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September 2010 Archives

September 1, 2010

New Space Mountain Sound System

Any of you who read my blogs on a regular basis know that I'm generally pretty positive when it comes to Disney. I have my occasional complaint, but overall, I'm generous with my praise. But today I cannot give Disney glowing accolades for the new sound system they installed on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

Before I go any further, let me give you a little background. Last year, Space Mountain was closed for an extensive refurbishment. During this time, there were a lot of rumors and speculation that Disney would be modifying the mountain's ride vehicles by adding speakers to each car. People were hoping that the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain would offer the same audio experience as can be had at Disneyland's Space Mountain and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, this did not come to pass. When the Magic Kingdom's version of this perennial favorite reopened, it was music-less. This disappointed many fans and they let their dissatisfaction be known on a number of websites.

Two days ago (August 30, 2010), Disney unexpectedly announced that they had added a new sound system to Space Mountain. In a general announcement they said it wasn't added during the extensive rehab in order to bring the ride back on line as quickly as possible. They also said they did not retrofit the ride vehicles because they wanted the experience to be different than that of Disneyland's Space Mountain. Instead, they strategically placed 60 speakers throughout the mountain. So today I headed to the Magic Kingdom to experience this new addition.


Space Mountain


I'm sorry to say, I was not impressed. Unlike Disneyland's version and Rock 'N' Roller coaster where each car hears a complete piece of music from beginning to end during the ride, at the Magic Kingdom, the music is just piped into the entire structure. And the volume grew and decreased as I road closer and further from the various speakers. And to be honest, if I wasn't specifically listening for the music, I probably would never have noticed it. And I suspect this will be the case with most visitors. The music is more of a mood enhancer than a special effect. If I had to grade this new feature, I'd give it a C- because I'm generous when it comes to Disney.

Bottom line" The ride is better with the music than without, but I doubt that most people will ever notice it's been added.



September 5, 2010

Disney Quest

Hi all,

Before I discuss Disney Quest, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



Disney Quest is an indoor amusement park offering interactive games, cutting-edge technology, virtual reality, and 3D encounters. It opened at Downtown Disney on June 19, 1998 and was to be the first of many such venues to be built in major cities across the country. The idea was to bring Disney magic to people who couldn't visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World on a regular basis.


Downtown Disney - Disney Quest


The concept called for modular construction within each building so that new rides and attractions could be continually added and updated. In addition, having multiple locations would greatly reduce research, development, and construction costs as the same game(s) could be duplicated multiple times.

A second Disney Quest opened in Chicago a year later on June 6, 1999. However, attendance ebbed and flowed and never met expectations. The venue closed on September 4, 2001. Construction that had already begun on a Philadelphia branch was halted and plans for a Disneyland and Toronto location were abandoned. This next picture is an artist's rendering of the Chicago location.


Artist's Rendering of Chicago Disney Quest


Original plans called for attractions and rides to be replaced or updated every two to three years, but when the multi-location concept died, so did this strategy. For the most part, the Florida Disney Quest is unchanged since opening day. A number of rumors have circulated indicating that this venue will close sometime soon. One announcement suggested that an ESPN Zone would take over this space. But at the moment, no firm plans have been made public.

Disney Quest is located at the Westside section of Downtown Disney, across the way from Cirque du Soleil. Tickets can be purchased at windows to the left of the main doors. Prices are $43.67 (Ages 10+), $37.28 (Ages 3-9), and children under 3 are free. This price entitles the user to unlimited use of all games and attractions. Children under 10 must be accompanied by someone 16 or older. No strollers are allowed inside.

Hours of operation are as follows:
Sunday - Thursday: 11:30am to 10:00pm
Friday - Saturday: 11:30am to 11:00pm

Disney Quest is housed in a five-story, windowless building. When you enter the rotunda on the ground floor, be sure to notice the columns topped with the heads of various Disney characters. And beneath a sky-painted dome is a stylized Mickey Mouse head surrounded by the immortal Mary Poppins word, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS. Don't forget to pick up a guide map in this area.


Disney Quest Exterior

Disney Quest Lobby


Past the turnstiles are two magic elevators or "Cybrolators" waiting to whisk you off to your adventure. During your ride, the Genie from Aladdin entertains you with a variety of antics. A short time later you will be deposited on the third floor Venture Port where the fun begins. Traditional elevators are available to carry you from floor to floor, but these are often slow. It's much more expedient to take the stairs.


