars Newsletter and blogs, and if you like his unique combination of history and storytelling, you will love Volume 2.

Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, and Mrs. Margaret Disney, the wife of Walt Disney's older brother, Herbert, was his first grade teacher. When he learned of her connection to Walt Disney, Korkis drew a picture of Jiminy Cricket to give to her. "I proudly gave the drawing to Mrs. Disney in the hope she would rush to the Disney Studios where, without a doubt, I would be instantly offered a job so that I wouldn't have to learn any multiplication tables (which I still do not know to this day)."

Well, he didn't get a job with the Disney Company until 1995, but that did not stop young Korkis from setting out immediately on a path to his future. He recounts that at the age of twelve he wrote down the names rolling through the credits of the weekly Disney television program then went through the phone book and made some calls. Many of the people he reached were kind enough to speak with him about his Disney passion, and luckily for us, he either took notes or recorded the conversations. Those conversations, others he has had with Disney personalities throughout the years, and facts dug up through extensive research, make up much of the content of the book, and provide the basis for the engaging stories that are told there.

Korkis sets out to preserve unwritten and potentially forgotten Disney stories before they disappear forever. He does so in a bright and engaging manner, capturing the reader with vividly drawn tableaux. The book is organized as a series of stand-alone tales, so they can be read independently from each other. They are grouped by theme: Walt Disney stories; Disney film stories; Disney Park stories; and other Disney stories. While there are some facts that are repeated in several stories, it is not necessary to read them in the order in which they are presented. A reader could easily sit down and plow through the entire book in one sitting (it is that entertaining!), or could choose to "dip" in for only one or two chapters. The tone is easy and conversational, while still conveying a LOT of facts. You almost feel that you are sitting in a cozy chair and having the conversations yourself.

Korkis has included a handy index, so fans of particular personages, films or parks can find their interests quickly and easily. The selected bibliography provides additional resources for those who want to dig into a particular subject more deeply.

Here are a few tidbits from the book that I found quite interesting:

Walt Disney Stories

Korkis makes many connections between experiences Walt had early in his life had significant impact on the work that many of us are now very familiar with. In the chapter about Walt's early childhood and teenage years in Chicago, Korkis recounts that the stories about working in the construction of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that Walt's father Elias told him, obviously had an impact: "It was a place where an entire family could go to have fun together, and it was educational and entertaining. Obviously, those concepts greatly influenced Walt's thinking about a future entertainment venue, in particular, EPCOT." It is clear that Elias' experiences with the 1893 World's Fair led Walt to his own involvement in the 1964 New York World's fair, with several of the attractions developed for that fair still in use in Disney Parks today.

Disney Film Stories

I took great pleasure in the fact that the subjects of section of the book on Disney films stories were not necessarily the most famous of Disney productions. The chapters brought back many memories of watching such films as Blackbeard's Ghost and Toby Tyler in serialized form on the version of the weekly Disney television program that I watched as a kid (The Wonderful World of Disney).

"Blackbeard's Ghost" is not a bad film, but it is not a memorable one, either." Korkis tells the story of the making of this less well-known film, which happens to be the last live action film that Walt had direct input into before he died. I happen to like this film very much (see my comment above about The Wonderful World of Disney). I laughed out loud (with apologies to the nice lady sitting next to me on the airplane!) as I read the intriguing vignettes about the many difficulties with the special effects used in the film (fly wires that drew blood!), and stories about the talented (but slightly difficult) cast (including Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Pleshette and Dean Jones).

In the chapter on the making of the 1958 film, The Shaggy Dog, Korkis writes about the long and strange arc of getting to the point of actually making the film, from Walt's purchase of the rights to the book The Hound of Florence, on which the film is loosely based to multiple rewrites of the screenplay, to Walt's curious decision to make the film in black and white rather than in color (possibly to save on production costs). Writer Bill Walsh said of the project: "We get stories in a strange way here. We don't literally get stories as stories. We get springboards or ideas and we develop the story around that. Like for The Shaggy Dog, which was based on a book by a guy named Felix Salten [also the author of Bambi, a Life in the Woods, on which the Disney film was based]. Kind of a nutty little thin book called The Hound of Florence. That was always on the shelf here, and nobody knew what to do with it, because it was kind of nutty. It was kind of a strange little book. It was completely impossible to read."

Just in time for the upcoming release of the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, readers will enjoy the chapter devoted to the negotiations between Walt and P.L. Travers to bring her Mary Poppins stories to the big screen. They began in 1938, when Disney first enquired about getting the rights to Travers' books, and continued until the film was finally made in 1964. The chapter recounts the many years of back and forth, as Walt and Travers parried back and forth about control over the content of the film. What comes through is that both were stubborn. In 1944, Walt asked his brother, Roy to fly out to New York to begin discussions with Travers on the availability of her book, and to "learn more about her personality." "Upon his return, Roy reported that Travers was cagey, a strong-willed 'Amelia Earhart type -- someone who seemed pleasant and soft on the surface, but was really tough as nails." While the negotiations dragged on, with Travers arguing that Walt's proposed story for the film was not true to the character in her books, Walt was so sure that the final project would move ahead that he had the Sherman brothers begin writing songs for the film. In the meantime, Travers prepared her own proposed version, which included material that Walt was not at all interested in including, and specifically did NOT include material that he wanted in. They also clashed over the choice of the actors to play Bert and Mary. It seems that the prospect of becoming enriched by the film finally got Travers to back down, and it was made according to Walt's vision. She maintained until her death in 1996, however that she was not happy with the outcome of the film: "How much better a film it would have been had it carefully stayed with the true version of Mary Poppins." When she complained to her lawyer, Arnold Goodman, that she had been "tricked" by Disney, and that her stories had been mutilated, he reminded her: "You should repeat three times nightly -- before and after prayer . . .'But for Mr. Goodman, I would never have sold Mary Poppins to Walt Disney and would now not be rich."

Disney Park Stories

In his stories about the Disney Parks, and some of their most famous attractions, Korkis points out the effort and attention to detail that Walt and the Imagineers went to in creating them. In the chapter, "The Story of Storybook Land" -- the attraction that is now Disneyland's Storybook Land Canal Boats -- Korkis recounts: "Walt demanded great attention to detail, from the tiny stained glass windows to the small toys behind the frosted glass of Geppetto's toy shop to the cobblestone streets paved with individually placed pebbles. One contractor, frustrated at being unable to cut some corners, and concerned about all of the labor and expense . . . asked him [Walt], 'Who'll know the difference?' Walt sternly replied, 'I'll know the difference.'"

Did you know that Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle was not always referred to as Sleeping Beauty Castle? According to Korkis, in early written materials the castle was variously referred to as "The Medieval Castle," "Fantasyland Castle," and even "Robin Hood's Castle." Walt even referred to it as "Snow White's Castle" on an early episode of his ABC television show (this answers my daughter's heartfelt question to Snow White during a visit to Disney World when she was much younger: "Poor Snow White. Why don't YOU have a castle?"). Disneyland's castle was basically an empty shell for its first years, with the walk-through attraction not being added until several years before the release of the film, Sleeping Beauty, in 1959. Korkis narrates an amusing story about when Walt took Imagineer Ken Anderson for a tour of the empty structure, telling him that he wanted to install an attraction inside that would promote the film. It seems that while there wasn't much in there, it WAS occupied -- by about a hundred feral cats. Needless to say, the cats needed to be removed before the installation of the exhibits began: "Walt arranged for the bathing, grooming and eventual relocation of the 'castle cats' and found them new families despite the recommendations of some of his staff to find a more speedy and permanent solution."

After reading the book, I wondered about the fine line between Disney stories and Disney legend. Korkis devotes an entire chapter to "a cute Disney story that never was," and notes that Walt Disney himself, was sometimes the source of "less than factual" information. This is a book of stories, and stories come from people; people who are not always reliable narrators. The nature of stories is that they are passed from person to person, and change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways as they metamorphosize into legends. In the chapter "Flying High with Walt," Korkis recounts the following: "According to Mark Malone, son of the pilot Chuck Malone, his father told him that during that fabled flight over Florida [to finalize the location for Walt Disney World], Walt spotted El Morro fortress while flying over San Juan, Puerto Rico, and remarked that it would be the perfect look for his new Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland." I may be a long way from 7th grade geography, but I don't remember Puerto Rico being very close to Florida. I wonder if this is a story that has now become a legend; a legend that Jim Korkis has worked to preserve for posterity. Cheers!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Jim Korkis' latest book on Amazon, via AllEars.Net's special link:

http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0984341579


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

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 now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.


November 13, 2013

Experience the Exotic Flavors of Africa at Jiko

Andrew Rossi

A visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge is a truly immersive experience. This resort, quite possibly better than any other at Disney World, completely transports Guests to an entirely different world. While its open savannah with its array of animals gets much of the attention, Animal Kingdom Lodge has so much more to offer. The resort is truly a celebration of African culture and this is reflected as soon as Guests enter into the awe-inspiring lobby. The architectural design of the Jambo House lobby reflects the detail of African craftsmanship, with its thatched ceilings and intricate wood carvings. Meanwhile, the large windows help to highlight the African-inspired landscape of the savannah just outside. Throughout the lobby are numerous examples of African art, including masks, headdresses, paintings, pottery, and carvings, all of which lend an even greater sense of immersion.

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Of course, no cultural experience would be complete without showcasing the cuisine and Animal Kingdom Lodge delivers with three tremendous full service restaurants. With Sanaa at Kidani Village and Boma and Jiko at Jambo House, visitors to Animal Kingdom Lodge have no shortage of dining options to choose from. Each of these restaurants provides their own unique twist on African cuisine and has something different to offer, but it is Jiko that stands out as the resort's Signature dining option.

Jiko_Sign

Overview:
Jiko is the Swahili word for "cooking place," making it an apt name for this restaurant. Being one of Disney's Signature restaurants, Jiko offers a truly unique and memorable dining experience. Just as Animal Kingdom as a whole seeks to immerse Guests into African culture, Jiko highlights various aspects of African cuisine while also providing its own unique spin by blending in elements of Indian and Mediterranean flavors. In addition to its cuisine, Jiko has received notoriety for its vast array of African wines. Combined, this helps to make Jiko one of Disney's most exotic dining experiences, showcasing African flavors made with the freshest ingredients.

Being a Signature dining location, you know that you can expect the highest quality in all facets of the dining experience. This Signature status also means that Jiko features a dress code. Men are encouraged to wear khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, and collared shirts. Sport coats are optional. For women it is suggested that they wear capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts. There are also certain articles of clothing that are not allowed in the dining room, such as tank tops, swimwear, hats, cut-off or torn clothing. Jiko's Signature status also helps to make it a very popular dining destination. As such, reservations are highly recommended and should be made well in advance.

Atmosphere:
Jiko is a completely immersive experience and it really all begins with the restaurant's color palette. As soon as you enter the dining room, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the bold, blue ceiling overhead.

Jiko_Dining_Room

Standing out in stark contrast to the deep blue are dozens of bird-like structures suspended from the ceiling, which are also a sign of good luck.

Jiko_Birds

The restaurant's effective use of color continues down to the walls, which can feature warm red, orange, yellow, and gold tones. Throughout the course of your meal the lighting and coloring on the walls will actually change to mimic an African sunset. The effect is subtle, but beautifully done.

The restaurant features some other striking characteristics. Upon entering, Guests are first greeted by a wall of wine, with the bottles held in very unique display racks. At Jiko, its wines play as important a role as its cuisine in introducing Guests to the flavors of Africa. In fact, Jiko features the largest selection of African wines at any restaurant outside of the continent.

Jiko_Wine

As you progress from the Jiko's bar area to the main dining room, the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows really become evident.

Jiko_Windows1

These massive windows overlook a beautiful water feature strewn with boulders and also offer tremendous sunsets views. The windows likewise help to bring a little of the outdoors into the restaurant, as the natural environment is such an important aspect of African life.

Jiko_Windows2

Another unique feature of Jiko is its open kitchen. Here you can watch as chefs prepare appetizers utilizing two large and colors wood-burning ovens.

Jiko_Ovens

One of the great features of this open kitchen is that it is surrounded by a counter where Guests can sit to enjoy their meal. This is where I had the opportunity to dine while I was here and it makes for a very memorable experience. There is no added cost for sitting at this counter and it allows for Guests to observe and converse with the chefs as they prepare various dishes.

Jiko_Counter1

The décor of the restaurant is very subtle with a few themed elements, such as the columns which are adorned with gold rings. The rings represent the neck rings worn by women of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa, which are a symbol of beauty and wealth.

Overall, Jiko's décor is one that relies more on color, lighting, and texture rather than decoration, but it still distinctly African in look and feel. It is a restaurant that has a simple elegance about it that help make it the perfect destination for a romantic night out. It's quiet and intimate setting combined with its beautifully exotic feel help make Jiko one of the most unique dining experiences in Disney World.

The Menu:
Just as Jiko's atmosphere goes a long way in immersing Guests into the culture of Africa, the restaurant's menu plays an equally important role. It is a menu that is constantly changing depending upon what ingredients are fresh and in season yet always highlights the unique flavors, tastes, and ingredients of African cuisine.

The menu features an array of appetizers including the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin ($17.00) with pap, chakalaka, white truffle oil, and cilantro, South African Vetkoek ($12.00), which are three house-made Naan pastries filled with herb-braised rabbit, coconut-egg curry, and vegetable curry, Inguday Tibs in Brik ($10.00) featuring mushrooms, spinach, and cheese in crispy filo with a curry vinaigrette, Fire Roasted Oysters on Half Shell ($17.00) with lemon butter, house-made hot sauce, horseradish, and smoked tatsoi, the Taste of Africa ($9.00) including an assortment of African inspired dips with pappadam, poppy seed lavosh, and house-made naan, and an Artisanal Cheese Selection ($15.00).

Also available as appetizers are a selection of flatbreads baked in the restaurant's wood-burning ovens. These include Roxanne's Kitfo Leb Leb ($13.00) topped with beef carpacio, feta cheese, pistachio-basil pesto, berbere, and tomatoes, KG's Peri-Peri Roasted Chicken ($10.00) topped with lime chakalaka, lamb chopper cheese, and pickled sweet bell peppers, and the Roasted Cauliflower ($10.00) topped with masala, roasted cipollini onions, lamb chopper cheese, and mitmita gremolata. There are also a few soups and salads to choose from such as the "Mozambique-Style" Tomato Salad ($15.00) with heirloom tomatoes, peaches, avocado, mache, arugula, and feta cheese, the Jiko Salad ($15.00) with heirloom spiced melon, rockett, mizuna, peppered chevre, and a blackberry vinaigrette, and the Taktouka Tomato Soup ($10.00) featuring vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, and purple haze grilled cheese.

The entrée choices feature everything from seafood to chicken to beef and even vegetarian options. While some of the ingredients may seem a little exotic, the servers are very helpful in explaining each of the dishes if you have questions. One may think that African cuisine is very spicy, while this is true of some of the dishes, there are others that are not.
Among the entrée offerings are the Spicy Botswana-Style Beef Short Rib ($42.00) served with cassava-potato puree, sambal, mushrooms and fava beans, "Nigeria-Style" Pan-Roasted Whole Local Sea Bass ($46.00) accompanied by sweet potatoes, red sauce, and chili pepper pickle, West African "Jerked Scallops" ($35.00) with basmati rice, red quinoa, baby rainbow carrots, and coconut curry sauce, Curry-Rubbed Lamb Loin ($37.00) with cauliflower puree, eggplant-artichoke zaalouk, and olive-walnut tapenade, Seared Barbarie Duck Breast ($40.00) accompanied by potato and spinach masala, royal trumpet mushrooms, and port emulsion, Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon ($45.00) served with an ancient grain pilaf, heirloom pole beans, and South African red wine sauce, Tagine Chicken ($34.00) with preserved lemon, artichokes, olives, cinnamon couscous, harissa, and saffron jus, and a "Braai Pie" ($29.00), a pastry filled with squash, sunchokes, carrots, garbonzo beans, and wilted greens.

If you still have room for dessert, the choices include a Milk Tart ($11.00) with gooseberry jam and goat's milk balsamic ice cream, Kenyan Coffee Creme Brulee ($9.00), Cheesecake ($9.00) with white chocolate, toasted coconut, mango sauce, and pineapple chile sorbet, the Chocolate and Tea Safari ($10.00) featuring a Tanzanian chocolate cake, free form "kit kat," and green tea ice cream , and the Cinnamon-Chocolate Flourless Cake ($10.00) with sesame crisp, chocolate sauce and herb-citrus salad.

I decided to start my meal with the Taste of Africa ($9.00). This appetizer came with an assortment of three different types of breads and four sauces for dipping. The first type of bread was pappadam, a thin, crisp Indian bread made from lentil flour. Next was poppy seed lavash, a thin, crispy flatbread. Finally there was naan, a slightly thicker oven-baked flatbread of Eastern Indian origin. The sauces were bhuna masala, a curry consisting of tomato, coconut, tamarind, and chili peppers, sagh dahl, made with lentils, spinach, garlic, and chilis, Moroccan chermoula, with a mixture of herbs, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt, and kalamata hummus, made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and olives.

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With each of the breads having different consistencies and textures and each of the sauces varying in degrees of spiciness, this appetizer made for a lot of different combinations. It was a great way for being able to sample a wide variety of different African flavors.

For my entrée I had heard many people rave about Jiko's Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon ($45.00). However, whereas the dish is now served with an ancient grain pilaf, it had for a long time been accompanied by macaroni and cheese. When I inquired about this to my server he commented that it is still a common request and they would be more than happy to prepare the dish that way.

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The filet was extremely tender and juicy, just slightly seasoned so that the spices did not overpower the steak but rather helped to enhance its flavor. Topping the filet was a red wine sauce, made from an African wine reduction, which provided a slight sweetness that paired perfectly with the steak and provided a contrast to the spices it was seasoned with. Finally, the macaroni and cheese was incredible. It might seem like an odd accompaniment for a filet, but the two paired together extremely well. Rich and creamy, the macaroni and cheese also absorbed some of the juice from the steak and blended well with the red wine sauce. Overall, this was an extremely flavorful dish. While Jiko's menu may have many items that appeal to more adventurous diners, this filet is something that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Service:
Just as a Signature restaurant offers the utmost in terms of high-quality food, drink, and atmosphere, the service is likewise some of the best to be found in any Disney dining locations. The service at Jiko was certainly on par with that I have received at other Signature dining locations across property. From the moment I was seated my server was extremely attentive to my needs. Being my first time dining at Jiko, I was very appreciative that my server took time to explain many of the items on the menu, giving recommendations on those dishes that were a little more on the spicy side and those that were less so. With a menu featuring so many ingredients that many people may be unfamiliar with, it was very helpful to have someone explaining how each dish was prepared. Aided by the fact that severs at Signature restaurants usually have fewer tables that they are waiting upon, my server was always checking in to see if I needed anything and to make sure all the food was to my liking. There were also little touches throughout the meal that helped make the dining experience special. This started with a hot towel being brought out prior to the start of the meal to wash my hands, a small sample of a salmon cake appetizer the chefs had just prepared, and a complimentary pistachio cookie following the meal. It is all these things that help separate the service at Signature dining locations.

Dining on a Budget:
Being a Signature restaurant, dining on a budget is something that is a little difficult to do at Jiko. However, although the menu is a little pricey, you are absolutely getting what you pay for in terms of quality. If you are going to splurge for on a meal while visiting Disney World, this would be one of the dining locations to do it at. That being said, if you are looking for a more economical experience at Jiko the best bet would be to try one of the restaurant's flatbreads. Ranging in price from $10 to $13, these flatbreads are a good-sized portion and could easily be paired with another appetizer or a dessert to make for a relatively inexpensive meal. Another thing to keep in mind if you are really in the mood for African cuisine (but at a cheaper price) is one of the Animal Kingdom Lodge's other dining options, Sanaa. Located at Kidani Village, this restaurant still offers similar exotic African flavors to those found at Jiko but in a slightly more casual setting and with more affordable prices.

Jiko is on the Disney Dining Plan, but as a Signature restaurant is worth two table service credits. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland, giving members a 20% discount. However, there are no additional discounts for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club Members.

The Overall Experience:
Animal Kingdom Lodge has always been among my favorite Disney resorts thanks to its tremendous theming and attention to detail. As soon as you set foot into the lobby, you become completely immersed in African culture and it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of Disney World. Animal Kingdom Lodge is also home to some of the most unique and exotic dining experiences on property. I have always been a big fan of Boma and Sanaa, but now after finally trying Jiko I can safely add this to my list of must-do Disney dining locations. Combining the exotic elegance of the restaurant's atmosphere with the exotic flavors and tastes of Africa, Jiko is a culinary adventure the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else at Disney World. While it might be a little more on the expensive side, this is one Signature restaurant that is definitely worth the price.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

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

November 4, 2013

Jim's Attic: The Dragon Calliope

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

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The Dragon Calliope
By Jim Korkis

It continues to amaze me that there are so many hidden treasures at Walt Disney World waiting to be discovered and enjoyed and how often they are bypassed because they are not in the theme parks.

For the 1955 Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade at Disneyland, Walt Disney purchased some authentic turn-of-the-century circus wagons and very carefully restored them. In fact, anything removed from a wagon during the restoration, Walt had preserved.

Walt purchased nine authentic circus wagons from Bradley & Kaye who were using them as decorations outside the entrance to their small amusement park at the corner of Beverly and La Cienga in Los Angeles where Walt would take his young daughters on Sunday outings.

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In this purchase was a 1907 twenty whistle steam calliope that was in disrepair.

Its first appearance was in the Mugivan and Bowers shows in England, circa 1907, after which it was sold to Ken Maynard's Diamond K Circus in 1936. At a cost of $50,000, Disney redesigned the calliope to resemble the others in the collection, and adorned its wagon with decorative pieces from some of Disney's other circus wagons transforming it into the Dragon Calliope.

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Take a close look at the car behind the engine of Disneyland's Casey Jr. train. The dragon is an exact re-creation of the one on the calliope since it is a circus train.

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Many of the circus wagons, as well as the calliope, appear in the Disney live-action film, "Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With a Circus" (1960).

Starring young Kevin Corcoran and based on the well known novel of the same name by James Otis Kaler, the film recounts a young boy running away to work in a circus and becoming a circus star after befriending a mischievous chimp.

The film's world premiere was held January 21, 1960, at the Florida Theater in Sarasota, Florida, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (now owned and operated by Feld Entertainment, who produce the Disney on Ice shows).

Just as the parade and the credits are ending the movie, the Dragon Calliope comes in to view, followed by the eager Toby Tyler, as music and steam billow from the colorful wagon.

In 1962, Walt would donate the wagons (including the pieces that had been removed) to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where they are taken care of and displayed to this day. However, he kept the Dragon Calliope.

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Besides being part of the short-lived Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade, the calliope went on to appear at Disneyland parades until the park's 25th anniversary.

It was repainted silver and blue and pulled by six black Percheron horses when it was relocated to Florida for the Walt Disney World Tencennial celebration in 1981. Since then, it was seen in numerous parades at Walt Disney World, including several Christmas broadcasts until it was retired from parade duty.

To the best of my memory and research, the last time the Dragon Calliope was used was January 2, 2007 in Tallahassee, Florida where Mickey and Minnie Mouse were participants in the inaugural parade for newly-sworn in governor, Charlie Crist. Mickey and Minnie in the calliope were pulled by a team of eight black Percheron horses.

The Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground at Walt Disney World is now the home for the famous Dragon Calliope.

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It is located near another free hidden treasure, a small exhibit, named Walt Disney Horses dedicated to Walt's love of horses and to the different roles horses do at Walt Disney World.

