« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

September 2009 Archives

September 1, 2009

Kidani Village – Pembe Savanna

The six-acre Pembe Savanna which surrounds the north wing of Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge opened today (September 1). I was on hand to check things out. Unfortunately, I don't have much to report as there isn't anything "new" that I didn't already cover in my Kidani Village blogs. You see, for the most part, this new savanna can only be viewed from the rooms of the north wing. The one exception can be found in the pool area. Next to the Maji Bar, tables now overlook a small section of this animal habitat. This makes for a fantastic place to enjoy a cool drink in the evening.


Maji Bar

Maji Bar

Maji Bar


Disney has also created a small viewing area near the Maji Bar where you'll find a knowledgeable cast member who can answer questions about the various animals.


Pembe Overlook


The savanna is populated with okapis, a typically shy animal closely related to the giraffe. You'll also find red river hogs, impala, waterbuck, blue cranes, and spur-winged geese.

Since I visited Kidani Village around 9:30am, most of the animals were backstage attending their daily check-up with the vets and caretakers. Because of that, I don't have any animal pictures to share with you. But to make up for this, I created a short video that highlights the public spaces of Kidani Village. I hope you enjoy it.



Read Disney's Official Press Release on the Opening of Pembe!

September 4, 2009

Luxo Jr.

Now appearing at Disney's Hollywood Studios: Luxo Jr.

Every 15-20 minutes, Luxo Jr., the dancing lamp from the Pixar movies, makes an appearance across the street from Toy Story Mania. Perched on a stage above the crowd, this cute little fellow dances to a variety of tunes for about two and a half minutes. The passing crowd comes to a standstill as this new design in outdoor entertainment performs his act.

Is Luxo Jr. worth seeing? Sure, especially if you're in the area or standing in the outdoor queue for Toy Story Mania. He's charming and unique. But I'm not sure I'd make a special trip to Pixar Place just to see him. But since everyone passes this way at least once during their visit, why not take a break while you're in this area and kill a few minutes until he makes an appearance?

Luxo Jr. is another fine example of the many details that make Disney parks so wonderful.

By the way, Luxo Jr. is much taller in person than he is in the movies. ;-)

I shot a video of his performance. The sound is "live" so there is a lot of background noise, but I think you can still make out the music.

Enjoy.

September 5, 2009

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2009

The first Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) of the year was held yesterday (September 4) and I was there. I realize that this is almost two months before the actual holiday, but Halloween has become the second most celebrated holiday in the U.S. People get into the spirit of this season and revel in it. So it should come as no surprise that guests are willing to attend these special parties weeks before Jack Skellington and his crew are ready for the big night.

Let's start with the logistics. This is a hard ticket event -- meaning you need to purchase a separate ticket for entry. Tickets can be bought at any Guest Relations or ticket window around property.

Here are the prices including tax:

ADVANCE PURCHASE: Adults: $55.38; Children 3-9 $48.99 (Advance purchase discount not available Oct 9, 15, 23, 31)

DAY OF EVENT (IF AVAILABLE): Adults $62.84; Children 3-9 $56.45
EXCEPT October 31: Adults $68.16; Children 3-9 $61.77

PASSHOLDER AND DISNEY VACATION CLUB DISCOUNTS (only available for the following dates -- September 4, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29; October 1, 6): Adults $52.19; Children 3-9 $45.80

Here are the dates for this year's parties:

September 4, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29

October 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31

November 1

Official party hours are 7pm to midnight. Day guests are advised that the Magic Kingdom will close promptly on these evenings.


Magic Kingdom Closes at 7


Party-goers can gain admission as early as 4pm. You will be given a wrist band and trick-or-treat bag upon entering the park.


Wristband

Trick-or-Treat Bag


If you entered the Magic Kingdom earlier than 4pm with some other sort of admission, you'll need to pick up a wrist band at the Rose Garden on the Hub. Halloween clad cast members will be available to help you with any questions.


Wristband Station

Cast Members


It is important to have a wrist band. At 7pm, cast members are stationed throughout the park, checking for these little strips of plastic. If you don't have one, you'll be asked to exit the Magic Kingdom. In addition, you might be required to show your wrist band to gain admittance to rides and attractions for the first hour of the party.


Cast Member Guard


Not all of the rides and restaurants are open for this event. But since Disney caps the attendance at a reasonable number, it is never crowded and lines are usually short to non-existent. Here is a list of the OPEN rides and restaurants for MNSSHP:

Main Street:

Casey's Corner (hot dogs & fries)
Main Street Sweets (candy)

Adventureland:

Swiss Family Treehouse
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Aloha Isle (frozen treats)

Frontierland:

Splash Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain Railway
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café (hamburgers & fries)
Golden Oak Outpost (quick bites)
Westward Ho (quick bites)
Frontierland Turkey Legs

Liberty Square:

Haunted Mansion
The Hall of Presidents
Sleepy Hollow (funnel cakes)
Pizza Cart
Liberty Tree Tavern (reported by several guests)

Fantasyland:

Peter Pan's Flight
Cinderella's Golden Carousel
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Snow White's Scary Adventures
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Mad Tea Party
'it's a small world"
Mrs. Potts Cupboard (ice cream)
Friar's Nook (quick bites)

Mickey's Toontown Fair:

The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm

Tomorrowland:

Tomorrowland Speedway
Astro Orbiter
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Tomorrowland Transit Authority
Stitch's Great Escape
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor (closes at 10pm)
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe (hamburgers & chicken)
The Lunching Pad at Rockettower Plaza (quick bites)
Auntie Gravity's Galactic Goodies (smoothies)

And now, on to the party! Halloween decorations begin as soon as you approach the Magic Kingdom.