Turnstiles

Cybrolators


I have to admit, I'm not the best person to review Disney Quest. Video games and virtual reality never held much appeal for me. Ms. Pac-Man is the only game that ever retained my interest for more than a few minutes. But I appreciate Disney Quest and understand its appeal to those of you with better hand-eye coordination than myself. For this article I'm going to start on the top floor (5) and work my way down, giving you a brief highlight of some of the more compelling attractions and games.

Let's start out with "Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter." This attraction is based on the now-extinct Magic Kingdom attraction, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Here, four intrepid astronauts are seated inside a rescue vehicle with a mission to save human colonists. One player is the designated pilot and maneuvers the spacecraft while the other three shoot at hostile aliens. A 360 degree screen surrounds the team.


Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter


"Ride the Comix" is located on both the fifth and fourth floors and is one of the most visually compelling attractions for non-players. Here, four space craft jut out over an open expanse as if they were getting ready to blast off for a flight into deep space. In this game, teams of six are instructed by Mistress Khan on the subtleties of a laser sword and then sent off to do battle with super villains. Players wear virtual reality helmets and are a kick to watch as they swing their swords at seemingly invisible prey.


Ride the Comix

Ride the Comix


The main eatery for Disney Quest is also located on the fifth floor and is called Food Quest. Hot dogs, hamburgers, wraps, pizza, and salads are available. The hours are 12 noon to 9pm. A number of tables are available nearby. For many years, this venue was run by The Cheesecake Factory, however, when their contract expired they opted not to renew and Disney took over operation of this site.


Food Quest

Food Quest


On the fourth floor is "Sports Arena Arcade" where you compete with family and friends on sports-themed video games. Also on this floor are a number of games geared specifically for kids ages 2-7.

Wonderland Café, also on the fourth floor, is open from 2pm to 9pm and offers grab-and-go items, desserts, beverages, and snacks. Beer and wine can be purchased here as well.

On the third floor we find "Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam." In this game, twelve players stand on movable platform joysticks and use their bodies to maneuver their ball (projected on an overhead screen) around a playing field. There's a 48-inch height requirement for this attraction.


Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam

Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam


"Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters" is an updated version of the classic bumper cars attraction. In this game, two people team up. One person drives the vehicle while the other shoots asteroids (rubber balls) at the other cars. To gather more asteroids, the driver maneuvers the vehicle over the balls. This sucks them into the cabin where they can be loaded into a cannon and shot. When a vehicle is hit, it spins uncontrollably for several seconds before control can be regained. There's a 51 inch height requirement for this attraction.


Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters

Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters


On the second floor is "Animation Academy." At this attraction, guests sit at Mickey inspired desks complete with electronic drawing pads. A cast member directs you step by step and teaches you to draw a Disney character like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Winnie the Pooh. You'll be surprised at how well you do when given the proper guidance. Session times are posted on a nearby board. This is a very popular attraction so arrive early. Animation Academy is similar to an attraction by the same name found at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Animation Academy


Also on the second floor is "Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride." Wearing virtual reality helmets, guests fly through the alleys and streets of Agrabah on a magic carpet. During the flight they collect gems and search to find the magic lamp and save the Genie hidden in the Cave of Wonders.


Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride

Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride


One of the biggest draws at Disney Quest is "CyberSpace Mountain." With the help of Bill Nye the Science Guy, guests design their own roller coaster with the aid of a touch-screen computer. Make it as tame or as exciting as you like. When you're done, your design will be downloaded into a two-person motion simulator which has the ability to pitch, yaw, tilt, and spin. Climb aboard and experience your creation first hand. For those of you with queasy stomachs, pay heed. Depending on your design, you may go upside down several times. If you find that you really enjoyed your ride, a video can be purchased of your design complete with footage of you and your companion. Guests must be 51 inches to ride.


CyberSpace Mountain

CyberSpace Mountain


On the first floor is a great family adventure, "Virtual Jungle Cruise." Guests sit in a rubber raft and use real paddles (with sensors) to maneuver their craft down a projected prehistoric river. Along the way they encounter a number of obstacles including a dinosaur or two. As the water rages, so does your raft, pitching this way and that. And to add a touch of realism, you just might get a splash of water in the face.