I hope some of you will now go track down these wonderful hidden treasures, take pictures, and share their location with your friends and family.

Special thanks to TCD for the photographs.

Please note, since writing this blog we have learned that the Dragon Calliope is no longer on display at Fort Wilderness.

RELATED LINKS
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Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


October 20, 2013

"Simple is Delicious" at the Wolfgang Puck Express

Andrew Rossi

For my latest review I have decided to do something a little different. While all my past reviews have focused on Disney's table service dining locations, I have realized that I have been overlooking the numerous counter service restaurants located around property. For many Guests travelling to Walt Disney World, these quick service dining locations are their primary dining options, either because they want to dine on a budget or they don't want to spend the time it would take to have a full service meal. One of the great things about Disney World is that it features a tremendous variety of counter service options that go beyond merely hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets. In fact, some of the quick service locations across property offer dining experiences that are nearly just as good as a full service restaurant. This review will highlight one such location.

When one hears the name Wolfgang Puck, the thought of a casual, quick service dining experience is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. This is, however, exactly what is offered at the Wolfgang Puck Express at the Downtown Disney Marketplace. Specializing in sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and pastas, this restaurant certainly lives up to its slogan that "simple is delicious."

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Overview:
Downtown Disney offers plenty of dining options and features a wide array of cuisines, but despite this it always seems as though every restaurant is packed. For those Guests who have not made reservations in advance, this often means very long waits. Fortunately, there are several quick service locations here as well for those Guests who may not want to wait. Tucked back between Disney's Days of Christmas and Mickey's Pantry, the Wolfgang Puck Express can sometimes be overlooked, but it offers a dining experience worthy of its famous namesake.

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Presenting a more casual take on some of the signature dishes that made chef Wolfgang Puck famous, this dining location offers a great alternative to the large crowds found in Downtown Disney's various sit down restaurants. The restaurant is what could be considered an "enhanced" counter service location; you place your order at the counter as you enter, find a table to sit at while your food is being prepared, and then have your meals delivered directly to your table. The result is the feel of a sit down restaurant but with much quicker service.

Atmosphere:
The Wolfgang Puck Express is not the largest dining venue, but it still offers plenty of seating. While the restaurant used to feature a large covered patio for outdoor seating, this space has now been enclosed to allow more diners to enjoy the climate-controlled environment during the hot summer months.

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There are still a few tables located outside for those wishing to dine al fresco. What is nice about the restaurant's location is that it is tucked out of the way, so if you are eating outside there are not a lot of people walking and there is very little noise. While the restaurant's decor has no specific theme, the overall design is very minimalist and simple, giving it a casual and laid back atmosphere.

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The restaurant's sense of openness, with its high vaulted ceilings and numerous windows which allow for plenty of light, give the dining room a sense of being larger than it actually is. The only real visual décor elements in the main dining area are black and white photographs on the walls.

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One of the best elements of the restaurant's atmosphere is the area just after the counter where you place your order.

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As you make your way into the main dining area you pass through a room that makes you feel as though you are walking through the kitchen. Not only are there pots and pans hanging from racks on the ceiling, but you are able to see right into the area where the chefs are preparing the food as well as the large oven used for making the pizzas. This part of the restaurant presents a bit of a contrast from the main seating area, a more classic style as opposed to the modern feel of the dining room.

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The Menu:
For a counter service restaurant, the menu at Wolfgang Puck Express is very extensive. It is certainly safe to say that it is a menu that offers something for everyone. It starts with their numerous salads which include Butter Lettuce ($7.00) with goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette, Caesar ($7.00) or served with chicken ($11.00), Chinese Chicken ($11.00) with crispy wontons, cashews, ginger, and a sesame honey dressing, Roasted Beet ($9.00) with goat cheese, oranges, candied pecans, fresh greens, and balsamic dressing, Curried Chicken ($13.00) with apples, lettuce, golden raisins, avocado, and toasted pecans, Rotisserie Turkey Cobb ($14.00) mixed with eggs, bacon, beans, tomatoes, gorgonzola, avocado and balsamic, Greek ($10.00) topped with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and a creamy yogurt dressing, and Barbecued Chicken ($11.00) with romaine, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, crispy tortilla strips, and ranch dressing.

If you are more in the mood for a sandwich there are several to choose from. These include the Pesto Chicken Salad ($10.00) topped with romaine, red onions, and plum tomatoes, the Rotisserie Turkey Club ($13.00) with avocado, bacon, red onion, plum tomatoes, and romaine, Chicken Aioli ($10.00) with mozzarella, romaine, tomatoes, red onions, and a cilantro aioli, the Roasted Turkey ($14.00) topped with cheddar, caramelized onions, arugula, port wine sauce, house dressing, and a horseradish cream, Meatloaf ($14.00) accompanied by provolone, bacon, tomato chutney, horseradish cream, and crispy onions, and the Roasted Vegetable ($13.00) with mozzarella, pesto, lettuce, tomato, and a horseradish cream.

The menu also features a number of pizzas prepared in the restaurant's wood-fired oven. Among these are the Traditional Margherita ($11.00), Fennel Sausage ($11.00) topped with pesto, roasted sweet peppers, and mozzarella, the Classic Cheese ($10.00), Pepperoni and Mushroom ($11.00), Barbeque Chicken ($13.00) topped with red onion, cilantro, tomatoes and a smoky BBQ sauce, Seasonal Vegetables ($12.00), Four Cheese Pesto ($12.00) featuring parmesan, mozzarella, fontina, and goat cheese with plum tomatoes, fresh basil, and sun-tomatoes, and the Spicy Chicken ($13.00) with sweet peppers, tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and parmesan.

For those looking for a heartier meal than sandwiches, salads, or pizzas, there are also several "Wolfgang's Classics" to choose from. These include a Half Rotisserie Chicken ($16.00) topped with garlic butter and rosemary and accompanied by mashed potatoes, Oven Roasted Salmon ($18.00) topped with fennel, tomatoes, arugula, and a horseradish cream, Spaghetti ($12.00), Spaghetti and Meatballs ($16.00), Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.00), Chicken Alfredo ($15.00) with peas and bacon, Macaroni and Cheese ($11.00), and Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf ($15.00) topped with a port wine sauce and crispy onion rings and served alongside mashed potatoes.

For my meal I started with the Butternut Squash Soup ($6.00), which was absolutely delicious. Smooth and creamy, it was just the right consistency. The soup came garnished with chives and a roasted pepper swirl, which proved to be the perfect complement to the squash by adding a little kick of spiciness. The soup itself was somewhat sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and the red pepper and chives actually helped to enhance the flavor without being too overpowering. The soup was thick, rich, and filling and also came with a small slice of bread which was perfect for dipping. The serving size is large enough that this could easily be split between two people.

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Next I chose the Barbeque Chicken Pizza ($13.00). The barbeque sauce itself had a little hint of smokiness, but it certainly did not overpower the other ingredients. In fact, I would not have minded if there had been a little more barbeque sauce on the pizza. The pizza came topped with a good amount of chicken and red onions that paired very well with it and added even more flavor. I was worried that the cilantro would be too strong, but there was just the right amount to compliment the other flavors and provide an added little kick. The pizza itself had a very thin crust, nice and crispy along the edges but softer toward the center. The dough was light and cooked to perfection, with the edges of the pizza just slightly burned enough that it added to the flavor. Again, this is another dish that could easily be shared, especially if starting with a soup or salad beforehand.

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Service:
At a counter service restaurant one of the things you expect is fast service and the two servers taking orders were very efficient so the line of Guests ordering never became too backed up. Because of the way the restaurant works, once you place your order at the counter you then find a table in the dining room and have your food delivered to you. While the food was brought out in a timely manner and the server asked me if I needed anything when he first delivered my meal, it seemed as though all the servers walking about the dining room were most concerned with getting the tables cleaned and turned over rather than checking in on the Guests who were eating. While this is certainly important in a quick service restaurant that has a high turnover rate, it seemed to come at the expense of their interaction and attention to the Guests who were currently dining there.

Dining on a Budget:
The Wolfgang Puck Express is a great option for dining on a budget, especially if you want an experience similar to the Wolfgang Puck Café (also found at Downtown Disney) at a more affordable price. For example, the Butternut Squash Soup that costs $6.00 at the Express is $8.00 at the Café. While the menu selections are fewer and simpler than the Café, the quality and taste are just as good. In addition, you will find that the portion sizes at Wolfgang Puck Express are big enough that sharing a dish between two people becomes an easy way to save even more. If each person were to get a soup or a salad, splitting a sandwich or a pizza would be more than enough for a meal. If you are still hungry, you could always get a dessert as well, all of which are also reasonably priced.

If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, the Wolfgang Puck Express is one of the best values for your counter service credits as the meals you will find here are of tremendous quality (certainly better than just getting a burger or hot dog in the park) and the serving sizes large enough that you will almost certainly have leftovers. The best way to maximize your Disney Dining Plan is finding those restaurants that will get you the most for your money. For example, you could get a cheese pizza from Pizza Planet for $9.00 or you could go to Wolfgang Puck Express and get the Barbeque Chicken Pizza for $13.00 or even something like the Oven Roasted Salmon for $18.00 all for the same one counter service credit. In many ways, dining at Wolfgang Puck Express is almost like dining at a table service restaurant for a counter service credit.

The Overall Experience:
At this point I should note that while this review is of the Wolfgang Puck Express located in the Downtown Disney Marketplace, there is also one on the West Side as well. However, the West Side location is smaller and its menu options are more limited. The Wolfgang Puck Express is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Downtown Disney who does not feel like waiting a long time for a table at one of the sit-down restaurants. Bearing the name of Wolfgang Puck, you know that the food is going to be of a high quality and the Wolfgang Puck Express certainly delivers, offering a calm and relaxing meal in a quiet and laid-back environment. Not only is it one of the better counter service restaurants to be found in Downtown Disney, but I would consider it one of my favorites among all quick service restaurants in Disney World.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of the Wolfgang Puck Express and post your own too!

October 13, 2013

The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Gary Cruise banner

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you will know that Carol and I are huge fans of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We just love spending time there in our RV . . . but I've often wondered what it would be like staying in one of the cabins. Carol stayed there many years ago, but I've never had the pleasure.

I follow a couple of online communities which are focused on camping at "The Fort" and I was delighted to read a trip report posted by Shelly E. from Minnesota. She and her family took their first trip to Walt Disney World last year and stayed in the cabins. I strongly suspect that there will be many more trips to Fort Wilderness in Shelly's future.

Here's how Shelly described the experience in her trip report:

This was our family's first trip to Walt Disney World. Actually it was our family's first and only trip ANYWHERE for more than two nights in all our time together as a family! It was February of 2012- we chose to stay in the cabins because with six of us it seemed the cheapest way to go. At that time we had NO idea how much we would fall in love with the Fort. This first picture is arriving at the Fort . . .

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Here is another . . .

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The kids totally fell in love with the pool (of course!) . . .

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We did the penny machines in front of Pioneer Hall and the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue!

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We had no idea what to expect when we made our reservations. We made them there simply because we wanted to qualify for free dining, and it was one of the few ways we could all stay in one room. After staying there for 10 days, we completely fell in love with the Fort.

There is just something special about it there. I think for every family, it's probably different things that make it special. For us, I'll tell you what some of the things were.

Getting up in the morning and being surrounded by nature. Beautiful trees all around us, chipmunks, little lizards, birds, sunshine, flowers and most of all peacefulness. There is so much peacefulness at the Fort. Driving a golf cart to the laundry facility, passing people who are out walking dogs or biking - everyone is friendly and happy to be there. It's just such a "welcome home" kind of feeling.

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The gardens at "The Outpost" (check-in) are designed to attract butterflies.

The boat ride to the Magic Kingdom is simply amazing. We never got tired of it! Compared to riding a bus, the boat is magic in itself.

Being able to sit on the beach at night, with not too many people around, and watch the Wishes fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant. I know so many people say there's nothing like watching it from Main Street, but I feel there is nothing like watching it from a beautiful sandy beach, laying in a lounge chair, holding your husband's hand in the quiet of the moonlit night, watching and listening to the magic all around us.

Being able to walk in the barns, and actually see the working horses at Disney in their home environment - it was so cool! Of course, we own a horse boarding and training facility in Minnesota, so this was right up our alley! But even for others, this seemed like a beautiful and interesting place to visit.

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Those are just a few of the things.

The cabins themselves were wonderful - we loved them! The kids all slept in the back bedroom, and we had the pull down bed, which we both thought was REALLY comfortable. It's not super big, but it was soft and nice! The dishes were clean, the housekeeping was wonderful, and it was just nice to be able to come back each day to a place that felt like a "home" and not just a "room".

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The kids couldn't wait to get back each day to see what Arnold (our Mousekeeper) had created.

A reader from the United Kingdom who is planning to stay in the cabins posted a few questions. She asking if Shelly's family had rented a golf cart and whether there were good places to eat at Fort Wilderness. Here is Shelly's reply:

We are a family of six. My husband, myself and two sets of twins ages eight and eleven. For us, having a golf cart was wonderful. We used it each time we went to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Downtown Disney. We took the golf cart up to the area where all the buses come for the other parks, and then later on it was waiting for us when we came back.

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It saved a lot of time waiting for the internal buses, which is nice when you have younger kids. We also used the golf cart when we went to the pools or the campfire sing-a-long and movie. It was especially handy when it was time to do laundry. And this year when we go at Christmas, we are actually renting TWO golf carts, just because our kids are a little bigger, and instead of a 6-seater, we reserved two 4-seaters. It will allow us a little more freedom; we won't all have to be ready at the same time to go anywhere. And we're really excited about just exploring the whole Fort - we didn't have enough time to do that our first trip.

As for eating - we were VERY lucky in having free dining and we tried so many wonderful restaurants all over the parks. But there were a few times we did eat at the Fort - we got pizza once and ate it down by the lake - there were tables set up down there. I think they were actually on part of the dock, but I could be wrong. We got chicken there once too, and they had some other choices there, but we didn't get a chance to try a lot of them. There seemed to be enough things that everyone should be able to have a nice meal there. And we actually had a few things at the Meadows Pool snack bar - they had a chicken sandwich there that was really good! There were a few other sandwiches that I thought sounded good too! Another thing I remember about eating at either place was the people working there; they were always so NICE!! Sometimes, to me, that's more important than how big or how many choices a place has.

Since returning home the family's love of Fort Wilderness has not diminished a bit. In fact, they bought a motor home and will be driving "The Beast" over 1,700 miles, arriving at The Fort December 22, 2013 to spend a magical family Christmas in their new favourite place. Then they drive another 1,700 miles home! WOW!

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How about you? If you're looking for an economical vacation option and a very laid back, rustic, homey environment - the cabins at Fort Wilderness might be for you.

You can find more details about Fort Wilderness cabins and plenty of pictures from the campground here.

October 9, 2013

Experience a World of Flavors at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

Andrew Rossi

Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival has returned for its 18th year. As always, the Food and Wine Festival features a variety of events and demonstration in addition to the popular marketplaces scattered around World Showcase. One of the most enjoyable things about the festival is that it allows you to sample the cuisines of many different countries that you do not normally get to experience. The festival is a dream come true for the adventurous eater, allowing one to encounter new ingredients, flavors, and dishes both exotic and unique. With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a whole day (or more) enjoying all the festival has to offer. To start off, here are just a few tips to maximize your time and get the most out of your Food and Wine experience.

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Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week at the Food and Wine Festival, when many of the locals come to enjoy the event. This results in greater crowds and congestion along the World Showcase promenade and much longer lines at the food stands. It is best to avoid the weekends. If you can, try to visit Monday through Thursday when the lighter crowds make the festival much more enjoyable. In the same vein, World Showcase opens at eleven o'clock and this is definitely the best time to head over to sample the various festival marketplaces. Most guests tend to spend the morning in Future World and then make their way to the back of the park in the afternoon, resulting in larger crowds and longer lines as the day progresses.

Just as with everything at Disney World, it helps to plan ahead when attending the Food and Wine Festival. If you just walk up to every booth and order what sounds good you will end up spending way too much money. Almost every dish offered at the festival sounds, smells, and looks really good, but there will be some dishes that stand out to you more than others. It is better to see what every stand has to offer and then decide on the dishes you want to try most. Although the portion sizes of the food may seem small, they can be filling and after having just three or four different dishes you can easily find yourself starting to get full. Do not rush and get a lot of food from the first few stands you visit and, if traveling with someone else, you may want to consider sharing dishes, which also allows you to sample an even greater variety.

This year's 46-day festival features over twenty-five ethnic marketplaces and more than 220 food and beverage menu items. In addition to returning favorites such as Ireland, Australia, and Argentina (just to name a few), this year's festival marketplaces also include the return of Brazil as well as a brand-new Scotland booth marketplace. Here are some of the highlights.

Argentina is consistently one of the most popular of the festival marketplaces. Distinguished by its bright yellow color, this marketplace is also marked by the amazing aromas of the food being prepared inside.

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The Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Purée is one of my must-have items at the festival each year. The chimichurri sauce has a very strong and distinctive flavor (like a slightly spicy pesto) and definitely gives the dish a bit of a kick. The boniato puree, on the other hand, is milder and has the texture, consistency, and flavor of mashed potatoes. The beef itself is tender and juicy, its flavor really enhanced by the chimichurri. While its $5.00 cost makes it more expensive than many other dishes at the festival, it is a high-quality dish that is certainly worth the price.

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Australia is a marketplace whose menu has gone through some changes over the years, but this year's offerings might be some of the best it has ever featured.

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A new dish to the festival this year is the Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Myrtle and Rapini. This dish features three generously sized shrimp and tremendous flavor. If you are a fan of garlic, you will certainly love this dish. Contrasting the garlic-flavored shrimp is the rapini. Also known as broccoli rabe, this vegetable has a distinct and slightly bitter flavor, but one that matches very well with the shrimp. For $4.50 it is definitely a good portion size and packs a serious amount of flavor.

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South Korea was introduced to the festival just a few year ago and since its inception has been a big success. This year's marketplace features a new offering in addition to a returning favorite.

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The Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce is new to the festival this year. The kimchi dog itself is a little spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, and the mustard sauce provides another added kick. Countering this, however, is a light and refreshing coleslaw which provides a nice mild contrast. While the portion size may not be the largest, this is still a good value at $3.75 and is certainly something unique among the festival offerings.

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Africa is the new name of the marketplace which in previous years has been South Africa. With the name change comes some new flavor as well.

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The Berbere Style Beef with Onions, Jalapeños, Tomato, Okra and Pap is certainly not a dish for the faint of heart; it is definitely one of the spicier dishes at the festival this year. This dish can be likened to a spicy stew or a gumbo, and one with a great amount of flavor. All of this spiciness, however, is in contrast to the pap which has a flavor and consistency very similar to grits and helps provide some balance to the dish with its mild flavor. With a very generous portion size, this is one dish that is good to share and its $4.25 price also makes it a great value.

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Florida Local is the marketplace that highlights the various tastes and flavors of the host state, relying on locally-grown products and featuring an assortment of in-state wines and beers.

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It is here that you can find the Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles. The beef slider was surprisingly juicy and the Monterey jack cheese provided just enough of a kick. I am not usually a fan of pickles, but their sweetness adds some nice extra taste that contrasts that of the beef and cheese. While not anything fancy or exotic, this is a good dish for those who may be a little less adventurous and for $3.75 definitely worth the price.

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New Zealand is a marketplace that typically has some intriguing choices and this year's festival is no different.

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I am not usually a fan of mussels, but the Gratinated Green Lip Mussels with Garlic and Herbs looked absolutely fantastic (not to mention that it seemed as though everybody at the marketplace was ordering them). This is another dish with a tremendous amount of flavor, with the garlic and herbs really enhancing the taste of the mussels. The mussels themselves were cooked to they were perfectly tender while the coating of bread crumbs on top added some additional flavor and texture to the dish. With three good-sized mussels, this is definitely a great value at $3.00.

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Belgium has always been the place at the festival to find waffles and this year the marketplace features three to choose from.

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When you think of waffles, one topped with beef might not be the first thing that comes to mind but that is exactly what is featured in the Potato and Leek Waffle with Braised Beef. This is such a unique and flavorful dish. To start, the waffle itself is so soft and fluffy with the potato giving it just a slightly heavier consistency. Meanwhile, the braised beef is so tender and flavorful and it actually pairs extremely well with the waffle. Overall, this is probably my favorite dish at the festival thus far and its generous portion size is definitely worth its $4.00 price.

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Desserts & Champagne is a great marketplace to end your journey around World Showcase, providing a selection of smaller-sized dessert offerings.

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There are two choices that are standouts to me at this marketplace. The first is the Hazelnut Chocolate Cheesecake. Don't let the portion size fool you. Although it appears small in size, it is definitely a rich and filling dessert. Surprisingly, the flavor of the hazelnut is not as prominent as one might expect and the dessert had more of a chocolaty taste. For $1.75, this is a great conclusion to you Food and Wine adventures.

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The second intriguing option is the Frozen S'mores. This frozen drink is a kicked-up version of a refreshing chocolate smoothie. Coming topped with marshmallows, chocolate shavings, and graham crackers, this is a drink that you might also need a spoon to enjoy. It is also very sweet and it's portion size just large enough. The prefect refreshment on a hot Florida day, this dessert is certinaly worth its $3.00 price tag.

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Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival continues through November 11. If you have never experienced the festivities before, it is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to come hungry!

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You can further examine all the marketplaces and menus this year's Festival has to offer here.

See how others are rating the various Festival marketplace offerings here.

If you have been to the Food & Wine Festival this year, you can take part in the survey as well by clicking here.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

October 7, 2013

Jim's Attic: Century 3

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

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I miss the "Horizons" attraction at Epcot.

I miss visiting Sea Castle Resort, Mesa Verde and Brava Centauri and was always impressed with the OmniScreen images, especially the rocket launch.

If Westcot in Anaheim would have been built in the 1990s, it was planned to include a version of the Horizons attraction because guests genuinely enjoyed the attraction in Florida.

On January 9, 1999, Horizons closed permanently. However the creation of the attraction started when the idea for a "space pavilion" was pitched to be part of Epcot Center as early as 1979.

This attraction in FutureWorld was originally going to be called "Century 3" (sometimes spelled "Century III" on some documents). Just a few years after the United States Bicentennial in 1976, people were looking forward to the third century so that was the inspiration for the title of the attraction.

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However, concerns were brought up that foreign guests wouldn't "get" the implication so a more universal name needed to be used.

The attraction was temporarily named "Futureprobe" which Disney quickly discovered called to mind some type of unpleasant medical procedure or instrument.

The name "Horizons" was chosen after many discussions with sponsor General Electric and Disney for the implication of always striving to reach the horizon and when you finally get there, there is another horizon in the distance, and another. The point of the pavilion was to show an achievable future based on existing technology.

Horizons opened exactly one year after Epcot Center opened. Amusingly, the phrase in the attraction "If we can dream it, we can do it" that is often falsely credited to Walt Disney was in reality the creation of Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald who modeled for the audio-animatronics young man character with the solo sub personal submarine.

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Recently, I ran across an interview that Imagineer Claude Coats gave to "Orlando-Land" magazine in 1981 where he explains what the "Century 3" attraction would have been like and here are some excerpts from that interview. Coats is one of those "forgotten" Imagineers who was deeply involved in the design of the original Fantasyland at Disneyland and was a mentor to young Tony Baxter.

"We're going to use a ride device with cars that hang from an overhead rail. It will move 1.8 feet per second. We'll make guests feel they're celebrating the nation's tri-centennial, looking back over the last 100 years.

