Theme Parks Archives

March 5, 2018

Ben Rossi brought the Wild West to Walt Disney World's Frontierland


Performers flip and tumble on the rooftops in Frontierland during a live action show in the early 1980s. [Courtesy of Ben Rossi]

Return with us to Walt Disney World, circa 1980.

The Magic Kingdom has been up and running for nine-plus years and is living up to its "vacation kingdom of the world" nickname. Indeed, the idea of a destination vacation to central Florida has really caught on and plans are moving forward for a second theme park on the vast property, this one loosely based on Walt Disney's idea for an experimental prototype community of tomorrow.

Inside the Magic Kingdom, change has been a constant.

Several new, cutting-edge attractions have been added since opening day in 1971, enhancing the park's already strong appeal.

In 1973, Pirates of the Caribbean debuted in Adventureland, and suddenly, everyone was singing "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me."

In 1975, the much-anticipated Space Mountain was launched, giving Tomorrowland guests the heart-pounding experience of speeding through the universe on a roller coaster in the dark.

And in 1980, a classic runaway train adventure was added to the park when Big Thunder Mountain began thrilling guests on the outskirts of Frontierland.

Frontierland is a section of the Magic Kingdom that celebrates the rootin', tootin' days of America's Wild West. The building fronts were designed to make you feel as if you were walking through a western town, with names like Pecos Bill and Texas John Slaughter featured on storefronts.

During the 1980s, Frontierland also was a place where live shows were staged, using the roofs of the buildings and those Western-themed building fronts as a realistic backdrop.

Former Walt Disney World show producer Ben Rossi. [Courtesy of Mike Virgintino]

Back then, live entertainment was featured throughout certain areas of the park, not just in front of Cinderella Castle or up and down Main Street. And there was one producer who saw to it that those shows were entertaining and enjoyable. His name is Ben Rossi.

It's safe to say that when a young man or woman applies for a job as an entertainer at Walt Disney World, they would have a background that includes singing and dancing lessons. They might have taken acting classes as well. Their resume likely features stage performances in high school, college or community theater.

It's also safe to say that their backgrounds don't include trick roping at the tender age of 5, or being a trick horse rider or a circus acrobat at the advanced age of 7.

The name Ben Rossi may not ring a bell among Walt Disney World fans, but it should. Rossi's talents — both as a performer and as a show producer — touched literally millions of park guests during two tours of duty with WDW entertainment in the 1980s.

Rossi earned his stripes at an early age, performing at carnivals, fairs, bazaars or traveling circuses, first as a 5-year-old trick roper, then as a trick rider and circus acrobat at 7.

As he got older, the tricks got more difficult and the venues got bigger until he found himself working at Freedomland, a Disneyland-style theme park that was located in the New York City borough of the Bronx, in 1961. He started out as a member of the "Colossus" show in the park, playing — appropriately enough — an American cowboy.

"The show, which was produced by Sandy Howard [who also produced A Man Called Horse and a number of early Tarzan movies] included Roman chariot races, the Three Musketeers and a segment called The Greatest Horsemen in History, which I took part in," Rossi said.

"They made me the American cowboy, but I also did Roman stunt work during the show." That stunt work included a variety of daring acrobatic moves, vaults, cartwheels and shoulder stands — all while riding atop his trusty palomino.

"'Colossus' didn't return, nor did I, in 1962. I went to Hollywood with my wife."

But Rossi would return to Freedomland a year later. "Art Moss, who at the time was in charge of publicity and shows, asked me to come back, so I returned to Freedomland in 1963 and 1964 when the park was unwinding." He spent those two years as a park performer and show producer.

Members of the Frontierland Stunt Show pose for a photo near the entrance of the Walt Disney World land devoted to the Wild West. [Courtesy of Ben Rossi]

After Freedomland closed in 1964, Rossi appeared in or directed action scenes and stunt sequences for several television commercials, TV series and feature films.

Rossi then headed south, where he served as the entertainment director at a number of smaller amusement parks in Florida. He was Corporate Director of Live Shows for the National Recreation Service before landing a position at Walt Disney World in 1978.

"I started at Disney as Area Stage Manager and then ended up being General Manager of Resort Entertainment," he said.

"I produced a number of shows, which I wrote myself, including 'The Red, White and Blue Showboat Revue,' different Halloween shows ['Ghosts, Goblins and Ghouls Revue' was one of them] and a Christmas special called 'The Marvelous Magical Christmas Tree' ... there were quite a number of them."

As General Manager of Resort Entertainment, Rossi also had a hand in nightly shows at the Disney Village, the Village Lounge, Disney's Golf Resort, the Contemporary Hotel and several other venues around WDW property.

Rossi left Disney in 1984 to form his own company, Benros Worldwide Entertainment, but he returned to WDW to produce the popular live action cowboy shows which appeared daily in Frontierland.

"I was asked by [legendary talent booker] Sonny Anderson from Walt Disney World to come back and produce a show in the Frontierland section for the next nine years under my own company's banner," Rossi said.

One of the bad guys walks through Frontierland during a live action show in the early 1980s. [Courtesy of Ben Rossi]

Those Disney guests with long memories may recall strolling past the Country Bear Jamboree when seemingly out of nowhere, a cowboy shoot-out would erupt right in front of you ... and the often wise-cracking bantering bandits would try to escape the long arm of the law — as well as the sheriff's trusty six-shooter — by running away on the rooftops of the Frontierland buildings, near the sign that reads Frontier Mercantile.

To the relief of all those in attendance, the bad guys would be captured and the man in the white hat would always win out in the end.

According to park brochures at the time, the performances were called the "Frontierland Stunt Show," where "Heroic good guys pursue nasty bad guys over the rooftops."

Those Rossi-produced live-action shows [and many similar ones in other sections of the park] were a staple in the Magic Kingdom for many years.

After leaving WDW, Rossi produced similar shows at Six Flags in Texas and Marine World in California, as well as shows at amusement parks in Germany and Taiwan.

"We were pretty busy for the next 20 years" after leaving WDW, he said.

Of all the parks his worked with — and there have been many around the world — Rossi has a special affinity for both Walt Disney World and Freedomland.

"I'd rate Walt Disney World No. 1," he said, "but for its period in time, I'd rank Freedomland No. 2."

February 19, 2018

Through the decades, the Magic Kingdom has remained true to Walt Disney's vision


The fabled photo of Walt Disney World's cast members in front of Cinderella Castle, taken a few weeks before opening day in 1971. [Life Magazine/Yale Joel]

Remember the first time you visited Walt Disney World?

I certainly do. It was in November of 1972 during the Thanksgiving break, a little more than a year after the resort opened.

Things were decidedly different at the Vacation Kingdom of the World 45-plus years ago. At that time, Walt Disney World consisted of one park, the Magic Kingdom, two on-site luxury resorts [the Contemporary and the Polynesian] and a sprawling campground for the more outdoorsy types.

My wife, her younger brother and I flew into Orlando Jetport at McCoy, a former military air base that was in the early stages of transitioning into Orlando International Airport. We flew Eastern Airlines, then the official airline of Walt Disney World. After arriving and picking up our luggage, we rented a car just outside the airport and made the half-hour drive past cattle pastures and citrus groves to our hotel, located off a rather desolate stretch of highway known as International Drive. It would take several more years before the roadway would become the bustling thoroughfare it is today, rimmed with many more hotels, chain restaurants, convention centers and a variety of shopping venues.

The next morning, we got up early and joined the throngs of cars on Route 4, all seemingly headed to Walt Disney World. The toll booths were backed up, but after 15 minutes or so, we ponied up our 50 cents, received a ticket stub with a map of the sprawling parking lot on the back and followed the long line into the lot, which was divided into six sections named for Disney characters: Chip, Dale, Happy, Dopey, Goofy and Grumpy. We ended up parking in the Dopey lot.

We exited our car and walked to a tram pickup area. A few short minutes later, the tram pulled up and scores of anxious park guests quickly boarded for the open-air ride to the Transportation and Ticket Center [TTC]. As we pulled away from the stop, a cast member came over the loudspeaker to remind us to make note of where we had parked. "All you Dopey people will get off at this stop when you return," he said with a straight face.

The Walt Disney World information guide map available to guests in 1972.

The tram made its way to the TTC, deftly navigating sharp turns along the way. We all disembarked and headed to the back of a long line of folks who were purchasing their tickets. In 1972, you needed to buy a general admission ticket, as well as books with individual tickets marked A, B, C, D and E, to enjoy the variety and attractions and adventures offered in the park.

An A ticket allowed you to experience a placid ride, while E tickets were reserved for the most exciting. You were told that there were kiosks located throughout the park should you want to purchase more tickets.

With an A coupon, which cost 10 cents to buy individually, you could ride the Main Street vehicles [omnibus, horse-drawn cars, horseless carriage and fire engine] and Cinderella's Golden Carousel.

Moving up the ticket ladder, a B coupon [25 cents] allowed you to experience the Main Street Cinema, Frontierland Shootin' Gallery, Mike Fink Keelboats, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Mad Tea Party.

C tickets cost 50 cents and got you on the Swiss Family Treehouse, Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes, Snow White's Adventures, Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the Grand Prix Raceway.

Those holding D tickets [75 cents] could experience the Walt Disney World Railroad, Tropical Serenade, the Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat, the Mickey Mouse Revue, the Skyway [from either Tomorrowland or Fantasyland] and Flight to the Moon.

Finally, for all the adventurous folks in your party, there were the fabled E tickets, which cost a whopping 90 cents. Those attractions, deemed the park's "most exciting" at the time, included the Jungle Cruise, the Country Bear Jamboree, the Hall of Presidents, the Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and It's a Small World.

There were several free attractions, including the Diamond Horseshoe Revue, If You Had Wings and a Circle-Vision film called "America the Beautiful."

The entrance area for the If You Had Wings attraction in Tomorrowland.

Once you made it through the arduous process of purchasing your tickets, it was on to another line outside the TTC, for either an Osceola boat ride across Seven Seas Lagoon or a far more exciting journey on a sleek, futuristic-looking monorail, both bound for the Magic Kingdom entrance. Needless to say, most guests opted for the monorail simply because just about everyone had ridden on a boat. A monorail? Now that would be something really different!

As we pulled out of the station and rode quietly along a concrete beam, a variety of large topiaries came into view below us, all carved into the shape of Disney characters.

Up ahead, the imposing A-framed Contemporary Hotel beckoned. Incredibly, the beam we were riding on would lead us right into the building! We slowed somewhat before gliding right into the Grand Canyon Concourse, where people were milling around, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a large transportation conveyance was passing through just a few feet above them ... with little noise and no harmful exhaust fumes.

Once through the Contemporary, it was on to our much-anticipated final destination: The Magic Kingdom ... but not before passing within view of the giant Mickey head made out of flowers in front of the train station.

An aerial view of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Note the bottom of the photo. The area now occupied by Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain is just barren land. [Life Magazine/Yale Joel]

What strikes me most about the Magic Kingdom of 1972 and the Magic Kingdom of today is that in 1972, it took several days to see and experience everything in the park. And there wasn't nearly as much to see back then as there is now. There was no Space Mountain. No Big Thunder Mountain. No Splash Mountain. No Tom Sawyer Island. No Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. No Pirates of the Caribbean.

There was a charming Main Street, reminiscent of Walt Disney's Midwestern hometown; a whimsical, fairytale-like castle, and a series of themed lands that pointed guests to a broad range of experiences.

Frontierland was probably the least developed area in the park in 1972, with just the Country Bear Jamboree and the Shootin' Gallery to hang its hat on. Overhead photos of the Magic Kingdom at the time show a barren wasteland where Big Thunder and Splash Mountain would take up residence years later. Even though the Walt Disney Railroad's tracks ran through the area, it was still pretty desolate.

That, of course, would change. The creative minds behind all of the park's new attractions are constantly dreaming up new and exciting adventures, giving park veterans an excuse [as if we needed one] to return again and again.

An Osceola boat pulls into the dock outside the Magic Kingdom a few months after the park opened. [Walt Disney World]

Over the years, the Osceola boats would be replaced by larger, more efficient Staten Island-style ferries ... A bus depot outside the park now enables guests to a transported to a myriad of on-property resorts ... Tomorrowland would be updated to a retro vision of the future that never was ... Fantasyland also would see significant changes in both style and substance ... Beloved attractions would fade into Disney lore, with newer, more imaginative rides taking their place. Three new parks would be added to the WDW experience, along with a massive shopping/dining/entertainment district and two themed water parks.

Through it all, Walt Disney World in general, and the Magic Kingdom in particular, has remained true to Walt Disney's original vision for Disneyland: That it would be a place where parents and children could have fun. Together.

February 5, 2018

The stories behind Disney's Animal Kingdom, which turns 20 in April


The entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. [Walt Disney World]

Around this time last year, I was searching for an idea for my next blog. With the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom looming in the spring, I figured it might be a good idea to write something on the history of the park.

I've always had a special affection for Animal Kingdom. I was in attendance when the park opened on April 22, 1998, and over the years, I've come to truly appreciate its impact on guests, as well as its powerful message of conservation.

And then it hit me. Animal Kingdom will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. Suddenly, the idea of writing a just blog on the park didn't seem enough. As I began going through the literature I had acquired during the opening-day festivities, the idea of writing a book on Animal Kingdom began to take shape.

As I'd often do whenever I embarked on a project of this magnitude, I contacted my go-to Disney guy, Marty Sklar. He was thrilled that I was taking on the project and then, as usual, he went the extra mile for me, providing contact information on a dozen or so folks who were involved in the planning, development and design of the park.

I spent the rest of the spring and summer interviewing most of the people Marty had suggested ... fascinating people with equally fascinating stories to tell. One of the last interviews I conducted for the book was with Marty himself, in early July, just a few weeks before he died.

When we spoke, Marty was truly excited that I was able to contact his former colleagues, like Kevin Rafferty, Paul Comstock, Rick Barongi and Zofia Kostyrko, all of whom had made significant contributions to the design of the park. Zofia proved to be especially helpful during the process, offering rare insight into a project that helped shape her career. She also was extremely gracious in providing a foreword. And there was, of course, Joe Rohde, whom I've met on a number of occasions during the various expansions seen at the park over the past two decades.

Paul Comstock, right, Animal Kingdom's lead landscape architect, poses with Disney Legend Marty Sklar during the park's opening day, April 22, 1998. [Courtesy of Paul Comstock]

The book, titled Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History, was released by Theme Park Press on Jan. 21.

In putting the book together, I learned some pretty amazing things about Animal Kingdom's journey from concept to completion.

For instance, I found out from Paul Comstock, Animal Kingdom's lead landscape architect, that the site selected for the park was not the company's first choice.

"There were a couple of options of the table for corporate," Comstock said. "One of them was a piece of property that was south of Osceola Parkway, which is now the city of Celebration. I remember being totally enamored with the huge oaks that were on the Celebration site, but it really had some de-watering problems, in terms of the amount of water that was on the site that would come to the surface of the ground."

When they visited the barren field that would eventually become Animal Kingdom, Comstock felt as if they had struck gold ... or at least sand.

"When we saw that open cow pasture while riding in a four-wheel drive Suburban and got stuck in pure white Florida sugar sand, I said, 'This land will support a park. If we can sterilize the native plants so we have a clean palette, we'll be able to grow anything we want to in here.' The dry sand means there's drainage, the key to building any landscape."

The site also afforded proper "sun orientation" for the park.

A rhino walks freely through the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. [Ginny Osborne]

The Celebration site, according to Comstock, "is facing the wrong way. When you'd be driving on the Osceola Parkway, you'd be driving into the sunlight. The way that Animal Kingdom is oriented, you enter and the sun arc is behind your back, so it illuminates the trees, the structures, the Tree of Life, all the waterfalls.

"All those things are positioned in the right way for the sun arc. If you look at all the other Disney parks, except for Hong Kong, they're all positioned where the light shines on the castle as you walk down Main Street. The sun rises in the East and either goes behind you or overhead. It's never in total shadow, so that you always have that Kodak moment."

Among his many contributions to the park, Comstock helped design Kilimanjaro Safaris' stunning savannah. "Disney was the first to 'build' a realistic savannah," he said. "We put four million plants out there representing 3,000 species."

While Comstock concentrated on the foliage, it was Rick Barongi who was largely responsible for acquiring all of the animals who live and roam freely throughout the 500-plus acre property. Barongi also worked closely with Comstock and his fellow landscapers in making the savannah as animal-friendly as possible.

In a roundabout way, Barongi also was responsible for the placement of one particular animal on the park's spectacular icon, the Tree of Life.

"I knew [renowned primatologist] Jane Goodall very well and I invited her out to see the Tree of Life when it was still under construction," Barongi told me. The two climbed up onto the scaffolding surrounding the tree and walked around it several times, viewing the hundreds of carved animals on the massive trunk.

Rick Barongi, Director of Animal Project Development, stands next to the carved figure of David Greybeard, at the base of the Tree of Life. [Courtesy of Rick Barongi]

"This is wonderful, Rick. Really amazing," she said. "But there's no chimp."

The next day, Barongi contacted the Tree of Life's lead sculptor, Zsolt Hormay, and asked him if there was still enough time to add another animal to the trunk. "Sure. Which one?" was the response. The next day, Barongi gave Hormay a photo of Jane Goodall's favorite chimp, David Greybeard.

A month later, Barongi returned to the Tree of Life for a stunning surprise.

"At the entrance to the theater, at the base of the tree, is this huge figure of David Greybeard, bigger than life, with his hand stretched out," Barongi said. With that as inspiration, "we did a plaque dedicating it to Jane Goodall. The day we opened, Michael Eisner presented it to her and it just blew her away. That story to me is so special ... there's one animal on that Tree of Life that's based on a real animal. It was all because of Zsolt. So I made sure Jane got to meet Zsolt on opening day."

When Michael Eisner gave the OK to build Animal Kingdom in early 1980, a small group of Disney Imagineers met in what became known as "the funky trailer" in the Disney Studios' parking lot to hash out ideas and concepts. One of those designers was Zofia Kostyrko, who had previously worked with Joe Rohde on The Adventurers Club in Pleasure Island.

Zofia Kostyrko poses for a photo with Marty Sklar during the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom. [Courtesy of Zofia Kostyrko]

One of the most important tasks for the design team was to embark on a series of boots-on-the-ground research trips around the world, trips that spanned nearly a decade, and gave the Imagineers incredible insight into a world they were hoping to replicate.

"The research trips were essential for the sake of authenticity because when you design any space, you need to design a kind of kinetic feel of it and you also need to understand the texture of it, the smell of it, the light of it, all of these things to make it look authentic," Zofia said.

"We went first locally to zoos across America, and everybody thought that it was a joke that Disney was stepping into the world of animals, because nobody believed that we were going to take it seriously. But we knew that animals are not just entertainment, they are very emotional to a lot of people."

The trips became broader in scope, to Canada and then to Europe. Finally, the group traveled to Africa.

"The first really big trip we took was to Kenya," Zofia said. "And it was an absolutely insane adventure with all kinds of stuff going on. It was really rugged. There was one flight, I think it was to Tanzania, the plane was so small I had to sit on someone's lap. And I don't think we were able to take all the luggage. There was a place in Tanzania that became inspiration for the baobob tree in the African queue."

Zofia, who was one of the lead designers for Conservation Station, also told me a little secret about the park. Inside the small temple that's located near the entrance of Asia [near the Rivers of Light amphitheater], the original design team placed a time capsule, filled with sketches and other memorabilia from their years of work in shaping Animal Kingdom.

Roy E. Disney, left, observes as a team of Animal Kingdom veterinarians performs surgery on an animal. [Courtesy of Dave Bossert]

These and other equally compelling stories can be found in Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History. One of the many interesting things I learned was the influence Roy E. Disney had in kick-starting the park project. It was Roy E., of course, who first made his mark in his uncle's company by producing many of the True-Life Adventure films made in the 1940s and 1950s, films that ultimately fueled Disney's decades-old commitment to protecting and preserving our precious environment.

In speaking to the Imagineers who worked on the park, as well as many family members and friends who have enjoyed it for the last 20 years, it was obvious that Animal Kingdom holds a special place in most everyone's heart.

To that end, the final chapter of the book contains comments, observations and recollections by a broad spectrum of folks [including AllEars' Deb Wills!] who truly believe that Animal Kingdom is a special place, with unique experiences around just about every bend ... an environment where young and old alike can both learn, be entertained, and ultimately be inspired to be better stewards of the land and the creatures who inhabit it.

January 8, 2018

Soarin' Around the World ... and behind the scenes


The entrance to Soarin' Around the World at Disney's California Adventure.

Prior to a recent trip to California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort, my wife Janet signed us up to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Soarin' Around the World attraction. The one-hour tour is offered to members of the Disney Vacation Club.

Soarin' Around the World is located in the Grizzly Peak section of the park, just a short walk from the Grand Californian Resort. We arrived for the tour early, grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Starbucks-sponsored Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe, then met up with the other members of the tour just outside the entrance to Soarin'.

Our tour guide led us to the entrance of the attraction, then we veered right to a "cast members only" door and were escorted to an open lot to the side of the main building. Here, our guide talked about how he was proud of the fact that he was a member of the attraction's opening day team [California Adventure's Soarin' Over California opened on Feb. 1, 2001].

He explained the reasoning behind keeping the Soarin' building just one story tall. "The designers felt that having a multi-story tall building in California Adventure would be too distracting. They had to work around the fact that the attraction's screens are 85 feet tall, so they buried the building 25 feet into the ground.

"Then, three years after we opened," he added, "they built the Tower of Terror" ... the ultimate tall, distracting building.

Guests take their seats as they board their "flight" on Soarin' Around the World.

We then re-entered the building and walked down a flight of stairs to the main boarding area of the attraction. As we exited the staircase, I noticed several animal cages in a corner off to my left. Ever curious, I asked a cast member standing nearby what the cages were for. "When guests with service animals ride the attraction," she said, "we put the animals in these cages until the guests return."

Prior to the pre-show, our guide talked about Soarin's host, Patrick Warburton. Warburton has a history with Disney, having played Kronk in The Emperor's New Grove and Steve Barkin in Kim Possible. It turns out that Warburton wasn't the first choice for the Soarin' assignment: Action film star Steven Segal was.

After the pre-show, our guide asked if anyone wanted to skip the ride for whatever reason. That was my cue to join him off to the side, where another cast member sat in front of a battery of computer monitors.

My wife and I were among the first guests to ride Soarin' in Epcot when it opened in 2005. Initially, I embraced Soarin' and even encouraged friends to ride it. I have been less than enthusiastic about it over the last few years.

For as long as I can remember, heights have been an issue with me. I get queasy sitting in the upper decks in baseball or football stadiums. The one and only time I made it to the observation deck of the World Trade Center, I had all I could do to keep from high-tailing it down the stairs. If we stay in a hotel room that's above the third floor, I tend to avoid the balcony.

After about five trips on Soarin', I started to experience waves of panic every time I approached The Land pavilion where Soarin' is housed.

When I did muster enough nerve to ride Soarin', I found myself gripping way-too-tight onto the handle bars. I even started to wear sunglasses to keep people from noticing that I had my eyes closed for most of the ride. When I did open my eyes, I'd spend more time glancing up than at the screen.

It just wasn't fun anymore. To me, it was downright terrifying sitting 40, 50 or 60 feet in the air near the rafters, your feet dangling, with just a seat belt restraining you. Worse, I worried that if the ride somehow malfunctioned and we get stuck up there for longer than 4 and a half minutes, I'd probably lose it.

It's silly, I know. The ride is totally safe. Hundreds of thousands of people have gone on it and raved about it. But I do know that there are countless people like me who have issues with heights. These days, I'm quite comfortable sitting on the sidelines, feet planted firmly on the ground.

Imagineering's Mark Sumner stands with his Erector set model of the Soarin' ride system he developed.

Sitting off to the side of the Soarin' screen gave me a totally new perspective on the attraction. For one thing, the IMAX screen is massive. It's concave and made out of metal and mesh ... metal, so that it won't be damaged by anything falling onto it, and mesh so that sound is able to pass through it.

For another, the three rows of seats go way, WAY, WAY! up into the air. "The top row is between 60 and 65 feet up," our guide said. It looks higher than that from ground level. And it's amazing how every rider dangles his or her feet during the show.

At the end of the show, our guide gathered the group and took us truly behind the scenes ... and behind the screen. From here, we could hear the beautiful score, view the projections on the screen and see the rows of seats as they were raised at the start of the show and dropped down at the conclusion.

Again, our guide was a wealth of information. There are 56 speakers positioned throughout the theater. In addition, there are scent canisters placed above the seats, which release a variety of smells to enhance the attraction. "The canisters dissolve very slowly," our guide said. "They have to be refilled about once a month."

The final leg of the tour took us into a corridor, where photos of the attraction, as well as scenes from the film, were on the walls. There also was a model of the erector set that Imagineer Mark Sumner used to come up with the cantilever ride system.

Another interesting aspect of the tour came when our guide talked about the thinking behind the updated version of the attraction. Indeed, there was a rhyme and reason behind the filming of each new scene.

For instance, the inclusion of the Great Wall of China sequence is a reference to Disney's Mulan. The Great Pyramids are an homage to Indiana Jones; the Taj Mahal [Alladdin]; Fiji [Moana]; Argentina [Paradise Falls in Up]; the Eiffel Tower [Disneyland Paris and Ratatouille]. He went to explain that there's even a Hidden Mickey located during the beach scene while soarin' over Fiji.

During filming a sequence in Africa, the guide added, the helicopter used for shooting the footage was called into service when an elephant became separated from its group. "The helicopter was used in the search-and-rescue mission," the guide said. "They found the elephant and it was nursed back to health. We were happy to help ... it was worth the delay in production."

According to Ryan March, editor of DVC's Disney Files Magazine, "There's a Soarin' tour for DVC members at Epcot. It takes place most Wednesdays at 8 a.m."

Here's a link to details on our website:

March 12, 2017


Gary Cruise banner

About a month ago Carol and I enjoyed a Canadian delicacy at FebFest, a winter carnival that takes place in our city every year.


Our downtown transforms into a winter wonderland as residents enjoy the outdoor skating rink behind City Hall.

FebFest Hockey

There are hockey and curling games to watch.

FebFest Ice Sculpture

FebFest Ice Sculpture

There are ice sculptures to enjoy.

But the best thing of all – there are BeaverTails!

FebFest BeaverTail Kiosk

FebFest BeaverTail

Do you remember when they sold BeaverTails at EPCOT? Weren’t they delicious?

No, no . . . I’m not talking about the big flat tail from that large toothy rodent! I’m talking about a tasty deep fried pastry which originated in Canada! A piece of dough, about the same size and shape as a beaver’s tail, is deep fried to a golden brown then either dredged in sugar and cinnamon or topped with something gooey and sweet!

BeaverTails products

They are always fresh, never pre-cooked. Your BeaverTail will be in your hand about 20 seconds after it leaves the fryer! Hot and delicious!

FebFest Menu

There are similar pastries sold in other areas, referred to by such names as fried dough or elephant ears, but somehow none of them sound as appetizing to me as a BeaverTail! It’s another uniquely Canadian food!

We unusually eat them outdoors and in the winter so I suspect that the contrast, cold weather and a hot snack, really enhances our enjoyment. I prefer the original BeaverTail, dredged in sugar and cinnamon. That's probably a good thing because I'm a very sloppy eater and Carol would never allow me to try one covered with all that runny, gooey stuff!

BeaverTails were first sold in Killaloe, a small Ontario town about 100 miles north of the city Carol and I call home.


It was 1978 when Grant and Pam Hooker sold their first pastries at the Killaloe Craft and Community Fair. They were an instant hit! It wasn’t long before the Hookers were busy every weekend, traveling all over eastern Ontario selling their delicious hot pastries at festivals and county fairs.

Two years later, the Hookers opened up the first BeaverTails store at the Byward Market in nearby Ottawa.

BeaverTails Byward Market Store

It was an instant success!

President Obama at the Byward Market

President Obama stopped at the Byward Market for a BeaverTail in February 2009.

Soon BeaverTails were selling like crazy along the world’s longest skating rink. Every winter Canadians enjoy skating along a 7.8 kilometre (4.8 mile) stretch of the historic Rideau Canal as it winds its way through downtown Ottawa.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Usually it is frozen by early January and ploughs and zambonis are used to keep it clean and fresh for skaters until the end of February. Food trucks and refreshment kiosks are a common sight on the ice along the sides of the canal and the BeaverTail stand always has the longest line of skaters waiting for a delicious treat!

Rideau Canal BeaverTail Kiosk

Today there are more than a hundred BeaverTail outlets across Canada; most of the permanent stores are in high traffic tourist areas.

BeaverTail Mobile Kiosk

BeaverTail Truck

There are mobile units and food trucks that travel to festivals and events, like the one Carol and I bought our pastries from a few weeks ago at FebFest!

You can find BeaverTails at most ski resorts in Canada.

BeaverTails at Mont Tremblant
Mont Tremblant in Quebec

Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver BC

You can buy BeaverTails at Niagara Falls.

BeaverTails Niagara Falls

You can buy BeaverTails in Dubai, Tokyo and South Korea.

BeaverTails Japan

BeaverTails Japan Menu

But you can’t buy a BeaverTail at EPCOT. What’s with that?

What do you think folks? Does Disney need to bring back the BeaverTail?

March 6, 2017

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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...



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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

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

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney 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.

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.'"

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.

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

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 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.

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.

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.

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).


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.


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.

November 9, 2015

The Music of "Impressions de France"

by Al Krombach
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

impressions de france

From the first peaceful notes of a lone flute to the concluding triumph of a full symphony orchestra reinforced by pipe organ, "Impressions de France" at Epcot's France pavilion has thrilled generations of visitors as much for its music as for its visual panorama of western Europe's largest and most varied landscape.

The 18-minute presentation is the oldest film still running in its original version at Walt Disney World. Displayed across five screens in a 200-degree arc - the normal field of vision of a (very comfortably) seated human - the presentation has played roughly 200,000 times by my calculations since Epcot's opening day on Oct. 1, 1982.

Even before that landmark day, hard-to-impress Disney Imagineers were calling the Palais du Cinema theater’s sound system the best they had ever heard in a Disney theme park, with thundering bass, brilliant highs and great detail. Electrical engineer Steve Alcorn, in his book about Epcot’s construction titled “Building a Better Mouse,” said the sound was so good that listeners at early test sessions were distracted by narrator Claude Gobet’s breathing; the narration had to be re-recorded before the show’s public debut.

Not so when it came to the music track, which was ready well in advance of Epcot’s premiere. The score features a who’s who of French classical composers, including Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saens, Francois Boieldieu, Jacques Offenbach, Maurice Ravel, Eric Satie, Paul Dukas and Buddy Baker -- but wait, who? As they sing on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others.

Disney Legend Norman Dale “Buddy” Baker was the man behind the music of “Impressions de France.” The composer and/or arranger on more than 125 television shows and 40 feature films since joining Disney in 1955, he was the Disney Studio’s veteran composer in residence when the studio “loaned” him to WED Enterprises to oversee the musical development of Epcot.


WED -- the forerunner of today’s Walt Disney Imagineering -- was up to its mouse ears with Epcot, tasked with developing two dozen attractions simultaneously when previously they’d tackled only one or two at a time. Baker, in addition to the France pavilion's presentation, also found himself responsible for the music in other shows in Future World and World Showcase. But "Impressions de France" was perhaps his greatest labor of love.