Magic Kingdom Entrance

Magic Kingdom Entrance


And Main Street is all decked out.


Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations

Main Street Decorations


Window displays also get into the spirit as does the merchandise for sale. In addition, napkins and drink cups take on a festive tone.


Main Street Window Dressing

Main Street Window Dressing

Halloween Merchandise

Halloween Cups & Napkins


The second floors of Main Street are lined with pumpkins. Pay special attention to some of the carvings. They are themed to their locations. Take for instance Tony's Town Square Café.


Lady and the Tramp Pumpkin

Lady and the Tramp Pumpkin


Check out the Fire Station.


Fire Station Pumpkin


Main Street Cinema.


Main Street Cinema Pumpkin


Casey's Corner.


Casey's Corner Pumpkin

Casey's Corner Pumpkin


And the Ice Cream Parlor.


Ice Cream Parlor Pumpkin

Ice Cream Parlor Pumpkin


The Hub also has some special Halloween decorations.


Hub Statues

Hub Statues

Hub Statues

Hub Statues


Many guests get into the spirit by dressing in costume. And it's not just the little ones who enjoy donning a new identity. Whole families seem to get into the act at MNSSHP. However, there are a few rules you should be aware of.

Costumes should be child-friendly and not obtrusive or offensive.

Adult guest may wear masks, but the masks must not obstruct vision (you need to be able to see where you're going).

Guest who dress like Disney characters are not to pose for pictures or sign autographs for other guests.

Do not bring large or dangerous props with you.


Costumed Family

Costumed Family

Costumed Family

Costumed Family

Costumed Family


Scattered around the park are various picture spots, some with characters.


Photo Op

Photo Op

Photo Op

Photo Op

Photo Op

Photo Op


Candy is distributed freely throughout the park. If you want a sugar-rush, it's readily available at every turn. Over at Mickey's Toontown Fair, a special Alice in Wonderland walkway has been created and is filled with numerous candy opportunities.


Alice in Wonderland Walkway

Alice in Wonderland Walkway

Alice in Wonderland Walkway

Alice in Wonderland Walkway

Candy Distribution


Two Character Dance Parties rock away the night. This is one of the few times your children can interact with the characters without waiting in a long line. All they have to do is jump to the beat and kick up their heels out on the dance floor.

One of the dance parties is held in Tomorrowland at Club 626. Here, Stitch, Goofy, and Pluto mix and mingle with the energetic crowd.


Tomorrowland Dance Party

Tomorrowland Dance Party

Tomorrowland Dance Party

Tomorrowland Dance Party


Over at Ariel's Grotto in Fantasyland, Princess Minnie and Princess Daisy are on hand for some two-steppin'.


Fantasyland Dance Party

Fantasyland Dance Party


Several times each evening, the Villains entertain in front of the castle. Their evil dance is energetic, but certainly not frightening. After their number concludes, they come out into the audience for a Meet & Greet. The times are: 7:45 9:00 10:05 & 11:15


Villains Mix and Mingle

Villains Mix and Mingle

Villains Mix and Mingle

Villains Mix and Mingle


And of course, no Disney evening would be complete without fireworks. A special Halloween presentation called Happy HalloWishes is presented at 9:30 each night.


Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks


Over at the Haunted Mansion, our mortician cast members become even more ghostly and Madame Carlotta entertains passersby with some tantalizing gossip about her fellow ghosts.


Haunted Mansion Cast Member

Madame Carlotta


I've saved the best for last, Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade. Presented twice nightly at 8:15 and 10:30, this delightfully creepy-yet-amusing procession is a must-see. I've created a short video of Madame Carlotta and the parade. Enjoy.


September 15, 2009

Tomorrowland Skyway Station

On November 10, 1999, a favorite ride for many of us closed. The Skyway that once carried guests over Tomorrowland and Fantasyland stopped running. It was a sad day. The towers and cables were removed soon after, but both stations have remained - until now. Today, backhoes and bulldozers are busy in Tomorrowland, eating away at this opening day attraction. I have no idea what, if anything, will be replacing this structure.

Update:

While riding the TTA yesterday I could see that the demolition portion of the project is complete. It appears that Disney is keeping (and remodeling) the restrooms that were located under the station.

Tomorrowland Skyway Station

Tomorrowland Skyway Station

Tomorrowland Skyway Station

September 17, 2009

Kouzzina by Cat Cora - Disney's Boardwalk

Today, (September 17), I attended a press event to kick off Cat Cora's new restaurant. Located on the Boardwalk, Kouzzina replaces Spoodles and offers Greek food with a home-cookin' flair.


Kouzzina Exterior


Guests were greeted by cast members offering glasses of Pellegrino and lime.


Cast Member with Pellegrion


As soon as I entered the restaurant, I could tell a good time was in store. Greek music filled the air as a live combo entertained. (This was for the press event only.)


Greek Combo


Before finding my table, I wandered the restaurant. I was able to snap several of the chefs preparing today's selections in the show kitchen.