"You will make a two-minute ascent to Future House through thoughts about the future from the past. Then you'll enter a theater for a probe of the future. The screen is more than eight stories high-the biggest screen ever.

"It will curve over above the audience to give a planetarium effect. The audience will get views of outer space and inside the molecule. We're taking people to places they've never seen before. Like inside an electron microscope. Into living cells. Out to the rings of Saturn. Along the DNA life chain. There'll be many blowups of microscopic stuff.

"It's a celebration of the good times ahead of us. We'll show future urban development. A family celebrating their 100th wedding anniversary, which will be a common thing. We'll show a complete new lifestyle. And robot mining. An undersea habitat. Underground homes. Desert farming. Hobbies, cooking, music as they will be in the future.

"We'll end up going into a space habitat. We'll show work and health activity in space. Manufacturing. Mining of minerals from planets or asteroids.

"At the end of the experience, we'll tie the whole thing into the family unit."

Guests would have then left the show and still in their ride vehicles be taken into a polling area where lights would light up on the dashboard of their vehicle where they could push buttons to indicate their feelings about what they just saw. The results would be instantly tabulated so guests could compare their reactions against those of others who experienced the attraction.

This is the attraction that we might have gotten that evolved into the Horizons attractions some of us miss today.

Here's a brief glimpse at Horizons before it closed:

RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


October 6, 2013

EPCOT Trade Celebration 2013 – Part 2

Carol Cruise banner

To conclude my report on the annual EPCOT 2013 Trade Celebration I want to share some photos of the gifts and merchandise that I brought home from the event. If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, this year started last September with the first pin of the month being released at the 2012 event. I purchased the broken mirror pin that had the picture of Cruella in the background. At that time I was undecided whether I would keep the pin or trade it based on the fact that I didn't think I could get all 13 pins and I wasn't a particularly villainous fan. However, with the help of some friends, a few trades and purchases of my own I did end up with all 13-Refections of Evil pins. The last pin was made available on the event Random Selection Process. The "RSP" is a sort of lottery used to allocate Limited Edition pins which are sold in small edition sizes.

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I was lucky this year and got all the pins that I put on my Random Selection Process order.

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Every year there are mystery pins and this year was no different. Each attendee could purchase up to 6 boxes. Each box contained 2 mystery pins and if you were lucky one of those pins could be a chaser. The Villains are limited release and the chasers, bricks to go with each Villain, are all limited editions of 213. I got a chaser in every one of my boxes.

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When you picked up your goods on registration day you also got the items from the Vinylmation Random Selection Process.

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There were also registration gifts for each event.

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On Friday, the "Club 13" Day, I spent most of my time looking on the pin boards and in Vinylmation boxes for the event Vinylmation chasers and the event Mystery Pin mirror shards. I was able to find them all.

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There was a merchandise store with Limited Edition items specific to the event or items released early to event attendees. There were also a few items left over items from the Random Selection Process and a 13- Reflections of Evil completer pin, a Limited Edition of 500.

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During the event they brought in cases of the not yet released Nightmare Before Christmas 2 Vinylmation Series. Registered guests could purchase these before they went on sale to the public. I bought 2 boxes and I got the chaser . . . lucky me! This series is scheduled to be released at D Street in late October, just in time for Halloween.

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We received our lunch in this nice insulated lunch bag.

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At the conclusion of the Club 13 Trade Day (Friday) we received a parting gift, the Reflection of Evil mirror and a pin.

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The Saturday Villainous Breakfast gift pin.

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I purchased a mat from the merchandise store that I can display my pins on.

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At then end of the pin trading event we were all given a boxed pin set that contained Villain prospects from Pixar.

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The Sunday morning Villainous Breakfast gift is one of my favourites, the Evil Daisy Duck.

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I mentioned in my blog that I was able to make some good trades with the chasers I got from the blind box, this is my favourite. It is the chaser from the Vinylmations Classic Collection, released November 12, 2012.

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That pretty much summarizes why my suitcase was almost overweight on my flight home!

September 29, 2013

Epcot Trade Celebration 2013

Carol Cruise

It was a beautiful day as I drove over the 1000 Island International Bridge; my destination was the Syracuse Airport where I had a 4 p.m. flight to Orlando. It was the start of my annual trip to Walt Disney World to partake in the Epcot Trade Celebration. I really enjoy this opportunity to spend time with friends who share my interests and I always enjoy the spoils of a Disney event.

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The Event logo!

I had lots of time so I had lunch at the Destiny Mall and wandered through a couple of the shops. I then headed over to the airport, found a parking spot in the covered parking garage and proceeded to check in for my flight. Everything was on schedule and I arrived on time in Orlando. When I got to the main terminal I went directly to the car rental station and got my paper work done. There was no one in the line; everyone was still waiting for their luggage. I back-tracked to the baggage claim area just as my suitcase was coming down the belt. I was doing my best to save time since my friends were waiting for me at The Earl of Sandwich. The "Canadian Contingent" had all arrived at different times and this was our meet-up spot. I texted them as I was about to leave the airport. There was no traffic and I actually arrived at Earls just as they were about to reach the counter. We all enjoyed a delicious sandwich and got caught up. After dinner we wandered through some of the shops, I went to Guest Services to pick up my MNSSHP ticket and get my Premier AP fitted with the RFID technology. All went well so then Carrie, my roommate and I headed to our home for the week, Old Key West.

Since this blog is mainly to focus on the "Event" I will quickly summarize my activities for Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday we went to Typhoon Lagoon, Carrie had never been before so this was a first for her.

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After we had enjoyed enough sun and surf we went to the Character Outlet, and later to the Magic Kingdom to meet up with the Canadian Contingent for dinner at The Plaza.

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Carrie and I stopped at the Fire Station right at 4 p.m. and we were the first to receive the special MNSSHP Sorcerer Card.

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After dinner we got in line to buy the first release of the Halloween Party pins. Once we had our pins we rode Haunted Mansion (the only ride I rode the entire week). We watched the parade, the fireworks, the castle show and we got lots of candy.

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This year the popcorn bucket was a must have for me.

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Wednesday was a lazy day relaxing at the resort until it was time to head over the Studios. We met up with a dozen or so of our pin trading friends and had a wonderfully fun dining experience at Prime Time Café. To finish the evening off we wandered through the Art of Animation and a few other shops.

Thursday was the day we hit the ground running, first up was the 3rd Annual Breakfast with the Artists.

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The Canadian Contingent waiting to go to Norway

This is a non-Disney event organized by our friends from Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. John & Sheila Rick and Janis & David Lavender have, for the last three years, hosted a breakfast that includes a panel discussion with artists from the Disney Design Group. This year we met at 8:30 outside of Epcot, then we were escorted through the empty park to the private upstairs room over Norway. We enjoyed a hot breakfast and then spent an hour or so asking the artist's all kinds of questions.

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John, Sheila, Mike, David, Ron, Janis & Quynh

The panel included Ron Cohee, Mike Sullivan and Quynh Kimball. It was interesting to listen to them tell us how the pins and Vinylmations that we would be getting at the event were designed to tell the story of the 13-Reflections of Evil. The Evil Queen cast a spell and her mirror was the portal to evil; she summoned the Villains and the 13 of them gathered, then she broke the mirror into 13 pieces so there was no escape back through the portal. This plan was overheard by Figment and he went to Sorcerer Mickey; with the help of Mickey and his friends, the mirror pieces were found and good was restored.

After breakfast we immediately left Epcot and drove directly to Coronado Springs Resort, it was time for event registration.

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The line was very long and actually flowed into another room, but it move quickly. It is a very well organized process by Disney.

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Once I got to the registration table I was given my credentials and event gifts. I also received the merchandise that I had ordered through the RSP. I had registered for all 3 days so all 3 days "stuff" was in my package. This included coupons for gifts at the event, gift cards for lunch on Saturday and Sunday and my breakfast coupons for Saturday and Sunday. Friday was a special limited event this year called Club 13 and included a lunch that we could preorder when we signed up.

After I signed off that everything was in order I went over to the other side of the room where the tables were set up for trading. This year there was another change, only registered guests could enter the trading room and it would close at 7 p.m. In previous years at 7 p.m. the room opened up to the general public and trading carried on until 10 p.m.

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Our group gathered at a table and started trading. On one trip out of the room I heard a voice ask, "Did you write a blog for AllEars?" I turned and introduced myself to Tricia and Erik from Cleveland. This was their first event and they told me that they had read my blog and it helped them decide to come.

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I looked for them later in the weekend to ask what they thought of the event but there were so many people I didn't find them. I sure hope they enjoyed themselves.

At 7 o'clock Carrie and I left and headed to Downtown Disney for ice cream, then back to our room so that we could get organized for the morning.

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Friday the doors to the event didn't open until 9:30 so we didn't have to rush.

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We got to Epcot, had our bags sniffed by Tommy the sniffer dog and headed towards World ShowPlace; as we rounded the corner we could see that the line stretched all the way from Canada over to the bridge at International Gateway.

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We got in line and when the doors opened proceeded into the fog-filled room where the Villains were waiting for us. The decorations and theming always amaze me and this time was no different. It was awesome!

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The day was labelled "Club 13" and admittance was limited compared to the other two days. Other differences with Friday's event were that it included a lunch that was delivered in a nice take home lunch bag. Some of the trading lines were for pins and some were for Vinylmations. There was a stage show with the 13 Villains and then the villains wandered through the venue for several hours posing for pictures and mingling with the crowd.

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The event store offered some select pieces of merchandise not available anywhere else. There was a silent auction and displays set up by the Disney Partners showing upcoming pins and Vinylmations that will be released from now until the end of the year.

Each year there is a mystery pin set and a chaser Vinylmation released that can only be found on the pin boards or in a Vinylmation trade box. This year there were six pins that, when put together like a puzzle, made a mirror. Each piece has a character holding a shard of the broken mirror. There was Chip & Dale, Donald, Mickey, Minnie, Figment, and Goofy. The chaser Vinylmation was black with the number 13 on its front. I was able to find all these items so that took the pressure off, now I could study the pin boards for limited edition or artist proof pins.

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At the end of the day we all received a fairly large box that contained a framed mirror that reflected the "13". I personally would have preferred a boxed pin set or jumbo pin. Having to find space in my luggage for such a large piece was a bit of a problem. Since this whole day was a change from any previous Epcot Pin Celebration my expectations were pretty high when I arrived. I really enjoyed the day and all, but I didn't find it to be a whole lot different than other year's events. Am I complaining? - maybe a little. Will I go back again next year? - you bet!

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We left the World Showplace at 5:30 with the plan to head over to the Studios for the Friday the 13th Limited Time Magic. As we made our way towards the Studios the traffic stopped and was backed up on every road. At first I thought there was an accident, then it sunk in, everyone was heading to the Studios. We were able to get out of the mob and decided to go to Downtown Disney then back to the resort for a relaxing swim. We made the right decision; we were able to get good nights sleep. We had to be back at Epcot early.

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Saturday started with the Villainous Breakfast at 8:00 a.m., of course there was a long line to get into this too, but once the doors opened it moved quickly.

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Everyone who purchased the limited breakfast did so, so they could get into the event an hour and half before the rest of the event participants. There was also a limited edition pin given to each of the breakfast attendee's. The lines for the pin trade boards filled quickly but you could get through them at least three times before the event opened at 9:30 a.m. There was a nice breakfast available for those that wanted to take the time to eat. Carrie and I did have a quick bite and it was very good.

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Since I had already found the six mystery pins on Friday I spent my time looking for pins to add to my collection at home. I was pleased with the pins I found and I even got some good ones to put in my trader bag.

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A Piece Of Disney Movies pins in the silent auction.

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Carol and Madam Doomsday

The event offers you the opportunity to purchase a bagged lunch but Carrie and I opted to go across the way to the Rose and Crown for lunch. It is good to take a break from the event for an hour and a relief to sit down. Standing in lines for 12 hours takes its toll on my poor old legs. We didn't want to stay too long, at 1 p.m. Jeanne Lewis, Merchandiser Disney Pins, was going to be giving her presentation.

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They requested that we not take pictures or videos so I can't show you what is in store, but there are some really awesome pins coming out in 2014.

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There will be a "Nightmare Before Christmas in July" event at Disneyland and an Epcot Trade Celebration at Disney World, a date was not announced.

The rest of the day, for me, consisted of standing in lines for the pin boards, wandering around the back room looking at people's trade books and watching the stage shows and games.

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The winners of the silent auction were announced and then it was time to pick up our event gift. This day's gift was a boxed set of potential villain prospects, all of which were Pixar characters. I was much happier with this gift than the mirror. At 6 p.m. they drew three names as winners of the three grand prizes, I didn't win. Before we knew it they were announcing that it was time to leave. It was another great day and I was very pleased with my pin finds.

Our group decided to walk over to The Land and have dinner at Sunshine Seasons; it was a great way to finish off the day. Good food and good friends. When we were finished Carrie and I dragged ourselves to the parking lot and headed back to Old Key West for a hot tub, swim and good nights sleep.

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Sunday was Vinylmation day. Just as the day before, we arrived at Epcot for the 8 a.m. Villainous Vinylmations breakfast.

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We stood in lines for the "blind box" and "open box" trades and ate some breakfast.

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We all received a very nice limited edition Vinylmation for attending, and all of this occurred before the event opened to regular attendees at 9:30 a.m. I got a couple of really good pulls from the blind box, two variants and a chaser. That meant I had a good opportunity to go in the back trading room and trade for some Vinylmations that I really wanted. I made some trades and then went back to the lines.

Carrie, Allison and I went for lunch at Rose and Crown and enjoyed a nice break.

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We returned just in time to listen to Thomas Scott, Team Leader for Disney Theme Parks Vinylmation line, tell us what was on the drawing boards for 2014.

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There are going to be some really great Vinylmations come out in 2014 and I was pretty excited about some of them.

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At the conclusion of Thomas Scott's presentation he announced the theme for next year's event, with dates not yet finalized.

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I find myself enjoying the Vinylmation scene more and more. That's not to say that I am shifting away from pin collecting, but I have become much more selective in what pins I buy and want than I was a few years ago.

The day seemed to fly by and I was very happy with my finds and trades. All too soon 7 o'clock rolled around and it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Carrie and I had to go and pack since we were flying home on Monday. We stopped at Downtown Disney for our last dinner at Wolfgang Pucks, and then drove back to the resort. We managed to get everything packed and then had one last soak in the hot tub and a swim before calling it a night.

I was worried that my luggage would be over weight and I had my carry-on so full that I was afraid the zipper would split. I went to the airline check in at Old Key West to check my luggage and get my boarding pass. My suitcase weighed in at 50.5 lbs, the attendant laughed and said it was OK. He printed my boarding pass and then off we went to the airport. We made a quick stop on the way for a breakfast sandwich at Earl's and a final walk through the Pin Store.

So that concludes another annual event. I had a wonderful time and enjoyed the venue immensely. As always, I had a great fun with friends I seldom get to see and came home with lots of new pins and Vinylmations.

Did I decide to keep the Pins of the Month - 13 Reflections of Evil? Of course I did!

P.S. - Stay tuned for more - I'll be preparing another blog to showcase some of the special gifts and merchandise I received at this event!

September 24, 2013

An Alien Tale

by Keith Gluck
Guest Blogger

Alien Encounter Exterior

October 11, 2013, marks 10 years since the closure of the Magic Kingdom's ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. While we all know the story told during the ride, which featured a diverse cast of big-screen veterans, I wanted to delve into the story behind the infamous attraction. So I sat down recently with Jerry Rees -- creative genius, storyteller in all media, and the man who was involved in almost every aspect of the project's creation.

In August 1993, work began on a $100 million makeover of the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. The land's appearance had become somewhat dated, thanks in part to "one designer back in the '70s predicting the future of architecture," according to Imagineer Eric Jacobson. In charge of design for the entire park, Jacobson set out to give the land a fresh look (the new theme was "yesterday's future"), as well as update or replace many attractions. Mission to Mars was on the chopping block, and Disney decided to replace it with an attraction called ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.


Mission to Mars Exterior


Alien Encounter would be like no attraction Disney had ever done. There was a time when the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland was thought of as legitimately scary, but it was toned down and infused with more gags. The Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, and scored slightly higher on the scare scale than its American cousins. However, none of Disney's mansions could ever produce the same reactions as the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom's 1995 "New Tomorrowland" did.

The official line on Alien Encounter tagged it as, "A sensory thriller from Disney and George Lucas." It featured performances from Tyra Banks, Jeffrey Jones, Kathy Najimy, Kevin Pollak and, initially, Phil Hartman.

The show was designed to utilize a variety of mediums in which to tell guests its story, including audio-animatronics, video screens, and advanced audio effects. Enter Jerry Rees, the man who orchestrated the multi-faceted show "Cranium Command" for Disney just a few years earlier.

"Since Imagineering had gotten used to me as a 'film plus' director, meaning that I was comfortable merging film aspects with in-theater animatronics, effects, lighting, etc.," Jerry remarked, "they cast me with the 'everything plus the kitchen sink' Alien Encounter attraction."

At first, Jerry was only asked to direct the attraction's main media aspects, such as the pre-show promo for XS-Tech, the voice performance of the XS-Tech spokesbot S.I.R. (Simulated Intelligence Robotics), and the main theater "live" broadcast footage.

"I was not initially asked to direct all of the non-media in-theater storytelling aspects," Jerry said. "So after finishing the assigned aspects, I wished the project well and felt rather sad to see it go off for installation in the park without me."

That would change, however, after Michael Eisner reviewed the installed attraction. Eisner, along with a few others (including Marty Sklar), felt that the overall story wasn't being communicated dynamically enough. Jerry was called back in.

"Michael gave the 'bring Jerry in' instruction, and for the first time I was invited to direct the full experience soup-to-nuts," Jerry recalled. "I was delighted, since I'd been drooling to be involved with all aspects all the way to the finish line!"

Rick Rothschild was assigned to be Jerry's producer. The two met up in Florida and went through the entire attraction together, so they could assess what it needed and where. According to Jerry, they were "bubbling with ideas" upon exiting the ride. They put their ideas to paper almost immediately, and ultimately those notes became the foundation for all of the improvements they would make over the following six months.

"During that time Rick and I lived and breathed, ate and slept Alien Encounter!" Jerry declared. "It was all-consuming and very exciting."

One noticeable change completely altered the mood of the attraction's pre-show. S.I.R., voiced by Phil Hartman, would no longer be a friendly spokesbot who sang to himself while the audience filed into the pre-show area. English actor Tim Curry was brought on as the new voice of S.I.R., and he managed to add an underscore of menace to the narration.

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"I loved working with Phil on the first pass of the S.I.R. voice," Jerry remarked. "But ultimately, after listening back to the tracks, I felt that a more edgy 'tech evangelist' would be more effective. Tim nailed it!"

Jerry came up with some clever motivation for Tim, asking him to picture himself as a southern evangelical preacher who was delivering the message of X-S to his congregation. Jerry also worked with S.I.R.'s audio-animatronic animator, helping to ensure that the appropriately grandiose body language would be implemented.

Like Cranium Command, Jerry had to juggle several different elements that would all ultimately have to come together in order to tell one cohesive story. Never an easy task, I asked him which aspect of this production he found the most challenging. He responded, "The most challenging aspect -- and also the most fun aspect -- was coordinating all the elements so that it was completely believable that a giant alien creature had escaped and was on the loose in the broken theater. This involved film, normal and binaural audio in bizarre speaker arrays, animatronics, live actors, hidden actuators, vapor, wind fans, and much, much, much more. Each audience member was even splattered by 'bug bits' (water) at the end when the creature was exploded. The myriad of cooperative storytelling elements was staggering. And super fun!" Jerry's unique ability to visualize multiple yet separate show components made him the perfect choice for an attraction of this nature.

Extraterrorestrial Alien Encounter enjoyed an 8-year run terrorizing guests in the Magic Kingdom. The level of terror, however, might also have been the reason for its eventual demise.

"So far as I know, there was never an official reason given for its closure," Jerry remarked. "It was very popular. My best guess -- and the guess from other insiders I've chatted with -- is that it was closed because it was located in the Magic Kingdom, where parents have an expectation that they can let their kids run free and all rides will be appropriate. There is no such expectation at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where Tower of Terror scares the heck out of people all day long. My firm belief is this -- if the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter had been built at Disney's Hollywood Studios rather than the Magic Kingdom, it would still be playing today."


Keith Gluck has been a Disney fan his entire life. While Disneyland is his 'home park,' he has been to and adores Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. He runs thedisneyproject.com, and also volunteers at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. If you were to ask him his favorite thing about Disney, his answer would always be, "Walt."


September 23, 2013

Jim’s Attic: Where in the World is Mr. Limpet?

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

Mrlimpet2.jpg
Instead of pondering where in Walt Disney World is Mr. Limpet, some readers may simply be asking "Who is Mr. Limpet"?

"The Incredible Mr. Limpet" was a film released by Warner Brothers in 1964. It was a combination of live-action and animation. The film was the last animation work done by the Warner Brothers studio, famed for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, before officially shutting down all production and outsourcing future animation to other companies run by former employees like Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones.

Actor Don Knotts plays a mild-mannered fellow named Henry Limpet who in 1941 is classified as 4F and cannot join the Navy to serve his country as World War II rages. Deeply depressed, Limpet, on a trip to Coney Island, falls into the water and magically (through the miracle of hand drawn, cel-painted animation) transforms into a blue-colored tilefish, still sporting his distinctively round lense glasses.

He is now able to help the U.S. Navy hunt down and destroy Nazi U-boats to help win the war.

One of the premieres of the film was shown in a huge underwater theater at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida (roughly an hour drive north of Tampa) where the famous human mermaids had entertained countless guests since 1947. The film was projected on an underwater screen for 250 guests who sat 20 feet below the surface of the water.

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What does all this have to do with Disney other than the fact that Don Knotts performed in a handful of later Disney films including "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975)?

Well, the character designer and animation director (who was later replaced by Robert McKimson because of health issues) was the legendary Vladimir "Bill" Tytla renowned for his memorable animation on Chernaborg the demon in "Fantasia", Stromboli the evil puppeteer in "Pinocchio" and little baby Dumbo taking a bath in "Dumbo".

Other folks who worked on the film, like Producer John Rose, also worked at Disney earlier in their careers.

Disney animators so admired Tytla's work that as an homage they included Mr. Limpet in the final frozen pose at the end of the song "Under the Sea" in the animated feature "The Little Mermaid". Look carefully in the upper right hand corner and there is a blue tilefish wearing Limpet's glasses and the unmistakable Don Knotts lips.

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So when it came time to build "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure" attraction at Disney California Adventure, Imagineers also included an homage to Mr. Limpet who most people had never discovered in the original film.

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Just beyond Ariel in the "Under the Sea" scene directly behind and to the right, hidden behind a clam shell and in the seaweed and not lit, Mr. Limpet peers at Flounder dancing with the Carmen Miranda fish across the track.

Animators and Imagineers often put in little "jokes" and "homages" for their own amusement and in the old days, they were completely undiscovered by Disney fans. However, with today's technology, nothing seems to escape the notice of Disney detectives so as early as the soft openings of the attraction, photos and directions on how to find Mr. Limpet were posted prominently on the internet.

When it came time to re-create the attraction in the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers in good conscience could no longer include the figure that was the intellectual property of another studio and so Florida, that hosted the underwater premiere of the original film nearly fifty years ago, is Limpet-less. Or is it? Unlike Mr. Limpet, my lips are sealed.

RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

September 9, 2013

Jim’s Attic: Gertie the Dinosaur

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

gertie3.jpg
Jim's Attic: Gertie the Dinosaur

My favorite Walt Disney World theme park is Disney Hollywood Studios, especially in its early years when it was truly devoted to the Hollywood That Never Was.

One of my favorite icons still exists today, the dinosaur shaped ice cream stand in the Echo Lake area.

"Dinosaur Gertie's Ice Cream of Extinction" was built as a tribute to Gertie the Dinosaur, one of the very first animated cartoon stars.

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Gertie first amazed vaudeville audiences in 1914 when she was projected life-size onto a movie screen and shared the stage with her creator, Winsor McCay, a popular newspaper cartoonist who was responsible for the legendary "Little Nemo" Sunday comic strip.

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He had to draw more than 10,000 drawings to make approximately five minutes of animation. There were no schools or books that taught animation so he had to invent a method to do animation.

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He drew each drawing on a 6-inch by 8-inch sheet of translucent rice paper. The paper had to be thin enough for him to see the drawing underneath to trace because he not only had to draw 10,000 drawings of the dinosaur, he had to draw 10,000 drawings of the background that were traced over and over and over. At that time, cels did not exist.

McCay decided to use this innovative animated short film as part of his vaudeville act. McCay would come on stage dressed in a tuxedo with a huge bullwhip like an animal trainer and tell Gertie to lift her leg and on a big movie screen to the side of him, Gertie would lift her leg.

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He would pull out a big pumpkin and pretend to toss it to her and on screen she grabbed an animated pumpkin and ate it as the thrown pumpkin disappeared behind the screen.

At the end of the act, McCay would walk up to the screen and an animated McCay would get on Gertie's head and they would leave the scene. The real McCay had already walked behind the screen while people watched Gertie.

As the nearby plaque states: "The themed style of the building is known as 'California Crazy' architecture. It became popular in the 1930s and was designed to attract the attention of potential customers in a big way.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the time frame for the park originally, people believed it was the Ice Age that killed off the dinosaurs. That's why it is the ice cream of "extinction" rather than "distinction" that is being sold at this location.

If you watch closely, Gertie is so cold that steam occasionally comes out of her nostrils. The top part of her is covered with snow.

In her original concept sketch and when she first appeared in the park, the green words "Ice Cream" covered with snow curved over the top of her back but over the years, that lettering was removed.

Gertie is in a lake because in her animated cartoon, she is by a large lake throughout the whole film. At one point, she tosses a mammoth into the lake. In another sequence, she almost falls in after she drinks the entire lake dry.

In her film, she is white but she is colored green at the park because the first movie posters of her were colored green because at the time people thought that dinosaurs were green or brown like lizards.

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Gertie is located at DHS because she is considered the first example of what is known as "personality" or "character" animation where even though she is just a creation of pen and ink, she seems to have a distinct personality with a wide range of emotions from being shy to being stubborn and as a result seems almost real.

In fact, follow the pathway to a set of steps behind her, and you will see on the walkway where Gertie's feet have cracked the cement as she walked into the lake and left an imprint.

Is it possible she slowly walked to this position and was not placed there by Disney Imagineers? That Gertie is a girl of many secrets.

RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

August 27, 2013

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Mr.Toad-6.jpg
Fifteen years ago September, the beloved Magic Kingdom attraction
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride permanently closed its doors.

by Keith Gluck
Guest Blogger

During early planning for Walt Disney World, Chief Operations Officer of WED Enterprises Richard Irvine tapped Imagineer (and future Disney Legend) Rolly Crump to spearhead all of the Fantasyland attractions.

Thrilled with the assignment, Rolly immediately began formulating ways to improve upon the existing dark rides from Disneyland. One of the rides Disney decided to carry over was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, which was extremely popular in Anaheim. In fact it was so popular, Vice President of Operations Dick Nunis advised Rolly that they should build two identical Toad rides, one right next to the other. Rolly did not share his vision. "I thought that was a dumb idea," Rolly said. "I told him to let me think about it for a while, and I'd come up with something better." And come up with something better, he did.

Rolly designed a two-track ride system that was housed in the same show building, giving riders two noticeably different ride experiences. On track one, passengers traveled through Toad Hall's library, over a farm, through Town Square, in and out of jail, past a shootout between cops and weasels, down the wrong way of a railroad tunnel, and ultimately, to Hell.

Track two also started riders out in Toad Hall, but through the Trophy Room instead of the library. The journey continued through a gypsy camp, Town Square, Winky's Tavern, the countryside at night, and their own Hell, also by way of the wrong way of a railroad tunnel.

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The design was brilliant. Rolly even had the two tracks nearly intersect at points, giving the illusion of an impending head-on collision. Not only did having a second track double ride capacity, but in the 90s they started using motorcars that carried four passengers compared to Disneyland's two.

The ride was a huge hit, and a perennial guest-favorite from Opening Day.

In fall of 1997, however, rumors of its closure began to circulate. On October 22, the Orlando Sentinel addressed the rumor, reporting that Disney was considering replacing Toad with a ride based on Winnie the Pooh. Toad fans came out in earnest, devising ways to keep their beloved attraction open.

On October 23, Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst (stars of the soon-to-be-aired television movie Tower of Terror) were asked their thoughts on the report while at Walt Disney World. 'That's one of my favorite rides,' cried Dunst. 'Save Mr. Toad!' That same day, a Save Toad website debuted.

Petitions were signed, Save Toad t-shirts and buttons were worn, and letters to Disney executives were written, all in a concerted effort to rescue the rambunctious amphibian known to some as J. Thaddeus.

On December 7, 1997, a peaceful protest labeled a "Toad In" was held outside of the attraction. Many more Toad Ins would follow, and Rolly later recalled, "They would walk around in front of the ride and chant and cheer. I was really touched by that." As the months went on, support for the Toadies' plight grew as various news outlets across the country picked up the story. Aside from surprising a few executives at Disney, the valiant efforts to save Mr. Toad went unrewarded. After nearly a year filled with rumors, petitions, and uncertainty, Disney finally made the official announcement on September 2, 1998.

Five days later, Mr. Toad took guests on one last wild ride, to nowhere in particular.

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Photo Credit: http://www.math.miami.edu/~jam/toad/

Keith Gluck has been a Disney fan his entire life. While Disneyland is his 'home park,' he has been to and adores Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. He runs thedisneyproject.com, and also volunteers at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. If you were to ask him his favorite thing about Disney, his answer would always be, "Walt."

August 26, 2013

Jim’s Attic: The Cameraman Statue

Jim's Attic: The Cameraman Statue
By Jim Korkis

Every two weeks, Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World.

Oddly, the dedication plaque for Disney Hollywood Studios is not near the front of the park but at the end of Hollywood Boulevard just over to the left in a fenced-in grassy circle.

Before the Name Change:
Disney's Hollywood Studios

After the Name Change:
Studios-cameraman-12.jpg

Directly to the right of the plaque is the Cameraman statue. This statue was originally scrupled by father and son, Aldo and Andrea Favilli, in 1991.

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Andrea Favilli received his formal education at Art Center College of Design where he graduated with honors in 1986. He has stated that he felt his art education truly began when he was a child growing up in Rome as he began drawing, painting, and sculpting under the tutelage of his father Aldo Favilli, who was working as a motion picture art director at Cinecittà Studios.

Upon his graduation from school, Andrea worked as a product designer for a variety of different clients including Mattel, Dakin and Applause. In particular, it was his creative involvement with the characters of the Dancing Raisins and Dominoe Pizza's The Noid that caught the attention of the Disney Company.

He joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 1987 as a lead concept designer working on a range of projects worldwide including ones for Disneyland, The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney/MGM Studios, Pleasure Island, Disney Animal Kingdom Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

In 1992, Andrea opened Favilli Studio and of course, the Disney Company was one of his clients, as was Roy E. Disney and Shamrock Holdings.

In fact, the DHS Cameraman statue is based on the original statue that Andrea made with his father Aldo that is located at 4411 West Olive Avenue across from Gate 2 of the Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, California.

It was commissioned by Roy E. Disney and Shamrock Holdings, and was placed there in 1991 to celebrate the art of film making in the heart of the film making capital of the world. The plaque reads "He envisioned dreams that others might share".

The man in the statue is a generic 1920s/1930s film maker, not based on anyone in particular, especially not a young Walt Disney as some have claimed. It reflects the transition period when silents disappeared and talkies took over.

Studios-cameraman-11.jpg

Andrea was also responsible for sculpting the Disney Legends Award, the American Teacher Award and the Frank G. Wells Award for the Disney Company as well as the Transpacific Yacht Race New Course Record trophy for Roy E. Disney.

A replica of the Burbank statue was later placed in Disney Hollywood Studios in 1995 with a plaque that states "Movies are a medium of expression like a symphony orchestra.. or a painter's brush or canvas -Walt Disney".

The placement of the statue at DHS is not just to honor film making but is placed to suggest that the guests are being filmed as they enter the park and are part of the motion picture they are about to experience.

At the feet of the camerman are a director's megaphone and an open script that includes the names of people who inspired Andrea including Herbert Dickens Ryman and Lucille Ryman Carroll (Andrea is a retired board member of the Ryman-Carroll Foundation), Roy E. Disney and Patricia Disney, Marty Sklar and Andrea's father, Aldo.

Studios-cameraman-13.jpg

So, be ready for your close-up because the cameraman is getting ready to help transport you to the Hollywood that never was but always will be.

RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

August 12, 2013

Jim’s Attic: The Only Magic Kingdom Comic Book

Jim's Attic: The Only Magic Kingdom Comic Book
By Jim Korkis

Every two weeks, Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World.
I was an avid comic book collector. I still have boxes and boxes filled with Disney comic books that I enjoy reading on rainy days.

Western Printing and Lithographing was the parent company of Whitman Publishing and Simon & Schuster, Inc. and had the exclusive book rights to all the Walt Disney characters beginning in 1933. Over the decades they used these characters in coloring books, sticker books, storybooks, Little Golden Books, games, puzzles and more including comic books released through Dell Publishing from 1940 to 1962 when Western took over producing their own comic book line and called it "Gold Key".

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Western Publishing invested $200,000 to the building of Disneyland for a total ownership of 13.8% in the new theme park. Western produced the guide maps, brochures, menus, premiums and more for Disneyland. They even had their own shop (the Arcade Bookstore) inside the Crystal Arcade behind the Upjohn Pharmacy that was stocked with Disney related books including comics on Disneyland's opening day.

Between 1955 and 1960, Dell produced ten special Disneyland Giant comic books containing nearly a thousand pages of new, original content of Mickey Mouse and the gang visiting the Happiest Place on Earth.

However, just like re-purchasing ABC's investment, the Disney Company bought back Western's investment at a premium price by 1960 as well.

Western continued to produce the regular profitable Disney comic books but there seemed to be no urgency to create any more comic book stories about Disneyland to help support Western's investment in the park.

In the late Sixties, comic books (because of their small profit to retailers compared with magazines) were having difficulties finding distribution outlets. Gold Key tried several different formats including oversized comics, three comics bundled in a plastic bag, squarebound paperback comic book collections, and the digest format.

The digest format had proven a gold mine for Archie Publications since the smaller size could be displayed near the checkout cash register at supermarkets like issues of TV Guide for an impulse purchase and primarily, the contents relied on reprinted material saving on production costs.

Walt Disney Comics Digest was published for 57 issues from 1968 to 1976. The contents consisted (with few exceptions) mainly of reprints from the various previously published licensed Disney comics. In the beginning, the issues were about 192 pages in length.

Walt Disney World fans should be on the lookout for issue number 32 dated December 1971 although it was available in October. It is the only comic book that has the Disney characters exploring the newly opened Magic Kingdom in Florida.

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For the reprinted stories (re-using a Fantasyland story from a previous comic for instance) a new opening splash page was drawn by well known Disney comics artist Tony Strobl (with the realistic backgrounds most likely done by artist Dan Spiegle who drew some of the more realistic live action Disney comic book adaptations).

korkis-comic-4.jpg


The book is filled with new and reprinted game pages and puzzles as well. There were two original stories. One featured Scrooge McDuck going back to the Main Street of his youth drawn by Disney comics artist Pete Alvarado. Alvarado also drew a nineteen page Frontierland story where Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck go to enjoy the Country Bear Jamboree except three of the bears (Ernest, Big Al and Teddi Barra) have disappeared and must be found for the show to go on. This is the only comic book appearance of these beloved audio-animatronics characters.

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So, for the WDW collector who thinks he has just about everything in his book collection, here is a little "hidden treasure" waiting to be re-discovered.


RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


July 22, 2013

Disney’s Oldest Parade - Electrical Water Pageant

Gary Cruise banner

Walt Disney World has plenty of parades. The Magic Kingdom currently has the "Celebrate A Dream Come True" parade every afternoon at 3:00 and the "Main Street Electrical Parade" at 9:00 and 11:00. Disney's Animal Kingdom features the "Jammin' Jungle Parade" at 3:45

Over the years there have been many themed parades at each of the Disney parks but the undisputed grand-daddy of all parades is the Electrical Water Pageant which sails the waters of Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. It has been running every night (weather permitting) since October 26, 1971. There have been a few subtle changes over the past 42 years, but it is still as captivating as it was the first time I watched it in 1977.

One of our favourite ways to end our day at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground is to head to the beach and watch the nightly performance of the Electrical Water Pageant.

We try to arrive a bit early, find a comfy seat on the patio beside the marina and wait until those tell-tale green lights begin to appear. The 14 barges which provide the show run very quietly. They are nearly invisible, with only their running lights to reveal their approach. Then once they are in position the show begins with a fanfare of techno music and all those wonderful lights reflecting off Bay Lake.

The first four barges all light up their 40 foot long and 25 foot high displays at once and portray the image of a sea serpent accompanied by "Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)" from Pete's Dragon.

Sea_Serpent

Soon the next float comes alive with the image of a spouting whale as you listen to "Whale of a Tale" from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Whale_and_Turtle

Floats six and seven feature a turtle bobbing its head under water and an octopus, also accompanied by lively music generated by the 800 watt sound system.

Soon the first three floats in the second string light up to reveal three jumping dolphins, followed in turn by a Brachiosaurus, a crocodile, four seahorses and finally King Triton. By the time all 14 floats are illuminated there are over 50,000 lights involved in the animated panorama. WOW!

Dolphins

King_Triton

Then, just when you think it's all over, the grand finale begins. It's an inspirational salute to America, with Flags and Stars set to a patriotic musical medley of God Bless America, Yankee Doodle, and You're a Grand Old Flag.

Stars_and_Flags

You don't even have to spend money on park admission to enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant.

It sails past the beach at every Disney resort on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The normal schedule is:
• 9:00 p.m. - Polynesian Resort
• 9:15 p.m. - Grand Floridian
• 9:35 p.m. - Wilderness Lodge
• 9:45 p.m. - Fort Wilderness
• 10:05 p.m. - Contemporary Resort
• 10:20 p.m. - Magic Kingdom (only when MK is open past 10:00 p.m.)

The Electrical Water Pageant is an often overlooked feature at Walt Disney World and it truly is a hidden gem. Plan to watch it from the beach at one of the resorts soon. With a little planning you might even see the Wishes fireworks spectacular reflecting off the water before or after the pageant. Check with Guest Services at your resort to confirm exact show times.

If you watch it from the Polynesian Resort I recommend a stop at Captain Cook's on the way. Pick up a cool Dole Whip to enjoy as you sit on the beach enjoying the show. If you watch from Fort Wilderness, take a look around, you may just see Carol and I on the patio beside the marina!

July 20, 2013

Food and Wine FastPass ??

mikeS%27s%20masthead.jpg

Although the 2013 EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival is still some two months away I've been thinking about an idea that I think would be a win-win situation for both the Walt Disney World Resort and its guests.

At the Food & Wine Welcome Center...

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...you can purchase special Food & Wine Gift Cards.

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When you purchase these cards you can place a certain amount of cash value on them. You can wear them on your wrist and when you visit one of the booths you just get it swiped rather than fiddle with plastic or cash. It's a great convenience.

What was not a great convenience during the 2012 EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival were the incredible long lines....especially on the weekends.

I happened to sneak down to F&W a few times and noticed that the crowds on the weekends were extremely high...more so than during the week as locals would partake of the tasty treats waiting for them.

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One Saturday in particular I counted 85 people waiting in line in Mexico for shrimp tacos.

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That made me think of possible solutions to these long lines...something that would work for the resort and also for the guests.

Introducing the Food & Wine FastPass.

It's very simple. Why not offer the guests a GOLD Food & Wine card...similar to the normal ones except that this particular special card allows you to go into a special line at each kiosk, a line that offers you a shorter wait.

This would work as a win-win situation for both the resort and for the guests. The resort would benefit from a revenue stream as the guests would have to pay for this privilege with either an upfront surcharge or adding 5% to the cost of whatever purchase they would be making at a kiosk. To help encourage guests to purchase such a card there would be an added benefit.

For every ten purchases made with this special FastPass F&W card the guest would receive a FREE purchase. So let's say you spent the entire day at EPCOT for F&W and were trying all the booths and holy cow you go to one booth and they tell you that this one is on the house.

Would you go for it?

My point is that F&W has become so popular that you might say it is TOO popular for everyone to enjoy themselves.

So putting a little carrot out there like this F&W Gold Festival card may help shorten the wait for some folks while at the same time offering a free bee from time to time.

Thoughts?

July 9, 2013

Kona Cafe: More Than Just Tonga Toast

Andrew Rossi

When it comes to breakfast at Disney World, the Kona Café at the Polynesian Resort is one of my personal favorites. With mouthwatering offering such as their Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes and Tonga Toast, it is no surprise that Kona Café is an incredibly popular dining location and is typically packed each and every morning. For all the hype it receives for breakfast, however, I had heard far less about what the dining experience is like at Kona Café for lunch or dinner. Since most visitors to Disney World are typically out and about in the parks during the middle of the day, many of the restaurants at the resorts tend to be overlooked. Therefore, I was very intrigued to see if lunch at Kona Café lived up to the outstanding meals I have had there for breakfast.

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Overview:
Disney's Polynesian Resort has always been one of my favorites. The resort's quiet and tranquil South Seas feel completely makes you forget that you are just a short Monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. Whether lying on the beach or by the pool, the Polynesian is the perfect spot to relax and unwind.

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This resort is also a great place to go to have something to eat. Not only does the Polynesian feature one of the most popular restaurants in all of Disney World, Ohana, but also the family-friendly and entertaining Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau. It is easy to see how Kona Café might get overlooked by its two better-known counterparts. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Kona Café is a great dining option any time of day and offers a calm, quiet meal in a casual and relaxed setting. This makes Kona Café the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

Atmosphere:
One of the most striking features of Kona Café is its sense of openness. Located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House, the Kona Café overlooks the resort's lobby, featuring ample sunlight pouring in from the glass ceiling above and even a glimpse of the plants, flowers, and fountains on the floor below.

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With the restaurant being so open, one might think that it would be noisy with many Guests passing by as they make their way into and out of the resort. This, however, is not the case. Despite its large, open feel, the restaurant's dining room is actually fairly small, creating a more intimate setting in which to enjoy your meal.

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The restaurant's color palette of red, orange, and yellow make for a very warm and inviting atmosphere.

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This is aided by large windows that, during the day, help to bathe the dining room in natural light.

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The atmosphere of the restaurant is one that is casual and laid-back, reflective of its Hawaiian and South Seas theming. This theming is carried on in subtle ways throughout the dining room. Along the walls are numerous carvings and masks highlighting the skill and craftsmanship of Polynesian artists.

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The tropical theme is carried farther with carpeting that features a motif of large, colorful flowers and palm fronds.

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Even the light fixtures overhead lend to the exotic, tropical feel.

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The Kona Café thus continues the overall feel of the resort. Just as the Polynesian provides a relaxing escape for those Guests staying at the resort, so too does the Kona Café during the course of your meal. It's casual feel makes the restaurant a great option for families with children while its quiet atmosphere and smaller size help create a more intimate setting that also make it a good option for adults and couples as well.

One of the best things about the Kona Café is its easy accessibility. Located right on the Magic Kingdom Monorail line, the Polynesian Resort is easily accessible from almost anywhere on Disney property. It is thus somewhat surprising that the restaurant is not more crowded during its lunch and dinner hours, but I think this adds to its allure. It is a restaurant to which you can go, especially for lunch, to escape from the crowds and just relax, unwind, and reenergize.

The Menu:
The Kona Café's lunch menu is surprisingly extensive and offers a variety of unique offerings highlighting Hawaiian cuisine with a bit of an Asian flair.

For appetizers there is the Grilled Beef Satay ($9.99), skewers of marinated beef served with bulgogi sauce, Lump Crab Cakes ($11.49) with a jalapeno-lime cream, Fried Rock Shrimp ($14.99) with a passion fruit-mustard sauce, Thai-Spiced Watermelon Soup ($6.99), Spinach Salad ($10.49) with heirloom tomatoes and duck prosciutto, Sticky Wings ($8.99) glazed with a tangy mustard drizzle and toasted sesame seeds, Pot Stickers ($7.49) topped with a creamy ginger-soy sauce, and the Kona Salad ($8.49) featuring mixed greens, blue cheese, fresh fruit, red onions, and smoked almonds with a citrus vinaigrette.

The lunch menu's entrée offerings are more on the lighter side, featuring a variety of sandwiches, which are far different from the entrees on the dinner menu. For lunch there is also the Polynesian Plate Lunch ($14.99) featuring either Pan-Fried Chicken with Coconut and Mango Sauces or Grilled Teriyaki Steak with Grilled Pineapple Salsa served with sticky rice and pasta salad. Other lunch entrees include Fish Tacos ($14.99) topped with tomato salsa and mango mayonnaise, Barbecue Pork Tacos ($11.99) with pulled pork, tomato salsa, and jalapeno-lime sour cream $11.99, Pan Asian Noodles with wok-seared vegetables and your choice of Chicken in ginger-garlic sauce ($16.99) or with Shrimp ($17.99), a Grilled Steak Salad ($15.99) with mixed greens and a cashew lime vinaigrette, and the Asian Noodle Bowl ($14.99) with spiced beef broth, strip steak, Asian vegetables, and rice noodles.

As for the aforementioned sandwiches, there are several including the Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich ($13.49) served on pineapple bread, the Kona Turkey Sandwich ($11.99) served on house-made bread with caramelized onion, purple-haze hoisin mayonnaise, arugula, tomato and bacon, the Kona Surf and Turf Burger Deluxe ($15.49) topped with spicy fried shrimp and black garlic aioli, and the Island Chicken Sandwich ($13.99) featuring grilled chicken breast with bacon, Swiss cheese, curry-mango mayonnaise, and fried onions on a kaiser roll.

For dinner the menu becomes a little more upscale with heartier options such as Grilled Lamb Chops ($24.99) with roasted root vegetables, swiss chard, and mango chutney, Kona Coffee-Rubbed Pork Chop ($21.99) grilled and served with mashed sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables, Pan Seared Duck Breast ($21.99) served with cranberry beans, chorizo sausage, and spinach in a tamarind sauce, Teriyaki Style New York Strip ($28.99) grilled with a pineapple teriyaki glaze and served with sticky rice and stir-fried broccolini, and Sesame Seared Sea Scallops ($18.99).

The dessert choices are the same for both lunch and dinner and include a White Chocolate Cheesecake ($5.49) topped with strawberry coulis and whipped cream, the Kilauea Torte ($5.49), a No Sugar Added Apple Stacker ($6.49) featuring crisp cinnamon won tons served with vanilla ice cream, Banana-Chocolate Creme Brulee ($5.99), Chocolate Fondue ($6.99), Pineapple Upside Down Cake ($5.99), and the Kona Kone ($5.99), which is Kona Café's special ice cream sundae served in a waffle cone surrounded by cotton candy.