Virtual Jungle Cruise

Virtual Jungle Cruise


On every floor are dozens and dozens of classic video games like Asteroids, Tron, and Pac-Man. Group games, driving games, sports games and skill games are just waiting for you. And they're all included in the price of admission. If the bad guy kills you off in the first thirty seconds of a game, just push the replay button and start all over again. No digging in your pocket for quarters. But try to be mindful of others waiting to play your machine.


Various Games

Various Games

Various Games


Disney Quest is designed for the entire family. Even though I have not highlighted the "little kids" games, there are a number of activities for young children. But I'd be the first to admit, this venue is best suited for tweens to those in their mid-twenties. What I might suggest is to drop this age bracket off at Disney Quest, then mom and dad can go shopping and enjoy one of the fine restaurants at Downtown Disney.

To get a better idea of what Disney Quest is all about, check out my five and a half minute video.

Enjoy.




September 11, 2010

Pecos Bill – Tall Tale Inn and Café

Hi all,

Before I discuss Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


Many fairytales have become so associated with Disney that it's hard to imagine that they ever existed before the animators brought them to life. Ask anyone the names of the seven dwarfs and they'll struggle to recall Grumpy, Dopey, Doc, Sleepy, and forget the other three. But as we know, it was the Grimm Brothers that first took this folktale and publicize the story of Snow White back in 1812. It's interesting to note, Walt was not the first to give the dwarfs names. This actually occurred in a 1912 Broadway play when author Jessie Graham White came up with his own set of monikers for this band of men. And Walt was not the first to make a movie about this sweet heroine and her protectors. This occurred in 1902 when a silent film was produced by Siegmund Lubin. And other Snow White films were made before and after Disney's 1937 masterpiece debuted. Yet it's Disney's version that we remember.

Pecos Bill has a similar history. Folktales circulated for years about the roughest, toughest cowboy that ever lived. It was Edward O'Reilly who first published an adventure of Bill's in a 1916 edition of "The Century Magazine." Later, a number of his exploits were collected and reprinted in a 1923 book titled "Saga of Pecos Bill." As time went by, other writers added new feats of daring-do to Bill's credit. Between 1929 and 1938, Edward "Tex" O'Reilly and Jack A Warren co-authored a cartoon strip about Bill that was published in "The Sun." But it was Walt who created the character of Pecos Bill that sticks in our brains.

On May 27, 1948, "Melody Time" opened in theaters. This collection of seven "shorts" contained a number of stories including the legend of Johnny Appleseed and the tale of Little Toot. The movie ended with a rip-snorting finale of Pecos Bill's adventures sung to us by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.


Melody Time Poster


It's interesting to note, when the DVD of "Melody Time" was released on June 6, 2000, the cigarette that Bill smoked throughout the segment, and an entire verse from the song which talks about smoking, had been electronically removed.


Pecos Bill with Cigarette

Pecos Bill without Cigareet


Pecos Bill is remembered at the Magic Kingdom with his own restaurant in Frontierland, Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café. Its main entrance is located at the far end of town and is housed within a saloon facade. However, this restaurant uses several styles of architecture as the building rounds the corner. Classic Western clapboard construction gives way to that of adobe used in the American Southwest. This was necessary so that the transition between Frontierland and Adventureland would be seamless to the guests as they pass from one land to the next.


Tall Tale Inn and Café Front Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and Café Side Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and Café Back Entrance


Tall Tale Inn and Café is a counter service establishment that serves burgers, wraps, salads, and BBQ sandwiches. This eatery opens at 10:30am and becomes very busy by 11:30am. If you want to avoid crowds, it's best to arrive early. This is also one of the few counter service restaurants that allows guests to place their order with a cast member or via a computer terminal.


Counter Area

Computer Ordering Station


I actually have a love-hate relationship with one of the features in this restaurant, the topping bar. My "love" is generated by the fact that I can garnish my burger, sandwich, and taco salad with all the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, cheese, and peppers that I like. And I especially like the freshly sautéed onions and mushrooms that are cooked right before my eyes. But I "hate" the crowds this station generates. It can become maddening, jockeying for position as I move from topping to topping - which is why I always arrive early if I'm planning on making Pecos Bill's my lunchtime destination. But in the end, it's worth the hassle.