Show Kitchen

Show Kitchen

Show Kitchen


A real wood-burning brick stove is on hand to provide authentic flavors to the breads and other oven dishes.


Wood Burning Stove


Eventually I found my table which was set for the abundance of food to come.


My Table


The afternoon started off with Al Weiss (President of Worldwide Operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) welcoming Cat to the Disney family.


Al Weiss


After his opening remarks, Cat took center stage and thanked us all for joining her on this special day. She also introduced her parents, her partner Jennifer, and their children.


Cat Cora


Next, Cat introduced Chef Dee, an eighteen year Disney veteran who will oversee the day-to-day operation of Kouzzina. We were then all asked to lift our glasses of ouzo and drink a toast to the success of this new venture.


Toast to Success


Today's event was intended to give the press a sampling of many of the delights available on the menu. Please remember, the pictures I'm showing you here may or may not be served to you as you see them photographed.

Our first dish was Spiro's Greek Salad. This contained vine-ripened tomatoes, arugula, cucumbers, red onions, Kalamanta olives, and feta cheese. This was a refreshing starter, simple, yet satisfying.


Spiro's Greek Salad


Served with the salad was Kouzzina Spreads. Here we had grilled pita bread with three toppings, Harissa Yogurt, Kalamata Fig, and Chickpea Hummus. Several of us agreed that we could make a meal out of this appetizer.


Kouzzina Spreads


Another appetizer served was Spanakopita. This is a traditional Phyllo Pie filled with spinach, feta cheese, leeks, and dill. It was light and flakey, just like Phyllo should be. Sorry, I was so caught up in the moment I for got to take a picture.

Our first entrée sample was Pastitsio. This is a Greek-style lasagna with Bucatini pasta, cinnamon-stewed meat sauce, and Bechamel. When I saw the word "cinnamon" I was concerned, but needn't be. I could certainly taste this flavor, but it didn't overwhelm. I definitely think that this dish would be enjoyed by picky, younger eaters. Once again, I was caught up in the moment and forgot to take a picture.

Cat said she wanted to include a burger on her menu, but she wanted to do it with a twist. To that end she created the Oak-grilled Lamb Burger served with olives and feta. Now I'm not a fan of lamb, but this burger was okay. I could certainly taste the distinctive lamb flavor, but the garnishes made it more than palatable. Considering my feelings about this meat, this is high praise. Be forewarned. This sandwich has a spicy kick. We all said "whoa" and wiped out brows after the effect set in.


Oak-grilled Lamb Burger


Fisherman's Stew was next. This contained a generous helping of scallops, seasonal fish, shellfish, fennel, grilled bread, and Ouzo butter. I found this stew to be very good, so good that I went back for seconds. However, I can't say that there was anything out of the ordinary about this dish. It was tasty, but something that I might find in any seafood restaurant.


Fisherman's Stew


Our final entrée was the Cinnamon Stewed Chicken. Combined with tomatoes, herbed orzo, and Mizithra cheese, this was my favorite of the main dishes. Once again, the cinnamon added a nice flavor and the orzo was to die for.


Cinnamon Stewed Chicken


A number of side dishes were also presented during the meal. The first was Chilled Salt-roasted Beets on Skordalia (a thick puree). If you like beets (I do), you'll like this sampling. The Skordalia had a mild flavor that complemented the stronger taste of the beets quite nicely.


Chilled Salt-roasted Beets on Skordalia


When the Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with capers and lemon were served, Cat made an announcement. She assured us that if we didn't like the Brussels sprouts that our mothers served us as a child (me), there was a good chance we'd like her recipe - and she was 100% correct. They were excellent. I went back for seconds.


Sautéed Brussels Sprouts


The final side dish served was the Oven-baked Gigantes Beans with tomato sauce and olive oil. Think big white-beans. I was pleased with this offering, but given a choice, I'd pick the Brussels sprouts.


Oven-baked Gigantes Beans


For dessert we were given a sampler plate that contained Chocolate Budino Cake, Baklava, and Greek-style Yogurt Sorbet. The Chocolate Budino Cake didn't do a thing for me. Maybe you have to be a chocoholic to really appreciate it. The Greek-style Yogurt Sorbet was good and lite. I could see myself ordering this. But the stand out was the Baklava. I was in heaven.


Dessert


Also for dessert we were served Tableside Frappe. This drink contains coffee, milk, and natural sugar served over ice. I'm not a coffee drinker so any opinion I would offer would be meaningless. But it was served nicely.


Tableside Frappe


Cat also offers her own wine label called Coranation. These include Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley, Chardonnay from the Russian River, and Pinot Noir, from the Sonoma Coast. All had nice bouquets and discernable flavors.

The afternoon ended with the servers, cooks, and Cat's mother taking to the floor and dancing around the tables while waving napkins. The mood was festive to say the least.


Dancing

Dancing

Dancing

Dancing


Cat Cora and Kouzzina are a nice addition to the Disney line-up of restaurants. I'm looking forward to coming back here and trying some new selections and some of the treats I learned about today.

For those of you who know little or nothing about Cat, here is a very brief synopsis of her career.


Cat Cora


No stranger to Disney Magic, Cora has hosted instructional cooking demonstrations for Disney Video on Demand and has been a featured chef at both the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival and Disney's California Food & Wine Festival at Disneyland.