For my lunch I decided on the Island Chicken Sandwich. What struck me most about this sandwich was not only is massive size piled high with toppings, but also the intricate combination of flavors that all blended together so well. The chicken breast itself was moist and tender. Along with that came Swiss cheese and bacon that provided a hint of smokiness. There was also the light and refreshing taste of lettuce and tomato, but it was the two final components of the sandwich that really made it special.

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First were the fried onions whose crispiness and bold flavor really made them stand out. Finally, the sandwich was topped with a curry-mango mayonnaise that helped give the sandwich its unique, tropical-inspired taste. The combination of curry and mango at the same time added a slight sweetness to the sandwich while also providing a little extra kick, but I did not find the curry flavor to be so overwhelming as to detract from the other flavors. In fact, that is really what made the sandwich so enjoyable because all these various flavors combined together so well. The sandwich came served alongside a generous portion of sweet potato fries. These were a fresh and flavorful alternative to typical French fries that also help to tie in better with the restaurant's overall South Seas/Hawaiian feel.

As good as that sandwich was, it was dessert that absolutely blew me away. After some debate I ended up choosing the Kilauea Torte. This chocolate cake with a warm chocolate center is a very rich, decadent, filling dessert, but you will want to eat the entire thing. The warm chocolate comes oozing out as you cut into the cake. The whipped cream and vanilla ice cream that accompany the torte provide a light and refreshing contrast that pair perfectly with so much rich, chocolaty flavor. I would not hesitate to say that this has become one of my favorite desserts in any Disney restaurant.

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Service:
I found the service at Kona Café to be as equally impressive as the food. After finding out that I had never been to the restaurant for lunch, my server began to provide detailed descriptions of several menu items, pointing out which were the most popular and which were some of her personal favorites. Throughout the course of my meal my server was constantly checking in on me to ensure that I was enjoying everything. The meal progressed at a calm, relaxing pace so I did not feel as if I was being rushed at all.

When it was time for dessert, my server explained that they were making the tortes fresh in the oven and it would be just a few extra minutes. Not in a rush, I told her that it was no problem at all. When my server brought me my bill at the end of the meal she informed me that I would not be charged for the dessert since it took so long, even though in reality it was just a few extra minutes of waiting and posed no real inconvenience. This is just an example of the type of service that sets Disney dining apart. No matter what the restaurant or dining experience I continue to find dedicated Cast Members who really go above and beyond creating magic for their Guests. The service I received at Kona Café made an already good meal even better, and that would have still held true even if I had not gotten a complimentary dessert.

Dining on a Budget:
Lunch at the Kona Café is a great option if you are looking for a high quality meal at an affordable price. The sandwiches range in price from $11.99 to $15.49 and even the non-sandwich menu items are reasonably priced by Disney standards. There are the Fish Tacos for $14.99, the Barbeque Pork Tacos for $11.99, and an especially good value is the Polynesian Plate Lunch for $14.99. This is probably the best way to get the most bang-for-your-buck as you get to choose either the pan-fried chicken with coconut and mango sauces or the grilled teriyaki steak with grilled pineapple salsa and each come accompanied by both sticky rice and pasta salad. I would definitely recommend lunch over dinner at Kona Café if you are dining on a budget as the menu offerings at night are slightly more pricey.

The Kona Café is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are on the dining plan, you would definitely get more value if dining here for dinner as opposed to breakfast or lunch. Kona Café also participates in Tables in Wonderland and members can receive a 20% discount. There are no further discounts for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club members.

The Overall Experience:
Kona Café has always been one of my favorite Disney restaurants for breakfast, but it has now become one of my favorite dining locations for lunch as well. The restaurant's quiet, casual, relaxed setting make it the perfect escape and yet it is just a short Monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. With such easy accessibility I am actually surprised it is not more crowded during its lunchtime hours, but that is part of the restaurant's appeal. With reservations at Ohana so hard to come by and with the popularity of the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau, the Kona Café offers a great alternative that you don't necessarily need to book months in advance while still giving you the same South Seas-inspiried feel. I strongly recommend Kona Café to anyone staying at the Polynesian Resort. Even for those who are not, it is worth the short trip over from Magic Kingdom. Even though it took me a while before I tried lunch here for the first time, it will certainly not be that long until I am back again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Kona Cafe and post your own too!


July 6, 2013

Dayton Disneyana - 2013

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A few of our Canadian pin-trader friends have attended Dayton Disneyana several times and they always describe it in glowing detail. It has always sounded like something Carol would really enjoy; so for several years we have hoped to head to Dayton for this annual event. Alas, too many other things always seemed to intervene. This year we decided early that nothing else should stand in our way.

The Dayton "Plane Crazy" Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club, who host the event annually, describe it as "a Show & Sale of Disneyana Collectibles and Disney Pin Trading Event" but it is actually much more than that. It's more like a convention for Disney fans!

This year's event included two well known speakers; 1) Jim Hill, an award-winning entertainment writer from Boston who written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. 2) Jim Korkis, an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades.

Carol and our son Rob both delight in scouring Thrift Shops, Flea Markets, Second Hand Stores and Garage Sales for Disney treasures and they had been looking forward to this trip for months.

I don't share their mania for collectibles, but I'd been hoping for a somewhat different outcome. You see, my sweet, wonderful and loving wife would be celebrating her birthday just a few days after the event. I had been hoping that she could point to an item sometime over the weekend and say, "That's it - that's exactly what I want for my birthday." Actually, there was no doubt in my mind that that particular scene would play out . . . I only wondered how many times it would happen.

We live about two hours east of Toronto, almost exactly mid-way between Toronto and Montreal. The trip to the Wyndham Garden Hotel at Miamisburg Ohio, just south of Dayton, is 606 miles. We would be on the road for at least 9 ½ hours, plus any time we needed for fuel and rest breaks so an early start was mandatory!

Friday June 28, 2013
We were up at zero-dark-thirty and pulled away from home at 5:52 a.m., eight minutes ahead of schedule!

We crossed the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor Ontario into Detroit Michigan at 12:10 p.m. and headed south on Interstate 75.

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At about 12:50 we crossed the Ohio State line and Carol shouted out, "Holy Toledo, I haven't been shopping yet!" We stopped in Toledo and had a quick bite of lunch before Carol and Rob invaded the Disney Store. I waited in the car and read for about a half hour before they returned. We resumed our southward trek on I-75.

We pulled off at Exit 44 in Miamisburg Ohio at 5:30. Aside from a few heavy rain showers the trip was uneventful. We had no traffic troubles.

After stretching our legs for a bit, we unpacked and settled in to our home for the next two nights. Rob's room is just across the courtyard from ours. Soon we hopped back in the car to head out for dinner. We were back "home" by 8:45 and Carol spent some time visiting with friends Susan and Carrie while the chauffeur took a soothing dip in the "not-hot but merely tepid" tub. Aaahh! Even though it was only moderately warm it still felt good. There were no pin traders trading in the lobby so before long Carol joined me for a soak. At about 10:00 we headed back to the room where we read and played on the computer for a while before bed.

Saturday June 29, 2013
The downside to that whole "Early to bed, early to rise" thing is the early rising part. Carol and I were both wide awake before 7:00 a.m. We sat around and wasted an hour before calling friends Susan and Carrie. They met us for breakfast in the hotel at about 8:15.

On the way back to our rooms we picked up tickets for the event which opened at 10:00 a.m. Some people had prepaid an "Early Bird Fee" of $15.00 and were allowed to enter the ballroom at 8:30 and enjoy 90 minutes of shopping before the rest of us were admitted.

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At 10:00 the president of the Dayton Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club cut the ribbon to officially open the show and we rushed through the door and into the ballroom. As we filed in our friend Gabe, who took advantage of early entry, marched out with a huge smile and several large bags! He was obviously a happy collector!

Carol and Rob just didn't know where to start! They were in some sort of Disney heaven and they had difficulty figuring out how to attack the huge mound of treasure facing them.

I wandered up and down the aisles taking pictures of the wide array of Disney merchandise and collectibles. There really was everything from soup to nuts. Wow!

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There were plates and spoons, cups and glasses, clocks and watches. There were comic books, magazines, coloring books, toys, framed pictures, cels, figurines, games and collectibles in varieties too many to mention.

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Naturally there were pins and vinylmations!

There were movies and movie posters, VHS and DVD videos, LP's, CD's and video games.

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There were brand new items and there were some dating back to the 1930's. It's really hard to comprehend the variety and diversity of goods on sale. The pictures tell the story though!

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Disneyana Fan Club originated as The National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC) in 1984 and now has over 25 chapters across the country & around the world.

The Plane Crazy Chapter in Dayton, who host this show, began about 10 years ago as "Pin Trading By The Pond" when a few friends gathered to trade pins beside one of the trader's backyard koi ponds. The next year it grew so much that they had to book a room to house the event. Since then it has grown into a wonderful two day extravaganza for Disney collectors and traders. Last year they hosted over 400 guests.

By the time I had made my first circuit of the room snapping pictures Carol had filled a couple of bags. She and Rob, who also had a bag full, were sporting big smiles. I took the bags to our room and dropped them off, freeing up their hands for more shopping!

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I continued to wander, this time taking fewer pictures and allowing plenty of time to admire the merchandise. It was even more amazing when I took time to actually consider what my eyes were seeing. I was nowhere near as excited as Carol and Rob, but I could understand why they were so enthusiastic.

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The next time I crossed paths with Carol she took my arm and dragged me to a nearby table. Those words I had been expecting rolled off her lips, "That's it - that's exactly what I want for my birthday." I bought the three Disney Classic Collection figurines she pointed out, packed them in the big bag she had partly filled while I was gone, wished her Happy Birthday, and took another big load to the room.

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When I returned at about 12:30 the pin traders were starting to take their positions at tables in the hallway outside the ballroom. Carrie and I hopped in the car and made a mad dash to a nearby Wendy's restaurant. We were back with lunch for all in our group and I wolfed mine down then ran down the hall (OK . . . it was more of a quick limping shuffle) to listen to the speakers who were beginning their presentations in the atrium at 1:15 p.m.

I arrived just as Jim Korkis was beginning. Jim is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is a former Walt Disney World cast member and is now a regular guest blogger on AllEars.

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Jim focussed on the classic old Disney movie The Song Of The South which has been removed from the US and Canadian markets for many years. He told a number of interesting and amusing stories about the movie and about his interaction with many of the actors who appeared in it. Jim is passionate about Disney and his zeal is infectious. When he speaks, he grabs your attention and he doesn't let go. If you get a chance to hear Jim speak, do not pass it up!

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Next up to the podium was Jim Hill, an award-winning entertainment writer from Boston who written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. He is a very captivating speaker as well.

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Jim Hill's focus was more "future oriented"; he began by telling us how Disney "dropped the ball" during negotiations with J.K. Rowling. As a result of a fumble by Disney Imagineers The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was built at Universal rather than at Walt Disney World. What a shame!

In Jim's opinion that faux pas led to the big changes and improvements we have seen in Fantasyland. He spoke at length describing the changes will we see at Walt Disney World in years to come.

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Will Star Wars Land be coming to Florida? Yes! Jim gave us some interesting glimpses of what current plans include.

Will Avatar Land be coming to Florida? Yes! It may take some time to get done, but it is included in current plans.

Will Cars Land be coming to Florida? Yes! It will not include Luigi's Flying Tires - they cannot dig deep enough to install the underground fans needed for the attraction. The water table in Florida is simply too high to allow the necessary excavation.

The two Jims spent over a half hour answering questions from the audience; it was a lively and humorous Q & A session.

Carol and all her pin trading buddies were firmly settled in the hallway outside the ballroom when I returned. I said a quick hello as I passed by, on my way to talk some more with the pair of Jims. They had set up in the ballroom where Jim Korkis was selling copies of his two books. I bought a copy of each and Jim signed (and illustrated) them for me.

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Throughout the day there were silent auctions, door prize draws, children's games and a charity draw for beautiful Disney themed quilt. There was always something interesting going on!

Carol, Rob and the gang continued to trade until almost 6:00 p.m. then took a break for dinner. We had a nice meal at the little restaurant in the hotel; then they went back to the trade tables. They had a good day trading, there were plenty of pins, vinylmations, buttons and even a few Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards changing hands. Everyone seemed happy with their trades when they finally called it quits at 9:45 p.m. These traders sure have a lot of stamina!

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Before bed Carol confided that there are still a few more collectibles she has her eye on. I anticipate a few more purchases tomorrow. The doors open at 10:00 a.m. and we plan to get away by about noon to begin our trip home. It's a holiday weekend in Canada and we want to be home for Canada Day celebrations on Monday.

Sunday June 30, 2013
The Sunday schedule was almost an exact duplicate of the Saturday programme. The ballroom full of vendors opened at 10:00 a.m. and the two Jims each made another presentation, with fresh topics, beginning at 1:15 p.m. I thoroughly enjoyed both their presentations on Saturday and I was disappointed that I could not stay to enjoy the second session.

We met Susan and Carrie for breakfast and all of us were waiting outside the ballroom when the doors opened. We had all walked around the tables at least a dozen times on Saturday . . . there shouldn't have been anything new to see . . . but there was! There was just so much merchandise on display that you could not take it all in.

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While Carol and Rob shopped, I spent some time chatting with Disneyana Fan Club Dayton Chapter President Gary DesCombes, Disney Fan Club National President Gary Schaengold and his wife Anita who is part of the team of about 18 volunteers who make this great, family friendly event happen year after year.

They passed on some interesting facts. I thought our 606 mile trip from Kingston (500 miles as the crow flies) was a long journey, but it is nothing compared to some others. This year there were guests from as far away as Chicago and North Carolina, as the crow flies they are 225 miles and 500 miles distant respectively. We are about tied with the North Carolina folks for this year's distance record! But we pale in comparison with the group of 12 who attended from California last year and the lady who has flown in from Japan to attend, not once but twice!

Some of the vendors travel long distances to the show as well. Theme Park Connection of Winter Garden Florida hauled a truckload of goods about 775 miles from their store just north of Walt Disney World.

Carol had planned to take a quick lap of the ballroom to pick up those last few items she mentioned the previous night, then settle in for some trading in the hallway. Two hours later she and Rob were still in the ballroom. Some of the merchandise had been marked down . . . I suppose it's easier to sell it than it is to pack it up and take it back home.

There was plenty of haggling going on; prices seemed to be more flexible as the end of the weekend drew nearer!

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Vinylmations

Two representatives from PinPics.com, Anthony and Samantha Medina, arrived about noon and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the many avid pin traders in the crowd. I spent a few minutes yakking with Samantha and then began the difficult task of dragging Carol and Rob away from the vendor's tables.

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Carol made a few very quick pin trades before we hopped in the car to begin our trek home. We pulled onto northbound Interstate 75 at 12:40 p.m. Traffic was moving very well, there was hardly a slowdown, even in Detroit. We crossed the Ambassador Bridge and returned to "Our Home And Native Land" at 5:00 p.m.

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Traffic in Canada was also lighter than we anticipated and we made great time. There were a few very quick stops for fuel and coffee and we arrived home at 10:30, about 90 minutes earlier than we had expected. We were tired after a long day on the road but Carol and Rob were still all pumped up about the event and the treasures they found!

They agreed that it's an event we will definitely return to. Because of the distance it may not be an annual event, but we will definitely attend periodically.

Here are the treasures Carol brought home.

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Her most cherished "find" is this Olszewski figurine which Rob picked up in the silent auction.

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Rob had a pretty nice pile of loot too!

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His favourite is this Fantasia themed Mickey Mouse clock. We added a fresh battery and it's ticking away!

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If you are an avid Disney fan and a collector of Disneyana then Dayton Disneyana should be on your to-do list. Next year's event is tentatively planned for Father's Day weekend, June 14 - 15, 2014. These dates are not yet firm, check the Disneyana Fan Club web site before finalizing your plans.

The National web site is HERE.

The Plane Crazy Chapter site is HERE.

Like them on Facebook HERE.

What will you find if you attend? We were pleasantly surprised by the attractive hotel rates, $81.00 a night in 2013. The event registration was a mere $5.00 for a 2 day adult pass, or $3.00 for a 1 day pass. The merchandise was varied, plentiful and good quality. This is not a flea market and the vendors are not selling junk and trinkets.

The vendors are friendly, approachable and most are die-hard Disney fans just like you and I. Of course all of the other attendees are kindred Disney spirits too. It's a totally immersive experience and you will feel right at home, we sure did!

Maybe Carol and I will see you there some day?


May 31, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 7

Gary Cruise banner
May 26, 2013

We were up bright and early this morning. We were nearing Victoria so we watched from the balcony for a while.

Victoria

Victoria

Temperatures were cool, skies were overcast and a constant drizzle was falling. By the time the room service coffee arrived at 7:00 a.m. I was already showered and ready to hit the road. We watched the ship dock in Victoria and at 7:30 we made our way to Deck 9 for breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet.

Our excursion group met in Wave Bands at 8:15. The check-in process was efficient, as usual, and by 8:30 the Disney Port Adventures staff were leading us down the gangway to the waiting bus for our tour and tea at Butchart Gardens.

The bus driver/tour guide, Rolland, did an amazingly good job. We told us very informative and humorous tales about the city and its history. He related the origins of the Butchart family and how they came to develop their old and depleted limestone quarry into world famous gardens.

We debarked from the bus at 9:30 and began by exploring the sunken garden located in the former quarry. It is simply awesome.

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When people think of Canada they think of ice and snow . . . but these gardens are located in a temperate rainforest. Everything is lush and green. I'll let the pictures do the talking!

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We moved on past the Ross Fountain and toured the rose garden. Very few roses were in bloom this early in the season, but in a month it will be glorious.

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Our tea was scheduled for 10:45 so we ran out of touring time much too soon. We had to bypass the Japanese and Italian Gardens. The tea was excellent, a nice variety of scones, sandwiches and sweets along with a pot of hot tea. It sure hit the spot after a few hours out in the cold drizzle.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

We took a few more pictures as we approached the exit. A greenhouse beside the gift shop had a vivid display of orchids and begonias so we stopped for some shots of those specimens.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Naturally Carol had to detour through the gift shop and to my surprise, she came out empty handed. Wow!

We boarded our bus at 12:15 and only had to wait five minutes for the inevitable stragglers.

Rolland entertained us again on the way home, pointing out many points of interest and using amusing tales to put them all in historical perspective. All in all it was a terrific excursion - the gardens were breathtaking and Rolland brought the journey there and back to life with his enthusiastic stories. We tipped him generously; I hope everyone else did too!

We were back aboard by 1:30 and wandered the deck for a while enjoying a break in the showers. It was a real surprise, and a treat, to see the Disney Wonder flying our Canadian flag!

Victoria

We admired the Victoria skyline and watched the boats and float planes navigate the harbor. There was even a floating bus, the Hippo!

Victoria

Victoria

Victoria

We stopped at Beach Blanket Buffet for a light snack about 2:00 p.m. and then returned to the stateroom where Carol did some more packing. Alas, it all comes to an end for us tomorrow and our bags must be out in the hall for pick-up by 10:30 tonight.

Our last dinner was in Animator's Palate at 5:45. The servers put on a show, parading around the dining room waving flags of their native countries. For some strange reason our server, Sedat from Turkey, was waving the Canadian flag.

We said goodbye to our tablemates and exchanged e-mail addresses, then headed back to the stateroom to finish the last minute things and put our bags out in the hall.

I headed out for a last stroll around Deck 10, soaking in the scenery as we sailed up the Haro Straight past San Juan Island. The sun was setting over Vancouver Island.

Vancouver_Island_Sunset

Tomorrow we disembark in Vancouver and catch a noon flight to Toronto then drive 2 hours to our home in Kingston. If all goes well we should be able to pick up our dogs and be home by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night.

This is the first time we have cruised on our own in about six years. Since then we have always sailed with friends or as part of a group. Before this cruise we had wondered what sort of group we would have at our table and how we would all get along. It worked out very well. There was always plenty of lively and interesting dinner conversation and we even met by chance for a few lunches.

We had a terrific time. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "But Gary, you didn't get to the pool or hot tub once during the trip." You are absolutely correct, the cruise would have been more enjoyable had the weather been a bit warmer but overall we had a wonderful time.

We hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us!

We'll sail again in October, aboard the Disney Fantasy on a 7 day Western Caribbean itinerary. Then in May 2014 we will take our 10th Disney cruise when join in the fun of the AllEars.net group cruise. To see more about that cruise follow this link.

May 30, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner
May 25, 2013

Today we were finally able to sleep in . . . and it was a bad thing! Carol screeched as her bleary eyes found the clock and read 8:00 a.m. We had to be at Parrot Cay for an 8:15 character breakfast. We leaped out of bed and hit the floor running.

We made it down to Deck 3 just in time to join the line waiting to enter the restaurant. As we gazed out the Deck 3 portholes we noticed that the skies were still very overcast but the seas had calmed down a great deal. There was just a slight roll, not more than a few feet. Winds had dropped off significantly during the night.

We had a pleasant breakfast with most of our dinner tablemates and the characters dropped by our table to pose for pictures. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale made sure to visit every table and took time to pose with adults and interact with the children.

Character_Breakfast

Character_Breakfast

After breakfast I picked up the computer and headed to the Internet Café to upload to our web site. Carol roamed around Deck 3 killing time until I was done. It was raining so we picked up coffee and headed to the Outlook Café where she kept an eye peeled for whales while I read my book.

Outlook_cafe

At 12:15 we headed back to Parrot Cay for lunch. It was a seafood buffet and it was great. Unfortunately it was poor timing for us; we both ate sparingly because we are having dinner at Palo tonight.

It was a lazy afternoon; we had the showers we missed this morning, relaxed in the stateroom, kept our eyes open for whales and had a nice relaxing nap. I took my book to the Outlook Café and read for a while. When I returned at 5:00 p.m. Carol was all dressed for dinner so I quickly changed and we headed down to Deck 3 to get some character pictures.

Carol_Gary_and_Pluto

Then it was time for our dinner at Palo. We were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary three days early . . . and what a magnificent place to celebrate it. It is always a delightful dining experience. Felice was our server once again and he entertained us while providing exceptional service.

Palo

Palo

We savored our dinner until about 7:45 then headed back to our stateroom. Carol dashed off for some pin trading at Mickey's Mates. Soon she called to tell me that the mountains to the east of us were looking magnificent. We are approaching the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the setting sun, when it peeks through the odd patch of blue in the sky, is lighting up Washington's Olympic Mountains. I took my camera to the Promenade Deck but it was a bit too hazy to get good pictures. The setting sun looked great, but the mountain shots didn't capture the beauty I saw with the naked eye.

Carol returned from pin trading and we went down to the Promenade Deck once again to watch the sunset. After a few pictures there we decided to head up to Deck 9 and the balcony behind Beach Blanket Buffet. It was sheltered from the wind there and we got some glorious shots. The sun was setting behind the ship as we sailed into a cloud bank dropping a fine misty rain. The result was a glorious rainbow which reflected off the water. Then a brilliant red sunset lit up the western sky. Our only clear sunset on this cruise and it was spectacular.

Rainbow

Pacific_Sunset

After warming up in our stateroom for a few minutes we struck out to Wave Bands to see the 10:30 show by ventriloquist/comic Michael Harrison. His adult show was just as funny as the family show we saw a few nights ago.

We were back to our stateroom by 11:15 and sleep followed quickly. We have an early start tomorrow . . . we meet our tour group at 8:15. We're off to Victoria's Butchart Gardens for the day!