Baker sifted through 200 years of French classical music to choose the excerpts that best accompanied each scene. Each selection then had to be arranged and timed precisely to match each frame of film before he conducted the recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra. He had to arrange the music that would stitch the classical selections together seamlessly, so that one scene led smoothly to the next. He also composed his own original music to accompany many of the scenes, often using typical French instruments like accordion to capture the scenes' flavor, whether rural, religious or citified.

In fact, of the 49 separate scenes in "Impressions de France," Baker's music accompanies 22 of them.

For those who can recall the film, or who want to listen for Baker's music at their next visit, two of his lengthier excerpts stretch from Scene 8, a horse cart passing through a village, to scenes 14 and 15, the palace at Versailles; and Scene 30, a wedding in a Brittany church, to Scene 37, a couple dining outdoors in twilight above Cannes.

Unfortunately, those segments are not to be found within the "Impressions de France" selection included on the seven editions of Disney parks music CDs published since 1999. The less-than-10-minute track, while including most of the classical selections, unaccountably omits all of Buddy Baker's original music except for about 30 seconds' worth of a wistful interlude that accompanies views of the Seine River and Notre Dame cathedral near the end of the film.

"Impressions de France" in the France pavilion repeats roughly on the hour and half-hour, beginning at about 11:30 a.m. daily. While the theater seldom fills up for any showing these days, the first and last shows of the day are the least crowded. Soundwise, there's not a bad seat in the house. While the soundtrack has always been digital, the quality of the projected images was vastly improved in 2011 when the film itself was remastered and digitized, eliminating the scratches and other annoying imperfections of conventional film that sometimes plagued viewings before that date.

Buddy Baker was named a Disney Legend in 1998. He died in 2002. In a filmed 2001 interview, the host asked him what constitutes the "Buddy Baker sound."

"French," Baker said, "out of the French school of music. I have a tendency to lean that way."

Park-goers who keep coming back for repeated viewings of "Impressions de France" are very glad he did.


-- Full listing of "Impressions de France" scenes in order of appearance.
-- Listing of "Impressions de France" musical selections.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A professional journalist for more than 30 years, Al Krombach has served with several Florida newspapers and retired in 2015. He is an alumnus of the Florida State University College of Music and has worked with a variety of musical groups (as an instrumentalist) and choirs (as a director). He and wife Vicky have three children and five grandchildren, every one a Disney fan. They are longtime Disney aficionados and have accumulated more than 250 park visits since the World began.

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.



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:


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.




Pages 2 through 4 focus on dining, entertainment, golf, tennis and fishing. Here are a few noteworthy articles:

The first Character Meal - Dinner á la Disney at the Golf Resort.

Fine dining at the Contemporary Resort's Gulf Coast Room!

Even fishing - there was something for everyone her!

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.

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.

On Page three there was a terrific description of Discovery Island.

A world of shopping awaited at The Village.

Naturally there were some cute advertisments.

You could arrange tennis lessons for the whole family at the Contemporary Resort.

There was even a "wee links" course at the Golf Resort.

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!

April 9, 2014

Jim’s Attic: The Story of Beacon Joe

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.


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.


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.


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.

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:

Jim Korkis

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
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 12, 2014

Jim’s Attic: A Short History of Tony’s Town Square Restaurant

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.


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.


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.


"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.


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:

Jim Korkis

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
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."


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.


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.


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.


In addition to featuring their portraits, each room features various themed elements that help to tell the story about that particular person.


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.



Meanwhile, the Paul Revere room has a much more simple appearance reflecting his humble occupation as a silversmith.


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.




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.






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.


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.


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!

August 27, 2013

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

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.


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.

Photo Credit:

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, 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."

June 17, 2013

Jim’s Attic: Missing Merlin

Jim's Attic: Missing Merlin
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.

"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Merlin, adviser to King Arthur and right now it is my job to discover which one among you is qualified to be temporary royal ruler. Since the responsibilities are so great, I will be selecting several people throughout the day to share these burdens of leadership. So, have no fear! If you get selected, it is just a part time job!"


Not only do I personally miss the Sword in the Stone Ceremony with Merlin in the Magic Kingdom, but the walk-around Merlin has been missing since 2006 even though he is the star of the popular Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive experience.

What a missed opportunity not to have Merlin personally welcoming new apprentice sorcerers or dedicating the New Fantasyland!

Disneyland, as part of the Limited Time Magic promotion, temporarily brought back a truncated version (no comic performer) of the beloved Golden Horseshoe Revue from January 10, 2012 through February 4, 2012 to packed houses.

However, reportedly, a handful of guest complaints about the raciness of the can-can dancers and Miss Lilly going out into the audience to harmlessly flirt help doom the show being temporarily revived at WDW's Diamond Horseshoe.

If Walt Disney World would really like to do a Limited Time Magic entertainment promotion, then I would cheer for a return of Merlin, especially since the mechanics of the sword still work fine and several "friends" of Merlin are still employed by the company, as well as director Chris Oyen, who shepherded the original show for over a decade as well as doing writing on the script.

"Walt [Disney], the wizard, never knew that I patterned Merlin the magician after him when I wrote the script," remembered storyman Bill Peet who gets sole credit for scripting the 1963 animated feature "Sword in the Stone". "In his book, T.H. White describes the wizard as a crusty old curmudgeon, argumentative and temperamental, playful at times and extremely intelligent. Walt was not quite a curmudgeon and he had no beard, but he was a grandfather and much more a character, and in my drawings of Merlin, I even borrowed Walt's nose."

The beloved live action show where Merlin selects a young guest from the audience to attempt to pull the sword from an anvil to become the new temporary ruler of Fantasyland (until the next show in a half hour) premiered at Disneyland in the Summer of 1983 after the opening of the New Fantasyland so this year marks Merlin's 30th anniversary as a park character.


At Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the show opened in 1993 (though other sources claim 1994) and delighted guests until its final performance on August 15, 2006.

I clearly remember the August 15th date because that is my birthday and in the Fall of 1995, I assisted in the portrayal of Merlin. When I was a "friend" of Merlin, people could clearly see what Disney costumers called "Santa Claus cheeks" and the animated black eyebrows barely hidden by glued on white eyebrows.

The costume was heavy, the props cumbersome and eager autograph seekers often thought the character was Father Time or Pagemaster from the 1994 film but it was a delightful little show that gathered substantial crowds.


My personal feeling is that Fantasyland could use a little more magic and the man for the job is a return of Merlin.

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:

Jim Korkis

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
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 19, 2013

The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour

by Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger


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.


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.


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".)


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.


After a tour of the cab, they fired up the boiler.



And, although not normally part of the tour, they demonstrated the use of a fire extinguisher as well:



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.


At the conclusion of the tour we received this exclusive pin.


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!

July 22, 2012

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Disney Things


What is your favourite park at Walt Disney World?

What are your "must-do" rides or activities?

What are the things you only do once in a while?

Main Gate

One of the greatest things about Walt Disney World is the diversity of experience you can enjoy there. With the four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, hotels, campground, scores of restaurants and all the surrounding attractions there is virtually no limit to the things you can enjoy.

Many of our friends who, like Carol and I, are frequent visitors have established some favourite attractions and activities, things they "must-do" every time they visit Walt Disney World.

Here's my list of favourites. Let's start with my favourite park, the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

Why does this park top my list? Well, it's the classic, the first Florida park. This is where I first took my children in 1977. It is chock-full of good memories and will probably always be my "special place"! I remember the huge grins on both my daughter Michelle and son Steve's faces as we rode Dumbo together all those years ago. They loved It's A Small World and Peter Pan's Flight.

Peter Pan

About two years ago my son Steve took his family and they stood in line for 90 minutes to see Peter Pan. His comment? "What a hokey ride . . . why did I stand in line an hour and a half for that?" It will never be hokey for me because I'll always remember Steve's reaction when we rode it together in 1977. Peter Pan is one that Carol and I ride every visit.

The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are two more that we never miss.



These rides are not "hi-tech" like some of the newer attractions but they still transport me to another world or another time. As I ride I sing along with the 999 happy haunts and the scallywag pirates. "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirates life for me!" As we pass through Adventureland we are always compelled to savour a cold treat. Carol heads to Sunshine Tree Terrace to pick up a Citrus Swirl while I scoot to Aloha Isle for a Pineapple Float. We meet in the middle somewhere and try to achieve simultaneous brain-freezes.

We take a spin with Buzz Lightyear almost every trip.


This ride brings out the worst in us. We become ultra-competitive, each trying to outscore the other as we blast Emperor Zurg into the next galaxy! It's great fun!

We enjoy many of the other rides as well but we don't feel compelled to enjoy them every time we visit. Once in a while is good for most of them. Of course, Wishes, the fireworks spectacular, is a "must-do" as well. We try to position ourselves at the back of The Hub, near Casey's Corner to get the best view of the show with Cinderella Castle in the foreground. That leads me to the one other snack we always stop for . . . a Casey's hot dog. Yum!

Many will probably be surprised at my second place ranking. Disney's Animal Kingdom ranks second for me. Why? Well, it's all about the animals.



Both Carol and I love seeing the animals. We walk all the back trails around the Tree of Life to see and photograph things most visitors miss. Hint: If you walk these trails at noon you will often see cast members feeding the animals and the animals will be front and center for you. There are plenty of photo-ops around noon on the Tree of Life Trails.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is an irresistible draw for us. We sometimes ride it twice, once in early morning and then again just before the park closes. Hint: You can get better pictures from the back row of the truck, but be prepared for the bouncing! It's the bumpiest seat!

Lion at Coppies

Carol is not a fan of roller coasters; she does not like the upside-down experience, but for some reason she really enjoys Expedition Everest. I don't understand why, but I'm glad she does. We ride together once and that's enough for her. I sometimes go directly to the single-rider line and take another spin.

Expedition Everest

After coaxing for a while I finally convinced Carol that coasters are smoother and less stressful if you raise your arms and stop fighting against the rocking and shaking motion. Once she tried it she agreed with me and now she often rides with her arms in the air. The only problem is that she cannot stop giggling when her arms are up. So if you see a woman on Everest, arms in the air and giggling like crazy - that's Carol!

Flights of Wonder is another great show we always enjoy. It always surprises us how many people walk by and skip this awesome performance. The need for conservation is delivered in an entertaining and inspiring fashion. Carol has co-starred in the show four times.

Flights of Wonder

When they ask for volunteers in the owl segment she is always up and waving her hands. Another regular stop is at the gibbon habitat near Kali River Rapids; we love to watch them swinging around their island. If you ever hear them calling to each other you will never forget the experience!


If we have lunch at Animal Kingdom it is almost always egg rolls from the quick service counter at Yak & Yeti; try them - they're great!

Third for me is EPCOT. This park is all about education . . . but the learning at EPCOT is all bundled up in a package of fun so you really don't notice. Educators need to look into this to see how it's done . . . learning can be fun!

Our first "must-do" is the very first attraction, Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth

History, communication and science in one easy lesson; we seldom miss it. Another regular is Soarin'.


I like the hang-glider ride more than Carol does, but she humours me and rides along with me. It all evens out when I stifle my yawns as I wander through Germany's Der Teddybar shop with her.

We always look for Off Kilter, the celtic rock group who play beside the Canada pavilion, we both enjoy them.


When I hear the Jamitors or The British Revolution I stop to listen while Carol dashes off to shop. Our interests aren't always the same but there are so many things to do that we can both enjoy ourselves at all times.

Dining at EPCOT is great, there are so many good restaurants, but our favourite is Canada's Le Cellier. We seldom miss having dinner at Le Cellier.

Last, but certainly not least is Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is also a wonderful park full of many terrific attractions, rides, sights and sounds. I love the "Streetmosphere", the many street entertainers who put on such entertaining shows.


I can sit and watch them again and again, which works out well because Carol can shop again and again!

Studios is home to the newest ride at Walt Disney World, Toy Story Midway Mania. Similar to Buzz Lightyear it's a giant video game that places you in the middle of the action. We try to ride Toy Story several times each trip if we can.

Toy Story Potato Head

We don our 3D glasses and turn into shooting demons, each of us once again striving to totally annihilate our beloved spouse. "I am not your mother . . . break those plates!"

We both enjoy the Tower of Terror and after riding it Carol generally heads down Sunset Boulevard to explore the Villains in Vogue shop while I head to the single-rider line for a spin on Rock 'n Roller Coaster.

Another "must-do" at Studios is a trip to the Animation Courtyard and a visit with David Rippberger, the Disney Ink and Paint artist who works in the Animation Gift Shop. David creates the hand painted animation cels which Carol collects and we like to visit with him to keep abreast of what's coming up next.

Our final irresistible lure at Studios is a relatively new discovery for us. Italian sausage in a bun at Min & Bill's Dockside Diner. We shared our first sausage in a bun about a year ago . . . as soon we bit into it we agreed we would never share one again. They are just too good to share! Don't miss this delicious lunch treat.

Of course no vacation would be complete without a trip to Downtown Disney. I always take my book along and find a spot to sit while Carol shops.

Days of Christmas Store

I read and people-watch while she scours through the Art of Disney Shop, the Disney Days of Christmas Shop and of course Disney's Pin Traders. Once she has worked up a good appetite she joins me and we head directly to the Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

This place has elevated the simple sandwich to an art form. Wow they're good! We often get back to "Earl's" several times during our stay!

There is so much to do outside the parks that I may make that the subject of another blog sometime. For now I will just mention two more of our favourite "non-park" things. First is dinner at 'Ohana in the Polynesian Resort . . . we never miss it. Great food, great location, great value! If you time it right and get a window table you can watch the Wishes fireworks extravaganza from your table. They pipe in the soundtrack too!

Second is a camping favourite, if we're staying in our RV at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground we head to the beach at the campground a few evenings during our stay. There is a nice little patio beside the dock and we relax at a patio table as we watch Wishes. They pipe in the soundtrack here as well and as an added treat the fireworks are reflected on the waters of Bay Lake. It's a terrific place to watch the show with no crowds! Shortly after Wishes is over the Electrical Water Pageant sails past . . . what a great way to end a day!

So those are a few of my favourite things! There are so many things to do at Walt Disney World that it just never gets stale for us and I doubt that it ever will!

What are your favourite things?

March 13, 2012

Light-up toys at Walt Disney World light up young faces


Vendors sell the latest light-up lanyards at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

It's a recurring sight at Walt Disney World: As evening arrives, vendors begin walking the streets, selling an assortment of light-up toys and souvenirs. Kids, of course, plead for parents to buy the colorful, lighted items. The choices of laser-like swords, necklaces, spinners, wands and mohawk headware are tempting, especially to those waiting for night-time parades or shows.

When my son was a toddler, he chose a light-up Sorcerer Mickey spinner, and it became a fixture in his diaper bag for years. His fascination with that toy made it one of the longest-lasting souvenirs we have purchased at Disney World. We certainly got more use out of the light-up spinner than each balloon that we bought in the parks over the years. Typically, the light-up toys cost between $10 and $20 apiece, which is also the case for the giant helium balloons sold on Main Street, USA, in the Magic Kingdom.

Last fall, my more-grown-up 9-year-old son really wanted to buy one of the multi-colored light-up mohawks to wear for Crazy Hair Day at school. They were so popular that it took us several park visits to find a vendor that was wasn't sold out.

How cute are these bunny light-ups?

Now, there is a new fascination for those who love the light-up toys in the parks -- lanyards with a seasonal message and small light-up icon. So far, Disney has sold ghosts for Halloween and snowmen for winter holidays. Spotted in the Disney parks now -- shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day and bunnies for Easter. Each holiday icon has multiple settings for its lights; users can choose from a solid color, strobe lights, fading colors and blinking colors.

Less than a week left to purchase these shamrocks.

I would think these lanyards will have widespread appeal, and not just with kids. Because they are not Disney-branded items, the price is less at $7 each. With a lower price tag and changing design, repeat guests and passholders may see them as collectibles. My kids already do. Plus, unlike spinner toys that must find a home in a bag or stroller when not in use, these light-ups are meant to be worn and keep your hands free.

Ghost or snowman, anyone?

A bonus: If your family collects enough light-up toys, over time you'll have another souvenir that any Disney fan can appreciate -- the ability to create your own Main Street Electrical Parade at home. Just pass out the light-up toys to the kids, turn out the lights and you'll have your very own "spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights."

OK, maybe not a thousand. But you get the point.

Minnie Mouse's skirt twirls on this spinner toy in motion.


** If you purchase the toys from a moving vendor, know that you'll need cash to pay for them. Some versions are available in gift stores, however, which take other forms of payment.

** If your light-up toy is defective and stops working shortly after purchase, a cast member will be happy to replace it if you show your receipt. This happened to my daughter with a Tinker Bell wand and to my son with a Christmas lights necklace.

** If you pack the toys in suitcases for your return home, be aware that the Transportation Security Administration may unscrew the battery panel. Be sure to check and reattach the panel to avoid a hazard to small children.

March 2, 2012

Rediscover Disney Through the Eyes of a First-Timer


You are a die-hard Disney fan, a lot like me! I know this is true because you are reading this blog. You must be a devoted fan if you are here at and discovered this link.

You know the Disney parks like the back of your hand. You have visited them so many times that you know the quickest way to get from the Haunted Mansion to the Pirates of the Caribbean. That's right . . . just past the Diamond Horseshoe you turn left, duck through the alley, pass the rest rooms and turn right into Adventureland.

You are aware that as you leave Frontierland and enter Adventureland things change. The background music changes, the plant life changes, the building facades change, even the texture of the concrete you are walking on changes. You have moved from one world and into another. You are in another place and another time.

There are so many little factors that all add up to what we call "The Disney Magic" . . . and you understand them. You feel The Disney Magic. You "get it".

You appreciate how the parks are designed to immerse you in magic. You notice all the little things that they really didn't have to do when they designed and built the attractions. But they built them in anyway; it's all part of the magic.

There are lots of people who don't get it. They don't feel the magic and they will never understand why you do. You probably have friends who say, "Why do you always go to Disney World? It's a place for kids." Others will tell you, "I went to Disney World (or Disneyland) one day. It was too crowded and there wasn't much to see." These people probably annoy you; they annoy me too.

Now cast your memory back to your first trip to a Disney park. Wasn't it overwhelming? Oh yes, it was wonderful, but there was so much to see and you didn't know where to start. I see those people in the parks all the time, just like I was back in 1977, confused or frustrated looks on their faces, looking at a guide map, bewildered.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could go back and do your very first trip over again, but this time do it with the benefit of all you now know about Disney? How much more could you have seen and enjoyed that first time if you knew your way around like you do today?

I wish I could make that happen, I'd sure like to have a "do-over" too.

But there is a way to enjoy that kind of experience. Take a friend who's never been there before and act as their tour guide. Give them the benefit of all you have learned. Pay it forward!

If you are at all like me you will enjoy watching them see it all for the first time. It's like a vicarious first time for me; I take pleasure in every oooh and aaah. It even works with someone who has not been there in a number of years as they see the new attractions and take delight in seeing their Disney favorites again.

My wife Carol and I have had the chance to do this several times. Each time it was a unique experience for us.

Over ten years ago we treated her parents to a week-long trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We acted as their tour guides. Carol's Mom had been there a number of times, most recently in 1993, but for her Dad it was a first.


He just loved the theming at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort and beamed as we took the boat ride to Downtown Disney. He soaked in every experience we threw at him and looked happier than I had ever seen him. My most vivid memory from the trip was watching him enjoy MuppetVision 3D. Visualize a seventy-two year old man giggling throughout the show . . . there is an inner child in all of us and its magic when we let that child loose!


They enjoyed it so much that they have gone back six times on their own and also gone on three Disney cruises.

About six years ago we had just returned from the annual EPCOT Pin Trading Event and were telling my mother about the fun we had. She sighed wistfully and said, "I sure would like to get back there one more time." She had been there twice, the last time was 22 years prior in 1983. We decided to grant her wish and within a month we were back at our favourite place. We spent five glorious days racing around the parks pushing her in a wheelchair . . . she could walk, but we made much better time with the chair. In five days we saw virtually every attraction in each park. She was beaming, grinning from ear to ear the whole time.




What was my seventy-six year old mother's favourite thing? Lets see . . . was it the banana split she had for lunch at the Plaza Restaurant? No. Was it riding in the front on the monorail? No. Was it Mickey's PhilharMagic where she reached out to grab the jewels as Ariel sang about "whoosits and whatsits galore"? No. When we were all done, we had seen it all, we asked what she would like to see again on the sixth day, our last day there. She quickly replied, "The Hall of Presidents." I thought it an odd thing for a Canadian to ask, but off we went . . . after all, it was her dream!

Recently, while we were camped at Fort Wilderness, we got a phone call from some long time friends from our home town. They were just leaving Nashville in their RV and decide to stop in to see us for a few days on their way to Key Largo. We arranged to have them assigned the campsite right beside us and they pulled in a few days later at noon. He had never been to Walt Disney World and she had not been there since the 1980's. They had a day and a half until they had to leave. Wow . . . what to do? We asked what they wanted to see, the reply was, "You are the experts, bring it on!" So we did.

The first day, after they had their RV set up, was all about resorts. Since they are campers we showed them around Fort Wilderness, then caught the launch to Wilderness Lodge and the Contemporary Resort Hotel.


We took a quick spin around the resort monorail loop and pointed out the sights as we passed them by. After dinner at Trail's End we drove around in the golf cart and enjoyed the awesome Christmas decorations at "The Fort". We finished our day by watching Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant from the Fort Wilderness beach. Their comment at the end of the night? "Wow, we had a lot of fun today and it was all free!"

The next morning we hit the ground running. EPCOT! We covered the entire park in a day; we saw every attraction and rode every ride except Imagination.


It was a whirlwind, but a great time. The highlights? Well, they are both car buffs so naturally they enjoyed Test Track but I really enjoyed watching them as they smelled the pine forest and the orange grove in Soarin'. He had a huge grin when we stopped near the archway at Innoventions to watch the Jam-itors play. In Canada we watched the CircleVision movie. You can almost see their cottage in the movie. Its near that bridge in the Thousand Islands. "Look," they said, "there's Smuggler's Bay." They were both tapping their toes as The British Revolution played behind the UK pavilion.



After a great dinner at Chefs de France we continued our way around World Showcase and finished just in time to watch Illuminations. He asked, "Do they do this every night?" Yup . . . every night.

The next morning, as they pulled out, the thanks were effusive. But they didn't need to say thanks; just being able to watch them enjoy themselves had been thanks enough.

Our latest experience with a "first-timer" was just a few weeks ago. Carol used to visit Walt Disney World with her good friend Judy when the children were young. Judy had not been there since 1997 and her husband Scott had never been there. They booked a two-week trip and stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter; we decided to take the RV to Fort Wilderness and enjoy some time there with our friends. We had a great time and so did they!


We didn't spend a great deal of time with them; they mostly explored on their own. We got them oriented at the parks Judy had not seen before and then let them enjoy it, at their own pace. Most evenings we met for dinner and I really enjoyed hearing Scott recap all the things they did each day.

I interviewed Scott after the trip so he could tell you about his experiences in his own words:

Gary: Your wife Judy had told you many things about Walt Disney World before you went. When you actually got there was it what you were expecting?

Scott: I was not expecting the size of the complex, I figured that the individual parks were quite large and that it would take a number of days to fully appreciate what they had to offer, but the space between each was huge! I had no idea the Disney property is so big.


G: What was the most surprising thing during your visit?

S: First I was surprised to see so many school-aged children there during the school term and not on a school holiday. Secondly I was amazed at the sheer number of people there on a daily basis. And lastly I saw lots of old grey haired people there too!

G: What was your favourite experience or attraction?

S: My most enjoyable part of Disney was the EPCOT Park. There I was able to see, hear, smell, taste and learn all about different countries that I no doubt will never visit, and I was able to do this, for the most part, at a very leisurely pace.


G: Is there anything you would like to do at Walt Disney World but didn't have a chance to do this time? Will you do it if you go back?

S: That's an easy question! I would like to play golf at two or three of the courses there. We're already talking about going back this October and I hope to play a round or two with my son-in-law.


G: Was there anything you didn't like?

S: There was only one thing I didn't like about my vacation in Disney and that was leaving the lovely weather and returning to possibly two more months of winter here in Canada.

G: Is there anything you would do differently if you visit again?

S: If I was to visit Disney again I probably would not spend as much time in the Magic Kingdom. I found it quite confusing to navigate around. I am not a big fan of the Disney characters and I have not been brought up in a "magical atmosphere"; that's probably why I don't appreciate what the Magic Kingdom has to offer. The crowds there were larger too! I would shorten my stay at Disney Studios as well. There were a few things there that I found interesting. I really enjoyed Toy Story and Lights, Motors, Action. But for the most part I found it too was a little confusing to get around. The Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios weren't my favorites; EPCOT and Animal Kingdom had a lot more to suit my taste.


G: What advice would you give to someone else who is visiting for the first time?

S: I would suggest that 2-3 weeks are required to completely see and do everything there is to enjoy. I would also recommend that you try all forms of transportation Disney offers as each is unique and each offers a different visual perspective on the way the complex was built. I really enjoyed the boat ride from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney. As we sailed past all those resorts and golf courses on our way to the shopping, dining and entertainment area I developed a real appreciation for the diversity of this amazing vacation destination. Oh yeah, also make sure you have reservations for dinner at 'Ohana. I sure loved those shrimp!


G: People often say that Walt Disney World is only for children. How would you reply to them?

S: I felt that the main theme of Walt Disney World was to make children happy and it did! It also made it very easy for the parents to achieve that goal. It is a terrific spot for children. But I also felt that it was a great place to go for an adult vacation. It offers a great selection of accommodations and excellent dinning options. It certainly offers plenty of things to see and plenty to learn in a very safe and clean environment. Having seen everything for the first time I now look forward to going back for another relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World.

Every time Carol and I visit Walt Disney World with a "first-timer" we see something fresh, something brand new. Sure, we've seen it many times before but now we're looking from a fresh perspective. It really is like seeing it all again for the first time.

So if you're looking for a way to see "The Disney Magic" again for the first time, try visiting with a "first-timer". Take all that Disney expertise you have gathered over the years and Pay it Forward. We enjoy the experience and I think you will too!

March 1, 2012

Piloting Walt Disney World paddleboat a magical moment for my son

Recently, my 9-year-old son had a magical experience at the Magic Kingdom that he can't stop talking about. Now, before you ask, "Well, aren't most experiences at Walt Disney World magical?" let me say this was an unexpected surprise. I'm sure you know what I mean -- when a cast member goes the extra mile to do something unscheduled or unplanned just to add a little pixie dust to a guest's day.

It began when my daughter and I went to meet with Rapunzel and my husband and son, seeking a little something more adventuresome, joined the queue to ride onboard the Liberty Belle, the Magic Kingdom's iconic riverboat. Like many boys, my son is fascinated by the different modes of transportation at Disney. So as he and my husband were chatting with a cast member about various aspects of the triple-deck paddleboat, my husband asked if guests were allowed to ride in the wheelhouse.

To my son's great joy, the answer was "yes." Not only that, but he was allowed to pilot the boat on its 17-minute journey on the Rivers of America around Tom Sawyer Island. (Before you fear for your life the next time you step on the Liberty Belle, know that it runs on a track and the "steering" is all part of the "story.") On the way up to the helm, my son passed through the captain's quarters, modeled after a cabin on a 19th century paddleboat. It was a unique site that many passengers might not readily notice behind the wooden doors that lead to the wheelhouse atop the Liberty Belle. (See AllEars photos of the captain's quarters with this feature.)

Once up top, he had the best view on the ship, almost eye level with many of the adjacent attractions, such as the tallest hill on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The pilothouse isn't large, but there was plenty of room for the cast member and my son to man the open-window helm while my husband watched. There even was an elevated platform behind the wheel that allowed my son to stand a little higher and see out over the wheel and across the bow.

My son was encouraged to ring the bell and blow the horn at the halfway point of the journey. He had a unique vantage point for seeing all the familiar sites along the river: the Native American encampment, the white river markers, the wooden fort on the island. Perhaps the best part of the journey, though, was hearing about the pilot's experiences on the Liberty Belle. Luckily for him, the cast member who provided the tour was someone who had been manning the helm of the boat for some time, so he had lots of stories to share.

At the end of the trip, my son received a special pilot's license, good for one year at Walt Disney World. He was thrilled. We're just happy it specifies where he is allowed to pilot boats.


You can read more about the Liberty Square Riverboat on AllEars: History of the Liberty Belle and taking a Ride on the Liberty Belle (includes video)!

February 14, 2012

Disney World to enforce return times for FastPasses in March



Families planning to visit Walt Disney World after the first week in March may want to reconsider their touring strategies for the theme parks. Beginning March 7, cast members will enforce the end times on FastPass tickets, according to multiple reports and sources.

FastPasses are essentially reservation times for guests to return to the most popular Disney attractions at specific times in exchange for shorter wait times. Under the current system, a FastPass is issued for a one-hour window. However, cast members routinely do not enforce the end times, meaning guests can use their FastPasses anytime during the day once the start time arrives. (To read more about FastPasses, see the AllEars resource page.)

When cast members begin enforcing the FastPass policy in March, guests will be allowed to return five minutes earlier than the FastPass window starts and 15 minutes past the end time.

One common strategy for those familiar with the FastPass system is to ride attractions in the morning when the parks are less crowded and collect the maximum number of FastPasses -- one every two hours -- to use in the afternoon or evening when lines are longer.

With that option disappearing, families will need to determine their priorities -- experiencing more attractions per day by planning with the FastPass system or being able to explore at their own pace and take their chances on the standby lines.

Critics say that enforcing the FastPass windows will eliminate the spontaneity from a Disney vacation, as dining reservations, parade and fireworks times and other entertainment will have to be considered more closely with FastPasses. They also claim guests will be able to ride fewer rides. Those in favor of Disney using the system as it was designed remind guests they are not being forced to use FastPasses; they are simply an option for those who want to plan ahead.

Longtime Disney writer Jim Hill points out that enforcing the FastPass times is not a random change; it's being done to prepare for the rollout of the XPass system this year. XPass is a premium guest experience that is said to include such perks as FastPasses for every attraction a guest wants to ride, reserved parade seating in front of Cinderella Castle, special seats for the fireworks, dining reservations and more -- all booked from home well before a vacation starts.

Perhaps the most-talked-about aspect of the XPass system is the personalization of character experiences and rides for those with the RFID wristbands. Hill says characters will be able to greet guests by name and there even will be additions to rides such as it's a small world that allow computer-generated dolls to interact with the guests who created them. Hill reports XPass will first be made available only to guests staying at deluxe Disney resorts.

Disney World has not officially announced the XPass program, but it has been alluded to in public comments by company leaders talking about its NextGen project. Last summer, cast members at the Magic Kingdom tested a FastPass system for parade seating.

As one writer astutely observed: These changes, which begin by enforcing the FastPass windows, are a step toward Disney World offering all-inclusive vacations, where everything is planned for the guest, much like going on a Disney Cruise. Do they make you want to step onboard?

Leave a comment on your thoughts about these changes.