It's no surprise Cat Cora has become a world renowned chef. Her culinary aspirations began at an early age, and by 15, she had developed a business plan for her own restaurant. In 2005, she made television history on Food Network's Iron Chef America as the first and only female Iron Chef, and in November 2006 Bon Appetit Magazine bestowed her with their Teacher of the Year Award, an award she calls, "the greatest recognition she could achieve as a chef." That month, she was also honored with another great culinary distinction when she was named Executive Chef of the magazine. With a new restaurant recently opened at Macy's South Coast Plaza and Kouzzina at Walt Disney World, Cat has brought a taste of her culinary influence to both coasts.

September 19, 2009

Magic Kingdom Skyway

After I published my blog about the demolition of the Tomorrowland Skyway Station, one of my readers wrote and asked me to write a blog about this defunct attraction. I don't usually take requests for articles, but I felt that this was timely subject matter and decided to go for it.

The first Disney Skyway opened at Disneyland on June 23, 1956. Walt was so taken by this mode of transportation that he signed an agreement to purchase this attraction from the Von Roll, Ltd. Company without giving any consideration as to where this ride would be located in his park. But Walt thought of the Skyway as more than just a ride. He thought of it as another mode of transportation that could be used to carry people across large parking lots and shopping centers. He wanted to use Disneyland to showcase this idea.

There is a legend that says that part of Walt's inspiration for Disney World came to him while riding the Disneyland Skyway. From the lofty height of sixty feet, he could see outside the park and onto the rush-hour traffic of the Santa Ana Freeway that skirted his property. He knew then that he needed more land so he could shield any future project from the outside world.

There were three Disney Skyways in total, the second opening at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971 (opening day) and the third at Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983 (also on opening day). All three offered one-way rides between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom's version had the distinction of being the only one that made a turn in the middle of the journey.

It is often reported, incorrectly, that the Magic Kingdom closed the Skyway due to the death of a custodial cast member working on the attraction. Although it is true that Raymond Barlow was accidentally killed while cleaning a narrow Skyway platform, this had nothing to do with the decision to shutter the ride. Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland had both closed their versions of this attraction before this death occurred. The decision to close all of the Skyways was strictly economical. These attractions were old and expensive to run and maintain. Also, they had low capacities. This made it harder and harder to justify on a "dollar spent per guest ride" basis. Combine this with the constant problem of teenagers spitting and throwing things on the guests below and it's not hard to understand why Disney said "Enough." The Magic Kingdom Skyway closed on November 9, 1999.

The Skyway was a perennial favorite of many people. Even though the line was often long, it was worth the wait once we were airborne and looking down on the many sights below. As you passed other gondolas, you would smile and wave to its passengers. And when you could see the terminus station come into view, you grew sad because you new your flight was almost over.

I have dug through my photo collection and pulled out my Skyway pictures. Please note, some of these pictures are old and of dubious quality. I have also included a video I took in October, 1986. It was shot using one of those old, large, "carry-on-your-shoulder" video cameras of the early 1980's. For many years, this film sat deteriorating on VHS tape until I finally copied it to a DVD. When I electronically extracted it from the DVD so I could share it with you, I lost additional quality. So please forgive this video.


The Fantasyland Station had a Swiss chalet design and yodeling could often be heard in the queue. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway Station


Leaving the station. (1972)


Fantasyland Skyway

Fantasyland Skyway


Here we see the Columbia Harbour House. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


The Mad Tea Party is the the lower left of the picture. (1972)


Fantasyland Skyway


Cinderella's Golden Carousel is dead ahead. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway

Fantasyland Skyway


Looking back at the Peter Pan attraction. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


Down below is Pinocchio Village Haus. (1975)


Fantasyland Skyway


Here is a very old Dumbo attraction -- before a major refurbishment. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway


An newer Dumbo and the 20,000 Leagues Lagoon. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea loading area. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


The Nautilus. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway


Tomorrowland Terrace. (1972)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Terrace and Cinderella Castle. (1972)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Grand Prix Raceway. (1975)


Tomorrowland Skyway

Tomorrowland Skyway


WEDway People Mover and Contemporary Hotel. (1983)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) and the Skyway. (1994-95)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Space Mountain and the Contemporary Hotel. (1975)


Tomorrowland Skyway


TTA and Astro Orbiter. (1994-95)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Skyway Station. (1989)


Tomorrowland Skyway Station


Here's my video of the Skyway shot in October, 1986.

September 22, 2009

Test Track - Epcot

I can't discuss Test Track without first talking about the early years of Epcot.

When the park opened on October 1, 1982, it was to be an "adult" park - a place where guests could learn about the challenges facing the world and how the companies involved with Epcot were trying to solve them. And while educating us, Disney would make this dry subject matter palatable and entertaining.

For those of you who visited Epcot soon after it opened, you might remember that Mickey, Donald, and none of their pals wandered the park. Disney felt that if guests wanted to experience the characters, they could go to the Magic Kingdom. However, parents with children felt differently and were vocal that their offspring were bored. Teenagers too, felt that Epcot offered them little to enjoy. Disney soon realized that they needed to make a few changes in order to appeal to a broader audience.

World of Motion, sponsored by General Motors, was one of the opening day attractions at Epcot. In many ways, this ride was similar in concept to Spaceship Earth. Both took guests back in time so they could witness a topic's transformation through the years. Spaceship Earth discussed communications in a serious manner, whereas World of Motion presented the story of transportation humorously.