Topping Bar

Toppings

Grill


There are several seating areas in the restaurant. One section is themed like the old west while another is modeled after a Mexican patio. Outdoor tables are also available and a pleasant place to dine when the weather is good.


Western Seating

Western Seating

Mexican Seating

Outdoor Seating


If all of the indoor tables are occupied at Pecos Bill's, there is a hallway that leads to the dining rooms of El Pirata y el Perico located in Adventureland. You can usually find empty tables in this area.


El Pirata y el Perico Seating


The restaurant's namesake is prominently displayed above a rock fireplace and the legend of this establishment can be found written on a nearby piece of rawhide.


Fireplace with Bill's Picture

Rawhide Legend


Since I'm pretty sure none of you have ever taken the time to read it, I'll present it for you here. And if you're not in the mood to read the entire tale, then just read the second paragraph.

Considered by many as the meanest, toughest, roughest cowboy of them all, Pecos Bill has been credited for inventing all things western, from rodeos to cowboy dancing, to spurs, hats and lassos. He can draw faster, shoot straighter and ride a horse harder than any man alive. Unfortunately, we don't know when and where he was born, just that he was raised by coyotes and that his name comes from the river in Texas. Over the years, Pecos Bill along with his trusty horse, Widowmaker, have made quite a name for themselves forging new trails and taming others. Legend tells us several tall tales, like the time Pecos Bill jumped on a powerful twister and road it like a bucking bronco. Then there was the time when Pecos Bill dug out a path to create the Rio Grande river during a severe drought that hit his beloved Texas. And then there was the day Pecos Bill was so bored he took his handy six-shooter and shot out all of the stars in the sky except for one. That's why they call Texas the "Lone Star State."

In 1878, with the encouragement of his friends, Pecos Bill decided to open his own watering hole, a restaurant whose motto very much reflects its one-of-a-kind owner. "The tastiest eats and treats this side of the Rio Grande." Pecos Bill called it the Tall Tale Inn and Café and it quickly became a popular hangout for some of his legendary friends. As time went by, it became a tradition when each friend paid a visit they would leave something behind for Pecos Bill to remember them by. As you can see from the articles and artifacts that don the walls, many of which carry inscriptions, Pecos Bill had some mighty impressive friends. Seems that every trail eventually led to the Tall Tale Inn and Café.

If you pay attention, you'll notice the building is dated 1878, the year Bill opened Tall Tale Inn and Café.


Building Date


Also, if you check the restaurant walls, you discover the objects left behind by Bill's many friends. Each artifact has been carefully displayed and is accompanied with the donor's name engraved on a nameplate. Pictured here are Johnny Appleseed's pot-hat, Kit Carson's scouting tools, and Davy Crocket's satchel and powder horn.


Johnny Appleseed's Pot-Hat

Kit Carson's Scouting Tools

Davy Crocket's Satchel and Powder Keg


I especially like the artifacts displayed in the next picture. If you notice, the nameplate is intentionally left blank. If you don't get the joke, think about it.


Mystery Friend


While you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out some of the signs that are posted on the outside walls of the Frontierland buildings. Some are quite clever. I especially like this one.


Frontierland Sign


So there you have the story of Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café. Like everything at Disney, it's teeming with details if you take the time to look.


September 15, 2010

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2010

Hi all,

Before I discuss Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



This is my third year in a row to blog about Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP). I always attend on the first night (this year, September 14) so I can let you know what's new and what's changed. But the reality of the situation is this; MNSSHP does not vary too much from year to year. This makes it difficult for me to present you with new, earth-shattering information. It's always my objective to make my blogs as entertaining as possible - and hopefully you will find this article enjoyable. But if you're a regular reader of mine, you might notice that much of what I present here is very similar to my previous year's posts. So if you've been to this event before and are familiar with my work, think of this blog as a walk down memory lane. However, if you've never been to MNSSHP, then this blog will be chock-full of useful information.

For many years, Universal Studios featured Halloween Horror Nights. This was a separate, ticketed event and the park was transformed each evening from its regular theming into a frightening ghost town. It was marketed toward teenagers and young adults and the idea was to truly scare their guests with monsters, vampires, werewolves, and other terrifying surprises.