December 22, 2011

San Angel Inn: From Mexico City to Epcot

Andrew Rossi

When it comes to the countries of World Showcase, Mexico is one of my favorites to spend time in. While the pavilion's Mayan pyramid exterior is certainly impressive, it is what lies inside that makes Mexico truly unique among all the countries. It is unfortunate that more than a few guests to Epcot do not even know that there is an indoor portion to the Mexican pavilion and just pass by without getting to experience one of World Showcase's most immersive atmospheres. When it comes to transporting guests to a totally different time and place, no country does it quite as well as Mexico. From the minute you step inside you will almost forget that you are in Disney World and become completely immersed in the sights and sounds of a bustling Mexican nighttime marketplace.

Of course, no journey to Mexico would be complete without sampling the country's cuisine. Fortunately for guests, the pavilion offers a variety of dining options, from La Hacienda de San Angel and La Cantina de San Angel along the shores of the World Showcase Lagoon to the pavilion's tequila bar La Cava del Tequila. Each dining location has a something a little different to offer, but my personal favorite is the San Angel Inn. Not only does this restaurant deliver authentic Mexican cuisine, but it features an atmosphere unlike any other at Disney World.

San Angel Signage

The San Angel Inn has its roots in Mexico itself and has a very fascinating history. The origins of the San Angel Inn in Mexico City actually go all the way back to 1692 when a beautiful hacienda was built near the town. Originally intended to be a monastery, the hacienda served as a tranquil retreat for the Mexican aristocracy. Among some of the more notable figures to visit the hacienda were General Santa Ana and Pancho Villa. The hacienda actually became a pulque (an alcoholic cactus beverage) factory before being purchased by the San Angel Land Company in 1906. The hacienda was then converted into a hotel and restaurant and named the San Angel Inn.

The San Angel Inn at Epcot's Mexico pavilion looks to continue the legacy of the original in Mexico City and deliver a dining experience which is truly authentic. As is stated on the restaurant's menu the San Angel Inn strives to "present the subtle flavors and surprising tastes which are genuinely Mexican." However, this is a restaurant that delivers an experience which is about so much more than just the food and this is what so successfully helps to create a complete sense of immersion into Mexican culture. The San Angel Inn is a restaurant that combines the "style and spirit of old Mexico, the warmth of hacienda hospitality, and the assurance of exceptionally fine food." Together, this is what makes the San Angel Inn a truly memorable dining experience.

The mood is set as soon as you step into the pyramid and make your way to the Plaza de los Amigos (Plaza of the Friends). The nighttime setting of the marketplace was specifically chosen by Disney Imagineers because it would be more authentic to the operating hours of a typical Mexican market. The marketplace is crammed with various carts and stands selling traditional Mexican items ranging from sombreros and piñatas to blankets, ceramic pottery, jewelry, and other hand-made goods.


As you meander your way through the marketplace toward the rear of the pavilion you will eventually come to the San Angel Inn. The restaurant's out of the way location may sometimes cause it to go overlooked by those not specifically seeking it out.

Dining Area1

One of the most notable features of the San Angel Inn is its position along the banks of the Grand Fiesta Tour boat ride. Guests sitting at tables on the water's edge dine as they watch other guests in their boats passing by. The Mayan pyramid and lush tropical jungle on the opposite side of the river serve as an impressive backdrop for the restaurant. There is even a smoldering, smoking volcano that erupts occasionally as well. It is certainly a beautiful setting to enjoy your meal.

Boat Ride

This is a concept the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in Disney World, but most likely has its roots in Disneyland with the Blue Bayou Restaurant which sits inside of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The nighttime setting of the restaurant gives the San Angel Inn an intimate, slightly romantic feel. The atmosphere is so effective in creating an open-air, outdoor feel that you may actually forget that you are dining inside. Despite being right next to the Grand Fiesta Tour and adjacent to the busy marketplace, the restaurant is surprisingly quiet. This is a great restaurant if you are looking for a romantic meal, whether celebrating an anniversary or just wanting to spend some time alone away from the kids. At the same time, it is still a restaurant that is perfect for the entire family. Children will be greatly entertained watching the boats sail by on the river and the restaurant, although more upscale and refined, still has a warm and inviting feel.

Dining Area2

San Angel Inn not too long ago underwent a minor change in its décor, one that might go unnoticed by most but still had an impact on the overall feel of the restaurant. Prior to this, the San Angel Inn featured tables and chairs that were very bright and vibrant in color.

Old San Angel

These yellow tables with their green, pink, red, and yellow chairs were replaced by tables draped with white tablecloths and natural-colored wooden chairs. Even the layout of the tables in the restaurant was changed, with tables now positioned in straight rows.

New San Angel

On the tables themselves, the place settings now feature new flatware and china that is inspired by those found at the original San Angel Inn in Mexico City.

Table Settings

These changes not only help give the restaurant more of an upscale feel, but also increase the sense of authenticity. You really feel as though you are dining in the middle of Mexico.

The Menu:
Just as the San Angel Inn's décor was recently changed, the menu also underwent some transformations to deliver more authentic Mexican dishes similar to those found at the restaurant's Mexico City counterpart. The lunch and dinner menus are relatively similar with the major difference between the two being the price. The prices that I include here reflect those found on the dinner menu.

The menu features many intriguing appetizer offerings including Coctel de Camaron ($12.00), an Acopolco-style shrimp cocktail with a spicy marinated tomato sauce. Other items are the Tostadas de Tinga ($10.00), pulled chicken seasoned with roasted tomato and chipotle served on tostadas with refried beans, green tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, and sour cream, Tlacoyos de Chilorio ($11.00), corncakes topped with refried beans, pork, queso fresco, green tomatillo sauce, and sour cream, Tacos de Filete ($13.00) featuring beef tenderloin served on soft flour tortillas topped with a chipotle pepper sauce, Sopa Azteca ($7.00) served with fried tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and pasilla pepper, and Ensalada Cesar ($10.00). It might seem unusual to see a Cesear salad at a Mexican restaurant, but it was actually created in Mexico in the 1920's by a restaurateur named Caesar Cardini and has been served at the San Angel Inn in Mexico City since 1963.

The entrée selections offer a little something for everyone with a variety of meat and seafood dishes. One common thread throughout all the dishes is their tremendous flavor, using a variety of herbs and seasonings you may not be familiar with. While there are many spicy selections on the menu that are certainly not for the faint of heart, there are others that are a little more mild in flavor. If you are an adventurous eater who likes to try new and different dishes this is a great restaurant for you, if not, my best advice would be to ask your server to provide recommendations as to which of the menu items are on the milder side.

Entrée selections include Mole Poblano ($23.00), a grilled chicken breast served over poblano rice with a mole sauce made of nuts, spcies, chiles, and a hint of cocao, Pollo a las Rajas ($23.00) featuring a grilled chicken breast served with a red pepper and onion cream sauce over poblano rice, Mahi Mahi a la Veracruzana ($23.00) prepared with capers, olives, bell peppers, Spanish onions, and tomatoes, seasoned with white wine and spices, and served over poblano rice, Tilapia al Huitlacoche ($25.00) served over poblano rice and finished with a corn mushroom sauce, Carne Asada a la Tampique ($28.00), featuring a grilled beef tenderloin topped with red bell pepper and onions served with a cheese enchilada, refried beans, Mexican rice, and guacamole, Chile Relleno ($24.00), a poblano pepper stuffed with pork, pine nuts, and almonds topped with a roasted tomato sauce, Lomo de Puerco en Pipian ($26.00), a pork tenderloin served over roasted vegetables and a "pipian" of pumpkin, chilies, and almond sauce, and Camarones a la Diabla ($26.00) featuring roasted shrimp and poblano rice served over a yucca puree and topped with a chile sauce.

You might want to save room for dessert because there are several delectable options available including Crema Bavaria ($8.00), a creamy Bavarian mousse served with mixed berries, cinnamon, and orange liqueur, Isla Flotante ($8.00), a caramelized lime meringue served over vanilla sauce with mixed berries, Helado de Dolce de Leche ($7.00), which is caramel ice cream, and Crepas de Cajeta ($8.00) featuring warm crepes topped with caramel sauce and toasted almonds.

For my entrée I decided on the Carne Asada a la Tampique. What drew my attention to this entrée was not only the steak itself, but also the variety of accompaniments that it comes served with. The steak itself was extremely tender and juicy, grilled just the way I ordered it (medium-well so that it was just slightly pink in color on the inside). The steak had a great taste on its own, but it also came topped with grilled red peppers and onions the provided even extra flavor. The steak had the noticeable taste of crushed black pepper and was probably seasoned with the pepper before being grilled. While this flavor was certainly not overpowering by any means, it did provide a nice little kick to the steak without taking away from it.

Carne Asada

Alongside the steak was a generous portion of Mexican rice and refried beans. I found the rice to be a little on the dry side, but it still had good flavor and a slight spiciness. I was very impressed with the refried beans. I am not the biggest fan of refried beans, but these were extremely good, providing a nice contrast in flavor and texture to that of the steak. Also served with the steak was a cheese enchilada. While this is a less conventional item to have with a steak, I actually found the two went along well with each other. The softness and cheesiness of the enchilada provided a contrast to the flavor of the steak and gave the dish a distinctly Mexican feel. Overall, I found the serving size to be very generous, the steak and its accompaniments making for a very filling meal.

For dessert I ordered the Crepas de Cajeta and it was one of the sweeter desserts I have had. The crepes come completely smothered in caramel sauce. While the crepes themselves were nice and light, the sauce was extremely rich and filling and I was not even able to finish the entire dessert. The crunchiness of the almonds provided a nice contrast in texture to the softer crepes and they helped add a little extra flavor to the dish.


I do not usually say this, but this was a dessert that was almost too sweet. I love caramel, but the sauce really overpowered the crepes. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the dessert, I think a little less caramel sauce would have actually been better . Also, a scoop of vanilla ice cream would have gone a long way in providing a much needed light and refreshing contrast in flavor.

As with all the restaurants around World Showcase, the servers at San Angel Inn are actually from Mexico. This is something that helps to add an extra degree of authenticity to your dining experience. The severs here do much more than take your order and deliver your food, but they actually help transport you to Mexico; they are cultural representatives that can give insight into what life in Mexico is actually like. I have had several experiences here and other restaurants across World Showcase where severs will openly talk about life in their native countries and how things in the United States are different from their homes. This really helps add a whole other element to your dining experience and enables guests to gain greater appreciation of these foreign cultures; it is something that makes dining in World Showcase unique.

As with any restaurant, you will have some severs that are more talkative and personable than others. One downside to having severs with English as their second language is that there is sometimes a language barrier. Your server might not fully understand some questions you may be asking and guests can sometimes have difficultly understanding what the servers are trying to say. That being said, I found all the servers at San Angel Inn to be very courteous and respectful, seeking to deliver the best dining experience possible.

Dining on a Budget:
My best advice if you are looking to save some money would be to dine at San Angel Inn for lunch rather than dinner. While the menus are very similar, the lunch items are generally cheaper. Even those items that are found on both the lunch and dinner menus are cheaper at lunch. For example, the Pollo a las Rajas costs $17 for lunch, but for dinner the price jumps to $23.

One of the best values on the menu is the Traditional Mexican Lunch/Dinner. This is a prix fixe selection that includes an appetizer, entrée, and dessert and, even though there are no substitutions allowed, it is very reasonable price. The lunch offering includes Sopa Azteca (a traditional tortilla soup), Falda, which is a grilled skirt served with corn, spring onions, and black refried beans, and Flan for dessert all for just $25. The dinner is comprised of Tostadas de Tinga, which is pulled chicken seasoned with roasted tomato and chipotle served on tostadas with refried beans, green tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, and sour cream, Tacos de Pescado (fish tacos with cabbage, lime, and a green tomatillo sauce), and the Crema Bavaria dessert all for $34.

If you were to order just the Tostadas de Tinga and Crema Bavaria off the dinner menu individually the cost would be $18 alone, so it is like you are getting the entrée for $16. Making the deal even better is that both lunch and dinner offerings come with a soft drink included in the price. These three course meals are a great way to sample a greater variety of Mexican flavors for a very reasonable price.

The San Angel Inn is a slightly less expensive option, for dinner and especially for lunch, than La Hacienda de San Angel located outside on the shores of the World Showcase lagoon. However, it should be noted that the menus and dishes offered at the two restaurants are totally different from each other. If you are in the mood for Mexican food but just want a quick and relatively inexpensive meal, I would highly recommend La Cantina de San Angel (also located outside along the lagoon) which has a variety of offering ranging from tacos and nachos to empanadas. This is one of the better-quality quick service dining locations you will find at Epcot with prices ranging from $10 to $12.

The San Angel Inn does participate on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant also offers a 10% discount for Annual Passholders, but only for lunch on Mondays through Fridays. There is no discount for Disney Vacation Club members, however. The San Angel Inn does participate in Tables in Wonderland and thus offers the 20% for members.

The Overall Experience:
The San Angel Inn delivers a truly memorable dining experience on multiple levels. The restaurant features a menu of flavorful, authentic Mexican cuisine, a group of dedicated and passionate servers from Mexico itself, and a breathtaking, one-of-a-kind atmosphere that is unmatched by any other dining location in Disney World. All these things combine help make the San Angel Inn one of the most immersive restaurants in World Showcase. You are so completely wrapped up in the sounds, sights, and tastes of Mexico that you will easily forget that you are actually sitting in the middle of a theme park.

While both the food and service are extremely good, it is the restaurant's atmosphere that keeps making me want to go back again and again. It is a restaurant that enables you to feel as though you are dining outside under the stars, but without having to put up with insects or the elements. Calm and quiet, with a slightly refined and romantic feel, the San Angel Inn is certainly one of the most beautiful restaurants you will find in all of Disney World. Dining here is about so much more than just the food, it is about the complete dining experience; it is a little bit of Mexico in the middle of Florida.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of San Angel Inn and post your own too!

November 27, 2011

Have a Jolly Good Time at the Rose and Crown

Andrew Rossi

When it comes to truly immersive dining experiences, Epcot's World Showcase offers a tremendous variety of restaurants to try. While each country's restaurants offer something a little different for guests, they share a common thread in that they all strive to achieve a level of authenticity that helps immerse guests into that country's cuisine and culture. The restaurants in World Showcase are among the most unique in all of Disney World. These are restaurants that are about so much more than just the food they serve; it is truly about the complete dining experience.

These are all restaurants help to transport guests, introducing them to cultures that can sometimes be very different from our own. They are able to do this not only through their unique cuisine, but also through tremendously detailed decors and servers who are actually from that country. My next few reviews will highlight several of these restaurants beginning here with the Rose and Crown, a restaurant that will truly immerse you in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the United Kingdom.

Rose and Crown Entrance

When it comes to all the various cuisines found around World Showcase, the United Kingdom is probably not on the top of many lists. Overshadowed by the more well-known foods of other countries such as Italy, Mexico, and France people might tend to overlook the Rose and Crown or dismiss it for one of these other options instead. It is true that the United Kingdom is probably known more for its beer than its food, but a meal at the Rose and Crown will certainly help to open your eyes to the different dishes and flavors of English cuisine.

Here in lies one of the great values of World Showcase, and specifically its restaurants: the ability to allow guests to experience cultures and cuisines that they may have never experienced before. It is restaurants, like the Rose and Crown, that allow guests to step out of their comfort zone and be adventurous, trying new foods and experiencing new flavors that they may never have tasted before. If you have never really sampled English cuisine, the Rose and Crown is certainly worth a visit, delivering a truly authentic and immersive dining experience unlike any other in Epcot.

The Rose and Crown's high degree of immersion and attention to detail start before you even set foot inside the restaurant. Even though there is just one restaurant inside, the building's exterior has the appearance a several different structures. The varying architectural details and designs found on the building's facade are meant to reflect four distinct pub styles found in different areas of the United Kingdom (and each is also reflected with a corresponding room inside the restaurant as well). The first style is the "city" or "street" pub that dates from the Victorian era of the 1890s and is distinguished by a facade of brick and wood paneling.

City Pub Exterior

Next comes the Dickensian pub, its Elizabethan-styled exterior includes the restaurant's large brick-walled, flagstone terrace, a slate roof, and a timbered facade. Also featured is the "waterfront" or "river" pub. Located on the rear of the restaurant, facing the water, it is a modest stone building with a clay tiled roof and decorative doorways.

Waterfront View

The final section of the building's exterior is the "country" or "provincial" pub found in the suburbs of the 17th and 18th centuries, featuring a slate roof and plaster facade with stone-quoined corners.

Provincial Exterior

The Rose and Crown is unique among World Showcase dining locations because it functions as both a sit-down restaurant and a walk-in pub. If you enter Rose and Crown through its front entrance you will find yourself in the pub, featuring a large bar as well as some additional seating that is available at a first-come-first-serve basis. Guests can order drinks at the bar to either to have inside the pub or take with them to go. This pub section of Rose and Crown can become very crowded, especially at night and on weekends, and its boisterous, lively atmosphere is carried throughout the rest of the restaurant. This really helps to give Rose and Crown a lively and energetic atmosphere that really makes it feel like an authentic English pub.

As with the pub section of the restaurant, the main dining room (which is actually entered into through a side entrance) features a decidedly laid-back, relaxing feel. In fact the motto of the Rose and Crown, as seen on the restaurant's entrance and on the menu, is "Otium cum Dignitate," Latin for "Leisure with Dignity," which perfectly describes the overall feel of the restaurant.

Rose and Crown Signage

The dining room, just as with the restaurant's exterior, is divided into a series of smaller rooms and as you pass from one to another you are transported to a different styles of pubs found in various part of the country. Each room has its own distinct feel and character along with a wide array of tiny details and theming that help to truly immerse you into different aspects of British culture from different time periods.

The first section is reflective of the Victorian era "city" or "street" pub, the likes of which would have been found in London. This is the grandest and most elaborate of the restaurant's rooms, featuring a large mahogany bar, etched glass, and a molded plaster ceiling.

City Pub1

City Pub2

The next room is far smaller and is reminiscent of the "country", "provincial" pubs of the English suburbs. This section has a far more intimate and modest feel. Here you can find many more outdoor, rustic touches such as antlers, a hunting horn, as well as pewter cups and teapots. This part of the restaurant actually feels more like an English country home than a pub.

Provincial Room1

Provincial Room2

Moving through the restaurant you next come to the room representing the Dickensian pub of the Elizabethan era. This room is not only larger in size, but also features more elaborate and intricate decorative elements. One of the main features of the room is its wood-paneled walls that really help to give the room more of an upscale feel.

Elizabethan Room

Adding to this is the room's large fireplace (although this is just decorative in purpose).

Elizabethan Room Fireplace

Along the tops of the wall are numerous porcelain dishes of various colors and styles, their intricate details adding a sense of refinement to the room.

Porcelain Dishes1

Porcelain Dishes2

The final room is reflective of the "waterfront" pub and has a distinctive inn-styled feel. Here the walls are completely covered with various knick knacks that reflect the pub's river locale, such as black and white photographs of sailboats, knots, compasses, and other seafaring items. Also adorning the walls are framed newspapers that lend an even greater sense of authenticity to this section of the dining room.

Waterfront Dining Room1

Waterfront Dining Room2

No matter what section of the dining room you are seated in there are large windows that let in ample amounts of sunlight during the day and offer tremendous views of the World Showcase lagoon.

Outside View1

Outside View2

One of the main allures of Rose and Crown is its tremendous location and the ample outdoor seating found on its patio. The restaurant's patio is fully covered and wraps around the entire side and rear of the building; it is a great place to enjoy your meal with a great view.

Patio Seating

The covered seating along with the breeze coming off the lagoon means that, even during the hottest months of the summer, the patio is a relatively cool location to enjoy your meal. The patio seating is in high demand during the day, but even more so at night when it is a prime viewing location for Illuminations. While outdoor seating cannot be guaranteed when making reservations at the restaurant, you are able to request a table outside.

Of course, no English pub would be complete without some live entertainment and at the Rose and Crown this is provided by the Hat Lady. With her numerous, crazy, colorful hats, the Hat Lady performs at select times throughout the day in the pub entertaining guests with jokes and encouraging everyone to sing along to well-known songs. One of the loudest moments I ever heard inside the Rose and Crown was when the Hat Lady started playing "Don't Stop Believing" and nearly everyone joined in the chorus.

Hat Lady

This entertainment helps provide an added degree of energy and excitement and helps to establish the restaurant's authentic English pub feel. This is not necessarily the type of restaurant to go to if you are looking for a quiet, romantic meal, but if you are looking to have a good time with friends or family the Rose and Crown is definitely a dining location that you want to try and is great for the entire family.

The Menu:
The Rose and Crown features three distinct menus: one for lunch, another for dinner, and a third just for the pub section. The lunch and dinner menus are similar, but have some items that are exclusive to one or the other.

When it comes to appetizers the menus for both lunch and dinner are the same and feature several intriguing choices, some familiar and others unfamiliar. There is a Trio of United Kingdom Pasties ($16.99) featuring a sausage roll, mushroom wellington, and beef pasty, Pan-Roasted Mussels ($10.99) with tomatoes, herbs, and a bass ale reduction, a Trio of United Kingdom Cheese ($9.99), Winter Squash Bisque ($4.99), and Potato and Leek Soup ($3.99), Mary and the Lads ($9.99), shrimp cocktail served with a spicy Bloody Mary mix, and Scotch Eggs ($8.99) which are fried hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat and served with a mustard sauce.

For entrees, the lunch menu includes a Grilled Pork Brisket ($15.99) served with marble mashed potatoes, green beans, and a mushroom ragout, there is also the Sunday Roast ($16.99) accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, and seasonal vegetables with a shallot gravy, Bangers and Mash ($14.99), the United Kingdom Pub Burger ($13.99) topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, and crispy shallots, Fish and Chips ($16.99), a Romaine Salad ($13.99) with chicken, bacon, and a mustard vinaigrette served with cheddar cheese scones, Shepherd's Pie ($17.99) with lamb, onions, carrots, and mushrooms topped with mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese, and a Corned Beef Sandwich ($11.99) served on toasted sunflower bread with cabbage, Swiss cheese, and spicy mustard.

The dinner menu features several of the same dishes, but also includes some additions as well. There is a Grilled Salmon ($20.99) with caramelized marble potatoes, baby carrots, and a malt vinegar reduction, Grilled Sirloin and Fried Fish ($26.99) served with Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and a red wine sauce, Pan-Roasted Cornish Hen ($18.99), and a Pork Duo ($15.99) featuring grilled brisket with a mushroom ragout and braised pork with mashed potatoes and a red wine sauce.

The dessert menu is the same for both lunch and dinner and includes Cheesecake ($5.49) with a Drambuie ganache, Irish Whiskey Caramel Custard ($5.99) a Bakewell Tart ($5.49) with a cherry compote, Sticky Toffee Pudding ($4.99) served with a warm vanilla custard and hot butter-rum sauce, and a No Sugar Added Fruit Tart ($5.49) with layers of yellow sponge cake, fresh fruit, and custard topped with whipped cream.

If you do not have dining reservations and are not able to get a table in the restaurant's main dining room, or if you are just looking for a quick bite to eat, there is the option of eating in the pub section. The pub menu is simple and features items on the regular lunch and dinner menu that pair particularly well with a beer from the bar. There is Fish and Chips ($7.99), Scotch Eggs ($8.99), the Trio of United Kingdom Cheese ($9.99), and the Corned Beef Sandwich ($11.99). One item that is unique to the pub menu is the English Bulldog ($6.99), a split banger stuffed with mashed potatoes, chopped bacon, Irish cheddar, and a spicy mustard sauce.

For my entrée I decided on the Sunday Roast. When I placed my order my waitress commented that it was her favorite item on the menu, something she recommends to everyone, and I am happy to say that it lived up to her high praise. When the dish was set in front of me I was first impressed with the large portion size, with a generous helping of roast beef and equally large amounts of potatoes and vegetables. The roast beef was very tender, the meat nice and moist. The flavor of the beef was greatly enhanced by the shallot gravy that complimented it extremely well. I did not find the flavor of shallots to be too overwhelming, but it did add a nice bit of extra flavor to the dish.

Sunday Roast

I was surprised to find that the dish came with not only roasted potatoes but also mashed potatoes as well. I was initially a little disappointed that there were only two roasted potatoes, but I actually liked the mashed potatoes more. The mashed potatoes were smooth and creamy and had a decidedly buttery taste. I really enjoyed the string beans especially because they were cooked perfectly so as not to be too mushy nor too crunchy.
What interested me most about the dish was the Yorkshire pudding, something which I had never tried before. I found the Yorkshire pudding to be very similar in flavor, texture, and consistency to a popover. It was a light, fluffy pastry that provided a nice contrast to the heartier roast beef.

For dessert I was very intrigued by the Sticky Toffee Pudding and I will not hesitate to say that it was one of the better desserts that I have had in all of Disney World. This dessert is not the type of pudding that you may be familiar with, but more like a soft, moist cake. This is a dessert with tremendous flavor and I really enjoyed the way that the contrasting flavors of the warm vanilla custard and hot butter-rum sauce combined with one another. I found that there was just the slightest flavor of rum, not overwhelming but just enough to give the dessert a little bit of a kick.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

One of the great things about the restaurants of World Showcase is that you get to interact with people actually from these countries. The Cast Members working at each of the restaurants are more than just servers, but rather are "cultural representatives" who help give us some insight into the lives and customs of the countries they are from. I found the servers at Rose Crown to be extremely pleasant, peppy, and friendly. My server in particular was very talkative. We had a long conversation about how she was making the transition from England and getting used to the different environment and culture of Disney World and the United States.

I also found the servers here to all be very polite and courteous. When I asked my server about the Yorkshire pudding she went out of her way to explain how it was prepared. She also offered explanations of other items on the menu and gave recommendations of her own personal favorites. I found it a little funny at first that my waitress kept referring to me as "hun," "sweetie," or "my love," but then I realized that the servers at other tables were referring to their guests the same way. I found this to be a reflection of English culture and how the servers at Rose and Crown were genuinely concerned with making their guests feel welcome; it showed that they really cared about ensuring their guests had the best dining experience possible.

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes to the sit-down restaurants around World Showcase, Rose and Crown is actually one of the more affordable for both lunch and dinner. The lunch menu, however, does feature some cheaper options. Less expensive items on the lunch menu such as the United Kingdom Pub Burger ($13.99), Romaine Salad ($13.99), and Corned Beef Sandwich ($11.99) are replaced with pricier items at dinner such as the Grilled Sirloin and Fried Fish ($26.99) and the Grilled Salmon ($20.99).

One item I would not suggest ordering at Rose and Crown is the Fish and Chips largely because of its $16.99 price tag. Located just outside of the Rose and Crown is the Yorkshire County Fish Shop which offers Fish and Chips for $8.19. If you are in the mood for Fish and Chips I would go here instead. While the size may not be as large as the one served inside the Rose and Crown dining room, it is still a good-sized portion and filling enough to be a meal unto itself.

In addition, Fish and Chips can also be found on the Rose and Crown's pub menu for $7.99. The pub menu, while not as extensive as the dining room's lunch and dinner menus, is a great alternative if you are looking for an authentic English meal at a more affordable price while still enjoying the immersive atmosphere that Rose and Crown has to offer. In addition to the Fish and Chips the pub menu also features a cheaper version of the Scotch Eggs appetizer for $8.99, the Corned Beef Sandwich for $11.99, and the very intriguing English Bulldog for $6.99.

The Rose and Crown is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one credit for both lunch and dinner. While there are no discounts for Disney Vacation Club or Annual Passholders, the restaurant is a part of Tables in Wonderland and offers its 20% discount.

The Overall Experience:
English food might not be my favorite type of cuisine, but dining at the Rose and Crown has showed me that it can deliver a wide range of great-tasting and flavorful dishes. This is the type of restaurant that is great for trying something new, to break away from foods you are used to eating in your everyday life. The Rose and Crown is a nice change of pace from the other restaurants around World Showcase, not only in terms of the food on its menu but also because of its very distinct atmosphere.

With its pub-like feel, the Rose and Crown is one of the more lively and energetic dining locations in all of Epcot. Combined with its immersive theming and attention to detail, you really feel as though you have been transported to England. Only adding to the restaurant's allure is its tremendous location right on the World Showcase lagoon, offering tremendous views by day and an ideal location for watching Illuminations at night. Dining at Rose and Crown is a fun, laid-back, relaxing dining experience that is great for everyone in the family, kids and adults alike. Not being too familiar with English cuisine, Rose and Crown certainly exceeded my expectations in every facet of my dining experience and I look forward to returning there again in the future.

See past restaurant reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Rose and Crown and post your own too!

November 4, 2011

A Little Taste of Food & Wine

Andrew Rossi

Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival is one of my favorite times of year at Disney World; there is so much to do, so much to see, and so much good food to taste. One of the things I enjoy most about the Festival is that it allows you to sample the cuisines of so 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. Epcot is always my go-to park when it comes to great food and this is all the more heightened during the Food & Wine Festival.

Festival Signage

This year's Festival features twenty-nine international marketplaces ranging from Singapore to Portugal to the Caribbean Islands and with so much good food to be found it can sometimes be very difficult to decide which dishes to try. As you walk around World Showcase and look at various menus you quickly find yourself wanting to try everything, the pleasant aromas filling the air only adding to the temptation. Of course, it would cost far too much money to try every single item that the Festival has to offer and so here I present a few of my favorites in the hope it will help you decide which dishes might interest you most.

We will start with Morocco. Although the Moroccan pavilion features both a full service restaurant and quick service eatery, the country's Food & Wine marketplace presents some different offerings.

Morocco Marketplace

Here I decided to try the Kefta Pocket which was described on the menu as ground seasoned beef in a pita pocket. I likened the beef to a spicy hamburger. While the beef did have a very distinct spiciness to it I did not find its flavor to be overwhelming and, even though the beef was a little on the dry side, this did not take away from the flavor. Accompanying the beef in the pita was a type of cole slaw that provided a light and refreshing accompaniment that paired very well with the stronger flavored beef. For $5.00 this is one of the more expensive items throughout the marketplaces, but the size of the dish makes it a good value.

Kefta Pocket

The Hops and Barley marketplace features foods and beers from the United States. Although I like to use the Food & Wine Festival as a way of sampling the cuisines of distant countries that I may not be as familiar with, I could not resist trying a new item on the menu here this year.

Hops and Barley Marketplace

The Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce immediately jumped out at me because I am a huge fan of all things pumpkin and I am happy to say that it certainly lived up to my expectations. The pumpkin mousse was very smooth and creamy and had a flavor similar to that of a pumpkin pie only a little more on the sweet side. To be honest, the only flavor that I really noticed was that of the pumpkin and could not really pick out the orange sauce (which I was glad because the combination of pumpkin and orange seemed a little odd to me). The mousse came topped with chopped nuts and craisins that added a nice contrast in texture to that of the mousse. For $1.50 this is one of the best valued items in the entire Festival.

Pumpkin Mousse

Scandinavia makes its return this year after a brief hiatus and may have one of the best themed exteriors of any of the marketplaces.

Scandanavia Marketplace

Here I chose the Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries. While this may not be the most visually appealing dish at the Festival, it certainly has great taste and flavor. The meatballs themselves were very moist and tender and were somewhat different in consistency than the meatballs you would get if dining out at an Italian restaurant. Accompanying the meatballs was a lingonberry sauce, which to me tasted very similar to cranberry sauce. I found the lingonberries to be very strong in flavor, and while they did provide some sweetness to the dish and a nice contrast to the flavor of the meatballs, they were a little too overpowering. The meatballs were just as good without the sauce as they were with it on them (and without the sauce you could actually appreciate the flavor of the meatballs more). For $3.50 I found this to be a good sized portion and a good value.