World of Motion

World of Motion


The first thrill ride (if you can call it that) to come to Epcot was Maelstrom in July 1988. Located in the Norway Pavilion, this boat ride takes guests past a Viking encampment, through the land of trolls, and eventually into the present. Along the way, your craft reverses direction several times and then sails down a small waterfall. In reality, the sights on this voyage aren't any more engaging than those seen on the El Rio del Tiempo/Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico Pavilion, but the simple "thrills" of Maelstrom gives this ride a continuous line whereas the Gran Fiesta Tour is usually a "walk-on" attraction.


Maelstrom

El Rio del Tiempo


The next thrill ride to come to Epcot was Body Wars, opening in October 1989. Located in the Wonders of Life Pavilion, this attraction used the same motion simulators as the ever popular Star Tours, only this time, your craft was shrunk to the size of a blood cell so you could carry out a medical procedure inside the human body.


Body Wars


This attraction never achieved the success Disney had hoped for. Many guests who loved Star Tours, found themselves nauseated after Body War's five minute ride. Whether it was the icky subject matter or the fluid motion of the vehicle, who knows, but people got sick on this attraction. Long lines only occurred during the busiest times of the year. Disney still needed a "wow" factor in Epcot - something that would appeal to the thrill seekers and a younger more adventurous generation.

By the mid-nineties, World of Motion had lost much of its appeal. General Motors, the attraction's sponsor, had started signing one-year contracts (instead of five or ten) until something could be done to shake things up and invigorate the experience. However, it was important that any new attraction would still educate guests and tell a story. Being Epcot, a "serious" park, Disney wanted justification for any "thrill" they designed. With that in mind, the idea of demonstrating to the public all that went into testing an automobile was born. Soon after "Test Track" went from concept to green light. However, things did not sail smoothly from the drawing board to reality.

World of Motion closed its doors on January 2, 1996. It was estimated to take approximately 19 months to gut the WOM building and build Test Track. The first announced opening date for Test Track was to be in mid 1997. But constant changes to the initial designs added huge amounts of time to the testing process. Couple this with extreme tire and axel problems, complicated guest evacuation procedures, computer problems, and overly sensitive safety sensors, the opening was delayed time and time again. It took almost two years to resolve all of the problems. Test Track finally opened on March 17, 1999. However, breakdowns were still commonplace in the beginning and it could take up to an hour to reset everything and restart the ride when it broke down. Today, gremlins visit Test Track far less often and the reset process has been reduced significantly.


Test Track Entrance


Once Test Track opened, it set some records. The track is 5,246 feet long (2,600 feet being outside the building), making it Disney's longest attraction when it opened. California Screamin' at 6,000 feet beat Test Track when it opened in 2001. The People Mover/Rocket Rods at Disneyland has a longer track, but since these attractions are no longer operating, it takes them out of the mix. Also, at just shy of 65 miles per hour, Test Track is the fastest Disney attraction ever built. Expedition: Everest and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster both only reach a top speed of around 60 miles per hour.

In the design phase of Test Track, Imagineers spent many hours at real testing facilities and proving grounds, learning what an automobile goes through to become roadworthy. Much of what they learned is exhibited in the queue. Here, numerous bays display the various components of testing. One of the first exhibits presents a vintage automobile. The sign overhead describes the simple tests that these early cars were put through - nothing compared to the hundreds of grueling examinations a vehicle experiences today.


Old Time Testing


Engine, emission, and corrosion tests are just a few of the topics described along the queue. It is worth your while to read a couple of the signs as you inch your way along in line.


Engine Testing

Emission Testing

Corrosion Testing


Before boarding your test vehicle, you enter a briefing room. Here, you watch a short video describing the tests you and your car will be put through. The director of operations in this video (Bill McKim) is played by actor John Michael Higgins, best known for his roles in "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind." Note, when Epcot first opens each morning, the Briefing Room section of the attraction is bypassed to help alleviate the onslaught of people arriving at Test Track.


Test Track Briefing Room


On the back wall of the Briefing Room are a number of aerial photographs of "test tracks" around the world. There is even a picture of Epcot's proving grounds.


Testing Facility

Aerial View of Test Track


The ride puts your vehicle through a number of examinations. First, the Hill Climb Test is completed, followed by the Suspension Test that takes you over very bumpy surfaces. Next, demonstrations of how the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) functions and helps a vehicle come to a smooth stop. After that, your car is subjected to extreme cold, heat, and corrosive sprays in the Environmental Chamber. For the Road Handling Test, the car climbs a hill, making numerous switchback turns and narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. The Barrier Test is next followed by the High Speed Test, taking your car outside for a race with the wind.

Be sure to look for the test dummy wearing a Goofy hat.

I have created a short video of the experience.



Here are some interesting facts about Test Track.

* It takes 8.8 seconds to accelerate from 0-65 for the High Speed Test.
* Each vehicle was designed to last for approximately one million miles and travels about 50,000 miles in any given year.
* Each car has three on-board computers and several times the processing power of the Space Shuttle.
* There are 32 vehicles in total, but only 25-26 are on the track at any one time.
* Each car as a total of 22 wheels, although only four are seen by the guests.
* There are six braking systems on each car.
* Each vehicle completes 34 turns during the ride.
* The roadway that runs alongside of the building is banked at 50 degrees.
* There are 85 road signs along the route.
* A 100-degree shift in temperature occurs as your vehicle drives through extreme desert heat and then piercing arctic cold in the Environmental Chamber.
* The ride lasts approximately five and a half minutes.