Universal Advertisement


In response, Disney started their own Halloween party. But since they cater to a more diverse age group, Disney realized that their gathering would need to be more tame than Universal's. Thus was born, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. All you have to do is look at Universal's advertisement (above) and compare it to Disney's (below) to realize these two very popular events are marketed toward different audiences.


Disney Advertisement


On given nights during the months of September and October, extra theming is added to the Magic Kingdom and it is transformed into a playful Halloween experience, suitable for ALL ages. This is a separate, ticketed event and admission can be purchased at any of the Guest Relations windows, theme park ticket booths, or online.


Mickey as a Ghost


Here are the dates for this year's event:

September 14, 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30
October 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, and 31
November 1

Note, these parties have a cap on how many people may attend each night. On most evenings, you'll be able to experience a relatively hassle free party. However, the closer you get to Halloween, and especially on the big night itself, the park can be busier than you might expect for a "private party."

Prices for MNSSHP are as follows (all prices listed include tax):

Advance Purchase: $57.46 for adults 10 and older / $51.07 for ages 3-9*

Passholder and DVC Member Discounts: $53.20 / $46.81*

Day of Event (if still available): $63.85 /$57.46

*Not available October 29 and 31. Those two dates are priced at a premium: $69.17 (ages 10 and up) and $62.78 (ages 3-9), tax included.


Party Sign at the TTC


This year, the monorails get into the spirit with new holiday decorations.


Monorail


The party officially runs from 7pm - 12 midnight, however, guests can enter the Magic Kingdom at 4pm with their MNSSHP ticket. Upon entering, you will be given a wrist band and a trick-or-treat bag.


Wrist Band

Trick-Or-Treat Bag


If for some reason you didn't receive a wristband and/or trick-or-treat bag when you entered the park, these can be picked up at Stitch's Great Escape located in Tomorrowland. Here, a number of Halloween clad cast members will be happy to help you.


Stitch's Great Escape

Halloween Clad Cast Members


At precisely 7pm, cast members make a sweep of the entire park and politely, but firmly ask anyone not wearing a wrist band to leave the park.

For the last two years, I have received a number of letters from readers complaining that Disney does not remove all of the "day" guests from the park -- and I'm at a loss on how to respond to your comments. All I can tell you is that Disney does the best they can. If people want to cheat the system, they're going to cheat the system. My only suggestion is to complain at City Hall if this is truly interfering with your enjoyment of the events. I cannot help you with is situation. Please note, if you send me a comment that contains references to this situation, I will either delete the reference or not publish your comment at all.

If you find you're in the park on a party night and don't have a ticket to MNSSHP, but want to honestly partake in the events, you can buy a ticket at City Hall if the party is not sold out.


City Hall


Although some decorations and exhibits are not displayed until the party begins, others are on exhibit for all of September and October. In Town Square you'll find some of your old friends waiting to delight you.


Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow


In years past, I have highlighted some of the theme-specific pumpkins associated with shops like Casey's Corner and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. And you should definitely check these out. But this year I'm going to show you some of the silly and scary pumpkins that line the balconies and window sills of Main Street.


Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins


Don't forget to check out the Mickey adorned light posts.


Mickey Lamppost


During the first few hours after 4pm, a number of cast members line Main Street with clever signs, welcoming you to the night.


Welcome Signs


Around the Hub are a few more Halloween favorites and after the sun sets, lights may play tricks on your eyes.


2010MNSSHP19.jpg

The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations

Lights

Lights


Normally, guests over the age of nine are not allowed to wear costumes in the Magic Kingdom, but this rule is waved for this event. Many children and a fair number of adults dress for the occasion. Here are a few simple rules to follow when designing your costume:

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

Adult guests 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.


Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume


This fan of Disney and Halloween decorated her ECV as her favorite Magic Kingdom attraction, a Jungle Cruise boat.


Jungle Cruise EVC


Since dressing in costume is a big part of the event, you might want to consider making reservations at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or The Pirates League for a child makeover. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique accepts their last reservation at 7:30pm and The Pirates League is open until 8pm. However, I would suggest making an earlier reservation so your child can thoroughly enjoy the party in princess or pirate garb.


Pirates League

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique


Halloween merchandise is readily available at many stores.