Swedish Meatballs

Argentina is a marketplace that always stands out, not only because of its bright yellow color, but also because of the tremendous aromas wafting from the food being cooked inside.

Argentina Marketplace

I had heard great things about the Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Purée last year and this year decided to give it a try. The chimichurri sauce gave the dish a very strong and distinctive flavor, but it really made the dish what it is. I can best describe the chimichurri sauce as being a slightly spicy pesto and its taste was the dominant flavor in the dish. This is definitely a dish with a kick to it and not for the faint of heart. The boniato puree had the texture and flavor of mashed potatoes that was really enhanced by the chimichurri sauce. The beef itself was tender and juicy and while its $5.00 cost makes it one of the more expensive items it is most definitely worth the price. This is a very high quality and great tasting dish and I would not hesitate to say it is my favorite among the dishes I have sampled so far.

Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce

Hawaii is a new addition to the Festival this year, helping to draw attention to Disney's new Aulani resort which just recently opened.

Hawaii Marketplace

Here I ordered the Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise. I did not expect the slider to be as spicy as it actually was. The mayonnaise provided a definite kick to the dish and even the pineapple chutney was more on the spicy side than the sweet side. That being said, the pineapples did provide a sweeter, refreshing accompaniment to the flavor of the pork. Overall, I thought that all the varying flavors of the dish blended together very nicely. The pork came served on a soft roll, although I wish the roll had been more crusty because it would have made an already good dish even better. For $3.00 this was a very good value in terms of both portion size and quality and one of the better new items at the Festival this year.

Pork Slider

No trip to the Food & Wine Festival for me can be complete without a stop at the Ireland marketplace because it features my favorite dessert.

Ireland Marketplace

The Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Bailey's Irish Cream Ganache is something that I order every year and keep wishing that there was someplace at Disney that served it all year round. This is definitely a sweet, rich, decadent dessert and, even though it is small, it is still very filling. The chocolate cake comes served warm and is extremely moist, but what truly makes the dessert is the Bailey's ganache that is served on top. While the sauce does have a distinct Bailey's flavor, I did not find this to be too overpowering. Rather, there was just enough taste of Bailey's to give the dessert a little bit of a kick. I was disappointed to find that the price had increased from $2.75 last year to $3.00 this year, but it is still a good value even though the portion size is exactly the same as it was last year.

Lava Cake

Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival continues through November 13.

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.

August 8, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next August 5, 2011


Things have changed quite a bit since my last visit in early July.

The exterior of the tunnel on the right side of the train station is under scrims.


Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (formerly Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management) is still being worked on.

Tiki Room

The new sign for the attraction is out.

New Tiki Room sign

In Frontierland, Pecos Bill's is under scrims.

Pecos Bill's

The Frontierland Shootin' Arcade is also under scrims.

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade

The Fantasyland Skyway station is gone and walls are up.

Skyway station

The rock work around Maurice's cottage is progressing quickly.

Rock work

The rock work is also progressing quickly on the Little Mermaid attraction's building.

Little Mermaid rock work

The top of the building is looking great.



In Fantasyland, Enchanted Grove is behind scrims.

Enchanted Grove

The Tangled meet-and-greet features Rapunzel only now.


There's been a lot of progress on Storybook Circus.

Storybook Circus

Storybook Circus

The Firehouse has closed.


We met friends for lunch at Downtown Disney. We had every intention of walking around but the heat and humidity drove us out after lunch. We did see, though, that the Harley Davidson store has moved into the space formerly occupied by Little Miss Matched on the West Side.



That's all for this update. Have a great day!

August 7, 2011

Tinker Bell's Magical Nook


Recently, Tinker Bell and her friends moved to the Adventureland Veranda at Magic Kingdom. Just after you come over the Adventureland bridge from Main Street, it's to the right (next to Aloha Isle).

A sign "marks the spot" and gives the current wait time.


Some pictures have been hung on the walls.




There's even an enchanted picture.

Before we made the turn to meet Tinker Bell and her friend, a Cast Member asked that we have our leaf books (autograph books), light boxes (cameras) and Pixie Passes (PhotoPasses) ready. He told us when we went through the portal, we would become 5 inches tall.


The meet-and-greet area is a visual treat- everything is very large because, remember, you're 5 inches tall now.




When we were there, Vidia was the first fairy we met. She was a hoot!



Tinker Bell was next.

Tinker Bell

Tink spent a couple of minutes showing me her lovely lamps and explaining how she sometimes catches fireflies for them so she can work at night.


Here's a last look at the room before we headed out.



July 31, 2011

Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour


In March, Disney World began offering a new tour called Marceline to Magic Kingdom. We had a chance to go on this tour recently and we really enjoyed it.

We went on a Friday morning. Check in is in the building to the left of City Hall. We were given our headsets and name badges. Once everyone was ready, we walked up Main Street. As we went, our guide told us how Walt Disney wanted a place he could take his daughters to have fun. One thing lead to another and the idea for Disneyland was born. Walt wanted more land and from that, the concept for Disney World was born.

As we approached the castle, he called our attention to the coat of arms over the archway. It's the Disney family coat of arms.

Disney family coat of arms

We stopped at the gorgeous mosaics inside the castle. I've seen them countless times but I've never noticed the artists' names are included.


He also pointed out that Disney Legend Herb Ryman (he created the original sketches for Disneyland as well as the concept drawings for numerous attractions) was depicted in this scene.

Herb Ryman

We crossed in to Fantasyland and rode Snow White's Scary Adventures. After the ride, he asked us to think about how some of the effects were created. Some of the realistic effects are actually created through black lighting. Some of the eyes that watch you on the ride are actually Christmas lights.

Next, we headed to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We went through the new interactive queue and judging by the laughter, everyone enjoyed it.

Pooh queue

After the ride, he asked us to compare Snow White's Scary Adventures and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Many Adventures has more white lighting and has more figures and movement.

We made our way to Tomorrowland and to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. He told us about the name changes over the years, the different sponsors the attraction has had and the different attractions it has passed through.

After the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, we walked over to Carousel of Progress. We waited so that we could have our own theater. He talked about the sponsorship of this attraction and how things have changed since it was at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Throughout the show, our guide would point out some of the details. I won't share them all but here are a couple of my favorites-

This robin in the first scene of the attraction is the same robin used in Mary Poppins.


Herb Ryman's name is included on this mural.

Herb Ryman

These were not the only detailed pointed out but they were two of my favorites.

After Carousel of Progress, the tour wrapped up. We turned in our headsets outside of Carousel of Progress. The tour was a little over 2.5 hours.

We really enjoyed the tour. It was a great way to spend a summer morning. I really enjoyed hearing some familiar stories and hearing new ones. I would recommend it to others but it wouldn't be on my "do again" list unless I was with someone who wanted to go.

The cost is $32/person. Discounts may be available for this tour. Call (407) WDW-TOUR to book.

July 16, 2011

New Character Meet-and-Greets at Disney's Hollywood Studios


In late May, the new Phineas and Ferb meet-and -play and the Winnie the Pooh meet-and-greet opened. I was able to check out these new meet-and-greets recently.

Phineas and Ferb Meet-and-Play

The Phineas and Ferb meet-and-play is located near Mama Melrose's and the exit to the Muppet Vision 3D.

Meet and play set



The concept of the meet-and-play is that Phineas and Ferb are making a movie called "We're Making a Movie- the Movie." The director comes out just before the meet-and-play begins and says that they need some more crowd shots for the movie. He asked that everyone act really excited and got the "shots" he needed.


When Phineas and Ferb come out to the set, they play their guitars for a minute.

Phineas and Ferb guitars

Once the director is sure he's gotten the scene he wanted, he announces that Phineas and Ferb have a little bit of time between scenes and can meet some of their fans. The crowd was, naturally, very happy about this news.

Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb

Winnie the Pooh Meet-and-Greet

The new Winnie the Pooh meet-and-greet is located in the Magic of Disney Animation building. It's in the same spot where Lots-O' Huggin' Bear was.

The queue is set up to resemble pages from a storybook.


Poor Piglet is stuck in a beehive near Pooh Bear. Every so often, the hive shakes and Piglet tries to escape and you can hear the bees buzzing around him.


There's a directional sign to help you navigate the Hundred Acre Wood.

Directional sign

Pooh's backdrop is absolutely charming. It's straight out of the storybooks. For me, it was like watching my childhood come to life.


July 10, 2011

Magic Kingdom: What's New, What's Next Early July 2011


All of the work at Magic Kingdom is coming along nicely!

The work on the exterior of the Confectionery has been completed and the scrims are down.


Patriotic bunting was up on some of the shops in celebration of the Fourth of July.

Patriotic bunting

A lot of progress has been made on the Beast's castle and Maurice's cottage.

Beast's Castle

Some construction work was visible just behind the wall near Dumbo.

Construction equipment

The exterior of the Little Mermaid ride is getting more and more detailed.

Rock work

The Little Mermaid

The Fantasyland Skyway Station has been completely demolished.

Skyway station

The walkway behind the Mad Tea Party has been walled off due to construction.


The Little Mermaid's building is visible from the path next to the Tomorrowland Speedway.

The Little Mermaid

Storybook Circus is coming along quickly. The Winnie the Pooh and friends meet-and-greet has been moved in front of this wall. It's on the path next to the Tomorrowland Speedway.

Storybook Circus

Storybook Circus

Pooh and friends meet-and-greet

Blackbeard now makes an appearance at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean instead of Davy Jones.

That's all for this update. Have a great day! :)

May 24, 2011

Star Tours Midnight Meetup


Star Tours closed on September 7, 2010 to be converted to what has affectionately been called Star Tours 2.0, or Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. To celebrate its reopening, Disney hosted a midnight meet up on Friday, May 20 at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The event was announced on May 5 and you had to RSVP via email. There were approximately 500 people invited (250 people + 1 guest apiece). A friend who was in town from Chicago was my guest for the event.

We had to go to Blizzard Beach to park, check-in and take a bus to Disney's Hollywood Studios.


We entered Studios backstage near Star Tours. The red carpet had been rolled out for the evening.

Red carpet

As we made our way to Star Tours, the Hyperspace Hoopla hosts welcomed us to the event and said that Star Tours was now open. I was very excited about being able to ride again... but I was even more excited because we were allowed to take pictures. No photos were allowed during soft openings (click here to read my soft opening report).

The "hot set" theme of Star Tours is gone. You are now in Star Tours' terminal getting ready for your departure to one of their destinations. The first thing you see when you walk in is the Mon Calamari still keeping watch over C-3PO and R2-D2.

Mon Calamari

As your turn the corner, you see the departures and arrivals board. The board is first shown in Aurebesh and then translated to English. Star Tours commercials, weather forecasts and other important Star Tours information is also shown on this board. I was told that this board has over one hour's worth of footage that is shown on it.

Departures and arrivals

The Starspeeder 1000's color scheme is red. The speeders are all brand new for their port on planet Earth. R2-D2 is still our faithful astromech droid for the journey. The flight number for Star Tours is now 1401. 1401 is the street number for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) in California.

Starspeeder 1000

Speeder and R2-D2

C-3PO has been polished until he shines.



The space port theme is enhanced by signs like these throughout the queue.



After you pass through the "scanning" station, look to the left. An old friend, RX-24 (or Rex) is seen. Rex isn't quite ready for piloting a Star Tours speeder. Perhaps when the Starspeeder 3000* model is ready for flights...


Near Rex, you will also see the mechanical 'birds' that used to sit near the top of the queue line. Also, in the far back, look for a reference to TK-421, the trooper who wasn't at his post in A New Hope.

Just up the ramp from Rex is the luggage scanner droid. He can get a little... preoccupied talking to guests. He has also been known to mistakenly 'zap' items like Mickey ears from people's luggage. He also wonders why people would take something called a camera on vacation.

Luggage Scanner

Before you make the turn to go to the top of the queue, watch the 'door' for some familiar characters to walk by.


At the top of the queue, there is a 'heat signature' scanner. He can identify 14,000 life forms but everyone he sees is human so he's perturbed.


Just before you are sent to your gate, a schematic of the Starspeeder 1000 can be seen on the wall.


The loading area for the speeder is very nice. You will pick up your flight glasses (3D glasses) when you reach your gate. The gates are labeled A-F and and the numbers on the doors are also written in Aurebesh.

Loading area

There are two different pre-show videos that I've seen. Both convey the same information but are presented in slightly different ways.

The interior of the Starspeeder 1000 is largely the same as before. The biggest difference is the seats are now blue.

There are 54 possible experiences on Star Tours flight. There are two openings, three first scenes, three middle scenes and three endings (2*3*3*3 = 54). I was going to give you a list of the scenes but I had a blast figuring it out for myself so I thought I would let you have fun with it, too. You can keep track of your destinations by using your Star Tours passport.

The posters at the end of your flight have been updated. They look great.


Otoh Gunga



Imagineers were on hand to discuss Star Tours and answer questions from guests. They did say that we were a long way off from having a 3D attraction without needing 3D glasses.


The area around Star Tours was set up very nicely. Beverages were provided as was an ice cream bar. Tables were set up for everyone to use, which was very nice. Near Indiana Jones, this probe droid was set up. It was transmitting the message it sent in The Empire Strikes Back. It's hard to hear on the video below but it gives you an idea of what it was doing.

Probe droid

Characters were roaming around and posing for photos as well. It was a fun event. We got to ride Star Tours 4 times and had the queue virtually to ourselves for a bit to take pictures. I'm really glad I was able to do this event.

*The Starspeeder 3000 was the speeder for the original version of Star Tours.

May 23, 2011

Star Wars Weekends: James Arnold Taylor's One Man Show


I didn't get to see James Arnold Taylor's one man show at Star Wars Weekends but my friend J.W. did. She was kind enough to write up a review of the show. Here's what she says:

The show starts with your typical announcer voice telling you how great James Arnold Taylor is - then the curtain parts to show James Arnold Taylor doing the voice himself. That really set the tone (laugh out loud funny). There were two screen on either side of the stage in addition to the two mounted on either wall (used for intros in Stars of the Saga, etc). All four screens were used, most notably so "Obi-Wan" could make an appearance from time to time ("Between you and Anakin I don't know why I bother!")



First, he talked about his backstory, including this adorable pic of him as a kid. He also did some radio voices.


This clip was part of his show:

Next, he talked about how his career evolved (commercials, etc) and demonstrated the life of a voice actor (you spend a lot of time in a padded room talking to yourself, etc.) Then he demonstrated the "vocal highway." This video is similar:

He ended on an inspirational message (best part of the show, if you ask me). He explained how, just when his dreams started coming together (he'd landed Obi-Wan, was working on Johnny Test, etc.), he got sick and was told his voice may never return to its full capacity. He explained how faith got him through this and urged everyone present to have faith in THEIR dreams. :)


All in all, a GREAT show. I'd highly recommend it!

May 22, 2011

Star Wars Weekends 2011


Star Wars Weekends (SWW) began in 1997. However, the SWW did not become a regular, annual event until 2003. Since then, each year has had exclusive merchandise and a logo, a motorcade and other events. The Weekends feature celebrity guests who are on hand to sign autographs (FastPasses are a MUST if you want an autograph... more on this later), participate in a motorcade and be part of an interview session. Since the Clone Wars series started, there is now a Behind the Force show where the voice talents of the Clone Wars discuss the show and demonstrate how the scenes are acted out.

This year for SWW, Jedi Training Academy is performed much more often during the day. Numerous shows have been added to the schedule.

SWW 2011 began on Friday, May 20. Most of my day was spent on the Star Tours events on the 20th. I caught the opening ceremony (see Deb Koma's pictures here), rode Star Tours a few times (it's just as awesome the 20th time as it is/was the first) and a few other things and then the heat ran me out of the park. The event got started much later in the day because of the opening ceremony and by the time everything was underway, I was done for the day.

On Saturday the 21st, I got to the Studios just before park opening. There is an information booth set up just inside the main gate.

Info booth

The stage was still set up for use for the Hyperspace Hoopla each evening during SWW.


There was a sign near the tip board pointing the way to the SWW store, appropriately called Jabba's Hutt.

Sign for store

To get to the store, go to the Rock 'N Roller Coaster courtyard and keep right. There is a gate open and the store is behind that gate. You'll have a fantastic view of Tower of Terror and the store is in the big white tent. It's very spacious and air conditioned. As of 8 AM Saturday, the only thing that was sold out was the opening day Star Tours pin.


Artist signing
Artist Signing Station


Star Tours shirts
Star Tours shirts

Luke and Leia
Luke and/or Leia meet-and-greet

Photo station
Photo station



Boxed pin set
Unframed, boxed pin set. This has the completer pin in it.

Pin set
Framed pin set

Jumbo pin
Jumbo pin.

Travel poster pin set
Travel poster pin set

Star Tours opening day shirt
Star Tours opening day t-shirt

Stitch as Yoda

Star Wars Mimbots

Poster card
Silver poster card

Lights Box
Olszewski Gallery of Lights Box - Star Wars Mickey and Donald


Paper art
Paper art poster

Passholder shirt
Passholder t-shirt

Since the store is called Jabba's Hutt, it is only fitting that Salacious Crumb and Boba Fett keep watch over things.

Salacious Crumb


Outside the store, this stand has been set up.


We loved this kid's costume.


Banners were set up around the Star Tours area.






Directional signs were out around the park to show guests where they could meet their favorite characters.

Direction signs



Queen Amidala's backdrop was lovely.

Queen Amidala

FastPasses are currently being distributed outside the main gate. When you approach the main gate, look to the right, near the big sign (it currently has the Star Tours logo on it). The queues begin in that area. All theme park tickets are being scanned prior to a FastPass being handed to the guest. They are also handing out wristbands with the FastPasses. You *cannot* receive an autograph without a wristband AND a FastPass. Each member of your party must be present to receive the wristband and FastPass.

Anthony Daniels' autograph station is inside Sounds Dangerous. Only the FastPass holder is permitted inside. The Cast Members inside will use your camera to take a photo of you and Anthony.

Anthony Daniels

Sunshades were up on Streets of America and a queue was in place for Star Tours if they needed it. The queue also extended to the San Francisco portion of the street. The sunshades were very effective. They used this queue on Friday but I don't know if they did on Saturday.


The rest of the autograph stations are at the Lights, Motors Action! end of Streets of America. Daniel Logan was very popular.

Daniel Logan

Daniel Logan

James Arnold Taylor is very friendly.

James Arnold Taylor

Just around the corner, near San Francisco, Anakin was greeting guests. Jedi Masters Mace Windu, Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto also greet guests at this location.


My friends and I caught the Behind the Force show. Host James Arnold Taylor introduced Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano). She spoke to Supervising Director Dave Filoni about his work on the Clone Wars. They went through how a scene is created and did a voice demonstration. They also selected someone from the audience to try it out.

Behind the Force

James Arnold Taylor

James and Ashley

Ashley and Dave


Asajj Ventress and other Clone Wars characters were greeting guests near the Premier Theater.


The Legends of the Force Motorcade is now happening at 12:40 PM. We were able to catch it near the beginning of the parade route.


501st stormtroopers

Rebel Legion



Daniel Logan
Daniel Logan

Anthony Daniels
Anthony Daniels

Dave Filoni
Dave Filoni


Ashley Eckstein
Ashley Eckstein

bounty hunters

James Arnold Taylor
James Arnold Taylor

Darth Vader

The motorcade stopped at the hat and the characters and celebrities took the stage.


Boba Fett was greeting guests on Pixar Place when I went by.

Boba Fett

Darth Vader was greeting guests near Studio Catering Company.

Darth Vader

The booth was set up for Dave Filoni when we went by and we noticed this sign for the Disney Racers.


We saw the Stars of the Saga show at 3:15. Note that the schedule says 3:15 but the celebrities don't take the stage until 3:30.


The stormtroopers do a 15 minute pre-show. Their dialog was updated to include Star Tours. They were amusing, as always. This trooper and his Mickey ice cream bar was a crowd favorite.

Mickey bar


The troopers had captured Chewbacca. Hopefully they know now that it's always wise to let the Wookiee win. :)


Host James Arnold Taylor introduced and interviewed the two guests, Daniel Logan and Anthony Daniels.






Unfortunately, the heat had gotten to me after Stars of the Saga and I didn't stay for Anthony Daniels' show or James Arnold Taylor's show. I hear that James Arnold Taylor's show is fantastic.

SWW is better than ever this year. I had a great time, especially because I was with family and friends.

May the Force be with you!

April 22, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next April 21, 2011


On April 21, we went to Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney. A lot of changes had been made in since we were at Disney World the last time.

These banners had been added to Town Square Theater:


The scrims on the Confectionery had been partially rolled up and it's looking great! Easter displays were in the windows.


Easter display

The back of the castle is still being worked on:

Back of the castle

Through the trees, we were able to see the exterior work of Beast's castle. I was very excited. :)

Beast's castle

My brother and I rode Dumbo and got a look at what's going on in the expansion area.



More progress has been made on the 'wall' in Storybook Circus:

Storybook Circus

I had heard that Beast's castle was visible from the Astro Orbiter. I had never ridden the Astro Orbiter so I figured now was a good time to do so. It was a gorgeous view from the platform!

Beast's Castle

We went back to the Haunted Mansion and finally got to see the new interactive queue. Click here to see the image gallery of the queue. Disney really did a great job with it.

When you first enter the interactive queue, there is a set of busts of a family. Beginning with Uncle Jacob (middle bust), read the epitaphs to figure out who killed who.


The bride's engagement ring is in the pavement. It's been thrown to the ground like it was trash .


Be sure to touch the cat on the Decomposing Composer's Crypt.


The Hitchhiking Ghosts' effects were back. The video is a little dark but it should give you the general idea of what goes on. We liked the new effect and heard other guests saying they did too.

We made our way over to Pirates of the Caribbean and some 'On Stranger Tides' pictures can been seen near the ride's exit:


Jack Sparrow

We noticed there is a new sign out at Tortuga Tavern with Angelica, the new character from 'On Stranger Tides', on it:

Tortuga Tavern

Angelica was greeting guests just over the Adventureland bridge:



The temporary bridge to Adventureland had been removed:

Bridge removal

Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny were greeting guests near City Hall. This area had been under scrims the last time I was there so I was glad to see it was open.

Easter Bunny

Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny

We went in Curtain Call Collectibles (in Town Square Theater) to have a look around. The Mary Poppins dress being sewn together was new:

Mary Poppins dress

Mary Poppins dress

The work on the porch for Tony's has been completed:


After lunch, we went to Downtown Disney. The renovated Lego Store is open and the displays on the exterior of the store are awesome.


Prince Phillip

Buzz and Woody

Snow White and Dopey


The interior of the Lego Store was more spacious but had less displays than they used to.

Lego Store

Lego Store

Lego Store

The temporary tent for the Lego Store is still up near Once Upon a Toy but it is closed:


Marketplace Fun Finds is now open. It's not entirely a discount shop- there are some items there that have been discounted/deals but there are some current merchandise items there that are under $10, under $20, etc. It's more of a bargain store. It's all well marked.

Marketplace Fun Finds

Marketplace Fun Finds

LittleMissMatched is now in its new location:




The Pooh and friends photo-op has been moved back to its original spot:

Pooh and friends

Outside Pin Traders, chalk artists were drawing Simba and Nala:

Chalk artists

The Harley Davidson store is still open in its spot on Pleasure Island:

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson will be moving to LittleMissMatched's old location on the West Side this summer:

Harley Davidson

The walls were down around the exterior of the AMC Theatre's Dine-In area but it doesn't open until May.



The Times Guides have a coupon for 25% off dining at select locations attached to them:


The Times Guides also have information on how to receive real-time updates while you're at the parks. I signed up for the text messages at 11 AM this morning and my first update didn't come in until 7:30 PM.


That's it for this update. Have a great day! :)

April 15, 2011

Nature Inspired Design Tour


On April 2, I went on the Nature Inspired Design tour. For a description of this tour, click here.

The tour began at 8:15 so they directed me to the Character Breakfast turnstile toward the far left. For this tour, I checked in a Guest Relations inside the park. I signed a waiver for use of the Segway.

At 8:15 on the dot, my guide came to get me. He told me that I was the only one who had booked the tour that day! I was stunned. He said it was the first time ever the tour had been for only one person. He took me to the Segway training room and I watched a video about the Segway and began my training. The Segways are surprisingly easy to use. I was a little intimidated at first but quickly got the hang of it thanks to my guide. He was right- it becomes more about feeling than thinking once you're used to it.

Segway training area

Once I had gotten used to the Segway, the tour began. He radioed ahead to let Soarin' know we were on our way. We went through Future World toward the Imagination area. We went through a backstage area and made our way to the backstage entrance to Soarin'. The Cast Members seated us in the center, top row. It had been a while since I'd been seated there so that was a treat for me.

After Soarin', we made our way backstage to The Land. A Cast Member was waiting on us and took us into the greenhouse. They told me that the areas we would visit could also be seen on the Behinds the Seeds tour. I was allowed to take pictures in this area.

The Land

She told me that small, at home herb gardens like this one could be done at one with just one square foot of space. This particular one had chives in it.

Herb garden

Disney has begun using a lot of Hydroponics in their gardening. What it does, on a much larger scale than this fish tank, is hydrate the roots while giving them space to breathe and circulate air around them. This is easy to do at home and you can create a little herb garden this way as well.


She discussed the three different kinds of materials they use around the plants:


We were shown the cucumber plants. She had pieces of a cucumber for me to sample. I don't love cucumbers (but I don't dislike them either) but these were GOOD. They were crisp and had a wonderful, fresh flavor.


The Land is home to a record holding tomato plant.

Record holding tomato plant

We could see this Mickey from where we were standing:


He radioed ahead to The Seas with Nemo & Friends to let them know we were coming. Again, a Cast Member was waiting on us and took us right into the pavilion. He discussed how Disney wanted The Seas to be like looking right into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They selected fish that lived near the top of the water, in the middle of the water and the bottom to help maintain this. Lighting also helps maintain this effect.

The Seas

The coral at The Seas is not real coral. The fish, however, behave as though the coral is real. They lay their eggs, take naps and swim through just like they would if it was real.

Then, they took me to the 'water' area. This is the command area where they control and monitor the water for The Seas and several other areas of Disney World. He explained how they make sure the water is clean, how they monitor everything and how they add the salt to it if they need to.

The tour wrapped up after this stop. We put our Segways up and talked a little bit more.

I LOVED this tour. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was worth every penny to me. The guide was so enthusiastic and personable. He answered all of my questions and pointed things out to me that I might have missed. He was wonderful about letting me know when I could and couldn't be taking pictures. The Cast Members at Soarin', The Land and The Seas were very enthusastic and extremely knowledgeable. I had never ridden a Segway before so that was a very fun experience for me. If you have the chance to do this tour, I highly recommend it.

Nature Inspired Design is offered Tuesdays and Saturdays during the month of April. For other months, the tour is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It begins at 8:15 AM and lasts three hours. Guests must be 16 or older. It costs $124 person ($132.06 with tax). Annual Passholder, DVC and Disney Visa discounts are available.

To read reviews of Nature Inspired Design, or to post yours, please click here.

April 9, 2011

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat Ceremony

by Guest Blogger
"Uncle" Bob Elsie

While one of my granddaughters and I were checking a recent issue of AllEars® and we saw a blurb about something called "Flag Retreat" that veterans could participate in.

I remembered that years ago you published something that the Wilderness Lodge did with a flag raising but you had to be staying at Wilderness Lodge to do it. My granddaughter said "Pop, you should try to do this one because your a veteran!" So we planned to see about it when we got there.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

On Monday, Aug. 30, my granddaughter and I went into City Hall and asked about "Flag Retreat?" The cast member explained that from the first day "Magic Kingdom" opened to the present they performed a flag lowering ceremony called "Flag Retreat." She then asked if I was a veteran, to which I replied, "Yes. a Viet Nam veteran." She then asked if I would like to participate, to which I replied "Yes!' She told me to wait for a cast member who would explain what would go on. A few minutes later the cast member came, took my name, rank and branch of service and told me to meet with another cast member by the flag pole at about 4:45. That person would explain what would go on.

My 3 granddaughters, son, daughter-in-law and I were soooooo excited. We didn't know what we were in for but knowing Disney we knew it had to be good. All day long we kept checking our watches to be sure we didn't miss it.

At 4:40 we arrived at the flag pole and met with the cast member. He also asked for my name, rank and branch of service and introduced me to a member of "The Dapper Dans."

Dapper Dans

He asked if my granddaughter would like to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, she said NO (she was afraid she would make a mistake). He also introduced me to a PhotoPass photographer who was going to take pictures of the whole thing (you get one 8X10 free).

The "Dapper Dan" explained that the "Dapper Dans" would sing a few songs, "The Main Street Philharmonic" would play some tunes, everyone would recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the flag would be lowered and that one of the security detail would show me what to do.

GAWRSH!! As Goofy would say, I just thought they would lower the flag, WRONG!! The security detail came out and one of them explained and showed me what was going to happen. Here's how it goes, as best as I can remember:

Cast members form 2 lines facing each other between the station and flag pole.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The Main Street Philharmonic is positioned at the railroad station, both upstairs and down.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The security detail (3 members) and the veteran are at the end of the line closest the flag pole.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The the Dapper Dans and the veterans family are on the City Hall ramp of the flag circle.

The ceremony opens with the band playing America The Beautiful.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The band then march through the lines of cast members followed by the veteran and security team, the band circles the flag pole, the veteran and security stop in front of the flag, facing the castle.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The Dapper Dans lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

A single trumpet player sounds retreat.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The flag is lowered while the band plays the Star Spangled Banner and everyone sings along.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Security folds the flag while the Dapper Dans lead everyone in God Bless America.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The flag is presented to the veteran with the announcer stating the veterans name & home town.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The band then plays a medley of armed forces songs.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

The band then walks toward City Hall followed by the veteran, holding the flag, security, the Dapper Dans, the veterans family and the cast members. The procession makes a wheel right, go to the beginning of Main Street, wheel left, and proceeded up Main Street. The band was playing the Semper Fidelis March (I think).

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

They make the first right and the band, Dapper Dans and cast members exit through the back gate (many of them thanked me for my service as they passed. How nice was that! ).

The security detail, veteran & veterans family stay for the final part.

The security leader then announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Magic Kingdom would like to proudly recognize United States Army specialist Bob Elsie as our honorary Veteran of the Day, this the 30th day of August, 2010.

Let's hear it for him."

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

He then presented me with a certificate stating that info and a Magic Kingdom "Veteran of the Day" pin .

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

You may not be aware of the the climate of the country for returning veterans during the Viet Nam war era. There were no parades, ceremonies or acknowledgments. Most veterans wouldn't even say that the served over there, say what they did, or even wear their uniforms when on leave. Many had very bad experiences when they did say they served. It wasn't a pleasant time for veterans.

Gradually, it became less of a stigma to say you were there. I was very fortunate to have a family that supported me and was proud of my service. I have attended many veteran ceremonies and was proud to be a part of them but, as good as they were, they didn't compare to what happened to me at Walt Disney World on Aug 30,2010. Thanks to you and your team, I finally got to march in what I considered a "Welcome Home" parade!