After the ride, guests walk through a small mockup of an automotive assembly plant. It's here that you can make arrangements to purchase your onboard photo.


Photo Ordering Station


From the assembly plant, you enter the showroom. A number of GM cars are on display and you can browse to your heart's content without an annoying salesman bothering you. And if you do have questions, General Motors employees are on hand to answer any inquiries at the Information Center.


GM Showroom

GM Information Center


It's always fun to drool over the concept cars on exhibit.


Concept Car - Volt

Concept Car


Currently, there is a display that explains what a hybrid car is and how, by combining the best of electric motors and internal combustion engines, outstanding mileage can be achieved.


Hybrid Display


Of course, no attraction would be complete without a stroll through a gift shop. Here you'll find both Disney and GM branded merchandise with an automotive theme. This is also the spot where you can purchase your on-board photo.


Test Track Shop


Like all Disney thrill rides, there are some requirements that must be met before boarding. Children must be at least 40 inches tall to ride and expectant mothers should avoid this attraction. All others must be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure.


WARNING Sign


Test Track does offer FastPass. I would suggest picking up these puppies in the early morning. You don't want to have a return time in the late afternoon when you're all the way across the park in the France Pavilion.


FastPass Distribution


There have been rumors that GM will not sponsor the attraction in the future due to its financial problems and government loans. But nothing official has been announced at this time. But you can be sure that Disney will keep this perennial favorite running no matter what happens. Test Track is to Epcot what Space Mountain is to the Magic Kingdom. People want to experience and enjoy this exciting ride for many years to come.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Press Preview

The 14th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival kicks off on September 25th. To help get things started, Disney invited members of the press to preview some of the new and exciting taste-treats being served this year and to provide us with some interesting facts about the event. So when Deb Wills asked me if I'd like to represent Allears.net, I jumped at the chance to cover this gastronomic assignment.

The preview was hosted by Chef Jens Dahlmann, Executive Chef, Epcot Food & Beverage and took place in the kitchen located behind the World Showplace pavilion. World Showplace Pavilion is the exhibition area positioned between Canada and the United Kingdom.


Chef Jens Dahlmann


For those of you who haven't visited Disney World during this six-week festival, Epcot plays host to a culinary explosion of tastes. Surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon, twenty-seven kiosks are erected and dedicated to a number of international cuisines. Each station serves samples of that culture's best recipes (for a nominal fee -- credit cards accepted). The portions are just large enough to give you a nice sampling, but not too large as to fill you up. This allows you to "eat your way around the world."

In addition, daily wine and beer tastings are held around the lagoon. Also, a series of special culinary programs featuring a lineup of renowned winemakers, guest chefs, and speakers are available. Wine seminars and elegant dinners are also offered.

This is a hugely popular event that is attended by many locals from the Orlando area, but also by a large number of out-of-state visitors who plan their vacation around this happening.

Besides finding samples from some of your old Epcot friends like Japan, France, and Mexico, you'll also discover other countries represented like Greece, Poland, Chile, and India. This year, three new stations have been added, Thailand, Brazil, and a Dessert and Champagne booth.

Planning the Food & Wine Festival is a mammoth undertaking. Even while last year's event was taking place, Chef Jens was already making notes on how to improve this year's celebration of food. Serious menu planning and recipe creation began earnestly in March and needed to be completed by May in order to make this year's September deadline. In all, seventy new items were created for the 2009 event. Or in other words, 70% of the menus were recreated. But for those of you who love the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, don't worry. This most popular dish of the festival is still available.

When Chef Jens was asked if the food was "dumbed down" for picky eaters, he gave a definite no. He went on to say that he makes every effort to be authentic and respectful to each culture. In addition, whenever a recipe called for it, the dish would be created at the actual kiosk to preserve freshness. He also hoped that his selections would have aromas enticing enough to draw us into kiosk after kiosk.

Of the 27 food stations, 21 are operated by Disney and 6 are operated by participants. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of additional man power to put on an event like this. Between the International Food Fair and the Party of the Senses (to be discussed later), 400 additional cast members are needed. Disney uses 77 of their own chefs and 117 guest chefs to make it all happen.

In the past, Disney printed one guide book for the Food & Wine Festival. Within its forty pages, you could find detailed information about the entertainment offered and the many seminars being conducted. But it was discovered that most guests only wanted to know the times and places and weren't all that concerned with the details. So this year, a second, weekly handout is available that only provides the essential information about the event. So try to be "green" and select the brochure that's right for you.


Festival Guide

Weekly Guide


Chef Jens provided us with eight samples of some of this year's new offerings. If I tried to describe each dish individually, I'd quickly run out of synonyms for delicious. Just let it be said that all of us at this tasting were gushing over each selection. Below I give you the item's name and the kiosk where it can be found.