Halloween merchandise


Candy is generously distributed at a number of locations throughout the park. Just look for the Goofy's Candy Co. sign. Besides some inexpensive lollypops, name-brand treats are also dispensed like, Oh Henry, Snickers, Tootsie Roll, Skittles, and SweetTarts. Note, these are the miniature versions, like the ones you'd buy to give out from your own home. The selection of candy is similar at all locations.


Goofy's Candy Company

Candy Distribution

Halloween Candy


The cast members working the Haunted Mansion also get a makeover. Besides their regular, somber costume, their faces are made up to look ghoulish. Also, a "spirit from beyond" takes center stage on the lawn of the mansion and entertains guests with wonderful stories of her life, both living and dead. Many let others pass them in line so they can stand longer and listen to her tales. To add to the creepiness, the gravestones are given a spooky look with the addition of low lying fog.


Haunted Mansion Costume

Haunted Mansion Spirit


There are a couple of Character Dance Parties held during MNSSHP. One at the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland and another at Stitch's Club 626 in Tomorrowland. These venues do not offer the standard photo op. Here, the kids can actually dance and mingle with some of their favorite characters.


Stitch

Pluto

Jessie

Woody


Character Meet-and-Greets are numerous so it's easy to get pictures with some of your favorite Disney friends as you've never seen them before. In Fantasyland, you can have your picture taken in front of Cinderella's glass coach. I even succumbed to the festivities and allowed myself to be photographed with Alice.


Alice and Jack

Donald and Daisy

Baloo and Guest

Timon

Wicked Witch

Seven Dwarfs

Cinderella's Coach


Presented on the Castle stage is the Villain's Mix and Mingle show. Here, some of Disney's greatest bad-guys and gals dance and rant and try to impress you with their evilness. This show is presented at 7:45, 8:50, 10:05, and 11:15. I shot a seven minute video of a portion of this show.



I think most people would agree that Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade is the highlight of the evening. Shown twice each night (8:15 & 10:30), this spectacle is a hoot. Be sure to find your viewing spot by the announced beginning time as the Headless Horseman makes a mad dash along the parade route to the cheers of the crowd. If you're not there in time, you miss him. Also note, the second parade is significantly less crowded. If you're planning on staying late, skip the first parade and enjoy the park.

The beginning of the parade starts off tame enough with some of the not-so-scary characters, but then the villains take over for a haunting good time. Toward the end of the parade, several Goofy's Candy Company carts stroll by and a number of his minions pass out treats to the crowd. I filmed the entire parade and it can be seen here.



At 9:30, a special fireworks show called Happy HalloWishes is presented. A Ghost Host introduces villain after villain and the castle is illuminated appropriately while color coordinated fireworks burst overhead. Once again, I filmed the entire show for your enjoyment.



Not all of the rides and restaurants are open for this event. But since Disney caps the attendance at a reasonable number, it is rarely crowded and lines are usually short to non-existent. Here is a list of the OPEN rides and attractions for MNSSHP:

Swiss Family Treehouse
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Splash Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Haunted Mansion
Hall of Presidents
Peter Pan's Flight
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Snow White's Scary Adventures
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tomorrowland Speedway
Astro Orbiter
Space Mountain
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Stitch's Great Escape
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor (closes at 10pm)
The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm

To see the MNSSHP handout front cover, click here.
To see the MNSSHP handout back cover, click here.
To see the MNSSHP map, click here.

I enjoyed MNSSHP. However, I am an annual pass-holder and visit the Magic Kingdom often. Before I purchased my ticket, I had to ask myself if I really wanted to spend $50+ to see a special parade and fireworks show, because that's what it really boils down to. Yes, Disney has added some holiday theming, candy, and special entertainment, but is that really enough to justify the money. Obviously, many people think so as this event is extremely popular. But you need to consider this before you attend so you won't be disappointed.

Addendum:

For some reason, Disney is telling people that they cannot enter the Magic Kingdom using their MNSSHP ticket until the official opening time of 7pm.

I entered the Magic Kingdom yesterday using my MNSSHP at 4:02pm and the park was already set up to accommodate early arrivals. The east tunnel under the train station was for "party" guests entering the park and the west tunnel was for "day" guests leaving the park.

Technically, Disney doesn't have to let anyone in until the official time, but it's in their best interest to accommodate early arrivals. They couldn't handle the crowds if all 10,000 party goers arrived at the same time.