But not only was I honored but "MY FAMILY" as well! And the icing on the cake was that it happened at Disney World , right on Main Street, truly the place where Magic Happens and Dreams Come True!

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

Later on at least 6 people also came up to me, in the park,and thanked me for my service, one veteran also gave me the greeting veterans give each other, a shake of the hands, hug, and "Welcome Home". I can't begin to tell you how much the day meant to me and my family.

April 5, 2011

Gardens of the World Tour


During the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot, the Gardens of the World tour is offered. I went on this tour on April 1, 2011.

We met in front of Guest Relations at Epcot- this is to the far right of the turnstiles before you enter the park, not the Guest Relations inside the park. Around 8:50 AM, several Cast Members broke us into our tour groups - there was another tour that was meeting at Epcot as well.

We were given name badges to wear for the tour:

Name badge

We were also given a pin that is exclusive to the tour:


Headsets were distributed for everyone to wear. We were glad to have them because the music and noise of the park made it difficult to hear at times.

We got a late start because we had a couple of people who were running late. When everyone got there, we gathered in a group - there were about 20 of us - and he asked us our names, where we were from and why we were interested in the tour. We had several avid gardeners in our group.


We went into Epcot around 9:30. The first stop we made was near one of the flower towers. Rickie told us that there were 40 of these in Epcot and they were easy to create. The tower holds the flower pots inside it so it makes assembling and disassembling the towers easy.

Flower Tower

Then, we went over to the area near the stroller rental. This plant (the name of this plant is escaping me) was around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The leaves are thicker than you would have expected.


The theme for Future Wold is the future. Therefore, the design team keeps flowers to a minimum except during Flower & Garden. Several different types of palm trees are used in this area.

Palm trees

When we walked through Pixie Hollow, he pointed out the eco-friendly mulch underneath the play area. This material is actually recycled tires and it won't hurt the kids if they fall. The 'grass' is actually artificial turf with padding under it.


The Pooh topiary area has bloomed nicely. He pointed out the various types of plants that made up Rabbit's garden.


He said that the flower blanket took about a night to plant. They had an entire team that evening. There is a staging area behind the Germany pavilion where it was all set up and then brought in.

Flower Blanket

At Bambi's Butterfly Garden, he talked about how the monarch butterfly tastes bitter to predators because of the nectars they consume.

Monarch butterfly

At the Mexico pavilion, he discussed how the jungle theme was created by using various tree and flower and types.


He said there are some plants/trees that are look-alikes at the pavilions because they won't survive in the Florida climate.

At China, he discussed the Zodiac figures. They are all made out of seeds. But my favorite part was when he discussed the gardens. He said that Chinese gardens are all about tranquility, very little movement and letting the garden be. The grass is longer at this garden because of this.

China garden

In contrast, Japanese gardens are all about movement. The koi pond and waterfall help to create constant movement in this garden.

Japan garden

I never knew that this lantern at the Japan pavilion was a gift to Roy E. Disney from the emperor of Japan.


He said that the Aladdin topiary is one of his favorites because it incorporates so many different plants and textures. Some of the plants are secured to the topiary using hair pins. Aladdin's hair is coconut fiber.


We spent some time at the Victoria Gardens area at the Canada pavilion.

Victoria Gardens

The tour ended with a backstage look at the Canada pavilion. No pictures are allowed backstage. We were given the Flower & Garden poster as a keepsake, which was unexpected and a nice surprise.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour and I'm glad I did it but I didn't love it. The focus was more on how to do similar things at home in your garden and plant types and that wasn't of as much interest to me as hearing about the hows and whys Disney creates things the way they do. We spent a decent amount of time in Future World but made it through World Showcase very quickly because we got going late. Our guide was wonderful about answering questions and making sure our curiosity was satisfied before moving on. He was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I would do this tour again if someone really wanted to go but it would not be on my 'must-do' list.

The Gardens of the World tour is $60 per person ($63.90 with tax) for guests ages 16 and older. This tour is during Flower & Garden Festival only. Be sure to ask about Annual Passholder, Disney Visa or DVC discounts as well. The tour is offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 9 AM. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687) to book.

To read reviews of the Gardens of the World tour, or to post your own, click here.

April 3, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next April 1-2, 2011


On April 1, I spent the afternoon at the Magic Kingdom. A lot had changed since my last visit less than a week before.

Part of City Hall is still behind a wall:

City Hall

The new Mickey Mouse and Princesses meet-and-greet was open. Click here to see pictures of the new area.


Part of the Tony's patio is now open. A smaller part is still behind the scrims:


This sign was new to me:


Sidewalk had been added along the side of the Confectionery:


The Confectionery is still behind scrims:


Magic Kingdom was very crowded and Tortuga Tavern and the Tomorrowland Terrace were serving meals:


The Haunted Mansion interactive queue was open on April 1. The ride had a very long wait to we decided to bypass the Haunted Mansion in favor of doing it early one morning soon.

Lots of progress has been made on the buildings for the Fantasyland expansion. The parts in the pictures were the most visible. You could see the rest but they had propped the trees higher up so it was hard to get pictures of it.



This area near Dumbo has been walled off:


The back of the castle is still being worked on:


This wall, for lack of a better term, was being built in the Storybook Circus area:

Wall in Storybook Circus

The Confectionery had springtime treats:




Tomorrowland Terrace was open for dinner when we went by:

Tomorrowland Terrace

We spent the evening at Downtown Disney. Work continues on the area for the dining area at the AMC Theater:

Amc Theater

LittleMissMatched is still open on the West Side:


A new pin cart was set up near Bongos:

Pin cart

The Lego Store is still under construction:

Lego Store

Lego Store

The temporary tent near Once Upon a Toy is still open:

Lego Store temporary location

Work on the exterior of the former Mickey's Mart has begun:

Exterior work

The wall is still up on Pleasure Island:


On April 2, we spent some time at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Sounds Dangerous was operating:

Sounds Dangerous

Walls are now up around the entrance area to Star Tours:

Star Tours

The walls are down around the speederbike photo-op area:


A Winnie the Pooh poster is up outside of the Magic of Disney Animation:

Pooh poster

Pooh artwork is now being displayed at the Magic of Disney Animation:

Pooh artwork

On the other side of the case, Cars 2 artwork is displayed:

Cars 2

Some scaffolding is still on Tower of Terror. It has been getting an eco-friendly repainting- click here to read more about the new paint.

Tower of Terror

Have a great day!

March 21, 2011

Walk Around Walt Disney World - What's New, What's Next: March 19-20


We were able to spend the weekend at Disney. We stayed on-property and since it was Extra Magic Hours at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Saturday morning, we took advantage of the extra time in the park.

'Let the Memories Begin' banners were up near the main gates:


Work on the Tower of Terror exterior is still be done:

Tower of Terror

One of the things I love most about Extra Magic Hours is that's it's not overly crowded yet and you can wander a bit. It had been a while since we had been nto the Tower of Terror courtyard and store so it was nice to wander around and see some details that I'd never seen before.

We went over to the Animation Courtyard to look around. I had never seen the sketches of the princesses above the costumes- I love this kind of detail!

Jasmine sketch

I heard a lot of families talking about seeing the new Disney Junior show once the park opened for the day.

Disney Junior

It had been at least five years since my brother had seen the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show so we decided to catch the first show (pun intended). I had seen it a couple of years ago but missed the detail of the trident lighting up!

Unlit trident

Lit trident

One Man's Dream is one of my favorite attractions. I was hoping the back section might be finished but the walls still say 'coming soon.'

One Man's Dream

I'm a Star Wars fan so I knew I had to see what was going on around Star Tours. The area where the speederbike photo-op was/is is currently behind a very large wall:

Speederbike wall

Speederbike wall

Behind the Jedi Training Academy is a character meet-and-greet location:

Meet and greet location

[Star Wars side note: In the lobby of Mama Melrose's, there is a picture of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). It's near the bathrooms. Also, in the dining room, there is an Italian version of The Empire Strikes Back movie poster.]

My brother and I rode Rock 'n Roller Coaster and noticed that they have put up these gates at the exit area of the ride:


I wandered through the watch shop and noticed an animator drawing Jedi Stitch:

Jedi Stitch

Friends from Chicago were in town and we met them at Epcot after lunch. On our way to meet up with them, we noticed this flamingo. It made us smile:


Our friends' son was absolutely enchanted with the train village at the Germany pavilion. I'm so glad he was- the village was hosting its own Flower & Garden Festival and I hadn't noticed it when I was there previously:

Train Village

The Lightning McQueen topiary was out at the World Showcase entrance:

Cars 2

Cars 2

Cars 2

For dinner, we decided to go to the Animal Kingdom Rainforest Cafe. On the way in, we noticed they had two lines:

Rainforest Cafe

The 'extreme supermoon' was visible Saturday night. My mom got a kick out of me leaving the room every 15 minutes to see if it was visible yet.


I went out to the parking lot around 7 AM to see if I could still see the supermoon. I definitely could! It was a great view:

Supermoon morning

Supermoon morning

Magic Kingdom opened at 8 AM Sunday morning so I wandered around to see what was new or had changed.

City Hall is still being worked on:

City Hall

The walls were down around Exposition Hall- the new sign says Town Square Theater. The doors are very ornate. The far right side of the building is open for PhotoPass viewing and camera accessories. Otherwise, the windows are still covered.

Town Square Theater

Town Square Theater

The exterior of Tony's is being worked on:

Tony's exterior

The Confectionery is also being worked on:


There is a wall up on the right side of the castle (if you're facing the back of the castle):

Castle wall

The exterior of Cinderella's Royal Table is still being worked on:

Cinderella's Royal Table

The tops of some of the buildings behind the Fantasyland walls are now visible over the walls:



The walls around the construction area had been moved back so there was a lot more room to walk around.

Fantasyland walls

A solid wall has gone up between the Tomorrowland Speedway and ToonTown:

ToonTown wall

The Tomorrowland Speedway was back to four lanes:

Tomorrowland Speedway

Only Minnie remains on the ToonTown sign:

ToonTown sign

I went to the Haunted Mansion to see if the new queue line was being tested. I knew it was a long shot since it was around 9 AM when I got there. It was not being tested but I could see a good bit of it.

Entrance to the new queue:

Queue entrance

This is clearly visible above the shrubs:

Queue line

The walls around the queue line are down and have been replaced with thick green screens:

Queue line

The walls around the Adventureland bridge were down. The new bridge is flat- there is not a hill anymore. The bridge they had set up for guests to use is also still there:

Adventureland bridge

Adventureland bridge

Adventureland bridge

After I had finished my Magic Kingdom 'walk', Mom and I went over to Downtown Disney. The AMC Theater now has automated ticket machines outside the theater.

Automated ticket machines

Walls were up where one of the Pleasure Island clubs used to be. A sign showed the concept art for the store going in its place.

Pleasure Island construction

Concept art

The Lego Store is being worked on. Temporarily, they have a tent set up near Once Upon a Toy.

Lego Store construction

At World of Disney, they have a new section of D-Tech merchandise. It's got mouse pads, laptop bags, iPad and iPhone cases and other assorted 'tech' goodies.


The Winnie the Pooh and friends photo-op has been moved to the Guest Relations area since Pooh Corner has closed.

Pooh photo-op

The temporary Lego Store is in a big yellow tent between Once Upon a Toy and Earl of Sandwich. It was very busy inside... and very yellow because of the tent!

Temporary Lego Store

Tempoary Lego Store

Outside of the tent, they had a little display set up for Flower & Garden at Epcot.

Flower & Garden display

Pooh Corner, unfortunately, has closed.

Pooh Corner

Goofy's Candy Company has started letting guests their own treat.

Create your own treat

That's all for this update. Have a MAGICAL day!! :)

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February 11, 2011

Tutto Italia in Epcot - Dining with Allergies


I have multiple food allergies (nuts, shellfish and smoked cheese) but Disney does a fabulous job of making sure the food I eat is safe for me to eat. I'm not the most adventurous diner because of my allergies but I've learned that I can trust Disney. We have our favorite places to eat but we are slowly but surely trying new restaurants. One of the restaurants we have tried recently is Tutto Italia.

We ate at Tutto Italia for the first time in December for the Candlelight Processional package. We enjoyed it so much, we wanted to go back and had the perfect excuse to do so on January 24- the AllEars meet at Epcot! I was able to get an 11:30 reservation that day.

We checked in at about 11:25. The lobby is gorgeous and spacious. It was not crowded at all, even when we left the restaurant.



The main dining room is lovely.

Main Dining Room

We were seated next to a window overlooking St. Mark's Square.

St. Mark's Square

We really enjoyed the view. It was very quiet inside the restaurant. Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu. The menu offers a variety of choices. I did not have it noted on this particular reservation but I did let my server know that I am allergic to nuts, shellfish and smoked cheeses (odd, I know) and he made a note of my allergies. He asked me what I what entree(s) I was interested in and I told him I was most interested in the Tagliatelle alla Primavera. He told me he would check with the chef and let me know.

At Disney World, I always have food options. I have yet to eat somewhere that I can't find something to eat or have something modified (take off a sauce, crust, topping, etc.). Dessert, though, can be another story but I'll get to that in a bit.

When our server brought the bread to the table, he let me know that the chef had said the Tagliatelle alla Primavera was okay for me to eat. I was very happy to hear this.

The bread came with the standard warning: They cannot guarantee that the bread has not come into contact with nuts at some point in time. Knock on wood, I have never had a problem in all the years/times I've eaten at Disney restaurants. The bread selection is excellent and the olive oil had a wonderful taste.


Our server was very engaging and while we were waiting on our entrees to arrive, he came over and talked to us about Italy, where we were from and Epcot in general.

Our food arrived piping hot.

Mom had the Farfalle:


I had the Tagliatelle alla Primavera:

Tagliatelle alla Primavera

The portion sizes were very generous for both dishes. The main difference between Mom's and mine is that mine had vegetables in it while hers had prosciutto. Both dishes had cream sauce and it was surprisingly light but very flavorful. The vegetables in mine were nice and crisp. Mom loved her dish as well.

The dessert menu at Tutto Italia looked very good. However, I knew based on our December dinner there that my options would be limited. I already knew I couldn't have the Copette Sotto Bosco because it has nuts in the "cookie" that is served with the berries and gelato. I *really* wanted to try the lemon ricotta cheesecake so I asked our server about it. He asked the chef and it does have nuts in the crust of the cheesecake. I was a little disappointed because I had wanted to try something new. I knew I could have had the tiramisu (it's excellent) and Mom and I did discuss having it. In the end, we decided to forego dessert. I did not ask about other desserts but plan to when I dine at Tutto Italia again.

We really enjoyed our lunch. We're very happy to add this to our Epcot "list" of dining options. Our water glasses were never empty and anything we wanted or needed was promptly taken care of.

If you have food allergies, you can have it noted on the reservation(s) but be sure to let your server know when you get to the restaurant. You can also contact Special Diets ahead of time. I contacted them in December about another reservation and they sent me a form to fill out with a list of where I would be dining and all of my allergies. They also sent me several sheets with information about the counter service restaurants' food items. When in doubt, contact Disney! They have worked some magic for me in the past, both ahead of time and at the restaurant.

January 17, 2011

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade Debuts at Disney's Hollywood Studios


The new Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun parade, the successor to Block Party Bash, debuted today at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It follows the same parade route as Block Party Bash did.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Times Guide

Disney's Hollywood Studios Map

The Cast Members seemed excited that this parade was starting. I had several tell me to be sure to check it out this afternoon.

Prior to the parade, they were asking about celebrations and reminding everyone that the parade was going to be coming. We decided to catch it at the very beginning of the parade route. It began promptly at 3 PM.

The parade starts off with several characters from "The Incredibles" on scooters. If you're at the beginning of the parade route, they zip by very fast so have your camera(s) ready.



They were followed by Mr. Incredible on a float with a countdown to fun on the side.

Mr. Incredible

After that, characters from "A Bug's Life" danced their way (or rolled their way on a float) by.

A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life

Remy from "Ratatouille" was on hand to help celebrate as well.


My personal favorite part of the parade as the "Monsters, Inc." portion. I love that movie and the float was a work of art!

Boo and George

Monsters, Inc.


Monster's, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. - back

Characters from "Up!" followed the "Monster's, Inc." float.



The "Toy Story" segment was very cool. Jessie and Bullseye were adorable dancing. The float that Woody, Buzz and Lotso were on was absolutely incredible. There were toys and such all over it. It was a visual treat.

Jessie and Bullseye




The cones brought up the rear of the parade, followed by two Cast Members holding a jump rope.


Cast Members

The parade is very high energy. However, it is short! My mom was with me today and she timed it at 6 minutes from start to finish. It did look like the parade made a show stop on Hollywood Boulevard. It wasn't my favorite thing I've ever seen at Disney World but it wasn't my least favorite, either. In all honesty, it felt sort of like the "Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party" at Magic Kingdom only with Pixar characters. For what it was, it was cute. I wouldn't make a special trip back to Disney's Hollywood Studios just to see it, though.

Have a MAGICAL day! TTFN, ta ta for now!

December 28, 2010

Italy Meets Hollywood at Mama Melrose’s Risotrante Italiano

Andrew Rossi

Andrew Rossi returns with a review of Mama Melrose located in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

When it comes to Italian food, Disney World certainly offers a wide variety of options, from Tutto Italia and Via Napoli at Epcot to Tony's Town Square at Magic Kingdom, Portobello at Downtown Disney, or Il Mulino at the Swan. Each of these restaurants features something a little different in terms of menu choices and atmosphere that allow them to deliver completely unique dining experiences.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at the Hollywood Studios is another one of these Italian options. While Mama Melrose's may not be the most authentic nor the most elegant of Disney's Italian restaurants, it still delivers a wide selection of good Italian food combined with an atmosphere that is far from what you would expect from a typical Italian restaurant.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios


Every Disney dining location has its own theme or story, and this is very true of Mama Melrose's even though it may not be as immediately evident as in other restaurants. Mama Melrose's is a restaurant where "Italy meets California in the heart of the Backlot," but even knowing this one may be confused by the strange décor found inside; it certainly does not look like any other Italian restaurant you have seen before. Everything becomes more clear, however, when you learn the restaurant's back-story, but even this is something passed down more through word-of-mouth rather than anything official within the restaurant. The story, as I have heard it, is that Mama Melrose moved from Italy to California to pursue a career in acting, but instead decided to open a restaurant. In her restaurant Mama Melrose displayed numerous items she had brought over from Italy as well as various movie memorabilia she had collected during her time in California. This blend of Italy and Hollywood is seen throughout the restaurant and gives it a very unique feel.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios


As soon as you walk through the door of Mama Melrose's you can tell that this is not your typical Italian restaurant. Upon entering the restaurant you are greeted by walls covered with pictures not of famous Italians, but rather Hollywood celebrities. These "Legends of Disney's Hollywood Studios" are a nice way of paying tribute to the history of the park while also tying in perfectly with the theme of the restaurant.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The interior of the restaurant is fairly dark, with only a few small windows letting in natural light from the outside. The dining room has the feel of an aged, re-purposed warehouse with industrial-looking light fixtures, high ceilings where the wood-beam supports and air ducts are visible, brick walls covered with graffiti, and worn floor boards. All this gives the sense that Mama Melrose's location is much older than it actually is, lending a sense of authenticity and depth to the restaurant's theme.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The real attraction of the restaurant's decor, however, is all the memorabilia that litters the walls. In fact, there is very little free wall space available. The level of detail is so great that I am always noticing new things every time I return to eat here. Among the items adorning the walls are numerous Italian references: black and white photographs of famous Italian landmarks, Italian paintings (with the Mona Lisa making several appearances), records by famous Italian singers, Italian soccer flags, Italian movie posters, a wide variety of bottles of wine, and even cooking utensils and garlic cloves handing from the ceiling.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

At the same time, there are many other items that are distinctly Californian, such as pennants of California sports teams, posters of the Hollywood sign and other landmarks, photographs of famous movie stars and singers (with Mickey Mouse appearing quite frequently), Los Angeles street signs such as Melrose Ave. and Vine St., and license plates from several states.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Another alluring part of the Mama Melrose's atmosphere is the open kitchen, which is clearly visible as soon as you enter the restaurant. The most prominent feature of this kitchen is the large brick oven in which the pizzas are cooked. Not only does the open kitchen allow you to see the food be prepared, but it also gives the restaurant a tremendous aroma as the smell of the cooking food spreads throughout the entire dining area. All the activity and noise of the kitchen also lend a sense of action and excitement to the restaurant.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Overall, Mama Melrose's is a restaurant that is very laid-back and relaxing, making it great for families traveling with children. The atmosphere has a certain degree of whimsy and a lot of fun little touches, whether it be the grape vines and Christmas lights hanging all over the ceiling and walls, the big fish with sunglasses, or the huge oil drums of olive oil and marinara sauce. It is all these details that help make the restaurant uniquely Disney.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Menu:

Mama Melrose's features a menu of many traditional Italian favorites as well as some other less conventional items. It is a menu that offers a lot of variety, whether you are in the mood for seafood, pasta, pizza, or steak. Mama Melrose's did recently undergo a menu change and as a result some long-time menu items have been updated or replaced, but the new menu does include some intriguing new items as well as many of the old menu's favorites.

Among the appetizer selections are Italian classics such as Crispy Calamari ($12.99) served with marinara sauce, Caesar Salad ($5.99), Minestrone Soup ($5.49), and an Antipasto for Two ($14.99) featuring Italian meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables. One different appetizer is the Clams Oreganatta ($10.99), which features oak-fired clams cooked in butter and served with Italian sausage over foccacia bread.

Like any Italian restaurant, pastas are prominently featured entrees on the menu. One new item is the Spaghetti con Vongole ($19.99) that comes with sauteed clams tossed with spaghetti and a white clam sauce. On the heavier side there are the Penne alla Vodka ($16.99) with a tomato-basil, cream, and vodka sauce and the Chicken Pipette ($17.99) with wood-grilled chicken, artichokes, peas, roasted peppers, and sweet onions in a four-cheese cream sauce (or you can substitute shrimp for $19.99). A For something a little different there is the Goat-Cheese Filled Ravioli ($16.99) that presents a little twist on a classic Italian dish.

If you are not in the mood for pasta, there are a variety of other options available. One traditional Italian favorite is Chicken Parmesan ($16.99), but the menu also features a Charred Strip Steak ($28.99) that comes with Italian roasted potatoes, aged balsamic-shallot butter, and a Chianti wine reduction, as well as a Wood-Grilled Tuna ($22.99) over a seasonal vegetable risotto.

The menu also includes a wide array of flatbread pizzas. The Carne D' Italia ($12.99) is topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, pancetta, and a spicy marinara sauce. For vegetarians there are the Vine-Ripened Tomato ($11.99) and Four-Cheese ($11.99) flatbreads. One of the more popular flatbreads is the Grilled Chicken ($12.99), which comes with sun-dried tomato pesto, pancetta, and asiago cheese. There is also the Grilled Shrimp and Arugula Flatbread ($13.99), with pesto goat cheese, artichokes, and tomatoes.

Dessert selections at Mama Melrose's include Italian favorites with a twist. There is Mama's Tiramisu ($5.99), which is actually a tiramisu-flavored gelato, Chocolate Cannoli Cake ($5.99), Chocolate Amarettini Cheesecake ($5.99), Crema Limone ($6.99), and various flavors of Gelato ($4.49).

For my meal I decided on something a little different that I would not normally order at an Italian restaurant, the Oak-Grilled Pork Chop ($21.99). The pork chop was cooked absolutely perfectly so that it was still nice and moist but also charred just enough to add a little extra flavor. The pork came served in an onion broth and was topped with tomato jam. Personally, I did not really notice too much of an onion flavor and the "jam" was basically just a light tomato sauce. The tomato sauce paired very well with the pork and also had a definitive garlic flavor, although this was not too overpowering. There was a lot of ground black pepper used in this dish and, while it did add some extra flavor, if you are not a fan of black pepper you might want to ask for them to hold off on adding it on top.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The pork was accompanied by broccoli, but this had very little flavor, as well as garlic bread pudding. This was unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted before. As a word of warning, if you are not a fan of garlic you will probably not like it because it has a very strong flavor. The bread pudding was very soft and moist and it presented a definite contrast to the more mild flavored tomato sauce served over the pork. While its flavor did not overwhelm that of the pork, it had a very distinct taste and texture that added a real kick to the dish.

I was dining with a group and we decided to split several desserts. The desserts were served all together on one large plate that made for a very nice presentation.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

First was Mama's Tiramisu ($5.99) and I was extremely disappointed with this. Mama Melrose's used to have delicious tiramisu, but with the new menu came a change to this classic Italian dessert. Rather than your traditional tiramisu, this dessert is tiramisu flavored gelato served over freshly brewed espresso and topped with amaretto and ladyfingers. The gelato itself did not really have too much flavor and the ladyfingers were made soggy by the espresso. There are many other versions of tiramisu at Disney World that I would rather have than getting the one here again.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Next was the Chocolate Cannoli Cake ($5.99), which is a chocolate cake with a cannoli filling, topped with nutella, and garnished a hazelnut florentine (we decided to order two of these). The chocolate cake was very rich but a little on the dry side. The cannoli filling presented a nice contrast with its light, creamy flavor complimenting the heavier cake. The nutella on top provided additional richness to the dessert and just a slight hint of hazelnut that added just a little extra flavor.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios

My favorite of all the desserts was the Chocolate Amarettini Cheesecake ($5.49), which is a chocolate-flavored cheesecake with a cookie crust and topped with Italian amarettini cookies. The cheesecake was very light, soft, and creamy with just a hint of chocolate flavor. The crust had the taste and texture of crushed oreo cookies and provided a heavier, richer contrast to the lightness of the cheesecake. The amarettini cookies that topped the dessert were light and fluffy and added a little extra flavor of amaretto without overpowering the cheesecake.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at Disney's Hollywood Studios


My server did not speak very good English, which really inhibited communication. This language barrier meant that the server was not too personable and did not really try to strike up any type of conversation. That being said, I could clearly tell that the server was trying her best to make sure we were enjoying our meal. Actually, as a server she was very efficient in taking our order, bringing out the food and drinks, and clearing the table of dishes when we were finished. The meal progressed at a good pace, not too slow but not too fast. It should be noted that there were other servers that appeared to be very friendly and personable, with one actually coming to our table when we were deciding on desserts to give us a little explanation of each and telling us which ones were her favorites.

Dining on a Budget:

Compared with some of the other Italian restaurants on Disney property, such as Tutto Italia or Via Napoli, Mama Melrose's is an affordable option. If you are looking for a good meal at a reasonable price, Mama Melrose's various flatbreads are a great choice. Ranging from $11.99 to $13.99, not only are the portion sizes very large but they are also very tasty. By comparison, an individual size pizza from Via Napoli costs $16. While the flatbreads at Mama Melrose's may not be as authentic as Via Napoli, it does present a cheaper alternative. The Chicken Parmesan is another option that is cheaper at Mama Melrose and is one of my favorite items on the menu. The same dish at Via Napoli costs $22.

Mama Melrose's is one of the restaurants at the Hollywood Studios that offers the Fantasmic dining package. The price is $32.99 for adults and $11.99 for children (not including tax and gratuity) and includes appetizer, entrée, dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage as well as priority seating to the first showing of that night's Fantasmic. If you are not the type of person who will want to wait an hour (and sometimes more) to get a seat for Fantasmic, then the dining package will be worth it regardless of price. With the dining package you can get to the theater about a half an hour before the show starts and, without having to wait in line, still get a decent seat.

If you decide to go with the Fantasmic dining package at Mama Melrose's, certain combinations of appetizers, entrees, and desserts will make for better values than others. If you do not necessarily mind waiting in line to get a seat for Fantasmic, I would suggest looking at the menu ahead of time to see if what you would potentially order would make the dining package a good deal for you.

For example, if you were to order the Minestrone Soup ($5.49) for an appetizer, the Vine-Ripened Tomato Flatbread ($11.99) for an entrée, and Gelato ($4.49) for dessert your total would be $21.97. At the same time, however, if you were to order a Caesar Salad ($5.99), the Charred Strip Steak ($28.99), and the Chocolate Cannoli Cake ($5.99) your total would be $40.97. My best advice is to do the math to see if the Fantasmic dining package is worth it for you and allowing you to get the most for your money.

The Overall Experience:

Mama Melrose's is the type of restaurant that is a lot of fun to dine at. From its walls covered with Hollywood memorabilia and Italian knick knacks to the Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling and the combination of California surf tunes and classic Italian music playing in the background, the restaurant creates an atmosphere that is laid back and inviting. It is a great place to enjoy a meal with the entire family. The food may not be as authentic or elegant as some of the other Italian restaurants in Disney World, but it still features many tasty Italian favorites that come in large portion sizes for a reasonable price. If you are looking for a traditional, classic Italian restaurant, this may not necessarily be the place for you, but if you are looking for Italian in a way that only Disney could dream of then Mama Melrose's is definitely worth a visit.

Check out Reader Reviews of Mama Melrose's and post your own too!

June 8, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 3

Sharon Sipple returns with the 3rd and final part of her photo blog of the Animal Kingdom Youngsters.

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Western Lowland Gorilla

The gorillas are the main attraction on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Did you know that when Animal Kingdom opened in April 1998, this trail was named Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail -- it was renamed a few months later.

On February 19, 2010 a baby western lowland gorilla was born in Animal Kingdom. The baby belongs to the gorilla family group which includes first-time mother, Kashata, father Gino, and two other females, Benga and Hope. Mother and baby are generally seen in the first gorilla viewing area which is under cover and behind glass.

Most gorilla mothers keep their offspring close for several months while the baby adjusts to the environment. In addition, gorilla babies typically nurse for approximately 12 months and may be weaned between the ages of four and five. (Read more on the press release issued when the baby was born.)

These first photos were taken in March 2010.

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 640, 1/250 sec, F11, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 500, 1/125 sec, f14, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 1250, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 275mm

These photographs are from May 2010.

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 100mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 170mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F6.3, 275mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F5.6, 400mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D 1250, 1/100 sec, F10, 135mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1250, 1/100 sec, F10, 285mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1250, 1/100 sec, F11, 190mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1600, 1/80 sec, F5.6, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 2000, 1/125, F5, 200mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 2000, 1/125, F5, 135mm

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In case you are wondering.....

The equipment I used to shoot the images are a Canon EOS 50D and a Canon EOS 7D camera, a Canon 100-400mm L (low dispersion) series lens, and a Canon 17-85mm IS (image stabilization) USM (ultra-sonic motor) lens.

I normally do not use a tripod or monopod to shoot.

The key to successful shooting of the animals while on safari is to be able to get shutter speeds fast enough to stop the action. I normally shoot at a minimum of 1/320 of a second. In order to do this, you often must increase your ISO settings. With the 7D, I am able to comfortably push my ISO to 4000 and get great images with very little digital noise. I will caution you that while some cameras will allow you to push the ISO to 3200 or 6400, you must be careful. Depending on your equipment, pushing the ISO too high can result in an unacceptable level of digital noise.

Prior to shooting something important, experiment with this in a low light situation either around your house or somewhere else where the images are not 'once in a lifetime' images.

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

June 7, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 2

Sharon Sipple returns with Part 2 of her photo blog of the Animal Kingdom Youngsters.