May 28, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner
May 23, 2013

Carol slept much better while we were docked . . . the engines were shut down and the ship wasn't rocking. We were up at 7:00 and started the day slowly with coffee in the stateroom. By 8:00 we headed up to Beach Blanket Buffet for a light breakfast. Then it was time to meet for our tour.

We assembled in the Diversions Lounge on Deck 3 and at 9:15 the cruise staff led us off the ship to our waiting bus. It was about 60 degrees with sunny skies as the bus took us through San Francisco on our way to Sausalito. The tour guide pointed out highlights and points of interest as we passed and then we climbed the ramp and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered Marin County.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

Wow, it's a big bridge! When it was built it was the world's longest suspension bridge. It has since been surpassed but it's still an engineering marvel. We stopped for a few minutes at a scenic outlook point on the north side of the bridge so everyone could snap some pictures from that perspective.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

Then we were off again, heading to our morning destination, Sausalito. It's a pretty little town with a sheltered harbor on Richardson Bay and it seems to be a very exclusive suburb of San Francisco. The tour guide cracked a few jokes about Sausalito . . . apparently if you dial 911 a Porsche mechanic answers your call. Up there in Marin County BMW stands for Basic Marin Wheels.

Sausalito

The bus dropped us in the centre of town with an hour and a quarter to shop. I walked the shore and snapped a few pictures while Carol poked around in a few shops but after about 15 minutes we were both wishing we were on our way to Alcatraz. Sausalito was not a highlight for us!

Sausalito

Sausalito

By 11:45 we had boarded the bus again and were on our way to our second crossing of the bridge. We had another short tour of San Francisco on our way back to the pier where we boarded a ferry for our 1:30 ride across to Alcatraz. The ferry ride gave us a new perspective of the skyline and we snapped a few more photos.

Alcatraz_Tour

After landing on the island we had a short presentation by a National Parks Guide who described the history of the island which first served as a fortress during the Civil War, then served as a military prison until the 1930's when it was transformed to a Maximum Security Federal Prison, finally closing in 1963.

After the presentation we began our upward trek. The road is a steep incline which switches back and forth several times as we climbed from the dock level to the cell block. It's equivalent to a 13 story rise between the two levels; as you ascend the rugged roadway you cross broken concrete and pavement. My new knees found it to be a challenging trek but we certainly enjoyed the tour once we arrived at the top.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

It is a narrated walking tour. A headset directs you from point to point and the commentary, recorded by former guards and former inmates, describes prison life from both perspectives.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

It was a fascinating afternoon, we both wished we had more time to walk the grounds and explore the gardens. Before the Civil War the island was a barren roosting area for shore birds. Over the intervening years a variety of non-indigenous plants have been introduced by soldiers, guards and prisoners. Portions of the island are now lush with colorful flowers.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

We were back to the ship by 4:00 p.m. and sat soaking up some sun on Deck 9 until the ship pulled away from the dock at about 5:35. We watched the Golden Gate Bridge pass overhead from the aft overlook on Deck 7 and then rushed off for our 5:45 dinner at Animator's Palette.

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Our servers, Sedat and Yukiko are doing a great job . . . we have good servers, amiable table-mates and, as always, the food is excellent.

Sedat_and_Yukiko

After dinner Carol went down to the shops on Deck 4 to do some pin trading, I went back to the stateroom. It 8:15 we met outside the Walt Disney Theatre and enjoyed the comedy show of Michael Harrison.

Michael_Harrison

He is a ventriloquist with a twist. He brings some unusual items to life, starting with a tennis ball, then a tennis racquet and later a simple face he draws on a page with a Sharpie pen. For his grand finale he finds a volunteer, a child from the audience, then converts them to a dummy and puts some hilarious words in their mouths. We roared with laughter!

After resting our aching ribs in the cabin for a few minutes we wandered down to the 10:30 show in the Wavebands Lounge on Deck 4. This time it was juggler Michael Holly. Like the earlier ventriloquist, the juggler was also a comic. His non-stop patter as he juggled once again kept us laughing insanely. At one point I was afraid Carol was going to pass out; she was laughing so hard that she didn't breathe for several minutes. Michael put a few twists in his juggling show too. Lots of performers eat the apple they are juggling, but Michael eats the apple while he juggles two 14 pound bowling balls along with it. Then he juggled the two bowling balls along with a peanut M & M's. Quite a difference in weight but he made it look effortless. Then he announced, while juggling, that he would eat the M & M. There was a very high risk factor since the M & M was the same color as one of the bowling balls. He managed to elude certain death and swallowed the right one! Another great show!

We wandered over to the Diversions Lounge, next to Wavebands, picked a few light snacks from the buffet and settled in at a table for a few minutes before heading off to bed. After just a few minutes some people from the Facebook group, Jamiee & Derek, Mimi & Vik all from Arizona, came in and joined us. We sat chatting until after midnight . . . way past our bed time! We tore ourselves away about 12:15 and headed off to bed.

Tomorrow will be another glorious day at sea. We have absolutely nothing to do and we want to be well rested for it!

May 27, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 3

Gary Cruise banner
May 22, 2013

Our plans to get up early and watch our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge didn't work out. The ship was rocking and rolling all night long and Carol didn't sleep well. Apparently the relentless drone of my snoring didn't lull her back to sleep. So this morning we were already under the bridge when Carol headed to our balcony at 6:30 and started taking pictures.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

As we sailed past Pier 39 we could hear the barking of the sea lions over the rumble of the ships engines as we maneuvered into our slip at Pier 35.

We had a bite of breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet and left the ship before 9:00 a.m. We strolled along the Embarcadero to Pier 39.

Alcatraz

On_the_Embarcadero

We wandered to the end of the pier for a close-up look at the sea lion colony which lives there. There were hundreds of them and they put on quite a performance.

Sea_Lions

Sea_Lions

Sea_Lions

After watching the playful creatures for almost a half hour we returned to the Embarcadero and hailed a cab to take us to the Presidio. We arrived there just a few minutes early and bought an annual membership. The membership allowed us to view the new exhibit honoring Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. It was a special member's preview and this was the first day of the exhibit. So not only were we the newest members at the Walt Disney Family Museum, we were the first members to visit the sneak preview of the exhibit.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

After a quick walk-through of the Sendak exhibit we returned to the main museum building and began exploring in earnest. This place is like Mecca for a Disney fan. The exhibits are arranged in galleries and each gallery represents a phase in the life of this amazing man. Our last trip through the exhibits, two years ago, was simply too rushed. Today we planned to take our time and enjoy every aspect of the displays.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

The place is full of interactive displays, video clips, historic documents with detailed descriptions of their provenance and importance. We did our best to push every button, flip every switch and read every placard.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Since our last visit two years ago they have relaxed the "No Photographs" rule a bit. You may now take pictures anywhere in the museum, but flash photography is prohibited. It sure is nice to be able to take home permanent mementos of our visit.

One of the interesting displays involves sound synchronization. Visitors don headphones and a video clip, a short scene from Steamboat Willie, plays on a large monitor. The bottom of the monitor has a second display which prompts the guests to tap on drums, bang on a xylophone, crank a clicking noisemaker or pull a rope to make a cat yowl. These actions add the sound track to a cartoon, in much the same way animators used to do. Our effort resulted in some hilarious results which would have been left on the cutting room floor.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

We had made it about half way through the museum by noon so we stopped for a quick bite in the café. Carol took a few minutes to pre-scout the gift shop . . . she wanted to devise a plan of attack for her visit later in the day!

We were back to the exhibits by 12:30 and continued our walk through the life of a truly amazing man. By 2:30 we had pushed all the buttons and flipped all the switches.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

It was time to move on! Carol's pre-planning paid off; she was able to zip through the gift shop in record time and we were soon in a cab on our way to the cable car station. Along the way our driver took us down Lombard Street, that famous crooked street which appears in so many movies!

Lombard_Street

When we arrived at end of the cable car line, the turntable where they flip the cars around, there was a huge line of people waiting to board the cars. There was a homeless entrepreneur there, he handed us a guide map and explained that if we walked one block up the hill we could hop on the first cable car to come along. We said thanks and turned to leave - he demanded a tip - neither of us had anything but $20 bills so we declined. He followed across the street and finally Carol dug into her purse and gave him all the coin she had, about 76 cents. He was not happy as we carried on up the hill.

We arrived at the stop and joined the other dozen people he had sent to the same spot. After about 15 minutes a cable car arrived and took four people from our line. We waited another 15 minutes with no sign of a car. Then a Lincoln Town Car pulled up and offered a ride to Union Square for $5.00 per person. We jumped in. The driver dropped us off about a block from the Disney Store. We must have looked lost because suddenly a man with a map appeared. He pointed out where the Disney Store was and wanted a tip . . . we walked away, no tip this time. Carol remarked, "He looked just like the guy at the cable car station." I think they were probably identical cousins or something!

Carol did some shopping in the Disney Store and then we walked back to the Union Square end of the cable car line . . . once again there was a long line. We walked a block up the hill and were able to board the first car to come along. It arrived at the same time we did, no wait at all.

Cable_car

Cable_car

We were back aboard the ship just in time to freshen up for dinner. Our rotation took us back to Triton's for the second night in a row.

After dinner we took the laptop to the Outlook Café looking for a good internet connection . . . wireless internet service has been very spotty during this cruise. In fact, the service has been terrible. We could not get a connection in the Outlook Café so we headed to the Internet Café located beside the Promenade Lounge. We were finally able to get a better connection there, still very slow but at least it didn't keep cutting out.

Chip

We were back to the stateroom by 9:00 and settled in for the night. Tomorrow we meet at 9:15 for our tour of Sausalito and Alcatraz.

May 26, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 2

Gary Cruise banner
May 21, 2013

What a wonderful day at sea . . . it was everything we hoped for, and less! After all those days racing around the parks it was soooo nice to veg-out!

It was overcast and the ship was rocking noticeably when we woke at 6:30 a.m. I headed to Deck 9 to pick up coffee and was shocked by the wind when I opened the door near the coffee and soft drink station. The winds across the deck were about 45 miles per hour and they stayed all day.

Deck_10_in_the_morning

Later in the day the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly but it never warmed up because of the high winds. The ship rolled through 15 - 18 foot waves all day.

Rought_seas

Room service arrived at 7:30 with more coffee, juice and a bagel. I had a very light breakfast - saving room for our 11:30 brunch at Palo.

We took advantage of some early morning quiet time to drop off some items in fish extenders for members of a Facebook group Carol was involved in. What's a fish extender you ask? In the ships hallways, beside each cabin door is an ornamental metal fish. It is actually a mail slot, whenever cast members or ship management need to leave a message, they put it in an envelope and stand it up in that metal fish, where it is obvious when you enter your room.

Years ago some imaginative cruisers started hanging small bags from the fish and leaving little gifts in the bags. Voila - the fish extender was born!

Fish_extender

Cruisers who are part of a group can volunteer to be part of a fish extender gift exchange, leaving little gifts for others in the group and receiving gifts in your own extender. It's always fun to return to your cabin to see what has arrived; there are some very creative and imaginative gifts!

After weaving our way up and down the halls "feeding the fishes" we decided to look for a sheltered spot on Deck 9 to sit and enjoy some fresh air. Alas, there was nowhere to escape the strong winds so we sat indoors at the Outlook Café overlooking the Quiet Cove Pool. We occasionally waved at frantic people as the wind hurtled them past the windows. Carol sipped a latté while I read my book.

We left the Café by 11:00 and returned to our stateroom to dress for brunch. Palo is an upscale adult only dining venue at the rear of the ship on Deck 10. All meals aboard are included in the price you pay for your cruise but if you book a brunch or dinner at Palo you are charged a premium of $20.00 per person. It's a bargain.

Palo

Palo

The food is wonderful and the service is impeccable. We try to dine at Palo during each cruise.

Palo

Palo

Palo

Today our server was Felice from Italy and he took excellent care of us. Before we left we made sure the Felice would be our server when we return Saturday evening for dinner.

Ariel

Our afternoon was also quite relaxing. We both enjoyed a nap, then took another wind-blown walk on Deck 9. Once again the winds forced us indoors, first in the Overlook Café and later in the Promenade Lounge where we chatted with a few acquaintances from the Facebook group.

Route_66

It was formal night, so we changed for dinner and headed to the Atrium on Deck 3 where Mickey Mouse was posing for pictures from 5:15 to 5:45.

Mickey

There was a long line but we made it just under the wire, had our picture taken and entered Triton's for dinner just five minutes after the appointed 5:45 dinner hour!

Table_mates.jpg

The evening show was The Golden Mickey's which we've seen several times, so we decided to skip it. Instead we headed to our stateroom, changed into casual clothes and made our way to the Buena Vista Theatre for the 8:00 showing of Wreck It Ralph. We had missed it in the theatres so we didn't want to pass up the chance to see it while we were here. It was cute and funny; not one of Disney's best, but a nice diversion for a few hours.

I was back in the stateroom by 10:00 p.m. but Carol had some shopping to do! She picked up a nice Disney Cruise Line charm for her Pandora bracelet.

We were both settled in the room by 10:30. Tomorrow we plan to be up bright and early so we can enjoy the view from the upper decks as we sail under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:30 a.m.

Then we will hail a cab and spend much of the day at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

May 25, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner
May 20, 2013

This will be our second time on the repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. We enjoyed the trip two years ago so much that we just had to repeat it.

If you have been following along on our personal web site you know that we just enjoyed a 5 night stay at the beautiful Candy Cane Inn and 5 days of almost non-stop fun at the Disneyland Resort. If you have just joined us on AllEars you can read about our Disneyland adventures by clicking on this link.

Carol booked an SUV to take us from the Candy Cane Inn to nearby San Pedro where we boarded the Disney Wonder. We shared the ride with Charlene and Brittney, a mother and daughter from Louisiana who Carol connected with online.

The limousine company Carol booked, So Cal Limousine Service, did not show up for the 10:00 a.m. pick-up time and didn't answer the phone when Carol called to ask where they were. After a half hour of waiting we spoke to James who has always taken great care of us at the Candy Cane Inn front desk. He tried to contact SoCal and they still didn't answer. Within five minutes he had a van from Grand Transportation booked. They arrived in under ten minutes and whisked us to the port. Thanks James . . . you're a lifesaver!

The boarding process went very smoothly. Our baggage went directly from the Grand Transportation van to the porter's cart and within seconds we entered the terminal building. The biggest delay was waiting for Carol as she snapped a few pictures.

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Banner

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Pluto

There was a very short line in the terminal; we were issued our "Key to the World" cards within five minutes of stepping out of the van. We were in boarding group number 7 so we sat and relaxed in the terminal for about a half hour until our group was called and then walked directly aboard, entering the grand foyer at Deck 3 Mid Ship. What a treat to hear them announce our arrival and welcome the Cruise family aboard.

Disney_Cruise_Line_Entrance

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Minnie

Lunch was being served in two locations, Parrot Cay on Deck 3 and Beach Blanket Buffet on Deck 9. We opted for Parrot Cay and were soon seated with a couple from Victoria, BC as well as a couple and a solo traveler, all three from the San Francisco area. Seems like everyone but us booked a cruise so they can enjoy a port adventure in their home town!

We had a nice chat with everyone over lunch and then set off to reacquaint ourselves with the ship. We strolled around Deck 9 and Deck 10 snapping a few pictures of the surrounding port area and some shots of provisions being loaded on the ship. Naturally Carol had to stop for an ice cream as we passed the self-serve station!

Carol_getting_ice_cream

By 1:15 our stateroom was ready and our luggage had arrived so Carol unpacked and we were soon all settled in for the next week.

Carol_on_deck

Gary_on_the_balcony

At 3:00 p.m. there was a "meet and greet" session in the Promenade Lounge for a Facebook group Carol had been involved in. We said hello to some new acquaintances and recognized quite a few faces from previous cruises.

Soon it was time for the mandatory life boat drill so we mustered at Animator's Palate with the rest of our group to hear safety instructions and review emergency procedures.

By 4:20 we were on Deck 10 watching the Adventures Away party. The cruise entertainment staff and several Disney characters put on a spirited show. It was a high energy song and dance spectacular which had me sweating, even though I was sitting in a deck chair.

Sail_away_party

Sail_away_party

The ship cast off just a few minutes after 5:00 and we sailed slowly out of the Port of Los Angeles. Along the way we passed the USS Iowa, a decommissioned battleship. It sure was a powerful looking vessel!

We elected early dining for this cruise so by 5:45 we were entering the Parrot Cay Restaurant to meet our servers and our tablemates. Our service team consists of Head Server Sedat from Turkey and Assistant Server Yukiko from Japan. They will follow us from dining room to dining room as we rotate around the ship for the rest of the cruise. At our table were nine passengers, Carol and I, three American couples and Donna, a surprise Disney Cruise Line Celebrity.

Donna is a fellow Canadian, from Brampton Ontario and is currently on her 49th Disney Cruise. She boarded the Wonder a few weeks ago in Miami, transited the Panama Canal, stayed on for this cruise and once we reach Vancouver she will stay aboard again and enjoy the Alaska Cruise the following week. By the time she is done the Alaska voyage in early June she will have completed 51 Disney cruises, with another 5 already booked for 2014.

During the Panama Canal crossing she celebrated her 365th night aboard a Disney ship and to celebrate the occasion Captain Thord and his senior crew surprised her with a party and a very special cake in the Cove Café. Tonight at dinner Donna enjoyed the last piece of that cake. Here is a picture of Donna and the beautifully hand crafted chocolate Donald which decorated the cake. It almost feels like we're dining with royalty!

Donna


After dinner we visited the Future Cruise desk where Tai from Australia booked our stateroom for the 2014 AllEars group cruise sailing May 10, 2014 on the Fantasy. Hooray . . . we're booked on another. It will be our 10th Disney cruise and we thought we were doing well until we met Donna!

Carol had a few minutes to spare before the evening show in the Walt Disney Theatre so she headed to the Mickey's Mates shop where she purchased a few pins and a vinylmation. By 8:30 we were seated for the show, "Let the Magic Begin". The final act in the show was Magic Dave who conscripted four children from the audience and put on a hilarious performance of magic and ad-lib comedy. It was a great time.

On our way back to our stateroom we spotted Frano in Triton's dining room. Frano was our server when Carol and I sailed the Panama Canal crossing with friends John & Cathy, Mike & Pam in 2011. Here is a gratuitous picture of Frano.

Frano.jpg

We headed to Wavebands at 10:30 for the Buckets N Boards percussion comedy show. They were hilarious . . . they played plastic barrels and buckets as drums, strummed on guitars and ukuleles, tap danced and sang classic country and bluegrass tunes such as, "If my nose was runnin' money, I'd blow it all on you." Very high-class stuff, and very funny!

Buckets_N_Boards

Buckets_N_Boards

We were back in our stateroom by 11:15, tired out after a long but very enjoyable day.

We are looking forward to a relaxing day at sea tomorrow, with a brunch booked at Palo. It's our favourite dining venue on the Wonder. We'll post some pictures from Palo tomorrow.

May 20, 2013

The "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" at Bongos Cuban Cafe

Andrew Rossi

When looking at the skyline of Downtown Disney one of the most striking, and unusual, elements is a giant pineapple located on the West Side.

Bongo's Pineapple

That pineapple belongs to Bongos Cuban Café, the creation of singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. I have walked past this restaurant countless times, impressed by the building's Old Havana-style architecture, and commented that this was a restaurant that I really wanted to try. For one reason or another, however, I always seemed to pass up Bongos in favor of one of my "go to" locations when it comes to dining in Downtown Disney. Just recently I finally had the opportunity to dine at Bongos, and I went there not really knowing what to expect. Bongos certainly does not receive as much hype or publicity as some of the other restaurants in Downtown Disney and when discussing it with family and friends it seemed as though no one that I knew had ever been there. After finally dining there, the only thing I can say now is "what took me so long?"

Bongo's Signage

Overview:
Bongos opened at Downtown Disney in 1997 with a second location opening in Miami three years later. The restaurant was the brainchild of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. Estefan is in the top 100 bestselling music artists of all time with hits like "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" and "Get On Your Feet" and has an estimated 100 million records sold worldwide. Born in Havana, Estefan's Cuban heritage is prominently featured throughout the restaurant's architecture, décor, and entertainment offerings. The latter is what really adds a sense of authenticity and excitement to the restaurant, as it takes on almost a nightclub feel on Friday and Saturday nights with live music and dancing from 11:30pm until 2:00am. With its multiple bars offering a variety of specialty cocktails, its distinctively Latin feel, and numerous indoor and outdoor seating spanning two floors, dining at Bongos will make you feel as if you have been transported to a Miami hotspot or even Havana itself.

Atmosphere:
One of the most striking aspects of Bongos is its immense size. Outside the restaurant's giant pineapple, imposing columns resembling the trunks of palm trees, and ample outdoor seating on its lower and upper balconies give the building a very impressive appearance.

Bongo's Exterior

This sense of grandeur is carried into the restaurant as well. As soon as you enter you are greeted with a spectacular view of the restaurant's high ceilings, large windows, and grand staircase leading to its upper level.

Bongo's Staircase

Bongo's High Ceilings

The restaurant's large size helps to give the dining room a very open and spacious feel, which is aided by numerous windows that let in plenty of natural light and offer great views of the lake.

Bongo's Windows

The restaurant's Cuban influence can clearly be seen in the colorful mosaics that cover the dining room walls. Highlighting tropical scenes of beaches and palm trees, Cuban flags, women in traditional Cuban garb, and Latin music, these mosaics are a clear reflection of Estefan's life and heritage.

Bongo's Mosaics

The overall Latin feel is enhanced by the large palm tree columns that are continued from outside and a motif of leaves and flowers that encircles the balcony on the upper level. The white stucco columns and ceiling present a dramatic contrast to the brightly colored mosaics on the walls.

Bongo's Columns

Bongo's Havana influence can also clearly be seen in its ample outdoor seating. The balconies on the upper and lower levels are the perfect place to dine while enjoying the beautiful Florida weather as well as the impressive views. When there is live entertainment it is also pumped out onto the balcony so diners there can enjoy the music as well.

Bongo's Outdoor Seating 1

Bongo's Outdoor Seating 2

The restaurant offers several bars outside and inside on the lower and upper levels. As soon as you enter the restaurant there is a bar immediately to your right that features brightly colored stools that resemble large drums. You can also have a drink and dine inside the giant pineapple, with bars and additional seating on both the lower and upper levels.

Bongo's Bar 1

Bongo's Bar 2

One thing that I did notice about the dining room is that as the night went on, and the restaurant became more crowded, it became very loud. I was not there to experience the live entertainment, but I can imagine that the lively Latin tunes would only add to this. I was actually seated inside the pineapple and felt that this more out-of-the-way, secluded location made for a more quiet and relaxing meal. If you enjoy dining with a lively atmosphere, Bongos is definitely the place for you. However, if you are looking for a more quiet dining experience I would probably recommend going for lunch when the restaurant is not as crowded.

The Menu:
Bongo's extensive menu is probably what impressed me most with the restaurant. This menu literally has something for everyone, from steak and seafood to chicken and pork. Featuring traditional Cuban dishes, with their names presented in both English and Spanish, you may have to spend a while deciding what you want to order. In fact, this is the area where I usually describe the menu offerings but there are far too many for me to do so. Instead, you can see the full version of Bongo's menu here and I will highlight just some of the menu items that my sever described to me as among the restaurant's most popular.