Shrimp Stew with Coconut and Lime garnished with Popcorn - Rio de Janiero, Brazil


Shrimp Stew with Coconut and Lime


Chicken and Coconut Soup with Mushrooms - Bangkok, Thailand


Chicken and Coconut Soup with Mushrooms


Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie - Cork, Ireland


Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie


Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki - Athens, Greece


Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki


Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney - Wellington, New Zealand


Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney


Seared Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Puree and Mango Barbeque Sauce - Cape Town, South Africa


Seared Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Puree


Grand Marnier Parfait with Orange Coulis - Desserts & Champagnes


Grand Marnier Parfait with Orange Coulis


Warm Chocolate Lave Cake with Bailey's Ganache - Cork, Ireland


Warm Chocolate Lave Cake


Each Saturday evening during the Food & Wine Festival, Party of the Senses takes place in the World Showplace Pavilion. From 6:30 to 9:00, up to eleven-hundred guests partake in a tribute to gastronomic pleasures. Eighteen, four-sided booths offer a vast array of food and wine - all included in one price of $135. I know some of you are taking a deep gulp at that price, but this is a special event and Disney doesn't skimp. And if the food isn't enough to convince you to attend, live entertainment is also on hand.

This year, a couple of things are different. First, each party will have a different theme as listed below:

September 26 - Spanish Cuisine
October 3 - Comfort Food with a Twist
October 10 - South American Cuisine
October 17 - Classical Cuisine
October 24 - Asian Cuisine
October 31 - The Fall Harvest
November 7 - Indian Cuisine

Also new this year at the Party of the Senses is the "Wine View Lounge." For an additional $75pp, an exclusive area is set up within the World Showplace Pavilion where you will have a reserved table for your party. In addition, a premium bar, an artisan cheese station, and white-glove service will enhance your evening. Note, the Wine View Lounge is already sold out for five of the seven events so you might want to start thinking ahead to next year. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378) for more information and reservations.

Even if you're not a foodie, you should think seriously about giving the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival a try. If nothing else, strolling the World Showcase promenade is a treat during this time of year. And it's nobody's fault but your own if you go away hungry.

September 27, 2009

Bistro de Paris - Epcot

I am often asked what my favorite restaurant is at Walt Disney World. But that's a difficult question to answer. There are so many categories from which to choose. There are casual eateries, fine dining, and counter service. And it would all depend on my mood. But if someone were to tell me they wanted to have an elegant meal, within a theme park, I would have no problem giving them a recommendation, the Bistro de Paris.

Located on the second floor of the France Pavilion overlooking Epcot's World Showcase, the entrance can be found on the back side of Les Chef's de France restaurant. Open only for dinner, this eatery was established by Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge and the late Gaston Lenotre and serves creative variations on traditional French meals.


France Pavilion - Bistro de Paris

Bistro de Paris Entrance


The antechamber of the restaurant is simple, but elegant. A number of satin covered chairs and flower bouquets create a graceful atmosphere. The curving staircase is inviting and makes you wonder what is waiting for you at the top.


Bistro de Paris Antechamber

Bistro de Paris Staircase


When your reservation time arrives, a host or hostess will greet you on the landing and escort you up the stairs and to the dining room. An elevator is available for those who wish to ride.


Bistro de Paris Host


The Bistro de Paris is elegantly decorated without being pretentious. Its style captures the sophistication and romance of turn-of-the-20th century Paris. Cream colored walls and maroon upholstery are accented by mirrors, brass sconces, and milk-glass chandeliers. And unlike its downstairs counterpart, Les Chefs de France, the tables at the Bistro de Paris are spaciously arranged allowing diners a more intimate atmosphere.


Dining Room

Dining Room


A number of tables are situated next to the windows, affording guests a wonderful view of the promenade below and other World Showcase countries in the distance. Most of these are tables-for-two and are seated on a first come, first served basis.


Window Table


The tables are set quite simply as appropriate flatware will be brought with each course. The napkins are folded to represent a gentleman's coat.


Table Setting


I dined with my friend Donald and a long-lost out-of-town acquaintance that got back in touch with me after recognizing my name and picture on Allears. Kim was an Imagineer many years ago and played a part in the creation of the Bistro de Paris. We were seated at one of the few tables-for-four next to a window. From here we could see the Test Track building.


View from the Window


The Bistro de Paris cast members are from France and are working at Epcot as part of a cultural exchange program. This adds greatly to the authenticity of the restaurant and it's a lot of fun to engage them in conversation about their country.

A full bar is available and a drink is the perfect way to start your meal and slow down the pace of the evening. The Bistro de Paris is a special place and you don't want to rush the experience. While waiting for your waiter to return with your cocktails, another server approaches the table and offers everyone bread, which is served from a wicker basket. The rolls have a crispy crust and a delightfully chewy center. It would be so easy for me to make a meal of bread and butter alone, but what a waste that would be with so many taste-treats yet to come.


Bread & Butter Service


The first course is a complimentary hors d'oeuvre. This is a pleasant surprise that makes you feel all the more welcome. This appetizer consisted of a puff-pastry filled with a blending of crab and lobster, topped with cucumber slices and a cherry tomato. It was yummy.


Crab & Lobster Appetizer


The Bistro de Paris has an impressive wine list and features French selections from the famed regions of Loire Valley, Alsace, Southern France, Bourgogne, and Bordeaux. The wines also have impressive prices, starting in the $50 range and going all the way up to $1,200. I selected a Pouilly-Fuissé ($59) which is a dry white wine made from the Chardonnay grape. It is pale and refreshing with a delicate flavor.