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In this blog I will share photos of young elephants and giraffes that you can find on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.

Reticulated Giraffe

Giraffes are the tallest animal in the world and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Although they look graceful as they move about the savanna, they can weigh as much as 2,500 pounds. Despite its length and flexibility, the neck of the giraffe is too short to reach the ground. In order to drink, the animal must awkwardly spread its legs wide so its head can reach the water. (Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park)

These male giraffes were born one week apart in October 2009. Their names are Bolo and Bruehler. (You can learn more in the Press Release issued when the babies were born.)

These photos are from March 2010.

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec, F14, 190mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec, F14, 190mm

Canon 50D, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F10, 300mm

Canon 50D, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F10, 250mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/320 sec, F20, 330mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/200 sec, F20, 300mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1250, 1/500 sec, F14, 100mm

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I have often been asked how I can capture such great shots. The elephants and giraffes were taken while on Kilimanjaro Safari. As many of you know, it is not easy to get good pictures while on a moving vehicle. The other challenge is that some of the animals, such as the Gibbons monkeys are pretty far away. Lastly, the animals do not always cooperate. You must have patience and be willing to try multiple times, and at different times of the day. You never know what you may get on a given adventure.

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African Elephant

As you ride along the Kilimanjaro Safari and pass the Flamingo Pool, you'll soon be in Elephant country!.

Moyo gave birth to Tsavo in 2008, the fourth elephant born at Animal Kingdom. Tufani, who is Moyo's first male calf, was born in 2003; Kianga, a female, was born in 2004; and Nadirah, the youngest female, joined the herd in 2005. All remain on the savannah at Disney's Animal Kingdom. (You can learn more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

I hope you enjoyed this blog on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below! Be sure and check back tomorrow for Part 3 of my blog, Animal Kingdom Youngsters!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

June 6, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 1

Hello. I am Sharon Sipple and have been doing photography for over 20 years. My specialties are entertainment and animals.

I am an avid Disney fan and travel to the World about 4 times each year. During each trip, I end up spending a majority of my time in Animal Kingdom. It is a fascinating place, being that every visit is different. On my most recent trip, I worked with Deb to cover the D23 Flowers and Fireworks event and the Polynesian Luau.

Sharon Sipple

Deb asked if I would be willing to share some of my animal pictures with everyone. We thought it would be fun to share pictures of some of the younger members of the Animal Kingdom family. Over the last 2 years, there have been at least 7 babies born at Animal Kingdom. So let's get started....

Black and White Colobus Monkeys

This group of monkeys are found just inside the entrance to Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Their diet consists of leaves, buds, seeds and fruit and in the wild (Kenya) are found mostly in trees. They are hunted for their fur, but today, their existence is more threatened by the destruction of forests. Unlike other monkeys, Colobus monkeys have no thumb. (You can read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

At birth, the Colobus monkey is all white and they get their black color later on. The two photographs below are the same infant, one taken March 2009, the other in August 2009.

The first photo was taken March 2009.

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Canon50D, ISO 200, 1/80 sec, F9, 300mm, +.3EV

The next photo was taken in August 2009.

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F5.6, 375mm, +1.7EV

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White Rhinoceros

The white rhinos can be found on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.

These photographs are of the now, 6 month old, baby white rhino who was born Sunday, Jan. 17. The mother, Kendi, is an 11-year-old white rhino, who gave birth to her third baby after a 16-month gestation period.

The baby is the eighth white rhino born at Disney's Animal Kingdom; her mother, Kendi, was the first. (Read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

A few interesting facts (Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park):
The white rhinoceros is not white at all but slate gray to yellow brown.
They can weigh between 4,000 and 4,500 pounds!
The white rhino can ward off any predator, except for humans.
They feed mainly on grasses.

These photographs are from May 2010.

white rhino
Canon 7D ISO 800, 1/400 sec, F7.1, 115mm

white rhino
Canon 7D ISO 800, 1/400 sec, F7.1, 210mm

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White-cheeked Gibbon

The white-cheeked gibbons are located in Asia, just outside the Kali River Rapids.

This endangered white-cheeked gibbon was born Feb. 2. The male and his mother, Melaka, are bonding well according to the animal experts who oversee the daily care of primates. You can see him and his baby's two sisters, Suki and Tuyen, in their habitat.

One fascinating fact about these animals are the way they change color. Adult males are black with white cheeks and adult females are a light tan/gold color with a patch of black on the top of their head. However, when both male and females are infants, they are the light tan color of the mother. Around six months, they both turn black, like the males. Then, when the female reaches maturity, she turns back to the light tan/gold color. (Read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

The first three photographs were taken March 2010.

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F7.1, 310mm, +.3EV

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F5.6, 400mm, +.7EV

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F7.1, 400mm, +.3EV

The following photos were taken in May 2010.

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/250 sec, F10, 400mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/250 sec, F9, 330mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 640, 1/200 sec, f8, 310mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 640, 1/200 sec, F6.3, 400mm

I hope you enjoyed this blog on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below! Be sure and check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my blog, Animal Kingdom Youngsters!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

February 21, 2010

Yak & Yeti Photo Blog - Animal Kingdom


One of my favorite restaurants to dine at when I visit Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is the Yak & Yeti. I am a creature of habit when it comes to restaurants. If I find something I like, I tend to keep going back for more.

There are a lot of other wonderful eateries at Animal Kingdom, but I always seem to find myself making reservations or popping in for an unplanned meal at Yak & Yeti. This is partly due to my preference for table-service dining over counter-service. At Animal Kingdom, that distinction narrows the choices down to two restaurants. I'm not counting the Tusker House since technically you serve yourself from a buffet there. And while I do enjoy the Rainforest Café quite a bit, it can be time consuming to walk to and from the entrance of the park for a meal; especially during Peak seasons when the park is more crowded.

I planned my most recent visit to the Yeti well in advance as I was ironing out the details of my recent trip to Walt Disney World. When I decided which days I would be visiting certain parks, I was on the phone with Disney Dining shortly thereafter making my Yak & Yeti reservation on Animal Kingdom day. I have never had a problem securing a reservation for my preferred meal time here. Mind you, I have never had dinner at Yak & Yeti. All of my meals have been during lunch hours.

I have been frequenting the restaurant since it opened, but when I first heard about its' construction I was a bit skeptical about the location. Yak & Yeti is located just across the bridge as you enter Asia from Discovery Island.

Bridge into Asia

Naturally since it is Yeti-themed the restaurant would need to go in Asia. Close proximity to the attraction housing its' namesake, abominable snowman also made sense. The addition of Yak & Yeti also fulfilled the need for another full-service restaurant in Animal Kingdom. Being the only restaurant in that area of the park also helps to disperse traffic from the other eateries.

I still wondered if the placement of a restaurant between several live-animal based attractions and exhibits would detract from some of the mystique surrounding them. As the months passed and the exterior of the building began to take shape, I was more confident that a spot next door to Flights of Wonder was not totally out of place. I am something of a purist when it comes to my love of the Disney parks, so I tend to over-analyze every little change. As you can see in the photos below, the building fits in perfectly.

Yak & Yeti Exterior

In keeping with its continental surroundings, Yak & Yeti is fittingly Asian-themed. The first time I saw the inside of the restaurant, I felt as if I had walked into a tavern in the Himalaya Mountains.

Yak & Yeti Waiting Area

Yeti Guarding the Lobby

Yak & Yeti Entrance

Yak & Yeti Looking toward Exit

You may get the feeling you are being watched. ;-)

Yak & Yeti Lobby Statue

They have a full-bar for weary travelers wishing to just stop in for refreshment from their hike. Even the furniture here is rich with detail. Notice the elaborate armrests of the barstools.

Yak & Yeti Bar

Yak & Yeti Bar

Seating is split between two levels, with various museum quality artifacts likening the décor to that of a shrine. It looks as if the villagers have gathered their family heirlooms in the hope of giving reverence to the Yeti inhabiting nearby Everest Mountain. Take a walk around the restaurant before or after your meal and check-out their amazing collection of relics.

The main dining room near the entrance is decorated like a temple. Other areas of the lower level have a similar vibe. They are dimly lit and have a sedate feel. Tables are nicely spaced apart, as you can see in the view from above.

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti First Floor Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Lower Level Dining

Yak & Yeti First Floor Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Statue Greeting Diners

It is possible to burn off part of your caloric intake here just by trekking the staircase to and from the upper level.

Yak & Yeti Staircase

Yak & Yeti Stairs

An elevator is available for those not wishing for an aerobic workout as a preface to their meal. Even the elevator area is decorated with cool memorabilia and trinkets.

Yak and Yeti HallwayTo Elevator

The seating areas upstairs are brighter and more festive. Each room is uniquely colored. Could this be symbolic of something?

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Blue

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Gold

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Green

Yak and Yeti Art

If your party should happen to be seated upstairs, I recommend requesting a table by the windows. They offer great views of Anandapur.

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Near Windows

In my experience, service here has always been good. I have found the Servers to be attentive, friendly, and able to answer any questions I have had about the menu. As is the case with most restaurants on-property, they will check to see if your party is on the Disney Dining Plan upon introduction. While they do not currently accept the Tables in Wonderland card, Annual Passholder discounts are available.

Whenever I dine at one of my favorite Walt Disney World restaurants, I try to order at least one item that I haven't had before. I tend to be far more adventurous in my restaurant dining when I know the outcome rests in the hands of Disney Chefs. This practice has served me fairly well thus far, with only a few misfires. Yak & Yeti is not Disney-owned. Landry's restaurants own and operate the Yak & Yeti, Rainforest Café, and T-Rex (located at Downtown Disney).

In keeping with this mantra I tried something old and something new on this visit. My meal began with a favorite, the Won-Ton soup ($4.99). It's served with a side of crispy, fried Won-Tons.

Yak and Yeti Won Ton Soup

For my second course I chose another favorite, the Pot Stickers ($7.99). These wrapped dumplings are filled with pork and available two ways: either steamed or seared. I chose to have mine seared. This entails cooking the outside of the Pot Sticker at a high temperature which gives the outer layer a caramelized, crunchy texture. They're served with a tangy soy-lime dipping sauce and sprinkled with spring onions and diced tomatoes.

Yak and Yeti Pot Stickers

The appetizer choices also include Seared Ahi Tuna, Pork Egg Rolls, Lettuce Cups, and Wok-Fried Green Beans (pictured below - $6.99).

Yak and Yeti Wok Fried Green Beans

From there on I was in previously uncharted territory. I decided on the Shaoxing Steak and Shrimp ($24.99) for my entrée. It was absolutely wonderful, and would have been enough for two people to share. The skirt steak had a nice, char-grilled flavor and was decoratively speared around a bed of brown or jasmine rice. Skirt steak is a flat cut of beef renowned for its flavor. It is also known for being tougher than other cuts of beef. I did not find that to be the case at all. It was flavorful and tender. The shrimp were skewered and tempura-battered. The chili plum dipping sauce was sweet and went perfectly with the shrimp and rice.

Yak and Yeti Shaoxing Steak Shrimp

While all of the menu items do have an Asian-influence, there is a broad variety of choices. Seared Miso Salmon, Duck with Anandapur Glaze, Lo Mein, Crispy Honey Chicken, Maple Tamarind Chicken, and the health-conscious Mandarin Chicken Salad (pictured below - $13.99) are just a few of them.

Yak and Yeti Mandarin Chicken Salad

After this fabulous meal I was so full I thought I would need to be carried out on a gurney. In the name of research I still ordered dessert. I opted for the Mango Pie ($6.99), which had a consistency similar to pudding encased inside of a shortbread cookie crust. It was finished off with whipped cream and raspberry sauce. Notice the tiny leaves of mint that garnish the pie. I thought that was a nice touch. This dessert was cool and refreshing. I could see it being the perfect treat on a hot summer day. While I would definitely order it again, the cream cheese filled Fried Won-Tons remain my favorite dessert here.

Yak and Yeti Mandarin Mango Pie

Yak & Yeti is a triumph for Disney's Animal Kingdom. The theme is perfectly executed, with delicious food that lives up to the standards one would expect from a Walt Disney World restaurant. There aren't any over-the-top thunderstorms or meteor showers to remind you where you're at. One look at the foreboding Yeti standing guard near the entrance and you'll feel as if you are in the foothills of an "expedition". Clean those plates, your adventure awaits.

Related Links:

Yak and Yeti Menu

Yak and Yeti Kid's Menu

Reader's Rate and Review Yak and Yeti

jeffo.JPG About Jeff: I'm from South Central Pennsylvania, where I work for a Media Publishing Company by day. My first visit to WDW was at the age of 2, and I have been back around 35 times since then. I often travel solo to WDW, as well as with family. I make good use of my Annual Pass, and trek to Orlando about 5 times per year to visit my favorite travel destination and pursue another hobby of mine - photography. My favorite resort is the Polynesian, but I have stayed at all of the WDW resorts at least once. In fact, my favorite aspect of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort is trying out the different Resorts and Restaurants. I enjoy sampling different foods that I normally would never try at home (such as Escargot at the France pavilion).

September 24, 2009

Backstage Magic Tour

Backstage Magic Tour
by Krystal Thomas


I am a Disney Geek. I admit it freely and proudly. So for this last trip down to my home away from home, Walt Disney World, I wanted to take one of the behind the scenes tours. I had not taken any tour at Walt Disney World since I was a kid. I had once toured World Showcase and Discovery Island through the Disney Institute but I had not taken a tour in years. So, as a combined birthday/graduation gift, my parents gave me the Backstage Magic Tour. This tour is actually still run through the Disney Institute. Bet you thought that wasn't around anymore - it focuses more on teaching businesses now, helping them discover the "Disney" way of doing business.

It was an absolutely beautiful day when I arrived at our meeting place, outside Epcot's Guest Relations promptly at 8:45 a.m. Our tour group was fairly large -- 28 of us -- but we had two tour guides, one coordinator and our own personal transportation. Carmen and Cyndi arrived with Fran, who coordinated our whole day and made sure we didn't take any location by surprise. Fran was only there for this period in the morning as we got organized. Carmen checked each person in individually. You need to have valid photo ID on you for this process. She also took this time to ask where everyone is from and learn a little about why you were taking the tour. She also had us think of our ideal job at Walt Disney World.

Meanwhile, Cyndi was giving us our name badges which made us honorary cast members for the tour and allowed us to follow them through the doors marked "cast members only." Fran also handed out our personal "pal" for the day - each person on the tour was given a headset so everyone could easily hear both Carmen and Cyndi. These were really great; I never had a hard time hearing either of them throughout the tour no matter how far away from them I was.

Once everyone was checked in, badged and wired for sound, Carmen and Cyndi took the time to introduce themselves and how they'd come to work for the Disney Institute. They also told us what our agenda was for the day and what time we should return to Epcot. They made sure no one had early dinner plans in case we ran long and they also asked if anyone was celebrating anything special. I did say I was there to celebrate my graduation from graduate school and was congratulated heartily by everyone. We then headed to the bus. The Institute partners with Mears Shuttle for their transportation. We had a large Mears Coach to ourselves. There was also chilled water available for us on the bus the entire day.

As we made our way to our first stop, Carmen went around and had the groups on the tour introduce themselves and what their ideal jobs would be. We had some fun ones, a young man with his father on the tour said he wanted to be Prince Charming, others mentioned with transportation host, greens worker, and costume designer. Throughout the day, Carmen and Cyndi then made an effort to mention these jobs as we found them. If your interest wasn't going to be on the tour, they talked about what they knew on the bus. As I am getting my degree to be an Archivist, that is what I am most interested in with the Walt Disney Company. Carmen told me about meeting David Smith when he came to visit the Institute a few years ago and everything she knew about the Disney Archives. As we were doing this, we were driving into the backstage area of Epcot. As we crossed into the backstage area, a security guard did need to board the bus to check bags. This happened every time we entered a new park.

Our first stop backstage at Epcot was the American Adventure. Cyndi walked us around to the front of the building and showed all the tricks the Imagineers were using to make us think the building is only three stories high. In actuality, the guests see almost five stories from the front of the building. Also, she pointed out the details on the building, which places it in the 1700s. Next time you walk through, look at the clock face on the tower and pay attention to the Roman Numerals. We then walked around to the back and saw just how huge this building really is. It is seven stories high in the back with a second building added on to hold the rear projector system, as Carmen called it, "the biggest afterthought ever". We then went into the building and saw the scene changer, the massive machine that holds the 37 audio-animatronic scenes in the American Adventure. Did you know the same computer that launches the space shuttles controls the show? It was truly amazing to have such an up-close look at this attraction and each part of the show is explained in detail.

After we left the American Adventure, we drove around to the Epcot Cast Center. You enter through a hallway that has been painted with murals by the different cast member teams at Epcot. It was amazing some of the special effects they included; one by the safety team had a motion detector so that Figment speaks to you when you walk by. We were then at the "crossroads" of the center. To the left were the Cast Cafeteria, company store and professional development offices. To the right were the lockers for the Cast Members. We walked this way to visit the Wardrobe for the "operational" costumes for the park. The size of this facility was incredible and it was only for one park! We then walked through the small sewing shop at Epcot that can do minor repairs to costumes. Here was one of my favorite "thrills." This building is where the princesses put on their make-up and wigs. It is also one of the reasons why no one under the age of 16 can take the tour. As my tour guide mentioned, kids would not take well to seeing the "best friend of Snow White" with her Capri sweat pants on and cell phone to her ear. It does sort of add a new element to the magic. I liked it though; it was like watching the cast of a huge stage show get ready for their performance.

After this, we got back onto the bus and headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios. On our way there, Carmen told us the story of the Tower of Terror Attraction and explained how the Florida version is different from its counterparts around the world. We then got off the bus and went into the shop next to the Tower of Terror and had a ride vehicle explained to us - all the safety features and how the ride actually works. We also saw them putting new sensors into the backs of the ride's seats. Apparently some guests were putting bags and boxes behind their backs so their safety belts would have a lot of slack during the drops. The new sensors will be able to tell that a human back is firmly against the seat back. After we saw the ride vehicle, we took the bus around to the backlot area and had a tour of the creative costuming building. Here we spoke to Larissa, one of the costumers on the lot. She showed how the patterns are designed using the computer and how designer's version is realized through the pattern and the fabric chosen. She took the pieces out she was currently working on either designing or fixing. We were able to see a part of Snow White's outfit from SpectroMagic, which is extremely heavy (poor girl!) and it was only the bodice part of the outfit. Larissa also took off the inside layer of protection so we could see all the wires and grommets keeping the lights in place on the costume. Larissa has also put together some neat exhibits on the walls of the office for the tour groups that come through. She even had some of the costumes and art from the Tapestry of Dreams parade on display. After we spoke with Larissa, we walked through the workshop. At this time, they were working on lots of the flying bird costume from Festival of the Lion King, and costumes from the Beauty and the Beast stage show at Hollywood Studios. After this stop, it was time for lunch.

We ate at the Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge. I had not eaten here before -- it was quite the experience. The moment our group walked into the restaurant, every server started yelling how they had been waiting for us and what had taken us so long? Our group was set up in a back area of the restaurant and waited on by two "sisters," the cute one and the fluffy one. They were constantly yelling back and forth at each other and at us. It was a lot of fun as they took our drink orders and we got settled in. Lunch came out shortly after our drinks. Big platters full of chicken, BBQ ribs, pork sausage, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and pork and beans were served family style. Each table had two platters to themselves and they were refilled as many times as we asked for it. There was also corn bread and cole slaw on the table. Our drinks were also refilled constantly. Once everyone was stuffed, they brought our dessert and coffee. It was peach and strawberry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream - so good. Once everyone was pretty much done, the sisters got back in front of us to say goodbye and asked if anyone had their master's degree - they'd been tipped off about me though luckily I was stuck in the corner booth and I escaped having to sing with them in front of everybody. I thought the atmosphere of the restaurant was a lot of fun and our table enjoyed watching the kids ride their stick ponies around the restaurant and join in the singing a couple of times throughout the meal.

Once lunch was over, we did a quick walking tour through the Wilderness Lodge lobby as Carmen pointed out some of the details in the lodge including a few hidden Mickeys in the fireplaces. We then were back on the bus and headed out to the North Service Area, the location of Central Shops and one of the Textile Service locations. For me, walking through the Central Shops was very neat. Here is where they built and maintain many of the vehicles, furniture and audio-animatronics on property. It is also the location of the Character Shop, the only place in the world where the faces of the character costumes can be made so that Mickey looks the same in Florida as he does in Tokyo. As we walked the floor of Central Shops, we saw lots of ride vehicles from Dumbo, Rock 'N Roller Coaster, Spaceship Earth, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Triceratops Spin, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain. We also saw some of Cinderella's Carousel horses being repaired and repainted as well as new "skins" for the hippos at the Jungle Cruise. It was here we also got to "play" with some audio-animatronics. Bonnie Appétit and a bird from the Enchanted Tiki Room are set up for tour guests to try them out. We also got to speak to an "audio-animatronics" doctor here who spoke about what was making the audio-animatronic work and some of the challenges they often face.

Our next stop was just down the road at Textile Services, otherwise known as the laundry. The one in the North Service Area is primarily responsible for the costumes on property; two other laundries deal with all the linen from the resorts and the linens from the restaurants. This stop made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into a simple thing like doing the laundry for a resort the size of Walt Disney World. They have an intense operation; mostly computer driven but the clothes are hand sorted, hung and streamed separately. From here we went to our last stop on the tour, the Magic Kingdom. This was one of the few times we were on stage for any length of time. Because we were there close to the 3PM parade, we had little time to discuss the window on Main Street USA though Carmen did point out Roy's window, the M.T. Lott window and Walt's window over the Ice Cream Parlor.

Once we did that, we walked back down Main Street, went backstage again and down into the Utilidors. Another Disney Geek dream come true; say all you want about how they are just glorified underground tunnels, it was cool. We were back out of the Utilidors and out on Main Street just in time to watch the parade as it finished. We watched from in front of the firehouse so we had the dancers right in front of us and even had them ask how we liked our tour before they started their dance to finish up the parade. After this, we waked back to the bus and headed back to Epcot for the end of the tour. We made it back right at 4PM, making it exactly seven hours from the start. As we left, Carmen and Cyndi handed our special pins for us and wished us well and were also happy to answer any last questions you'd thought up on the way back to Epcot.

I loved the tour and I am so glad I got to get this very unique and exclusive view of how the magic is created behind the scenes. Cyndi and Carmen were very friendly and informative. If you asked something they didn't know, they often had the answer once we got back to the bus between the two of them. Because of the size of our group, we often were split into two smaller groups, which let you get to know your tour guide, and they get to know you and point out things they think you'll like. There was very little opportunity for photos on the tour as you spend most of the day backstage. Even when we were in front of the American Adventure, because World Showcase was not yet open, we were still "backstage". I am unsure about how wheelchair friendly the tour is however; we took a lot of stairs and the bus was not wheelchair accessible. I imagine this would be different if needed and perhaps even where the tour stops would be tweaked a little. Also, bathroom breaks are well planned throughout the day.

Backstage Magic definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into running WDW and I can understand why guests under 16 are not allowed. The tour lets you see how the magic is done which some guests on my tour did mention ruined a little of Walt Disney World for them. Not for me, it made me love it more. As Carmen said, "it takes a lot of work to make it magical" but the idea is the guest should never know that. Backstage Magic gives you a glimpse into how that magic is created and maintained every day, 365 days of the year. Whether you are a Disney beginner or have an annual pass, this is a tour that is well worth the time and money.

About the author: Krystal Thomas, 24 years old, has been going to the Disney parks since she was 18 months old. She currently lives in Baldwinsville, NY and recently received her Masters degree in Archives and Records Management from the University of Michigan. Her father is Picture This! photo blogger Scott Thomas.

October 22, 2008

The Sun Sets on Main Street USA Magic Kingdom

Amy Bedore just sent this beautiful photo of Main Street USA.

Main Street USA

October 11, 2008

Disney's Baby Care Centers or Expedition Never-Rest

It is twelve-thirty p.m. on a Sunday in the Animal Kingdom and the air is filled with shrieks that can be heard from almost every corner of the park. As soon as you enter Asia and Dinoland USA and Discovery Island, you can hear them. The echo of cries make DAK goers look up and take notice; some in sympathy, some in dreaded anticipation and others in disbelief.

Are visions of hanging backpacks and Indian deities dancing in your head?

Unfortunately, I am not referring to one of Disney's newest scream-machines, Expedition Everest. I refer to the over-arching protests and complaints of toddlers and young children everywhere in Disney parks.

Above the roar of Everest, the blowing of train whistles, and the scream of Test Track you can find the screeching of over-tired children all over WDW desperately in need of a juice box. Their parents follow in-tow with an equally desperate need of a wine glass.

I know, I've been there. Disney with children is the best-I love taking my daughter, Lily, to the parks. But some days you find yourself with children that have been awake since six-thirty a.m. literally whipped (as in cream, lots of it, on top of their Mickey waffles at seven a.m.) into a character-breakfast-chocolate-syrup-fueled state of pure energy. Breakfast is followed by a thirty minute navigation of the Disney transportation system until you've arrived at the park, pushed (rammed?) your Hummer-Stroller through the turnstiles, and finally made it,only to turn and see Junior mouth-open about to implode Spaceship Earth with an anguished cry of waffle-crash/very high heat index.

So, you can repeat above process backwards sans waffles or you can search for the light at the end of this ever-darkening tunnel: the Baby Care Centers (cue celestial choir*).


There is one Baby Care Center in each of the Disney parks.
I will admit I was at first a skeptic of the Baby Care Centers. Was this like a giant bathroom with Mickey painted on the wall? Free soap and tap water? What else do we need at a WDW park for your child except a decently stocked diaper bag, Motts for Tots, and a comfy stroller?

After two years of parenthood I can tell you besides a full-time nursemaid, second husband, and air-conditioned-bubble-ball for your stroller you need a Baby Care Center while visiting the parks.

Back to my recent Sunday when the rest of my friends journeyed on their first Expedition Everest as my daughter and I headed out on what I have ruefully entitled Lily's Never-Rest Expedition.

She's two and in love with Mickey so what can I expect? Who wants to sleep when hopped up on a Mickey-ear ice cream and post seeing Nemo in person? I was two once-I get it. But toddlers, even good-natured ones, must slow down at some point. We head to the Baby Care Center tucked away under giant wooden lady-bugs in a non-descript and shaded corner of DAK.

Lily and I slip in the front door and immediately relief (mainly in the form of 72 degree AC) washes over us both. Lily struggles out of my arms to run into the kids' playroom while the CM cheerfully greets us both. The playroom is bright, spacious and equipped with a television (!).

Animal Kingdom's Baby Care Center

There is a water cooler and multiple items for purchase including diapers, baby food, infant and children's medications, binkies, clothes, etc. I would avoid these purchases at a BCC if possible. The diapers run for about 8.95 for a small (very small) pack. But when desperate, it is a relief to know there is somewhere to go.

Each BCC also has a stocked kitchen where you can warm food and bottles, find free utensils and each center features complimentary feeding areas including high-chairs.

Animal Kingdom Baby Care Center

Each BCC also has a nursing mother's room and private bathrooms. They also sport an impressive changing station collection with plenty of Disney artwork to minimize mid-change squirming when your Dory-memory-level toddler suddenly remembers they are at Mickey's house and must go find him right now.

Animal Kingdom Baby Care Center

Back to the CMs. They truly are the highlight of these centers, as they are for most Disney facilities and attractions. Instead of looks of scorn at your squirmy, red-faced, generally disgruntled child you are graced with a smile of understanding and a pleasant overview of the facility.

The BCC are certainly larger and better-equipped at the more family-focused parks. The Magic Kingdom BCC is well... magical. The nursing mother's room is a peaceful oak rocking chair lined room with Victorian shade lamps and pictures reminiscent of Main Street USA.

Disney's Hollywood Studios have the least extensive Baby Care Center. It is just off to the side of Guest Relations on your left when immediately entering the park. It's nice-but small and there is no attendant actually inside the center though it is kind of attached to the Guest Relations center in general.

The best indication of Baby Care Center value to me is the parents I have come in contact with while warming bottles and changing diapers amidst Gerber puff feeding-frenzies. I actually had a mother grab my arm while waiting for the stove and whisper urgently, three-inches from my surprised and slightly wary expression, 'Don't you love this place? It has saved-my-life.'

While I don't know that I can give the Baby Care Centers that strong of an endorsement I will say the centers have most likely prevented mid-day meltdowns, heat stroke, and serious temper tantrums in the Pickle family.

And Lily really likes them, too.


July 8, 2008

The Beauty of China - Epcot

One of my favorite places in the World Show Case at Epcot is China.

I love the details, the art of the entire country. The colors are so rich in the buildings and the landscaping. Not to mention the food is also great, it is going to be wonderful when Nine Dragons opens again. And there is always something that I want to purchase at the shops in China.

Anyway to celebrate the beauty of China I wanted to share with you this week some of my favorite China shots.

First up the main building in China:

Epcot's China

I love to take pictures of this building each time we go to Epcot. Every time I take a new photo of it, I notice some detail I did not notice the last time I took a picture. It is so ornate, here is a close up of one of my favorite details of the building.

Epcot's China

Besides the main building that houses the Reflections of China show and some Chinese art work I also love the Kodak Picture spot there. I could spend all day photographing the water, trees and flowers. Here are some of my favorite shots at the spot.

Epcot's China

Epcot's China

Epcot's China

Have a Disney Day!


July 6, 2008

Bjorn Again A Tribute to ABBA

Once again America Gardens is rocking out. This week the sounds of ABBA are filling the night air for Epcot park goers. Bjorn Again is a group that was formed in 1988 as a tribute to ABBA. Completely in character this group of Australian and British musicians sing ABBA greatest hits. Everyone in the audience was having a great time. Here are some of my favorite photos from Tuesday's first show.

Bjorn Again A Tribute to ABBA Epcot's American Gardens Theatre

Bjorn Again A Tribute to ABBA Epcot's American Gardens Theatre

Bjorn Again A Tribute to ABBA Epcot's American Gardens Theatre

Have a Disney Day Everyone!

July 2, 2008

Adults and Disney Characters

For a long time I thought I was the only adult without children who actually waited in line to take pictures with the characters. After many hours surfing the internet for Disney news I discovered there are in fact many adults without children who love the characters and will treat them like celebrities.

Since our big move to Florida I have not stood in line to have my picture taken with any characters, for two reasons, I have been having an absolutely fantastic time at the Sounds Like Summer concert series in Epcot and two, the lines are a lot longer than I remember.

Because I want to update my character photo collection I have decided to set aside at least one day a week at one park for a month and try to get as many character photos as I can. To inspire myself to stand in the long lines I have collected a few of my favorite photos with characters. I hope you find them as enjoyable as I do.

First up is my newest character photo taken at Norway's Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Princess Dinner:


We almost did not take this photo because we saw nothing but cute little girls dressed in their princess attire standing in line before us for their photos. We felt completely silly, soaked from rain but we have this photo in our Disney memory book. It is too bad that I did not bring my camera that day because all the princesses were there.

Besides the photo of Norwood and I with Belle I have not gotten a new photo with myself and a character since 2003!

Here are just a couple of my favorites from December 2003.
Me and Chip or is it Dale, I could never tell the difference.

amanda and chip

And Rafaki and I in December 2003


Neither was a digital picture when they were taken and neither is of the greatest quality but they are Disney memories I will always cherish.