When it comes to appetizers two of the standout items are the Fried Stuffed Potatoes ($7.00) that come breaded and filled with minced beef as well as the Stuffed Plantain Cups filled with either shrimp ($9.00), shredded beef ($8.00), or minced beef ($8.00). For those who may have trouble deciding on just one appetizer there is the Bongos Combo ($23.00) that is meant to serve two or more and includes fried stuffed potatoes, pork tamale, fried pork bites, ham croquettes, and stuffed plantain cups.

For meat selections my sever highly recommended the Cuban Style Skirt Steak ($25.00) which is marinated for several hours and comes served with green plantains, white rice, and black beans. Other popular offerings are the Marinated Fried Pork Bites ($17.00) topped with grilled onions and served with sweet plantains and moro rice, Lechon Asado ($18.00) which is a slow roasted pork leg served with sweet plantains and moro rice, and the Cuban Style Breaded Steak ($16.00) which comes deep fried and served with sweet plantains and moro rice. There is also "The Cuban Tour" ($30.00) for those who might be a little indecisive. This dish includes samplings of roast pork, shredded beef, and shredded chicken, served with green plantains, white rice, and black beans.

My server commented that the restaurant's seafood offerings are the ones that are slightly spicier than the meat offerings. Among these are Fish Criolla ($20.00) featuring fish bites sautéed in a Cuban criolla sauce served with white rice and sweet plantains, Shrimp with Garlic Sauce ($25.00) served with green plantains and white rice, and the Zarzuela de Mariscos ($35.00), which is a fresh seafood medley sautéed in a Cuban criolla sauce served with white rice and green plantains.

If you are looking for a lighter fare, Bongo's does feature several sandwiches for lunch (available from 11:00am until 4:00pm). These include a traditional Cuban Sandwich ($10.00) with roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread as well as a Midnight Sandwich ($10.00) which is prepared the same way but on sweet bread.

For an appetizer we decided on the Fried Stuffed Potatoes. While you might think this would be a very filling appetizer, the mashed potatoes were surprisingly light and fluffy, not to mention that there is more of the meat than there is potato. The potatoes came lightly fried so that they were a perfect golden brown color.

Bongo's Fried Stuffed Potatoes

The minced Cuban criolla beef inside was not overly spicy, but did have a nice flavor that gave the dish a little kick. There were three of us and I felt that one of the fried potatoes per person was the perfect serving size starting the meal.

Bongo's Fried Stuffed Potatoes Inside

For an entrée we chose the Cuban Paella. The menu lists this offering as Market Price and, due to the nature of the dish, is served for two (or three). The price for two people was $75 and $100 for three, which may seem a little expensive, but you certainly get what you pay for in terms of both quantity and quality. The paella offers a little of everything, featuring lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, fish, squid, chicken and Spanish sausage. When the paella was served I was immediately struck by two things: the presentation and the massive portion size. The paella came topped with a whole lobster and while it was the serving size for two people it could have easily fed three or four.

Bongo's Paella

The paella came chock full of meat and seafood and had an incredible flavor. The preparation time for this dish is thirty minutes, which allows the rice to fully absorb the flavors of the seafood and meat as it is cooking. Even with so many different ingredients incorporated in the dish, I felt as though all their various flavors blended well together. While it was slightly spicy it was certainly not overwhelming. This is a very rich, heavy dish and, while we completely ate our fill, it seemed as though we barely put a dent in the dish.

In case the paella was not enough food unto itself, the dish came served with a side of green plantains. I had never had plantains before and the way they were prepared gave them a consistency, texture, and taste similar to French fries. The plantains came served round, flattened, and lightly fried. While plantains closely resemble bananas in appearance, I was informed by my server that in Cuban they are as common a side dish as a potato would be to us in the United States. The plantains came with a garlic-lime sauce, but this was far too strong for my taste.

Bongo's Plantains

Overall, this was an extremely flavorful and filling meal that showcased some of the authentic tastes, ingredients, and flavors of Cuba.

Service:
This was yet another aspect of Bongos that very much impressed me. Not being a restaurant owned by Disney I was not sure what type of service we would receive, but it certainly did not disappoint. With a menu featuring such a wide variety of offerings our server took plenty of time to explain some of the restaurant's most popular dishes as well as some of her personal favorites. She even went into detail about some of the various ingredients used in preparing the dishes as well as which of the offerings were more/less spicy. This was all very useful in helping us to decide which dishes we wanted to try.

Besides being very helpful with the menu, our server was also very personable. She was easy to strike up a conversation with and was just overall pleasant and in a good mood. This type of service also extended to the bartenders who prepared our drinks as we were waiting for our table and the hostesses who checked us in and brought us to our table. Overall, the service here is the same high quality that you would find at any other restaurant in Disney World.

Dining on a Budget:
While the paella is probably not something you would order if dining on a budget, Bongo's menu does feature more economical options. In fact, there are a good number of entrées under $20 and the portion sizes of the dishes I saw at every tables were very generous. Among these options are the Cuban Style Steak seasoned with garlic, salt, and topped with onions and parsley for $19.00, Marinated Fried Pork Bites for $17.00, Lechon Asado (slow roasted pork leg) for $18.00, the Cuban Style Breaded Steak for $16.00, Pollo Asado (slow roasted half chicken marinated in a lemon juice, garlic, and white wine) for $18.00, and Pollo a la Plancha (grilled chicken breast marinated in garlic and lemon topped with grilled onions) for $18.00. If you really want to save some money you definitely want to consider dining at Bongo's for lunch. Served from 11:00am until 4:00pm, the lunch menu includes several sandwiches that range in price from $8 to $12.

Bongos 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, offering members a 20% discount.

The Overall Experience:
Bongos Cuban Café definitely exceeded my expectations. In the countless times I have been to Downtown Disney since Bongos opened in 1997 I had never dined there, but I can now say that it will certainly not take me as long before dining there a second time. One of the greatest allures of Bongos is its extensive menu. There are just so many options, and so many that sound very appetizing, that it makes you want to keep coming back in order to try something else. Its Cuban-inspired cuisine also makes Bongos unique among Disney restaurants, offering flavors and ingredients that cannot be found elsewhere in Disney World. In addition, its nighttime entertainment makes for a fun and exciting atmosphere in which to enjoy your meal. With its distinctively Latin feel, dining at Bongos will make you feel as if you have been transported to a Miami hotspot or even Havana itself. If you are like me and have fallen into the pattern of always dining at the same handful of restaurants whenever you visit Downtown Disney, Bongos is certainly worth a try. You will probably be pleasantly surprised.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Bongos Cuban Cafe and post your own too!

February 3, 2013

A Quiet and Casual Lunch at the Grand Floridian Café

Andrew Rossi

When it comes to fine dining the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa has some of the most exclusive restaurants in all of Disney World. First and foremost among these restaurants is Victoria and Albert's. An eleven time recipient of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award, this restaurant offers innovative cooking with a menu that changes daily, impeccable service, and opulent décor. Narcoossee's specializes in seafood and features a breathtaking location with stunning panoramic views of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Citricos features a Mediterranean-inspired décor and menu in addition to an award winning wine list that is one of the most extensive in all of Disney World. Each of these restaurants are what Disney classifies as Signature dining locations. Signature restaurants are the cream of the crop amongst the numerous dining locations to be found all across Disney World, offering elegant and refined settings that create truly unique and memorable dining experiences.

Overshadowed by its more prestigious neighbors, the Grand Floridian Café is easily missed even by those who are staying at the resort. Although it might not have the same name recognition, this restaurant provides a great alternative for those who may not be looking to dine in as formal a setting nor have the budget for these other Signature dining locations.

GFC Signage

Overview:
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa certainly lives up to its namesake. When it comes to Disney resorts, its grandeur is second to none. The Grand Floridian is all about elegance as soon as you enter the lobby and this is carried throughout the rest of the resort.

GF Lobby

While the Grand Floridian Café ties into the overall Victorian theming and charm of the resort, it does so in a more casual and subdued way, which helps to create a comfortable and calm setting in which to enjoy your meal.

The Grand Floridian Cafe is located in the main building of the Grand Floridian. Situated in an un-imposing location tucked away from the lobby, it can easily be passed by as one makes their way toward the resort's marina. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, easily accessible by boat or monorail from the Magic Kingdom, and located at one of Disney World's marquee resorts, it is surprising that the Grand Floridian Café is largely overlooked when it comes to Disney dining locations. This, however, is part of its allure. The restaurant's relative obscurity makes for a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, often without need of a reservation, which provides a much-needed escape from the crowds as well as the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

Atmosphere:
The Grand Floridian Café has an atmosphere that I can best describe as casual elegance. It has the same Victorian style as the rest of the resort, but with a more comfortable and laid-back feel. The restaurant's dining room is bright and inviting, featuring a color palette of white and cream.

GFC Dining Room1

GFC Dining Room2

Its high ceilings give the restaurant a very open feel, which is also aided by its large windows.

GFC Windows

Not only do these windows allow in ample sunlight throughout the day, but they also offer stunning views of the resort's courtyard and rose garden.

GFC View

These windows really help to bring the outdoors into the restaurant, with the roses from the garden continuing onto each table top. This flower motif is also continued on the wallpaper and carpeting as well.

GFC Table Roses

Subtle touches like the restaurant's lace curtains and beautiful floral arrangements lend a sense of sophistication, but overall this is a very inviting setting to dine with the entire family including small children.

GFC Flowers

The overall décor is very subdued and simple. The dining room's curtains, floral wall paper, and light fixtures all add a sense of Victorian charm.

GFC Light Fixture

In addition, a variety of water-color paintings of fruits and vegetables as well as several weather vanes featuring farm animals give the restaurant a little character and whimsy.

GFC Paintings

GFC Weather Vane

The Grand Floridian Café compliments the look and feel of the resort as a whole but it also provides a nice change from the elegance and refinement of the rest of the resort and its other Signature restaurants. Overall, there is really nothing about the restaurant's atmosphere that is going to make you say "wow," but it provides a tranquil and relaxing setting in which to enjoy your meal. This is aided by the fact that the restaurant is not usually very crowded, especially during lunchtime hours. Dining here is truly a great escape; you really have no idea that you are just minutes away from the Magic Kingdom.

The Menu:
The Grand Floridian Café's menu presents classic American fare, but with a little flair. Breakfast is served from 7am until 11am and the menu features traditional items such as the American ($13.49) featuring two Eggs served with biscuits, bacon, sausage and breakfast potatoes. There is also a Mickey Waffle ($10.99) served with bacon or sausage and a Ham and Cheese Omelet ($11.49) served with breakfast potatoes. There are, however, some breakfast items that are given a little twist, such as the Lobster Eggs Benedict ($17.99), Citrus Pancakes ($12.49) with roasted pecans and sun-dried cranberries topped with orange butter, and Vanilla-Laced French Toast ($11.99) which is dipped in a vanilla-flavored batter and served with bacon or sausage.

Lunch, served from 11:45am until 2pm, features a menu dominated by a lighter fare of sandwiches and salads. These include two of the restaurant's signature lunch items. First is the Grand Floridian Burger ($19.49) that is topped with butter-poached lobster with a red onion marmalade, crispy prosciutto, and arugula and there is also The Grand Sandwich ($13.49) served open-faced with hot ham, turkey, bacon, and tomato with a rich Boursin cheese sauce and fried onion straws.

Additionally, there is the Rustic Chicken Sandwich ($12.99) topped with a sun-dried tomato pesto and Dijon mayonnaise, a traditional Reuben Sandwich ($10.99), a Tuna Nicoise Salad ($18.49) with mixed greens, fingerling potatoes, green beans, kalamata olives, and tomatoes , Caesar Salad with shrimp ($15.49) or grilled chicken breast ($14.49), and a Cobb Salad ($15.49) with diced turkey, bacon, avocado, blue cheese, eggs, chives, and tomatoes.

If you are looking for a heartier lunch there is the Orecchiette Pasta of the Day ($15.99) that can also come served with shrimp ($19.99) or grilled chicken ($17.99) as well as the New York Strip Steak ($26.99) served with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Dinner is served from 5pm until 10pm. The menu's appetizers are the same for both lunch and dinner, including Pan-Seared Lump Crab Cakes ($11.49), Shrimp Cocktail ($12.99), Caesar Salad ($5.49), a Seasonal Salad ($5.99), French Onion Soup ($7.49), and a Seasonal Soup ($5.99).

For entrees, the dinner menu replaces all the sandwiches and salads on the lunch menu with exception of the Grand Floridian Burger. The menu instead features Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast ($18.99) with a mushroom risotto, roasted mushrooms, and chicken pan juice, Shrimp and Grits ($19.99) served on top of creamy mascarpone cheese grits, a New York Strip Steak ($29.99) accompanied by crushed fingerling mashed potatoes and a brandy-green peppercorn sauce, a Grilled Pork Chop ($21.99) with sweet potato-smoked gouda gratin and sautéed spinach topped with chimichurri, and Orecchiette Pasta of the Day ($18.99).

The dessert options are the same for both lunch and dinner and include Chocolate Fondue ($6.99) served with dark chocolate ganache and fresh fruit, Key Lime Tart ($3.29) with a chocolate crust, New York-Style Lemon Cheesecake ($3.49), Boston Cream Pie ($3.49), Fresh Berry Tart ($3.49) with a layer of almond cake topped with seasonal berries and an apricot glaze, and Seasonal Sorbet ($4.99).

For my lunch I inquired as to what the Seasonal Soup was for the day and was told that it was a Butternut Squash Soup. I immediately decided to order this because it is a type of soup that I greatly enjoy but is not found in too many restaurants. This was butternut squash soup with a twist, however, as it was served with diced apples and bacon and came topped with a whipped maple cream.

GFC Butternut Squash Soup

The soup was presented with a fairly generous dollop of this whipped cream in the center and was then mixed in. The soup itself was so rich and creamy, but I found it to be not quite as sweet as other butternut squash soups I have had in the past. Some added sweetness was provided by the diced apples as well as the maple whipped cream. I was really surprised at how well the flavor of the apples blended with the butternut squash and complimented the slight saltiness of the bacon (whose flavor was not nearly as overwhelming as I had thought it would be). These added components really helped to make this butternut squash soup unique.

I was very undecided about my entrée as both the Grand Floridian Burger and The Grand Sandwich sounded very intriguing. Instead, I chose to go with the Orcchiette Pasta of the Day. On this particular day the pasta was served with green beans, peas, carrots, mushrooms, and sun dried tomatoes topped with a creamy asiago cheese sauce.

GFC Pasta

The sauce was the real highlight of the dish as it had such a rich and creamy flavor to which the vegetables provided a light and refreshing contrast. Of all the vegetables, the flavor of the sun dried tomatoes really popped. The pasta was also seasoned generously with crushed black pepper that helped to provide an added kick. I was also very impressed with the portion size as well as the amount of vegetables that were mixed into the pasta. One of the great things about this particular dish is that it is always changing depending on what is fresh.

Service:
One of the aspects of the Grand Floridian Café that really impressed me the most was the impeccable service. The Cast Members at this restaurant were some of the friendliest and most personable that I have experienced at any Disney dining location. It started as soon as I approached the entrance of the restaurant and the hostess immediately struck up a conversation with me when I told her it was my first time dining there and we continued to chat as she showed me to my table.

My server was extremely helpful in explaining the various menu items, including descriptions of the soup of the day and the orcchiette pasta that both won me over to ordering these dishes. We discussed a variety of topics including the Grand Floridian resort, Disney World, and living in Florida. He always seemed to be nearby whenever I needed anything. This is one of the primary advantages to dining at a restaurant that is typically less crowded. My server only had a couple of tables to wait on and there was really no rush to get tables turned over in order to seat additional parties as is evident at some of the more popular restaurants. This allows for the servers at the Grand Floridian Café to provide very personal and attentive service and it is something that makes it very likely for me to dine here again in the future.

Dining on a Budget:
Of course, when compared with the other dining options at the Grand Floridian, the Grand Floridian Café is a far more reasonable dining option. This is especially true at lunch time where the menu's variety of sandwiches and salads are all good values by Disney standards. To put it into perspective, if you were at Magic Kingdom and went to Pecos Bill's to order the Deluxe 1/3 Pound Angus Cheeseburger it would cost you $10.59. For just a few dollars more you could escape from the crowds and enjoy a meal in a far more quiet and relaxing setting with higher quality menu items such as the Rustic Chicken Sandwich for $12.99. Not only are the prices reasonable, but the portion sizes are very generous.

The Grand Floridian Café is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland, offering members a 20% discount. In addition, Annual Passholders can receive a 10% discount on lunch Mondays through Fridays. Disney Vacation Club members get a 10% discount on breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Overall Experience:
This was my first time dining at the Grand Floridian Café, but after my experience there I know that it will not be the last. With its quiet, casual elegance that incorporates the resort's Victorian charm, a reasonably priced menu that features a variety of different options from sandwiches to salads to full entrees, and friendly and attentive servers, the Grand Floridian Café is certainly worth a visit and not only if you are staying at the resort.

With such easy accessibility by boat or monorail from the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian Café would be a great option for a middle-of-the-day break from the park, giving you the chance to relax and reenergize and enjoy some peace and quiet. In addition, since dining reservations can sometime be hard to come by in the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian Café is the type of restaurant that you do not need to make reservations for months in advance. Overall, I was very impressed by the Grand Floridian Café. It is a dining location worthy of being located at one of Disney World's marquee resorts.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Grand Floridian Cafe and post your own too!

January 19, 2013

The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour

by Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger


train-tour-12.jpg


On December 6, I had the opportunity to go on The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour. This was a fun tour and probably one of the few that allow you to take pictures in a backstage area.

The tour starts much earlier than any of the others -- the official start time is 7:30 a.m. with a meet time of 7:15. (Be sure to double-check the meet location.Unfortunately, I missed part of the beginning of the tour because I was in the wrong spot. I was told later by the tour department that the correct meet location is just outside the turnstiles.)

For me, the tour started in the train station. Our tour guide Gary began by explaining some of the photos that were in the lower level of the train station, as well as some of the facts and history of the trains used at Walt Disney World.


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After the official park opening we went up to the upper level of the train station and boarded the show train. The show train has cars similar to the ones normally used for guest transportation, however they do not have the safety panels installed.


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We then proceeded toward the Storybook Circus area of Fantasyland, and then backed up onto a spur line that goes back to the train and monorail barn. While we were traveling, our guide explained some of the safety procedures and signals used.

Once we were near the barn we stepped off of the train and were able to watch it back up the rest of the way.

Gary then explained a few more facts and details regarding the trains, and also told a few stories, such as the origin of some common phrases like "the Real McCoy." (Elijah McCoy invented a device to lubricate moving parts on a train, so when engineers would have their trains serviced they would ask for "The Real McCoy".)


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Next, in small groups we were brought up into the cab of the locomotive so that Gary could explain some of the controls and safety devices that are on the train.

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After a tour of the cab, they fired up the boiler.

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And, although not normally part of the tour, they demonstrated the use of a fire extinguisher as well:


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We then boarded the train and departed the maintenance area and headed back to the Main Street station. Once there, we were able to take pictures with the engineer, and concluded the tour with a further discussion of Walt Disney and his love of trains.


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At the conclusion of the tour we received this exclusive pin.


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Overall, this was a great tour that was well worth the cost. The cast member was cheerful and informative, and even spent some additional time talking with us after the tour ended. I definitely look forward to taking this tour again!

See what other readers think about the Magic Behind the Steam Trains Tour and write your review too!

Learn about other tours at Walt Disney World!


January 12, 2013

Earl of Sandwich: Perfecting Sandwich-Making Since 1762

Andrew Rossi

One of the great things about dining at Disney World is that there are no shortage of options, even if you are just looking for a quick bit to eat. While many of Disney's full service restaurants garner great popularity and acclaim, there are also numerous compelling counter service options to be found as well. Just because you may not have the time to devote to a sit-down meal, or even if you are dining on a more stringent budget, does not mean that you have to suffer in terms of the quality food that you are receiving. While some of these locations feature the staple burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, there is such a great variety of food to be found at counter service restaurants across the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney.

One of my favorite counter service restaurants at Disney World is actually found at Downtown Disney. The irony of this restaurant is that it is not actually Disney-owned, but part of a chain that has locations all across the United States. Nevertheless, when it comes to counter service dining, there are not too many locations at Disney World that can match Earl of Sandwich.

Earl_Signage.JPG

Located at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Earl of Sandwich offers great variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads at a very reasonable price; it comes as no surprise that the restaurant is always packed with people. The Earl of Sandwich alone is a worth a visit to Downtown Disney and, if you do not feel like waiting maybe an hour or more for a table at one of the full service restaurants, offers a great alternative for both lunch and dinner.

Earl_Exterior

Overview:
The story of the invention of the sandwich helps provide the back-story for the Earl of Sandwich restaurant. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was commander of the British navy, a noted explorer, as well as someone who greatly enjoyed gambling and card games.

Earl_Earl_of_Sandwich.JPG

As the story goes, Montagu was so busy that he had very little time for food and came up with the idea (possibly while playing a game of cards) of putting meat between two slices of bread for a quick and easy meal that could be eaten on the run. As a result, in 1762, the sandwich was named in honor of its inventor. Now, nearly 250 years later, the Earl of Sandwich restaurant continues this tradition and boasts that it is home to "The World's Greatest Hot Sandwich." The Earl of Sandwich's illustrious history and tradition is set forth in the restaurant's official charter and aptly describes the restaurant's premise and objective:

Earl_Charter.JPG

Atmosphere:
Earl of Sandwich has become extremely popular and is always crowded no matter what time of day you go, but especially during the peak dining times. For this reason, seating (or lack thereof) can become a real issue. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a table. This can clearly be seen on extremely hot or colder days because people do not want to eat outside and there is not enough indoor seating to handle everyone. The seating area inside is not very big and the tables are packed very tightly together. Combined with the large crowds, this makes it a little loud inside the restaurant.

Earl_Indoor_Seating.JPG

If you are looking for a quieter dining experience, it is probably best to find a table outside.

Earl_Outdoor_Seating.JPG

All that being said, there are several aspects of Earl of Sandwich's atmosphere that are very appealing. The restaurant's high ceilings give it a much-needed open feel (especially with the tables being so close together) and the light fixtures, book shelves, faux fireplace, and fresh-cut flowers on every table give a little touch of refinement to what is an otherwise very causal and laid-back environment.

Earl_Lighting.JPG

Earl_Atmosphere.JPG

The classical music playing in the background is also a nice added touch, even though it can be somewhat difficult to hear at times. All this helps to give the restaurant a little taste of 1762; you can almost feel as though you are sitting in John Montagu's parlor waiting to play a game of cards.

An aspect of the atmosphere that probably goes unnoticed by most guests is the Earl of Sandwich Historical Society. Located around the corner from where you place your order, the Historical Society is a full wall that features maps, pictures, paintings, and other information about the history of John Montagu.

Earl_History.JPG

Here you can find, among other things, a portrait of the Earl of Sandwich as well as the family coat of arms. It really helps to give the restaurant a level of detail and history that goes beyond what you would typically expect to find in a counter service restaurant.

Earl_Coat_of_Arms.JPG

The Menu:

One of the things that stands out most about the menu at Earl of Sandwich is the sheer number of options. Each of their sandwiches are $5.99, are made to order, and served on one of their fresh artisan loafs. The menu includes The Original 1762, with fresh roasted beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce, The Earl's Club, featuring roast turkey, smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sandwich sauce, the All American, topped with roast turkey, buttermilk ranch, cranberries, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato, the Italian, which includes salami, capicola, roasted ham, mortadella, mozzarella, tomato and a zesty Italian dressing , The Full Montagu, featuring roast beef and turkey with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and the Earl's mustard sauce, Cannonballs, with meatballs, mozzarella parmesan cheese, and marinara sauce, the Tuna Melt, featuring albacore tuna salad and Swiss cheese, the Chipotle Chicken Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocado, lettuce and chipotle sauce, the Hawaiian BBQ, featuring roasted ham, grilled chicken, Hawaiian BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, and fresh pineapple, the Ham and Swiss, topped with roasted ham with Swiss cheese and the Earl's mustard sauce, the Holiday Turkey, complete with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, the Caprese, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with grilled chicken, roasted red and banana peppers, and a spicy jerk sauce, and the Best BLT, featuring smoked bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and seasoned mayonnaise.