Wine Service


The Bistro offers an à la carte menu and a prix fix tasting menu consisting of 3-courses, and is available with or without wine pairings. Since I was writing a review, we all tried to order different items so I could present a larger array of descriptions to you. And don't worry; the menu is presented in both French and English.

For an appetizer, Donald ordered the Chilled Tomato Soup with Cilantro and Tapenade Toast ($12). I took a taste and I'd have to say it reminded me a little bit of Gazpacho. I thought it was okay, but I think there are better choices available. However, the Tapenade Toast was quite good.


Chilled Tomato Soup with Cilantro and Tapenade Toast


I ordered the Warm Goat Cheese with Basil and Sundried Tomatoes in a Crisp Shell accompanied by Baby Mixed Greens and Balsamic Vinegar ($13). The goat cheese was flavorful and nicely presented. I would have to say the mixed greens were more of a garnish than an offering, but the balsamic dressing was tasty. Overall, I was pleased.


Warm Goat Cheese with Basil and Sundried Tomatoes in a Crisp Shell


Kim ordered the Smoked Salmon Pastrami, Arugula & Mache Salad with Tarragon, Buckwheat Blinis, and Horseradish & Caviar Cream ($14). He definitely won first prize for his selection. The salmon had a smoky flavor, but you could make out pastrami nuances. And a larger serving of the buckwheat blinis could be an appetizer all by itself. Both were delicious and the presentation was outstanding.


Smoked Salmon Pastrami, Arugula & Mache Salad with Tarragon, Buckwheat Blinis, and Horseradish & Caviar Cream


For an entrée, Donald ordered Seared Sea Scallops and Stewed Fennel with Seafood Safranned Jus ($32). And as you would expect, the scallops were extremely tender and not the least bit rubbery. I took a bite and liked what I tasted - the delicate flavor of the scallops was enhanced by the grilling and safranned jus. Once again the presentation was lovely.


Seared Sea Scallops and Stewed Fennel with Seafood Safranned Jus


I ordered the Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Mushrooms with Forestiere Sauce and Pasta Gratin with Truffles. I have to admit, I was somewhat disappointed with the serving size. Each of the two pork medallions only contained about two bites (maybe three very small bites). However, those four bites were quite enjoyable. The pasta gratin reminded me of very upscale mac-and-cheese. It was okay. Note, all three of my selections (appetizer, entrée, and dessert) were part of the prix fix menu ($44) so it's possible that my serving size would have been larger if I had ordered it à la carte ($30). But I don't know this.


Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Mushrooms with Forestiere Sauce and Pasta Gratin with Truffles


Kim ordered the Grill Beef Tenderloin, Beef Parmentier with Peppercorn Sauce and Asparagus ($38). I felt his serving size was much more reasonable. Kim let me sample his beef and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious. This was an excellent cut of beef that had been prepared perfectly. I wish I had ordered it. My only negative comment is that Kim ordered it "medium." I felt it arrived at the table somewhere between rare and medium-rare. Now this was perfect for me, but that's not the way Kim ordered it.


Grill Beef Tenderloin, Beef Parmentier with Peppercorn Sauce and Asparagus


Now comes the best part of any fine meal, the dessert.


Dessert Menu


Donald ordered the Hazelnut Frozen Parfait with Meringue with Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream. Being a chocolate ice cream lover, he was hoping for a larger scoop, but other than that, he was happy with his choice. He felt that the light chocolate balanced nicely with the delicate flavors of the Hazelnut Parfait.


Hazelnut Frozen Parfait with Meringue with Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream


I selected the Warm Chocolate and Almond Cake, Crispy Feuilletine and White Chocolate Mousse, Praline Sauce. I didn't realize until I cut into my cake that in essence, this is the Bistro de Paris' version of a Chocolate Lava Cake. Thick, gooey chocolate oozed out of the creation and onto the plate. The dark brown liquid was rich beyond belief and oh so wonderful. Donald, the chocoholic, was envious of my selection.


Bistro de Paris' version of a Chocolate Lava Cake


And finally, Kim ordered the Warm and Frozen Grand-Marnier Soufflé. After his dessert was placed in front of him, our waiter cut into the warm soufflé and poured in the cream sauce. It looked magnificent. I tried both the warm and the cold soufflés and I would have been extremely pleased with either one as my dessert, but here you get both. Once again, I think Kim made the best choice of the three of us. All desserts are $11.


Warm and Frozen Grand-Marnier Soufflé


The Bistro de Paris is a fine dining establishment, but it's not meant to intimidate anyone. If you've always wanted to try a French restaurant, but were a little nervous about it, think about eating here. This is Disney. They're not going to make you feel uncomfortable.

Our meal took two hours and you should plan on at least an hour and a half - but probably more.

The Bistro de Paris is NOT on the Disney Dining Plan.

Also, being inside a theme park, they have a more relaxed dress code than you would expect for an establishment of this caliber. However, it is more restrictive than other Epcot restaurants.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.

Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

Not permitted in dining room: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs, or torn clothing. While T-shirts are now allowed, the policy remains that T-shirts with offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.

Although children are welcome at the Bistro de Paris, there is no children's menu - and the adult portions are not large enough to share.

To make reservations, book online or call (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463 up to 90 days prior to your visit. Beginning October 27, 2009, the dining reservations window will move from 90 to 180 days before your scheduled arrival. Be sure to plan ahead.

Return to Blog Central

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2009 is the previous archive.

October 2009 is the next archive.

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