Have a Disney Day Everyone!

June 17, 2008

Epcot's Sounds Like Summer Series - Stayin Alive!

Hello All! My name is Amanda.

First, a little about myself. Currently, I am working on my Masters of Science in Software Engineering. My family and I just moved to Florida from Colorado last month.

One of the first things we did upon our arrival was purchase our annual passes to Disney World. We both are long time fans of Disney and with our annual passes we use Disney as our daily hang out. Our two favorite parks (although we love all four) are Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Excited about all there is to do at DisneyI I started an online journal I like to call Mouse Beat . Disney fans be sure to stop by!

Thank you to Deb for asking me to share my Disney Adventures with you all! And to get the ball rolling here is a little bit about what we did last night at Disney.

It turns out that Disco is not dead!

stayin alive sign at American Gardens Theatre Epcot

Now in its second week the "Sounds Like Summer Concert Series" at Epcot was host to "Stayin Alive" A Tribute to the Bee Gees.

If you like the music of the Bee Gees, definitely head on over to the America Gardens this week. They will be there all week and the show times are 5:15, 6:30 and 7:45.

The band has about 20 songs on their play list and from the excitement of the crowd they are some of the Bee Gees greatest hits.

Unfamilar with the music personally I did not recognize many of the songs, and was a little disappointed that they did not play "Staying Alive" in their last show of the night.

The group "Stayin Alive" did a great job paying attention to detail from the stage setup to their costumes. Here are the brothers all dressed up...

Barry Gibb


They were crowd friendly. Although they never left the stage like 2U A Tribute to U2 (last week's Sounds Like Summer group) , they do make an effort to include the crowd.

They tell jokes to each other, talk about Mickey, remark on the America Gardens and encourage the audience to dance. And oh boy did the audience dance! In the bleachers, in the aisles, disco got their feet moving!

The adults in the crowd were having a fantastic time but I did notice that some of the youngsters were not as entertained. Unlike the 2U concerts last week the kids in the "Stayin Alive" audience spent most of their time on the bench eating their goodies.

Oh and one note, "Stayin Alive" does not permit the audience to video record their performance. You are allowed to take as many pictures as you want but not video recordings. Just a note.

Overall it was a good time and I recommend it to all those Bee Gee fans out there!


Have a Disney Day!


June 14, 2008

Toy Story Mania - Comparing Disneyland and Disney World!

All Ears® Guest blogger JeanineY is back! You may recall she chronicled the NFFC trip to Tokyo Disneyland a few months ago.

This time she compares the brand new Toy Story Mania attractions at Walt Disney World and Disneyland!

Ride "Spoilers" Ahead. This comparison offers detailed descriptions and photos of the two attractions!

blue line

Recently I spent a few days over at WDW, a not-inconsiderable-portion of which I spent playing their newly-opened Toy Story Midway Mania ride at the Hollywood Studios.

The day after I returned, I attended the annual passholder preview of Disneyland's Toy Story Midway Mania where we were able to ride with minimal waits for designated 6-hour time slots. With luck, I won't spend next week getting treated for repetitive motion injury.

Toy Story Mania Disney's Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World

Toy Story in Disney's Hollywood Studios is outwardly themed around the Pixar Studio buildings in order to better fit with the generalized show-business theme.

Toy Story Mania Disney's California Adventure Disneyland

Toy Story at Disney's California Adventure is designed to fit in more with the boardwalk games that pepper the Paradise Pier area. The ride building is much more attractive and detailed than the other cardboardy-structures around there.

Mr. Potato Head Toy Story Mania Disney's Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World

The multi-million dollar Mr. Potato Head is up and singing in WDW, but was boarded off and not visible in the Disneyland cue.

Toy Story Mania Disney's Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World

Probably the most noticable difference between the two versions is the queue. In WDW the queue is indoors and the concept that the rider has shrunk to toy size is much more developed. Additionally there's air conditioning, which is a huge plus.

Toy Story Mania Disney's Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World

In WDW they have a standby line, and a separate fastpass/single rider line, although the single rider line does not always run, and is not always a time saver. Disneyland will have a single rider line, but will apparently not have fastpass, similar to the Finding Nemo Submarine ride.

Toy Story Mania Disney's California Adventure Disneyland

The Disneyland Toy Story queue is all outdoors, with most of it similar to the outdoor Muppetvision queue, decorated with attraction posters. One can only assume the difference may be due to the more inclement weather Orlando has over Anaheim.

Additionally, the WDW queue is multi-leveled, whereas the DL queue is all on ground level (limited by California Screamin', which runs overhead.)

Frankly, the Disneyland queue looks markedly short, for the number of people you might expect to be waiting for it this summer. One CM stated that he thought the line held a little over an hour's worth of people, and that they were expecting the line to cross the walkway and extend over the bridge all the way to Golden Dreams, on the other side of the lagoon! Given that I saw the wait times at WDW reach around 190 minutes occasionally throughout the weekend, it seems likely.

Toy Story Mania Disney's California Adventure Disneyland

As far as the actual rides go, they're fairly similar. The areas between the shooting screens seemed longer at Disneyland, but the cannons and targets were all identical clones.

On the way out at Disneyland, you pass by this odd little room that, I suppose, is designed to clue you in to the whole "entering the Midway Games toy set" storyline, if you missed it earlier. I am sure some blogger out there knows the significance of the little dog figurines and the bust and the iced tea, but it would not be me.

Toy Story Mania Disney's California Adventure Disneyland

A curious thing is that at WDW, where the ride has been open to the public for some time, they still have no specific shop or merchandise for the ride, with the exception of one Mr. Potato Head t-shirt going for $40.

At Disneyland, where the ride was only in previews, a whole shop was open, with a multitude of purchasables. One cute item was the cannon-replica keychain that had a pull-string triggering a sound similar to the ride sound effect, and projecting a light image of a hoop from the ring-toss screen.

Toy Story Mania Disney's California Adventure Disneyland

As other blogs have gleefully noted the low wait times they've experienced at the press opening of the WDW Toy Story, I include the wait time we had at our AP preview out here.

It does seem likely that, without fastpass, the waits will be considerably longer than this in the near future as it is a great ride in either park.

Have fun, and remember--keep that fox out of the henhouse!

April 26, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Grad Night - Part 7

Wow Grad Night was a blast!

Caitlin at Grad Night

I don't recommend going on Space Mountain when you get there because everyone wants to go on it and it ends up being really crowded!

Big Thunder Mountain was the shortest wait I had all night so I recommend going on that plus the view of the park at night is beautiful!

Be sure to go and dance a little bit the music is great and it gets you pumped for graduation!

The Haunted Mansion had a long wait but it's worth it to see everything at night.

I ended up near the front of the concert stage and the fireworks show was amazing! Not as good as the ones at the Pirate and Princess party but close! These were set to the biggest songs of this year and everyone was singing along it was really cool.

I watched The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus; they were ok but had really good stage presence that got everyone else in the crowd pumped!

I loved seeing all of the Disney characters in their caps and gowns and my picture with Grad Mickey is going to be the picture on my graduation party invites!

Caitlin and Minnie

I totally recommend Grad Night so if you are a high school senior or going to be one talk your class into going!

Caitlin and Mickey

Now I need some sleep ttyl!

Read my Entire Trip Blog

April 19, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 3

Ok so the Pirate and Princess party was amazing!

The highlight of my night had to be meeting Captain Jack Sparrow though! Wow just looking at him is worth the price of admission! I seriously almost fainted!

Caitlin and Jack Sparrow

The parade was spectacular! The pirates float was probably my favorite because it was full of excitement and got your blood pumping. The cannons on the boat actually worked too! Of course it didn't explode with a cannonball but the light and smoke coming out of it was cool!

The fireworks are probably the best set of fireworks I have ever seen at the Magic Kingdom, which is actually saying a lot since Wishes is so amazing. I would explain more but it's something you have to see for yourself and my words wouldn't do the show justice.

Caitlin Tip: You should be in front of the castle if you want to have the best seat in the house for the fireworks.

For teens I would recommend skipping the treasure hunt, all you get are some bead necklaces and since there are so many rides to go on and characters to see you won't regret missing it.

It was also cool walking around with my Happy Birthday pin on. I was told happy birthday countless time and the River Roulette band sang me happy birthday!

I definitely recommend the Pirate and Princess party to anyone who has a chance to go!

April 18, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 2

Nothing says "Disney" like the Magic Kingdom!

Today was so much fun! We got there early to see the rope drop and then went straight to Fantasyland, where we basically walked onto to every ride! We also got to see Ariel in her grotto which is something I have never been able to do because it's usually so busy.

The Haunted Mansions updates are so cool! You have to be a huge fan of the ride to know that it has been changed because only little bits and pieces have been added. Let's just say the woman of the house is not very friendly!

The only ride at Magic Kingdom I didn't really enjoy was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. We ended up getting stuck on it at three different points and on the third one the ride got officially closed! I mean the free fast passes for any ride was an added bonus but getting stuck made me very claustrophobic!

Caitlin Timon and Rafiki

I really enjoyed the train ride which is something I don't remember doing. It's cool just sitting back and relaxing and seeing the Magic Kingdom from a different point of view.

The longest line today was Splash Mountain and we had fast passes. I love that ride and usually when it's as warm as it is today you can expect long lines.

I loved Casey's Corner though. The food was soooo good! I loved their French fries!

I can't wait until the Pirate and Princess Party tonight! Until then I will be lounging by the pool! Ttyl!

April 17, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 1

Hello from very warm (for us Michigan folk) Florida!

I"m Caitlin Burns blogging live from Walt Disney World!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's my intro!

I really don't think that there is a better sound than that of your pilot saying," We are touching down in Orlando Florida!" It's then that you realize, wow I am awake and I am actually going to Disney World!

My parents and I rode the Disney Magical Express to Port Orleans Riverside. I highly recommend taking the Magical Express no matter how old you are because they show a video of Disney World on the way to your hotel and it gets you really pumped for how much fun you are going to be having, plus driving through the Walt Disney World welcome sign is very cool!

When we got to our hotel, check in was easy and our room was ready even though we showed up earlier than we were scheduled. Our room is awesome! It's in Oak Manor and having never stayed in the mansions at Port Orleans it's very cool! We even have a fridge and outside of the mansions you have to ask for one. We are also right near one of the relaxing pools. I am looking forward to getting some sun out there!

Oak Manor at Port Orleans Riverside

After we got settled in we left to have lunch at the Crystal Palace. My parents went to the restaurant to check in while I went to Philharmagic to get Fast Passes. The last time we went I bought a My Pal Mickey, I recommend it because all of his corny jokes and singing will have you rolling with laughter, and he has some very interesting facts about the park so listening to his take on Fantasyland was fun.


I always love character dining! You get to sit down enjoy your food and let the characters come to you! Plus you get to watch all the little kids interacting with the characters. I am an only child so it was nice watching the younger kids meet the characters

My parents had on their happy anniversary buttons and the Crystal Palace cast members noticed it right away. They had us wait a few minutes while they made a heart made out of confetti on the table. Later they also got a certificate signed by Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger! I didn't really enjoy the food at the Crystal Palace this time around though, unless you like more exotic foods (the broccoli had lime sauce on it!) then I wouldn't recommend it but it's nice to meet the characters.

On our way to Philharmagic we ran into Cinderella's ugly stepsisters! They were so much fun! I love getting my pictures taken with the characters and I think villains are more fun for teens.

They started singing "Do the Bustle" which would go right over little kids heads but for us older people it's funny. The stepsisters improvise a lot (they started screaming when my family walked up because Mickey was hooked on my purse and they don't like mice), and as I said, the villains are more fun.

Then we went over to Philharmagic which is one of my absolute favorite attractions! It's funny, has your favorite Disney songs in it and is 3D! I don't think you could do any better than that lol.

When we walked out of Philharmagic the parade was just starting.

Caitlin tip: Get in line right behind the taped walkway and stand there until the parade starts, once it starts and the walkway is closed you can be right on the curb!

I always love the parade and no matter how many times you see it, it's still amazing!

I got a couple more pictures with characters and then we left to get our rental car. I recommend getting a rental car because I am not a fan of having to wait for buses if you leave one of the parks late at night. That and a rental car gives you a little more freedom if you feel like going out to explore.

My family and I decided to go to Downtown Disney's Market Place. I love shopping so this is one of the places I have to go to whenever we visit! Downtown Disney is really made for older people because they have a movie theater, Disney Quest and of course shopping. This is somewhere your family can split up for a while and do their own thing then meet back up later.

I tried a caramel apple at Goofy's Candy Co. "WOW" is the best word to describe how good it tasted lol.

I can't wait for tomorrow! Ttyl!

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

March 5, 2008

A Different Disney Experience


Alex Koma, son of AllEars Senior Editor Deb Koma, and an occasional contributor to the newsletter himself, recently attended ESPN The Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios. He shares his unique experience:

As a huge sports fan, Disney World's annual event ESPN The Weekend has always seemed like the ultimate dream. Disney World is my favorite place on Earth, and sports are my favorite thing to do, so naturally the event sounded great to me. However, it has always seemed far off, like the dream that I thought it was. It appeared to be too tough to organize, with the pressures of school and work making things difficult. I could only watch the commercials wistfully and hope.

Well, this year, my dream was realized. My mom, Deb Koma, came to me in late December 2007, saying that maybe she would have to go to the World that weekend, and that I might be able to come along for the ride. I was ecstatic. After looking at schedules and making reservations, things finally came together and on Friday, February 29, I was able to go to ESPN The Weekend. And what a weekend it was.

ESPN The Weekend included just about every imaginable feature a sports fan's fantasy could have. It had live broadcasts of popular ESPN shows like "NFL Live" and "1st and 10," appearances by many famous athletes and ESPN personalities, live ESPN Radio broadcasts, and interactive game shows for fans to take part in. Over the course of the three days I was there, I got to experience all of these things. I was able to see legendary players like John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Darryl Dawkins, Bill Laimbeer, Mercury Morris, Jim Palmer, and Herschel Walker. Stockton has always been an idol of mine, with his ability to compete at a Hall of Fame level despite his lack of size compared to other basketball players, and it was great to see him in person. There were also current players making appearances, like Shaun Alexander, Travis Hafner, Brandon Jacobs, Maurice Jones-Drew, Donovan McNabb, Charles Tillman, Adam Vinatieri and Roy Williams. Seeing people in real life that I had normally only seen on TV underneath helmets was really cool, and now every time I see them on TV I will think of my memories from there.

John Stockton
Jim Palmer

Meeting the ESPN staff I had gotten to know through the network's various shows was really special as well. I got to meet Neil Everett, the SportsCenter anchor, and get his autograph, as well as Baseball Tonight personalities Karl Ravech, John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Eric Young and Steve Phillips, and NFL Live hosts Trey Wingo, Mark Schlereth and Sal Paolantonio.

Alex with Jay Crawford

My most personal experience came when meeting the host of the show "1st and 10," Jay Crawford. My mom had the opportunity to interview Mr. Crawford, and because she is not exactly the most diligent follower of sports, she took me along to help. Getting to talk to a person who I watch regularly on TV was a really unique experience and Mr. Crawford was a very enjoyable person to speak with. As an aspiring sportswriter or broadcaster, I asked him how he got into this line of work and his response, telling me to work to get involved in any and all journalistic activities, even if they are volunteer work, will certainly help me down the road. I greatly appreciated him taking the time to talk with me. The whole thing was a great experience and was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend.


As is the case with many things, ESPN The Weekend saved the best for me for last. On Sunday, my last day there, I chose to go to see the "Dream Job" experience at the Sounds Dangerous theater. The premise of "Dream Job" was that three audience members would be chosen to narrate some of the past year's best sports highlights, much like they were on an ESPN show like SportsCenter, and then be judged by Al Jaffe, ESPN talent coordinator, and two celebrity judges. I thought that this sounded like something I would at least like to watch, so my family and I headed over.

While standing in line, about 10 minutes before the show was to begin, a cast member started talking to all of the people assembled there. He said that if any one of us wanted to try to be one of the contestants, then we should think of our best 20-second sports highlight to deliver to him, and the best would be chosen. He went through the line and heard several people speak before coming to me. He asked my name and then I delivered my best impression of Myron Cope (a well-known Pittsburgh sportscaster who just recently passed away) calling the 1972 Steelers playoff game featuring the legendary Immaculate Reception: "Bradshaw drops backs, passes to Fuqua, and the pass falls incomplete - but wait! Franco's got it! Go Franco! He's at the 20, 15, 10, 5 -- TOUCHDOWN! Steelers win their first playoff game in franchise history and there's pandemonium in Pittsburgh!" He seemed like he liked it and moved down the line. About five minutes later, he came over the P.A. system and announced that I was one of the lucky three chosen! Connor, an 11-year-old Red Sox fan, and Marla, a Chicago Bears fan, were also chosen and we were quickly hurried backstage.


We got to meet our judges, NFL wide receiver Roy Williams and cornerback Charles Tillman, and got miked up. A production assistant then explained to us that we had our choice of a basketball, football, or baseball highlight to call. Connor chose baseball, and was to call Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, and Marla chose football, and was to call Super Bowl XLII. I chose basketball, and was to call Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, where Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James scored an incredible 48 points and 29 of his team's final 30 points, carrying his team within one game of the NBA Finals. I knew I would be able to call it well.

After getting everything set up, we were then taken to the post show area at the theater, where the various sound booths and activities were set up. Each one of us were assigned a booth with a DVD player and given a disc featuring the highlight we had chosen. We were also given a "shot sheet" telling us the sequence of events in the highlight and any helpful notes regarding it. We each then had about 10 minutes to prepare before show time.

I was up first. I was escorted onto the stage and, after making some small talk with our host, Jake, I was ready.

I was seated at a desk with a plasma TV so I could see the highlight being played, and then it was show time. I read the scripted dialog: "Welcome to SportCenter, I'm Alex Koma, and this is today's top highlight!" And then was on my own.


The best way to express what I did next is to say that I went completely insane. I screamed my lungs out over every big dunk, every big three-pointer hit and jumped out of my chair by the finish. I'm told the crowd loved it, but I didn't hear anything but myself. I guess I had other things on my mind at the time.

The judges then told me what they thought. Mr. Jaffe commented, "You must have forgotten to take your meds today." Mr. Williams said he thought I was very good and Mr. Tillman called my performance a perfect 10. I was then taken to a seat at the back of the theater and got to watch the others perform. Connor did a very good job calling his highlight, especially considering his age, and Marla delivered a nice call of the Super Bowl, although she was a little nervous.

After they were finished they brought us up to the stage. Jake then asked the audience to applaud for the performance they liked best. Marla and Connor both received a fair amount of applause, but when Jake asked the audience to applaud for me, the noise was deafening. Apparently, I was the winner!

I took home an ESPN The Weekend shirt, a gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods, grilling tools and... a full-size gas grill! I also got to get autographs from Mr. Williams and Mr. Tillman, which was really special. It was an amazing experience, and the best part of my weekend. I even had people coming up and congratulating me afterward, after we had left the theater.

It was the perfect way to end a great weekend and I will remember it for a long, long time. ESPN the Weekend was everything I thought it could be and I would do it again in a heartbeat (if you're listening, Mom). It was a great time. Next year, I can watch commercials for the weekend, and instead of feeling regret about not being able to go, I can remember the great times I had in 2008 and look forward to going again.

(Editor's Note: If you want to see a portion of Alex's prize-winning
performance, click on the youtube video below!)

February 16, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 3

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

This is Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

We left the conference room and the CMs in the office area congratulated us. Then Elton, Jackie and Kathryn walked with us out into the park and spotted another Dream Squad handing out dreams and encouraged us to go to them. We felt that would be greedy but they really encouraged us. We did and got FastPasses for Epcot only and for that day only. Kathryn waved to us and asked what we got.

Later I learned that at this point Elton when right to Paul to tell him and have him fill out his paperwork. He was still so excited.

At this point, I could barely think straight and, I think, Lisa felt the same way.

It was 11 a.m. and we'd missed the 10 a.m. MouseFest meet, Stroll in Card's Footsteps. We were disappointed but a stay in Cindy's castle was worth it. It seemed we had a lot of time before 1:30 p.m. when we needed to be at the Grand Floridian. I'd planned on attending the Pin Trading meet at 11 a.m. but now we had the FastPasses. We decided to use them and went to Test Track.

As we walked, I checked my phone messages and my mother had called so I called her back. She had also left a message which I didn't listen to until the next day. She was crying with joy for my good fortune. As a girl she watched the Mickey Mouse show and sang the Mousekateer songs so she "gets it" too. Bill's mom also left a message saying that this couldn't have happed to a bigger Disney fan.

I also called Marge and left a message for her to also bring my camera and phone chargers. I thought she didn't answer because she was busy packing. Later she said that she'd probably already left the house. At the time I called the first time, she was ironing and had laundry in the washer and drying. She pulled the plug on the iron and stopped both machines. She ran around like a crazy woman and threw all of her and Paul's clothes in my suitcases and was glad there was enough room because their suitcases were in their attic.

Between our walk to Test Track and the time we spent in the FastPass line, Lisa and I had an opportunity to think and determined that we really did not have has much time as we thought especially since we still wanted to go to the Mega Mouse Meet.

We were glad we pre-registered and had the extra magic hour to get in at noon instead of 1 p.m. During our ride on Test Track my mind was wandering, going a million miles an hour, forget 65MPH, trying to sort things out and put together the afternoon's plan. We agreed we could not use the FastPasses and we should just give them away since they were only good that day. On our way off Test Track there were two young girls, probably sisters, in front of us and we gave the FastPasses to them. They thanked us as did their mother who was waiting for them and saw the exchange. It made us feel really, really good to do that and it gave me goosebumps.

Next we had to finish thinking about our afternoon logistics.
Lisa had to get her overnight bag ready and get to the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. Luckily, she was staying at the Boardwalk. We decided the most efficient use of our time was for her to go to her room after the Mega Mouse Meet then wait for me to pick her up with my car out front at the Boardwalk. While she was getting her bag together, I would continue on to Epcot through the International Gateway and out the front entrance, get in my car and drive around to pick her up.

The day was quite warm. We were making our way from Future World to World Showcase and remembered our ice cream voucher. We couldn't recall any carts in World Showcase so we turned around and headed to the cart outside of the Imagination Pavilion.

On our way we saw another Dream Squad handing out the blue and white with silver Mickey ear hats. Boy were we on a roll so we went over and each got one. Jackie was one of the Dream Squad members and we told her we gave away the FastPasses. She said that she and Kathryn agreed that we were so nice that that was probably what we would do with them.

Next we got two Mickey Premium bars. Yum! I was hungry and it was quite warm out. Marge had called and left me a message. She said that she had filled out and signed her paperwork and wanted to know what to do next. I assumed the CM who went over her release form would give her instructions but he didn't.

As I was walking, eating a melting chocolate ice cream pop with a white shirt on, I was also calling and talking to Marge. No time to waste. I told her we had to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. and to meet us there. Later she told me she then went to get a sandwich for lunch to share with Paul. She was finally able to reach Paul to tell him what was going on but learned that Elton had already found him at the front gate and told him.

After learning that Marge was given no further instructions after filling out her paperwork, I wondered if someone would tell Paula or not and was waiting to hear from her asking me the same as Marge did.

Lisa and I continued our fast pace out the International Gateway and decided that walking to the Dolphin and the Mega Mouse Meet would be quicker than the Friendships. We also figured that walking on the Boardwalk side might be quicker than the Yacht and Beach Club side since the sidewalk at the Dolphin snakes in and out close to the building and is not very direct. Besides, the Boardwalk side was currently in the shade. Have I mentioned is was considerably warn out (at least 85 degrees) and we were power walking.

We couldn't believe we waited for MouseFest and especially the Mega Mouse Meet for a year, and now we were going to miss the day's meets (especially Disney Music with Greg Ehrbar, Hidden Mickey's at Epcot with Steve Barrett, Turtle Talk, Magic in the Pixels") and blow through the Mega Mouse Meet. But there were no questions which we chose over the other--the castle won.

Once at the Dolphin, we were glad to find the ballroom was right off the lobby and not through the labyrinth of hallways like the last two years. We put on our wristbands with our raffle number as we walked. I don't know why we even put them on. In order to win any of the prizes you needed to be present and we wouldn't be present. We obviously just weren't thinking clearly. We were handed "swag bags" as we approached the registration area. Since we pre-registered and had our lanyards on, we didn't even need to stop and just got on the escalator down to the ballroom.

The tables near the entrance were busy with people. It was just after 12 p.m. and there were already lots of MouseFesters there. We both thought walking across the room and beginning at empty tables was a good strategy. We only had less than half an hour before we had to leave in order to give us an hour to get to the Grand Floridian. We quickly made our way, individually for the most part, around the room keeping our eye on one another as we went along so as not to lose each other. We picked up literature and swag and talked briefly with "personalities behind the tables" (to quote Mike Scopa). We'd have to visit the websites of the personalities at home-no time now.

At the table we told everyone our "news" to a reply of shrieks and congratulations. It's so nice to be among fellow Disney fans who "get it" and appreciate the significance of it all. That's why we attend MouseFest. We continued to share our news and received congratulations as we continued around the room. Mark Goldhaber and Brian Bennett of MousePlanet gave us big hugs. By 12:40 p.m. we'd made a complete circle.


There were snacks available during this extra magic hour and that was a good thing. I picked up a water and granola bar which turned out to be my lunch for the day - besides the Mickey ice cream bar.

Soon it was time to leave.

To be continued....

February 14, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 2

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Stepping off of Soarin

This is Part 2 - Who Shall Join Me?

I had four more people to invite. As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

A few weeks before MouseFest, I applied to to attend the VIP IllumiNations Dessert Party and was selected. When I invited Paula to join me, her reply was that I was the luckiest person she knew when it came to winning things. My reply was that, no, the REALLY lucky people get to stay in Cinderella Castle. We had lunch together earlier in the week and we talked about that conversation again. I told that I was going to call her if I won, never really thinking it would.

Now I've actually won and I'm on the phone to tell her that we were also going to be Grand Marshals in the Share a Dream Come True Parade and have dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table so pack her bags and be at the Epcot Guest Relations by 12 noon.

I started by saying as best I could through tears, "Remember when you told me I was lucky and I said that the lucky people get to stay in the castle? Well, I'm going to stay in the castle tonight and I want you and Dylan to come!"

Then things got a little crazy with Elton asking me how old her son was and him telling me that minors, 16 and under, could not participate unless they were my children. I had to tell Paula that Dylan couldn't come and ask her if she still wanted to. She paused and said yes but needed to find a place for him to go for the night since her husband was out of town. I gave her the instructions to bring an overnight bag, her ID and to be at Epcot by 12 noon to fill out release forms and hung up.

Elton made a call and worked some "magic" and got approval for Dylan to be able to go. I called Paula back to tell her and we were both very happy about that. I asked if anybody had any tissues. Luckily, somebody did and handed me one.

Next I just had to call the couple who I was staying with, Marge and Paul. Marge answered right away like Paula did. I was SO lucky I was able to reach both of them right away because the clock was ticking.

Later when I was telling Marge how calm I felt, she told me that I did not sound calm to her when I called. She said I said her name very loudly into the phone, "Marge, Marge! I won a night in Cinderella Castle and want you and Paul to come too!" I did that because it was hard to hear her when she answered and I wanted to make sure - well, okay, so I wasn't so calm anymore.

I filled her in on what was going on and gave her the same instructions I gave Paula and also asked her to zip up my two suitcases and bring my toiletry bag too. I was so glad I kept all my clothes in my suitcases. I couldn't think what to tell her to bring so I just said to bring it all. Oh, and I told her to call Paul and let him know too.

I mentioned Elton's name and she asked me if Elton was there now. I told her he was and asked if she knew him. She did so I handed him my phone. I could not believe it. HE couldn't believe it. Marge's husband, Paul, had trained Elton on the Epcot front gate. Elton was very happy, as were Jackie and Kathryn, that I was inviting three cast members but when he realized he knew two of them, he was ecstatic. I told him Paul was working at the gate that very moment. Elton was concerned that Paul wouldn't be off work in time but I was sure he'd be done in time because I knew he went in around 5 a.m. this morning to open.

In fact this feeling was shared by all the CMs we ran into who learned that Marge, Paul and Paula were CMs. They were all very excited to hear fellow CMs were getting a chance to stay in the castle. The chances of CMs being able to do so are slim since they can't win themselves, someone they live with or who are related to them also cannot win. Pretty much, the only way they could go is if a friend won and invited them.

By now we were standing outside a door at the Imagination Pavilion and the five of us went inside to take care of the necessary paperwork. Until that was completed, I was still a "potential" winner. It was an office area that consisted of a large room with lots of cubicles along the two walls. There were only a couple people working but it was a Saturday. I said to Lisa, "Hey, we are backstage." We were taken into a conference room and Elton was in and out, I guess, getting the paperwork together and making phone calls.

I finally called my husband, Bill. I started to cry again. My poor tissue was soaked. Jackie or Kathryn brought us cups of water which I was grateful for. Bill was afraid that something bad had happened until I could explain what was happening. Bill was very happy for me and wished he was with me. He doesn't always go with me when I visit WDW. As he says, he "gets it" but also gets enough of it quicker than I do. So, my trips to MouseFest are solo that way I have the freedom to open and close parks everyday and not worry about his happiness. I told him to call everybody and he replied that nobody would "get it," meaning understand the significance of it all. He did say he would call my mother, though. He also called his mother.

Elton gave us big blue, white and gray buttons with the castle on them that said:


The Year of a Million Dreams

Walt Disney World

He told us to put them on as they signified that we'd won a tier 1 or 2 prize, which were the highest ones.

The castle stay was considered a tier 2 and winning a trip around the world visiting all the Disney parks or a DVC membership was the Tier 1 level.

He gave me four more for Paula, Dylan, Marge and Paul. Then he started going over 10 pages of forms with me giving me clear and thorough instructions to insure it would be done correctly and completely explaining what they were for and what areas I had to fill out so I wouldn't be disqualified.

The forms were to accept the prize, an affidavit/declaration of my eligibility/liability and a publicity release. I said let's get started filling them out! I also had to provide my driver's license for a background check. Elton, Kathryn and Jackie had to witness the forms.

Lisa had to just fill out a guest liability/publicity release and show her ID. Elton asked me to write down all my guests' names with their ages. He arranged with the concierge at the Grand Floridian for all of our cars to be parked there. He also told Lisa and I to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. at the latest.

Kathryn wanted to give us a FastPass in compensation for taking up so much our park time. We really weren't planning on riding anything and didn't accept her offer. When she suggested ice creams, however, we changed our minds! She filled out a little form on a pad and gave it to us to redeem for an ice cream from a cart. With all the formalities aside, we took pictures with Elton, Jackie and Kathryn.

To be continued....

February 12, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 1

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle. She shares her magical story with All Ears.


I look back now to my every step and action of the morning that put me in the right place at the right time for the Year of a Million Dreams Dream Squad to find me.

There are many "what ifs" that came to mind:

If I didn't take a few extra minutes to look at Marge and Paul's Disney cruise pictures before I left their house that morning.

If my annual pass had worked in the turnstile and I hadn't had to wait for a CM to get me a new one.

If I hadn't taken the time to sit down and write the number of my new AP down so if I lost it, it could be reprinted.