The menu does not stop with sandwiches, but also includes an array of wraps, all of which are $5.99 as well. Among these are the Buffalo Chicken, with grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, buffalo sauce, and ranch dressing, Chicken, Bacon & Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, romaine, avocado, bacon, tomato, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Baja Chicken, featuring grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, fajita seasoning, chipotle seasoning, and balsamic vinaigrette, the BBQ Ranch Chicken, which includes grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing, the Thai, with grilled chicken, romaine, Chinese cabbage mix, sweet chili sauce, and Thai peanut dressing, the Chicken Caesar, topped with grilled chicken, parmesan, romaine, croutons, and Caesar dressing, and the Spicy Tuna, which includes albacore tuna salad, romaine, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, chipotle sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette.

For those looking for something a little on the lighter side, there are also a number of salads available, which are also $5.99. These include The Earl's Cobb, topped with grilled chicken, smoked bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, cranberries and ranch dressing, the Baja Chicken, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, avocado, tomato, roasted corn, black beans, tortilla strips, and a red wine vinaigrette, the Chicken Caesar, with grilled chicken, field greens and romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, croutons, classic Caesar dressing, the Chicken, Berry and Almond, featuring spinach, grilled chicken, fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Greek, which includes romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, feta, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, and a zesty Italian dressing, the Asian, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, mandarin oranges, almonds, wontons and an Asian dressing, the BBQ Chicken, which includes field greens, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, and the Thai Chicken, with field greens, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, sweet chili sauce, wontons, and a Thai peanut dressing.

There are also various side items available for purchase, including potato salad ($1.99), pasta salad ($2.29), the coleslaw ($1.99), and potato chips ($1.29). It is really a menu that offers something for everyone and the hardest part is really deciding what you want to order.

Despite all the variety on the menu, I have a small number of mainstays that I gravitate to each visit. This time I decided on The Original 1762, with fresh roast beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce. I think the best place to start talking about the sandwiches is the bread because this is really what makes them so special. While bread alone does necessarily not make a sandwich, it can certainly break a sandwich. At Earl of Sandwich, however, is a highlight unto itself. Every sandwich is made to order so you know it is always going to be fresh and hot. The bread is perfectly toasted so it is slightly crispy on the outside but still soft and warm on the inside. The bread is so good that I could just go there, order some toasted bread, and be completely satisfied.

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There have been times that I ordered The Original and the roast beef was a little too rare for my liking, but most of the time it is cooked absolutely perfectly with just a slight hint of pinkish color. For those of you who might be scared away by the horseradish sauce, it is not too strong at all and really serves compliment the roast beef rather than being too overpowering. The horseradish helps add to the flavor of the sandwich and gives it just a little bit of a kick, making it something more unique than your standard roast beef sandwich.

Along with the sandwich I chose a side of potato salad. The light and refreshing flavor of the potato salad provided a perfect complement to the heartier flavor of The Original. The potatoes were red-skinned and were cooked just right so as to be not too soft and mushy nor too hard. The potato salad did have a strong mayonnaise base, but also featured a slight hint of dill to provide some extra flavor. While the potato salad did not have the same "wow" factor as the sandwich, it was still a good accompaniment for the meal.

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Dessert at Earl of Sandwich is definitely something that should not be overlooked. Even though the sandwiches can be very filling, it is worth saving room for dessert. Like the rest of the menu, there are a good number of dessert offerings to choose from, ranging from fresh baked chocolate chip cookies ($1.99) to brownie bites ($3.99), brownie sandwiches ($2.49), cupcakes ($2.49), bread pudding ($2.49), strawberry shortcake ($2.99), and even ice cream sandwiches ($3.29). My favorite dessert by far is the Peanut Butter-Filled Brownie Sandwich.

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The one word I could come up with to describe this dessert is heavenly. The brownie is extremely moist and also has chocolate chunks throughout that gave it added texture and flavor. The peanut butter filling is extremely smooth, sweet, and creamy; the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is just perfect. This is a very rich and heavy dessert and is easily big enough to be split by two people (but it is so good that you may just want to eat the entire thing yourself).

Service:
Like with every quick service dining location, the Earl of Sandwich is able to serve a large number of guests in a small amount of time. Because the restaurant is so crowded, this efficiency takes on an even greater importance. Guests place their order at one end of the counter and are then given a pager to let them know when their food is ready. Everyone then makes their way down to the other end of the counter to pay. The service is often so fast that, by the time you pay for your meal, your pager is already vibrating to let you know to go pick up my order.

The service at Earl of Sandwich is so quick in part because they have so many people working behind the counter. The only problem I noticed was that they sometimes resorted to yelling as a way of keeping the guests moving in line. While it seemed that they were doing this in order to serve as many people as possible, it was unfortunate that it came at the expense of their interaction with the guests. I have seen other quick service locations throughout Disney World that are able to provide speedy service but still have Cast Members who are able to interact with guests in a way that is both pleasant and personable. This might be due to the fact that Earl of Sandwich is not a Disney-owned restaurant.

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes to dining on a budget, there are not too many places at Disney World that are better than Earl of Sandwich; it may be the best value on all Disney property. The prices are all very reasonable, the food is great, and the portion sizes are big. With sandwiches, wraps, and salads all just $5.99, this is cheaper than most offerings found at other counter service locations across the parks and resorts. When you also take into account that side items are just around $2.00 and desserts range between $2.00 and $3.00, you can have an entire meal for a very reasonable price. If you are dining on a budget, Earl of Sandwich is definitely the place to go.

If you have a AAA card, you will receive a 10% discount on your items.

It should also be noted that Earl of Sandwich is on the Disney Dining Plan and worth one counter service credit.

The Overall Experience:
One of the reasons why I like Earl of Sandwich so much is consistency. All the times that I have been there I have never been disappointed. I always know my sandwich is going to be hot and fresh, the portion size is going to be big, and the price is going to be reasonable. This is the recipe for success that has made Earl of Sandwich so popular. The quality of food is definitely worth having to wait in what can often be a long line. Even though it is a chain restaurant with locations across the country, Earl of Sandwich has become synonymous with Downtown Disney. Next time you are looking for somewhere to eat while at Downtown Disney, especially if you do not feel like waiting a long time for a table at one of the sit down restaurants, definitely consider giving Earl of Sandwich a try. Its cuisine may be simple (just sandwiches, salads, and wraps), but its quality is top notch and the prices are very affordable. After trying it once, you will want to go back again and again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Earl of Sandwich 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!

October 21, 2012

Nine Dragons: World Showcase's Overlooked Restaurant

Andrew Rossi

I have had the opportunity to dine at nearly all of the restaurants in World Showcase, but there has been one that has continually eluded me. With all the various cuisines and dining options available throughout World Showcase the idea of dining in China has always been low on my priority list. After all, Chinese restaurants are so common and I could even have Chinese food delivered to my own house rather than going to Epcot. When dining at Disney World I tend to prefer the types of dining experiences that are less common, but recently I finally decided to give Nine Dragons at Epcot's China pavilion a try.

I realized that, even though I have had Chinese food at numerous locations, I should not be so quick to group Nine Dragons together with all of them. Italian restaurants are just as common as Chinese restaurants and yet I still greatly enjoy Via Napoli for its authentic pizza and hibachi-style Japanese restaurants are becoming much more prevalent but I still continue to dine at Teppan Edo. I hoped that the same would hold true for Nine Dragons.

Nine_Dragons_Signage

Overview:
One of the primary goals of World Showcase is deepening Guests' understanding and appreciation of the countries they are visiting. World Showcase is a place to educate and entertain, somewhere Guests can experience first-hand the cultures, histories, sights, and sounds of eleven different nations. As such, every aspect of these World Showcase pavilions helps to offer insight into their country's culture and people; their attractions, shops, and restaurants all have different stories to tell. With Nine Dragons this story starts with the restaurant's name.

The name Nine Dragons is very fitting because both the number nine and dragons have special significance in Chinese culture. In China, dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers such as control over water, rainfall, hurricanes, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. Throughout the country's history, the Emperor of China has used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

The number nine is likewise special in China, as it is the largest possible single digit, and is considered to be an extremely lucky number. Dragons are frequently connected with the number nine. Dragons are usually described as having nine characteristics: its head is like a camel's, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, its ears like a bull's, its neck like an iguana's, its belly like a frog's, its scales like those of a carp, its paws like a tiger's, and its claws like an eagle's. Chinese dragons also traditionally have 117 (9x13) scales and have nine offspring. Throughout China, Nine Dragons Screens (walls with images of nine different dragons) are typically found in imperial palaces and gardens. Thus Nine Dragons at Epcot is firmly rooted in Chinese history, culture, and traditions which is reinforced even more with the visual imagery used throughout the restaurant.

Atmosphere:
Visually, China has one of the most beautiful pavilions in all of World Showcase. The architectural beauty and attention to detail is truly breathtaking. Thus, you begin to be immersed into Chinese culture before even setting foot inside any of the buildings. A lively color palette of red, green, blue, and gold really make the buildings stand out and then all the tiny details lend an added sense of authenticity.

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Some people may pass these buildings by without giving them a second look, but if you really take your time you can fully appreciate all the craftsmanship that went into their design. One of my personal favorite touches is the figures on the corners of the roof:

Nine_Dragons_Exterior_Details

The interior of the restaurant is a blend of traditional and contemporary and dragon imagery is carried throughout. This is evident from the moment you enter the restaurant and are greeted by a beautiful glass mural depicting two dragons chasing a glowing pearl.

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Even more impressive is when you look up and see the decorative artwork on the ceiling featuring a golden dragon motif. The intricate details in this are truly something to behold.

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Even the woodwork continues the dragon imagery and serves to highlight the skill and craftsmanship of the Chinese artisans who created the works.

Dragon_Woodwork

Along the one of the walls of the dining room is a display featuring a variety of delicately crafted glass artwork, all of which pays tribute to the more classical Chinese style.

Glass_Art1

Glass_Art2

Glass_Art3

Despite all these traditional Chinese touches, the dining room has more of a modern feel. Sleek and streamlined, the dining room itself is a nice reflection of modern-day China where old and new, classic and contemporary, blend together harmoniously. The tables are all aligned in straight rows, but I felt as though they were placed very close together. I dined here at lunch when it was not very crowded, but I can imagine it might feel slightly tight and cramped during the busier times of the day.

Nine_Dragons_Dining_Room1

Nine_Dragons_Dining_Room2

The dining room itself is very large, but it is divided into a series of smaller sections by rosewood wall panels.

Wall_Partitions

One of my favorite aspects of the décor was the restaurant's lighting, which provides a modern spin on classic Chinese lanterns. The lanterns add a splash of color to an otherwise restrained color palette. Also, the more subdued lighting adds a touch of intimacy to the dining room.

Nine_Dragons_Lighting

Another nice aspect of the dining room is its huge windows overlooking the World Showcase promenade and lagoon. If you are dining here I would definitely recommend requesting a seat by the windows. It is a great place for people watching during the day and at night would offer a nice, although somewhat obstructed, view of Illuminations.

Nine_Dragons_Windows

Overall, the detail and theming of Nine Dragons exceeded my expectations. While the contemporary touches give it a more upscale feel it is still a calm and relaxing setting to enjoy your meal. If you are looking for a more quiet dining experience I would definitely recommend going for lunch rather than dinner, but it is an atmosphere that can be enjoyed by families with children and adult couples alike.

The Menu:
Nine Dragons features separate menus for lunch and dinner, but both are very similar with just a couple of dishes that are exclusive to dinner. The appetizers are divided between hot and cold. The Cold Appetizers include Cucumber Salad ($5.98), Fragrant Chicken ($5.98) served with a fragrant green onion dipping sauce, and Spicy Beef ($8.68) tossed with a cilantro-chili dressing. For those who cannot decide on just one, there is the Appetizer Trio ($11.98) that features all three.

Hot Appetizers feature several traditional Chinese favorites in addition to some less conventional items. For the traditional there are Pot Stickers ($6.98), which are sautéed pork and vegetable dumplings, as well as Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls ($7.98). For someone looking for something a little different there is the Walnut Shrimp Toast ($7.98), which is actually classic Chinese snack. Other appetizers include Shrimp and Taro Lollipops ($9.98) that present a playful take on a traditional dim sum favorite and General Tso's Chicken Dumplings ($10.98) which provides an innovative twist on a classic, featuring steamed dumplings drizzles with a tangy Chinese Red Sauce.

While many of the entrée selections are the same for lunch and dinner, the prices are different. For the following entrée, the first price listed is lunch and the second is dinner. Among the entrees featured are Honey Sesame Chicken ($16.98, $18.98), Sweet and Sour Pork ($15.68, $16.98) served with lightly spiced spinach noodles, Peppery Shrimp with Spinach Noodles ($17.98, $21.98), Kung Pao Chicken ($15.98, $17.98) accompanied by peanuts and dried chili peppers, Canton Pepper Beef ($15.98, $18.98) stir-fried with onions, green, and red peppers in a savory broth, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish ($21.98), Nine Dragons Fried Rice ($15.98) stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, ham, eggs, vegetables and touch of chili spice, and Chinese Chicken Salad ($12.98) featuring savory sliced chicken, mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, golden raisins and walnuts with your choice of sweet ginger or peanut-coconut dressing.

Among those entrees available just for dinner are Spit Roasted Beijing Chicken ($18.98) served with a side of smooth mashed taro, Shrimp and Steak ($26.98) featuring grilled shrimp and steak served with bok choy and drizzled with sweet lightly spiced Chinese red sauce, and the Zha Jiang Noodles Sampler ($19.98) which allows you to mix and match your noodles with fresh vegetables and two classic sauces: sweet and savory minced pork and spicy diced chicken.

The dessert choices are somewhat limited and include Coconut Rice Pudding ($7.98) topped with cinnamon and wonton crisps, Chinese Ginger Cake ($6.68), and two choices of ice cream, either Strawberry-Red Bean or Caramel-Ginger ($3.98).

For an appetizer I was very tempted to try the Pot Stickers, but I have had these at so many other Chinese restaurants and wanted to try something a little different and instead opted for the Walnut Shrimp Toast. When it was served to me it did not look at all like I was expecting. I had thought it would be similar in appearance to a bruschetta, with thin slices of toasted bread topped with shrimp and walnuts. Instead the bread was cut much thicker, although it was still nice and crusty.

Walnut_Shrimp_Toast

What was very surprising was that I did not immediately notice any shrimp. However, I quickly found that the entire top of the toast was coated with a finely-chopped layer of shrimp which at first glance had actually looked like cheese. While it may not be the most visually impressive appetizer it was very tasty. I really liked the combination of the shrimp and walnuts, which presented a nice contrast in flavor and texture and yet went together really well. The toast came served along with sweet and sour sauce for dipping which provided even extra flavor.

For my entrée I chose the Sweet and Sour Pork. I really liked the presentation of the dish, simple yet effective. The bold reddish-orange color of the pork really popped on the white plate. The pork was lightly battered, cut into small, bite-sized pieces, and was very tender. Looks can be a little deceiving. Because of the small pieces of pork and the large size of the plate it first looked like the portion size was not very big, but when I actually started eating I was surprised to find there was much more food than first appeared. I found the sweet and sour sauce to be slightly more on the sweet side and had a fairly thick consistency, which I really enjoyed. Accompanying the pork were cubes of pineapple, which added a light and refreshing flavor to the dish the complimented the pork extremely well.

Sweet_and_Sour_Pork

Also served alongside the pork were what the menu called lightly-spiced spinach noodles. I think the lightly-spiced is a little of a misnomer because the noodles had a ton of flavor. If you are not a fan of garlic you would probably not care for these noodles because that was the predominant flavor along with a slight hint of crushed red pepper. These noodles had a definite kick to them and they presented a nice contrast to the sweeter-flavored pork.

Spinach_Noodles

Overall, it was a very good meal that offered something a little different from what I normally order at Chinese restaurants.

Service:
I think the service at Nine Dragons can best be described as courteous but quiet. My server was certainly attentive to all my needs and quickly responded whenever I needed anything, but she was also very reserved and almost shy. I think this can be attributed more to cultural differences than anything else. This is one of the things that I enjoy most about dining in World Showcase. It does not matter what country you are dining in, the servers there will be natives of those countries. This makes them more than just waiters and waitresses, but rather cultural representatives who, along with the atmosphere and the cuisine, help with the overall sense of immersion into that particular country. At other restaurants around World Showcase I have had great conversations with my servers about their homes and have been able to gain a little more insight into their various cultures. I was not able to have that same type of interaction at Nine Dragons, although I did find that my server's English was very good and easy to understand (which is not always the case when dining in World Showcase).

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes of dining at Nine Dragons, I would definitely recommend going there for lunch rather than dinner. Not only is the restaurant less crowded, but the menu is largely the same and the prices a little less expensive. Some dishes, like the Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish for $21.98 and the Nine Dragons Fried Rice for $15.98, are the same price for both lunch and dinner. However, others like the Honey Sesame Chicken, $16.98 for lunch and $18.98 for dinner, are a little less expensive.

Another good value, for both lunch and dinner, is the Treasures of the Dragon prix fixe menu. The lunch option is $29.68 and includes an option of Hot and Sour Soup or Chicken Consomme for an appetizer, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish, General Tso's Chicken, or Beef Sichuan for an entrée, and Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. The dinner option is $33.68 and includes a Chinese Dim Sum appetizer featuring pot stickers and vegetable spring rolls, an entrée option of either General Tso's Chicken, Fish Sichuan, or the Happy Family Duet, which is comprised of stir-fried slices of beef and chicken with water chestnuts and vegetables alongside spicy and tangy shrimp, and either Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. These prix fixe menus are a good way of sampling a greater variety of the countries cuisine. While you do not save a ton of money, it usually works out as though you are getting the dessert for free as oppose to ordering each of the items separately off the menu.

Nine Dragons 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. Annual Passholders can also save 10% on food and non-alcoholic beverages Monday through Friday during lunch hours. Disney Vacation Club members receive the same 10% discount for both lunch and dinner.

The Overall Experience:
Nine Dragons definitely exceeded my expectations. It is more than just your typical Chinese restaurant that you might find in your home town and get take-out or delivery from. Everything from the atmosphere's fine details and intricate craftsmanship to the cuisine and even the service all helped to immerse you into Chinese culture. While the menu did feature many traditional Chinese dishes that are common on the menus of many other restaurants, I was also pleased to see that they had some less-conventional items as well.

All that being said, there are so many restaurants in World Showcase that there are quite a few that I would choose to dine at before going back to Nine Dragons again. I am not saying that my meal here was bad. In fact, it was quite the contrary. It just does not have the same level of uniqueness that makes some of the other World Showcase restaurants so special and popular. If I am making the trip to Epcot, I have several other restaurants that I like a lot more than Nine Dragons. I am certainly glad that I tried the restaurant because it was something new and different for me, but it will probably be some time before I dine there again. If you have never tried Nine Dragons before, it is certainly a possible alternative if you are not able to obtain reservations at some of the other World Showcase restaurants.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Nine Dragons and post your own too!

August 26, 2012

Ama Ama: Aulani's Signature Dining Experience

Andrew Rossi

In my last entry I talked about the various dining options available at Disney's Aulani resort in Ko Olina, Hawaii. Of all the restaurants at the resort, however, there is one that stands above the rest. If you were to only dine at one restaurant at Aulani, Ama Ama would be the one not to miss. The restaurant is to Aulani what California Grill is to the Contemporary or Yachtsman Steakhouse is to the Yacht Club resort, a fine dining experience that offers unparalleled service, atmosphere, and cuisine. At Aulani, Ama Ama provides a dining experience unlike any other and one that is truly unforgettable.

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Overview:
One of the greatest attributes of Aulani is its breathtaking location. Sitting right on the beach and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the resort highlights the natural beauty of its surroundings.

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Aulani is also a resort meant to celebrate Hawaiian culture, history, and traditions. Ama Ama does both of these, showcasing the island's natural beauty and its unique culture. While Hawaiian heritage plays an important role in the restaurant's theming, it does so in more subtle ways. This starts with the restaurant's name as the ʻamaʻama is a tasty local fish immortalized in popular Hawaiian songs. Ama Ama celebrates not only the fish, but also the fishing settlements along the coast dating back to the 12th century. A very distinctive cuisine also plays an important role in Hawaiian culture and at Ama Ama the gourmet chefs use fresh local ingredients and island flavors to create dishes that combine both traditional and contemporary elements. What truly makes this restaurant special, however, is its location which helps make it a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.

Atmosphere:
Location, location, location. At Ama Ama this is what takes precedence above all else. Situated right on the beach, the restaurant is designed to highlight the beautiful view.

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What makes the dining room so unique is that it is open-air, which maximizes the views of the nearby ocean and allows you to enjoy the practically perfect Hawaiian weather.

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Every table in the restaurant is positioned in a way to offer diners an optimal view. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures of Ama Ama do not even do it justice.

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With an atmosphere that relies primarily on its tremendous views and location, there are few decorative elements and details inside. However, although very minimalist in style, the restaurant is not without a backstory. According to legend Auntie and Uncle (who are the fictional family incorporated in much of Aulani's lore) have a beach house with roots which go back to the 1800s. The original house was part of a fishing village and was added to over time as the family grew. Thus, each room represents a different generation and has a slightly different feel, going from the traditional to the more modern.

Throughout the restaurant there is subtle theming that pays homage to Hawaii's fishing heritage. For example, in one part of the dining room you can notice fishing nets draped from the ceiling rafters.

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The restaurant also has a degree of refinement. In fact, just like when dining at a Signature restaurant in Disney World, there is a dress code. Men are asked to wear khakis, slacks, dress shorts, and collared shirts; for ladies capri pants, skirts, dresses, and dress shorts are acceptable. Those clothing items not permitted in the restaurant include tank tops, swimwear, men's hats, cut-off pants, and torn clothing.

This more refined feel is set as soon as you set foot inside Ama Ama. Diners enter the restaurant through a glass-enclosed entryway with a modern-looking light fixture.

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The first element of the dining room that greets you is a beautiful fountain and reflecting pool.

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There is even live entertainment for guests to enjoy during the course of their meal.

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The dining room's overall upscale feel makes it geared more toward adults rather than families with small children. The restaurant's low lighting makes for a more romantic dining experience. Still, I found the overall atmosphere to be very calm and relaxing. Whether enjoying a beautiful Hawaiian sunset or dining under the stars, Ama Ama's atmosphere is absolutely awe inspiring; simply put, it is paradise.

The Menu:
Matching the restaurant's refined and upscale atmosphere is a gourmet menu that highlights traditional Hawaiian flavors and ingredients with a contemporary flare. While the menu rotates to highlight seasonal ingredients, the dinner menu focuses primarily on sustainable seafood as well as steak and pasta dishes.

For starters there is a Big Eye Tuna and Sea Asparagus Poke Martini ($18.00) that is finished tableside. Other appetizers offerings include the Hamakua Mushroom Tart ($16.00), the Ama Ama Seafood Platter ($26.00) featuring sustainable catch ceviche, crab legs, jumbo shrimp, and Goose P