If Lisa and I had waited to ride Soarin' with the MouseFest meet instead of going ahead so not to miss the Walk in Cards Footsteps meet at 10 a.m.

If the three FastPass guests had gone down the Concourse 2 like they were suppose to instead of going down Concourse 1.

If I tried to sit in a better seat instead of deciding to sit where I was suppose to while thinking to myself this is the worst seat on this ride. Little did I know it would turn out to be the BEST seat that morning!

If any of those things when differently, I wouldn't have this story to tell because I wouldn't have been the one on Soarin', concourse 2, hang glider C, row 3, in seat 1 at around 9:50 a.m. on Saturday, December 8 where Dream Squad members Elton, Jackie and Kathryn greeted me after the ride.


Thinking back I was aware there were people outside the exit door "as I gathered my belongings" but it didn't hit me until I walked through the door that they were Dream Squad members.

I thought that we were going to get FastPasses. I was calm. Lisa told me later, she wasn't. They asked me if I was familiar with the Year of a Million Dreams and told me I was a "potential" winner of a great prize. They asked me if I'd like come with them and Lisa too. They started asking me a battery of questions: Where are you from? Do you know any cast members? Who are they? Are you related? Do you live with them? There were probably others I don't recall now. We walked along the exit hallway as we talked. They kept telling me I could be the "potential" winner of a great prize every time stressing "potential."

When we came to an area where the standby line and exit line meet and there were lots of other guest around to witness what was going to happen next, we stopped. A portable DVD player was placed on the railing and it began to play a commercial for the Year of a Million Dreams and the prizes offered.

The sound didn't work very well at first but it was fixed. I playfully said that I'd take the cruise as a picture of one of the ships appeared on the screen. Next thing I know the words "Cinderella Castle Suite" are on the screen. Still, feeling calm I recall thinking that it would probably be good to act surprised and happy, so I did. The Dream Squad certainly made a big fuss over it! It hadn't really sunk in yet what had happened.

Kim Howe and the Dream Team

We walked together out the rest of the Soarin' exit and past the FastPass distribution area where the Dream Squad continued to make a big fuss which brought attention to us by other guests. I told them that they must LOVE their jobs making people happy all day and they said they did. As we walked out of the Land and to the Imagination Pavilion, they explained that I could invite five guests to join me. Lisa was a given since she was with me.

Let me back up a bit.....
Lisa and I met at MouseFest 2005 and again in 2006. The first year we communicated via e-mail a few times after MouseFest but in the last year we really didn't keep in touch at all. I didn't even know if she was attending MouseFest this year. I met Mark Goldhaber from MousePlanet at the airport and while we were boarding the plane to FL for MouseFest, he asked me if Lisa was attending. My answer was that I didn't know because we didn't keep in touch at all in the last year. He found that hard to believe since during MouseFest we attend many of the same meets together and even toured together between meets. As in the past two years, sure enough, I was at my first meet, MouseFest 101 and I looked to my right and there she was in her Pooh Santa hat.

Ok, back to the day of dreams!

I had four more people to invite!!

As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

To Be Continued....

November 29, 2007

Super Soap Weekend at the Disney MGM Studios Day 2

Super Soap Weekend Day #2:

For the second day of Super Soap Weekend, I like to do things a bit different. As this was my third time to SSW, I am starting to understand the schedule and have developed my own little routine.

Example: The first day of the weekend, we wear our most recent shirts from the event (so like, last year, we wore our shirts from 1998, the last time I had gone, and this year, we wore last year's shirts).

On the second day, because it is press day, I like to make up a shirt, to show the writers and execs just how I am currently feeling about the show. Last year, I made up blue shirts with black writing that said, on the front "Dr. Hayward's (a character on our show at the time) CURE for All My Children: Bring Back Vincent Irizarry (that was the actor who played him) and on the back it said "Fans for Quality Soap Writing, Supporting the Actors since 1970". It got a lot of buzz.

So, this year, I made a new shirt: it was pink and on the front, it said: "AMC Fan Jeopardy! Answer: Suspense, Veterans, Quality writing, classic characters, Love" and on the back it said, "AMC Fan Jeopardy! Question: Name five things currently missing on All My Children".

AMC Fan Jeopardy T Shirt

And again, it got some good feedback and everyone liked that I was speaking out about how dismal our beloved soap has become (I should tell you all, my mom has watched AMC since it began, January 5, 1970 and I have been following it for the past 16 years. I'm 24, so you can see it has been a huge part of my life!).


Anyway, back to the weekend. So, we wore our shirts that I made and headed out at about the same time as we did on Saturday. This time, however, we were in for a rude surprise. As I mentioned in the previous post, Disney is always looking for ways to solve the problem of the FASTPASSs and how to regulate the line.

While my mom and I thought they had done a good job on Saturday, it turned out that they had cut the line shortly after we got there and held those people back until 8am. This meant that the general public had the same advantage of getting FASTPASSs as those who woke up for them early. I guess some of them missed out on the stars they wanted (once you go through the line once, the cast members really don't have control if you go through again, so first timers to the line saw us repeaters as cheats, trying to cut in front of them).

Well, on Sunday, we became the unfortunate ones, as they cut the line probably minutes before we arrived. They told us we had to stand in the regular lines that contained both soap fans and regular visitors to the park. Well, I was not happy, and so I asked Disney cast member Jeff why he was doing this. He said this was a good solution, because it kept the main line shorter and led to a more positive response overall. Well, I knew it would end bad, and sure enough, when they opened up a few more turnstiles for us to stand behind, it became a free-for-all, with everone pushing and shoving and running to get close to the front (Jeff claimed this sort of thing didn't happen-poor guy, how'd he know we're all crazy soap fans).

Despite the cast members trying to brighten the mood by singing happy birthday to two people, we were all a bit ticked off as we watched the main lines go into the park and head towards the kiosks. Finally, at maybe 7:30, they began to let us in, but there was still some discontent as no one wanted to let me and my mom (in her wheelchair) through the turnstiles.

We got onto Hollywood Boulevard where the cast members used a rope to walk us down the street. Overall, people were staying in their respective lines. But, once we got to the Sorcerer's Hat stage, everyone started to walk in front of use. So, I found an area of open space, and wheeled my mom past some people until I was behind the people who we had originally been behind. But, thankfully for me, my mom and everyone in the park, everything worked out in the end (doesn't it always?)


We got over to Lights, Motors, Action again and it wasn't even 8am, so they hadn't started letting people through yet. We were able to join the regular line and I immediately began to relax.

Note to everyone: if you go in the future, take light of the situation and really take in everything that is done and said...if I had looked at my watch and seen that we were going in before 8, I probably would have been less upset. Also, I encourage you to look at all the cast members as your friends and not as your enemies...I can't imagine they really like this weekend, but they can and will be helpful and friendly if you are equally calm and courteous.

When we got up to the front of the line, all of the soap stars were still available with regular passes...Aiden Turner, who plays Aidan Devane was the only one who went on standby, but it was right when we were up there and so we got real passes for Bobbie Eakes and standbys 9 and 10 for Aiden.

We didn't get back in line or try for anyone else, because our other goal that day was to see the motorcades for AMC (all 3 of them) so we decided to grab a quick breakfast (we got muffins from the hotel both days, so we just got juice and milk at the commissary) and find a spot for the motorcade.

We also didn't get any other stars because Cameron was in fact gone already (we knew this because his name was not up by the kiosks) and we had met the other stars last year (not Melissa Egan, but we're not huge fans of her character on the show, so we just figured we'd go to her last session, wait by the railing and see if she would be able to give us a quick photo and autograph in my book.)


The first motorcade was great! We had a great spot and each star turned around for us-including Alicia who was there on Sunday and really looked great (either she was feeling better, or her makeup team is amazing because her color looked good, and normally you don't look so hot after being in the hospital). Thorsten Kaye, who plays her husband Zach, Bobbie Eakes and David Canary were also in the motorcade and each turned toward me for some wonderful photos (well, David not so much, but we got plenty others of him!).

Remember, during the motorcades and at any events these stars attend, please please learn their actual names. It will mean so much more to them that you took the time to learn their real name because they only play their character on tv-they are not actually their character (even Aiden! hehe). By using their real name, they will be more likely to turn toward you for a photo or be more likely to smile at you or even better, remember you in years to come (some of them really do remember and that is extra special!)


After the motorcade, we wanted to do Soap Star Live again, not only to watch Michael E. Knight and Aiden, but to see who would replace Cam (Cam hosts the Soap Star show). Turns out, they got former Bachelor Bob Guiney to take over (Bob hosts all the talk shows throughout the weekend, while John Paul Lavosier of OLTL hosts the game show called Triple Play).

This made the show even funnier than usual because Bob is not an actor and boy it showed! He had to play Aiden, while each woman was Greenlee (this worked out real well since in real life Bob is married to former Greenlee Rebecca Budig!). Things got slightly hot and heavy when Michael was the surprise twist and it was revealed that "Greenlee" and "Tad" had an affair behind poor "Aiden's" back! The lucky lady got to smooch MEK and then the winner of that show got to make out with both MEK and Aiden!! (MEK didn't want Bob to feel left out, so he made out with him for a little while too, which made us all just crack up laughing!!) It was a great show and made me practically forget the events of the morning.


After seeing Aiden onstage, it was time to finally meet him in person. We were hopeful that we'd be able to because we have been trying to meet him for 4 years (we did SSW in California back in 2003 and got cut off from meeting him with just 15 people in front of us!). So, we got in line, got all the standbys organized and waited, watching the regulars go up to meet him.

Luckily, there weren't a lot of people in his regular line (it was like 10 people in front of us constantly for about a half hour, so maybe only one or two kept trickling in at a time). There was never anyone in the holding pen, so we were all very excited that we would finally get to meet the British heart throb. And we did!! He gave us both hugs (small ones, as he is married) and signed headshots, took photos and signed my book (true, Jacob, Aiden and Bobbie aren't part of the actual book-it only goes up to 1994) but I found creative places for them to sign). He is quite soft spoken and that accent...well, you get my point :)

Robyn and Aiden


After seeing Aiden, we grabbed some snacks and found spots again on Hollywood Blvd for the last two AMC motorcades, which took place back to back.

First up, the grande dame of daytime, Susan Lucci! Escorted by Mickey Mouse himself.

Susan Lucci and Mickey Mouse

Susan made her way toward the Sorcerer's Hat stage, where she was interviewed by Sherri Sheperd of the View. Unfortunately, we were unable to hear most of her answers, because we kept our spots on the street for the next motorcade. Which turned out to be a good thing, because Susan came back in her car after her interview was done and we got a great picture of her!

Next came Jacob Young, Aiden and Melissa Claire Egan (Cam was part of this motorcade on Saturday and MEK was so busy that he wasn't scheduled for motorcades). We got good pictures of each of them and then decided to watch their interview on stage, which was also fun because I got a great picture of the 3 of them. We also were in a great spot as they headed back down Hollywood Blvd in their cars.

Jacob Young, Aiden and Melissa Claire Egan


We then headed to see Bobbie Eakes, but not before we took in the Muppet 3-D show. I love this show and knew we could do it without missing Bobbie, and it was just as cute as I remember it 7 years ago!! I know people have said they need to update the movie, but I disagree-what's wrong with a little nostalgia? (Plus the jokes are still just as funny!)

Now, we had heard Bobbie was the best about signing for everyone and boy they weren't kidding!! When we got to her booth, for a 3:15 signing, she had already arrived and was signing for people at the railings.

The cast members were a bit thrown by this but we all got ourselves organized and they immediately were ushering us into the line (our time was for 3:25, and she took all the 3:15s and 3:20s right away!). And she didn't rush us along or anything, but took the time to wish my mom a happy birthday (my mom is a Bobbie too!) and she signed her headshots and my book (actually, she had to sign a headshot for me twice, because she spelled my name wrong, but was gracious enough to sign a new one for me-what a doll!). We also had her sign her CD for my uncle, who likes her country music. It was so great to meet her that all the issues of the morning were washed away!

Robyn's Mom and Bobbie Eakes


Our last stop before dinner was Melissa Claire Egan. We got a great spot at the railing and were able to watch her pose with all her fans. She even got to some of her standbys. However, she didn't sign our book, because again, those cast members all of a sudden quit the signings and started directing her to the exit, without any chance for her to sign much of anything. It was weird; because she had time, but I think it was because she was performing in the street jam and had to go rehearse. Still, it was nice to see her and we felt that overall, it was a successful weekend.

We finished the night with a lovely dinner at the Brown Derby, where my mom got a special birthday dessert and she was sung Happy Birthday to (her birthday, if you're all wondering was Monday the 12th).


We then did things a bit differently for the street jam. Since they do pretty much the same show each night, we weren't too concerned if we could see it or not. It was still very crowded by the stage, so we found seats by Echo Lake, by the picnic tables. This turned out to be a blessing. We could actually see the stage better than on Saturday and I was able to sit down next to my mom (on Saturday I stood the whole time and was so tired by the end it was amazing I could walk!).

The people around us were much friendlier too (Saturday we kept trying to get people to not block my mom, who had a regular wheelchair with nothing to make her taller, but I think she missed a lot of it because people wouldn't move). The fireworks made for a great ending to the weekend and a great launch into my mom's birthday.


Don't get me wrong, this is a really fun event. You just need a thick skin, some planning and some understanding. If you must meet the stars and are not satisfied with seeing them from afar, you have to get up early.

Disney transportation does not run until 7am, so walk, take a cab, or rent a car and drive there. People this year spent the night camped out in front of the turnstiles. I don't recommend this and I doubt Disney will do it again, but any time from 2-6:30am should be good.

Bring a book, put on a sweater, and wear a happy face. Everyone is in the same boat all weekend long and you will get farther with friends than enemies.

Also, I stress the importance of planning ahead.

Get the schedule of who will be there and what they are doing the week before (it is available...Soaps in Depth has the full schedule and it goes on sale that Tuesday).

Have a few different options because you have to remember that the FASTPASS system is just like how it is for the rides. If you are counting on a star's second session, you may be there early enough for their first and the cast members will only honor your pass at the time it lists.

Standbys are the exception: you can use them at either autograph time for the star listed, but only on the day you get it.

Once all the FASTPASSs are gone, relax and have fun! If you are waiting for a motorcade, don't hog a whole bench, let people in-everyone wants the same thing-a chance to see their stars. Bond over your love of the show-make friends-you will see these people throughout the weekend and again. It's better to be polite and friendly than rude. This can get you better seats for a motorcade, a better position during the street jam and just makes for a better weekend overall.

Bottom line, Super Soap Weekend is a huge event and it can be tiring and frustrating, but only if you let it get that way. If you go in with a relaxed attitude and are just happy to be there, it can be a lot of fun and give you plenty of memorable experiences to share with others for years to come.

November 27, 2007

Super Soap Weekend at the Disney MGM Studios Day 1

Robyn Kaplan (accompanied by her mom) attended the 2007 Super Soap Weekend (SSW) at Disney's MGM Studios. This was Robyn's third Super Soap weekend. Her report is full of tips and information so you can enjoy a weekend with the stars!

Super Soap Weekend Day 1

We awoke at 5:30 am, put on last year's Super Soap shirts and headed down to make the trek (yes we walked) from the Dolphin over to the Studios. I like doing it this way, because the time you get to the park is in your control, not a cab, boat or bus, plus it is actually rather invigorating. And we made it to the park by about 6:30.

Once there, we saw that the line wasn't too bad. They started checking bags and moving the line forward at maybe just a bit after 7, so we got excited that we would see all the stars we wanted to see that day.


Now, just a tip for anyone who wants to go to SSW in the future: Plan ahead!! You will be rewarded! The earlier you can make it to the park the better. Also keep your eyes and ears open all morning for any announcements, as the list of stars attending can change instantly (believe me, we found this out fast!).

Also, it is better to be nice to the cast members and state any concerns without shouting - they will try their best to be helpful. Keep in mind that some Disney cast members have been taken away from their actual responsibilities and many are performing tasks for the first time.
In fact its almost like you're at two different parks-the soap areas and the regular park.

We had a very nice time waiting in line with a friendly guy who told us stories from his past soap weekends (he's been almost every year the event has occurred) and a mother and daughter who were there for the first time.

As with last year and again they year, once we past the turnstiles, the cast members brought us into the park through the cast entrance for Fantasmic and Beauty & the Beast. But, since the lines were so short, they didn't have to weave the line around, but instead took us right onto Sunset Boulevard. They kept us in our lines and walked us all the way towards our respective kiosks.

Now, I was unsure how they would get the All My Children line (our line) to the FASTPASS kiosks, because last year, we went through Mickey Ave, which was closed this year due to Toy Story Mania. But, they found a way that worked, by walking us past the ABC Soap Commissary and down towards the Streets of America. We got to Lights, Motors, Action (that was where our kiosks were located) and at 8am on the dot, they started letting us through.

Bottom line: there is no easy solution to the FASTPASS and getting the stars you want.

20,000 people come to the park each day for the Super Soap weekend and there are only 8,000 passes available. Everyone has to remember the event is designed for all to see some, not some to see all. As you will read in the blog for Day 2 of the weekend, it is a tough pill for everyone to swallow, but it should not ruin the weekend or take away from the fun, because there are plenty of other ways to see the stars. If you are cool with not getting the chance to physically touch each and every star, you will have a much better time).

The soap stars we really wanted to meet were David Canary and Michael E. Knight, who play Adam Chandler and Tad Martin respectively. This is because these two are some of the greats of the show, both have been on for more than 20 years, and both are masters of their craft. Plus, both are sweethearts and just adore their fans.

When it was our turn, we walked up to David Canary's kiosk, where we were instantly handed standbys (it was maybe 8:15am, so yes, he was that popular!). We thanked the cast member for our passes and got in Michael E. Knight's line, walking away with 2 real passes for his second autograph session . He did 3 that day. Doing three autograph sessions is a new thing Disney has started doing-last year. They did 3 for Michael Easton in 2006 and it seemed to work. They must have seen how popular MEK was this year, so that is why they did 3 for him

We then got back in line to try for one more star. Here's where things got interesting:

First, we heard that Alicia Minshew, who plays Kendall Hart Slater, was sick and probably would not be attending the first day. Unfortunately, not everyone heard this announcement and several people got a FASTPASS for her, only to learn later that she would in fact be gone all day. Luckily for those people, the cast members said Alicia would honor any FASTPASS from Saturday on Sunday and not to feel down.

The other rumor we began hearing was that Cameron Mathison, who plays Ryan Lavery, but who is also on Dancing with the Stars (or was that weekend) was only going to be in the park on Saturday, as he had to take the red eye back to Hollywood for the show on Sunday. Well, there was never a cast member confirmation of this, but it did in fact turn out to be true, and since Cameron only did one autograph session, it made him even more popular.

My mom really wanted to meet him again and tell him she was hoping he'd win DWTS (we met him last year and he is super nice!), but announcements as to whether he was sold out were confusing, so we ended up getting standby passes for Jacob Young, who plays JR Chandler (and who has been rumored to be leaving the show for months now).

Fortunately, I knew we could go over to Cam's session once we finished with Jacob, so we were happy that we got everyone we wanted the first day. I knew we weren't going to get to meet Cam at his session, just watch him sign for others, since you need some type of FASTpass to meet the stars. I just figured we could stand by the railings, something lots of fans do throughout the day.

We left the kiosk area and got some breakfast at the ABC Commissary: cinnamon rolls because they no longer serve pancakes (boo!). After breakfast, we decided to check out Soapnet's I want to be a Soap Star Live. Previously it had been in the ABC Theatre and this year it moved to the theater over by Rock n Roller Coaster.


Cam was hosting and also David Canary and Jacob Young were the two stars doing the show. And it was fun as always! 3 women were chosen (not us, but eh, it's all good) and the first one got to do a scene with Cam (lucky!). Then, the second lady did the same scene with Cam, but they brought David out as a surprise twist! Finally, the third lady, who ended up winning, did a monologue with Cam and David, but then did her final scene with Jacob! We (hopefully) got some great pictures of all 3 of them and as we headed out, we were handed large goody bags of Colgate Total products! (a full bottle of Softsoap, a full tube of toothpaste, a small bottle of body wash and a toothbrush!)

David Canary

Since we still had some time before our first autograph session, I decided to finally check out Rock n Roller Coaster. I did the single rider line and it was awesome! The loops were great and the launch was just incredible!! Didn't have time to look at the picture (had to get back to mom) but the people I was in line with made the whole experience really fun!


Then we headed over to David Canary's autograph session. We were standbys 10 and 11, and, like last year, I decided to nicely get all of us standbys organized by number so that, when called, we would all be ready and it would go that much faster. Cast Members do not organize the standbys or even the regular pass holders, they just call you when it's your time or your number.

Now, David did his session right. He stayed seated, smiling for the fans by the railings, but focusing on the fans in the line that had gotten a FASTPASS (which is how it should be). The line went fairly fast, but because the stars are really only given one hour to sign, we began to get slightly nervous that he wouldn't have time to take any of the standbys (standby passes don't guarantee an autograph).

And, unlike last year, when the cast members left it up to the stars to decide if they could continue signing or not, this year, they controlled the sessions a lot more and cut off the sessions much sooner than last year. In their defense, a lot of the stars did run late, but there were some sessions that could have run longer than the cast members allowed them to, but more on that later.

Robyn, her mom and David Canary

Luckily, we had an ally on our side: David's lovely wife Maureen was there watching the proceedings and she ended up letting David stay and sign about 25 standbys! We thanked Maureen, and went to up to David, where he not only signed his headshot, but my copy of the AMC 25th Anniversary scrapbook! He was so nice and wished my mom a happy birthday and gave both of us hugs (well, okay, we gave him hugs, but still!). We left his booth feeling so happy and we knew the happiness would continue because we had real passes for Michael E. Knight, and he was next.


Now, we knew things would be good with Michael, because each star is required to take all the actual FASTPASS holders, so we were guaranteed time with our MEK (that's his initials). Last year, we weren't as lucky-we had standbys and only got quick photos with him because the cast members tried to cut the line, but we wouldn't let them.

MEK is such a swell guy that he signs for everyone - and I do mean everyone, including those on the railings. So this time, we knew we'd get face time with our guy. And again, such a sweetheart, giving my mom a hug and a kiss and giving me a hug as well and he too signed my book. Again, this was a great autograph session, which gave us positive vibes as we headed towards our last session with Jacob Young.


Sadly, this session did not go so well. Again, we were standbys (11 and 12) and got everyone organized by number. But this session was a bit more chaotic, with people who just wanted photos standing in the standby area and everyone calling out for Jacob every second he wasn't with a FASTPASS fan.

However, all of us standbys had hope that he would get to us, because he didn't have any appointments until 5:30 and there wasn't anyone at the booth after him. So, at 4pm (his session started at 3:15) we still had hope that he would take all of us. Sadly, that didn't happen quite as planned.

The cast members let the first standby person go, but then they told the rest of us to line up. Jacob greeted all those by the railing and then they ushered him down to the end of the standby line. As we were no longer in numerical order, he just went down the row, signing and quickly snapping photos. I took one of him and my mom, and he did sign my book, but I didn't get a photo with him. At least I got to tell him how much we love him on AMC and we wished him all the best of luck in the future (since, like I said earlier, there is a good chance he is leaving the show).


We then headed over to catch the end of Cameron's session. Well, this one was even more chaotic than Jacob's. We weren't the only ones who wanted to get a quick pic or an autograph of our dancing heartthrob, so we asked a cast member (a Disney security guard) where we could stand to see Cam and try to meet him as he exited the session. We were told to stand along the back railing and that he would be brought right past us. And for the whole time that he finished signing, we had a good shot of him.

However, when it was time for him to go, a different security guard told us we had to move. We lost our plum spot, and had to hope that the handlers would still bring him by us. And they did, sort of. He signed my book, but couldn't take any photos with either of us, as the cast members continued to try and move him to the exit. And us fans don't take no for an answer as they continued to try and get him to pose for photos. I am not that desperate, so we decided to pass". We headed over to the 50s Prime Time Cafe.


This was not our best experience with Prime Time. Instead of a warm friendly "mom", we had Aunt Carole, who, while she could be nice, was also a stickler for cleaning your plate and elbows off the table. And the whole place was so crowded; we feared it would be impossible to watch the grand motorcade and the street jam following dinner. The only good thing was we told Aunt Carole we were in a hurry, so she got us our dessert fast and we were able to head out a bit after 6.


Unfortunately, we had lousy seats for the Grand Motorcade and Street Jam. The handicap section was closed when we got there. So, we were along the right side of the stage (the actor's right) and were lucky if we saw the screen, let alone the stage. But, we made do and were somewhat able to see each star on the motorcade and then watch them take their bows.

Luckily, the musical performances were good and even luckier for the AMC fans like us, only 4 of our stars were featured in the street jam. Bobbie Eakes, who plays Krystal Carey is also a singer and she sang two numbers (and she was introduced by David Canary). While not her own songs, they were still real pretty and nice to listen to.

Then, a bit later, girls from AMC and One Life to Live, including Bobbie Eakes and Melissa Claire Egan, who plays Annie Lavery, all came out and did the Cell Block Tango, a number my mom and I first saw in New York at the Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS event. It was just as good this time, with Bobbie (as Krystal) singing about her hatred of Adam and Melissa (as Annie) singing about her hatred of her brother Ritchie. Again, a fun number!

Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for: Cameron and Edyta came out and performed their 27-winning jive they had performed the previous week on DWTS. It was wonderful to see Cam and Edyta dance and gave all of us even more reason to vote for him (though I knew he would get voted off this week, what with all his fans still down in Florida and not home by their phones and computers...but eh. His Viennese waltz this week was beautiful so it was good we got to see him do that).

Cameron and Edyta

The night ended with a performance of "We're All in This Together" from the cast of High School Musical as a tribute to us soap fans, complete with fireworks. We left the park tired, but happy and crazy enough to get up and do it all again the next day!

Stay Tune for Part 2

August 23, 2007

New Stamps Unveiled at Epcot

Trooper Bill sends us a report from the Disney stamp unveiling ceremony that was held at Epcot on 8/16/07:

The stamp unveiling ceremony was held at 1 p.m. in the America Gardens Theatre. It began with the Fife & Drum Corps, and a female singer named Jackie Stressman, who performed the National Anthem.


Following that, the MC, Holland Hayes, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Scoop Sanderson of the Magic Kingdom, welcomed the guests, and introduced Senior VP of WDW Erin Wallace. She gave a brief speech about the collaboration between Disney and the Post Office in the series of stamps, culminating in today's new release. Erin was followed by Linda Kingsley, Senior VP of the USPS who also spoke about the partnership between Disney and the USPS over the years. At the end of her remarks, the Fairy Godmother came down the center aisle, and took over, singing Bibbidi Bobiddi Boo, and introducing Peter Pan, Dumbo, Genie, and finally Mickey, the four subjects of the new series of stamps.


After that, the official unveiling took place, with a typical Disney flourish. The finale was the introduction of the three artists who developed the series: David Pacheco, Peter Emmerich, and Terry McCaffrey.


Following the ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes, the three artists sat and signed the merchandise in front of the American Adventure shop for a couple of hours. They were very gracious and I was able to get my framed set signed by all three, with a nice Mickey ears flourish added to the 2007.


There was a merchandise display area set up outside of the American pavilion, under the covered area to the right. The merchandise consisted of stamps with first-day cancellations, postcards, and other items related to the release of the next four stamps in the USPS series of Disney stamps. The four stamps include Sorcerer Mickey, Dumbo with Timothy Mouse, Aladdin & Genie, and Peter Pan & Tink. The theme of the new series is "Magic".

The merchandise area ran smoothly, and there were no real lines to purchase items. There was also limited merchandise available inside the American Adventure store. The outdoor merchandise was under the auspices of the USPS, while the merchandise inside was sold by Disney. Inside the main item was a Limited Edition (LE) 50 framed pin set, with all four pins from the release, with a first-day cancellation envelope with all four stamps, and a Sorcerer Mickey envelope. This was in a matted background, with a small plaque that read, "The Art of Disney Magic," and "Limited Edition of 50." It retailed for $150, and as of 3 p.m. they only had one left. (They would have had two, but yours truly decided to spring for one.)

Also, while at Epcot, I happened to notice they are selling several retro design Epcot Center t-shirts in MouseGear. I have not seen these before, and took a few pictures of them.


I also got a pic of the wand removal progress.


August 3, 2007

Epcot Updates

Welcome TrooperBill as our guest blogger. He visited Epcot (8/1/07) and sends these photos and updates:

The wand that once adorned Spaceship Earth continues to be dismantled. You can see progress daily.

Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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House of Tomorrow at InnoventionsThe House of Tomorrow in Innoventions recently reopened -- the entrance way is still the same, with the fingerprint doorlock access, and the outside camera. The kitchen room seems to have magically transformed to all Siemens appliances. Included is a microwave that is wall mounted, and the lower part drops down to have the food placed in it, sort of like an elevator. The fridge has a TV built in, which was displaying recipes during the presentation. The family room had a large hi-def TV, that can also be run from the home computer, and linked to the kitchen appliances. I seem to recall something similar in the previous edition of HOT.

The game room has a programmable shelf mounted robot, that can be used as a security feature They also had an advanced electric guitar and drum set, each of which can basically play themselves. The girls bedroom has what they called a "floating bed" which is a round circular mattress hung from the ceiling. There is also a Magic Planet, which is basicaly an interactive computer globe.

House of Tomorrow at Innoventions The dining room had a table and chairs made of cardboard, which can be seen in the pictures, and looked much sturdier in person than one would think. The bathroom had a tankless commode which looks more like a ceramic hamper than a toilet. They also had a DTV (digital thermal valve) controlled shower stall, which was as large as a spa and had eight separate spray vales, all controlled via the DTV.

The garage boasted pretty much the same set of shelves, and now has an electric scooter plugged in to wall. Supposedly it can do 150 miles and 55mph on a charge. They also had some sort of hot water drian recycle thingy setup, that uses heat from hot drain water to heat the intake pipe of the hot water heater, thus lowering the cost of heating fresh water. There was also an electric car in the final area.

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Also at Innoventions East, the two areas housing the Internet Zone and City of Opportunity have been walled off and are being dismantled. I found out that Waste Management ( a large garbage/recycling company) has purchased ( or leased) the space space, and will be putting an exhibit there. Supposedly it will be centered around recycling, and hopefully will not consist of a large Waste Management dumpster in the room!!

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Voices of LibertyThe Voices of Liberty recently completed a 2 week hiatus, during which they broke in several new singers. I caught 2 shows today, and each one featured four of the new performers, with a separate group for each show. I didn't get to confirm if they are still auditioning or have actually joined the regular cast, next time I'm there I'll ask and find out.

The Heritage Gallery at the American Adventure has closed, and the Africa artifacts have been removed. The new exhibit will be called National Treasures, and will feature items on loan from various American Musuems, in particular the Smithsonian, with items dealing with American history. This exhibit should be open in a few months.

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The kids splash fountain between Future World and World Showcase is walled off. I'm don't know if it is just refurbishment or something else.


July 18, 2007

Spaceship Earth More Wand Photos

Readers Ken DiPietro and Jen Schaefer sent in photos of the Wand on Spaceship Earth being removed.

Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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Spaceship Earth

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If you have a current photograph or 2 of changes happening at Walt Disney World, send them to allearsnet at yahoo dot com

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