I cannot definitively tell you that you'll be granted early entrance, but I seriously doubt that Disney will keep you out without extenuating circumstances.


Addendum 2:

One of my readers wrote with the following message:

I just spoke with member services, the first person was adamant that the MNSSHP tickets would not be honored until 7pm, then I asked to speak to someone else. That person called Magic Kingdom and confirmed that they would allow MNSSHP ticket holders in after 4 like you observed. I then had him call Magic Kingdom back and check on the status of Space Mountain for the MNSSHP. They said it will be open! I'll still ride it with my family as soon as we enter the park that day just in case.


Remember to share YOUR experience at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party too!


September 16, 2010

La Hacienda de San Angel & La Cantina de San Angel

Hi all,

Before I discuss La Hacienda, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



If you've visited Epcot during the last year, you may have noticed that the counter service restaurant in the Mexico Pavilion (Cantina de San Angel) has been surrounded by decorative plywood while this establishment underwent a transformation. Construction is now complete and today, September 16, 2010, two restaurants now stand were there was once just one. A newly designed La Cantina de San Angel will continue to serve counter service meals and a new La Hacienda will offer table service dinners starting each evening at 4pm.


La Hacienda and La Cantina


The entrance to La Cantina is located near the bridge that brings guests into the Mexico Pavilion. Just inside are five windows where you can place your order. Although the menu is new, it still offers some of your favorites like Tacos de Carne, Nachos, and Empanadas de Queso. Three varieties of Margaritas and Dos Equis beer can also be purchased here. To see the complete menu, click here.


Counter Service Windows

Counter Service Window


The outside seating area takes advantage of the view of World Showcase and a breeze from the water is refreshing. La Cantina can accommodate 150 guests. However, from 11am until 3ish, guests can also sit in air-conditioned comfort inside the adjacent La Hacienda. The following pictures are of La Cantina only.


La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area


But the real excitement comes with the opening of La Hacienda de San Angel. This 250 seat table service restaurant will open each evening at 4pm. Designed to resemble different living areas of a hacienda, one room creates the feel of a living room while others capture the charm of a grand salon, pantry, and artist's studio. Original pieces of art adorn each room and unique chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The entrance is located across from the pyramid.


La Hacienda Logo

La Hacienda Entrance

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area


The restaurant is beautiful and that in and of itself is worth a visit. But many will want to plan their meal here to coincide with the presentation of IllumiNations. The Imagineers knew this so they designed large and tall windows to give everyone in the restaurant a great view of this nightly spectacular.


Views of World Showcase

Views of World Showcase


The menu will feature starters like queso fundido (warm cheese with poblano pepper and chorizo) accompanied by fresh homemade tortillas. Entrees include a mixed grill for two with flank steak, chicken, chorizo and vegetables or a seafood version with grouper, shrimp and scallops; roasted shrimp in pepper garlic broth; flank steak with spring onions, refried beans and cactus leaves; and grilled red snapper with roasted corn and cactus leaves. Dessert specialties include chocolate churros, sweet tamales and fruit empanadas. To see the complete menu, click here.


Chef with Food


Last night I attended a press event to kick off the opening of these two new restaurants. The evening began on the deck of La Cantina where we were treated to amazing margaritas and samples of many of the dishes that are served in La Hacienda.


Margaritas

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

I sampled several different tequila drinks (they were small and I quit drinking well before IllumiNations so I could drive home safely). All were very good, but I think the "Classic Margareta" is by far the best. It had a good strong flavor that made me pucker and smile.

I also enjoyed the many food samples that were being distributed by smiling waiters and waitresses, but without a doubt, the "Tacos de Camarones" were the best - outstanding in fact. The menu describes this dish as follows: Fried shrimp, chipotle-lime aioli, cabbage, lime and salsa verde, all served over flour tortillas. I had seconds and thirds of this taste treat.


Tacos de Camarones


I have to be honest with you. I've had hit-and-miss experiences at the San Angel Inn, the restaurant located inside the Mexico Pavilion. I think the atmosphere is fantastic, but the food just misses for me. However, I have every intention of returning to La Hacienda de San Angel. If what I sampled last night is any indication of my future meal, I'm going to be a happy camper.

All three restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion are run by Palmas Services LLC. Their founding began in Mexico City in 1963 when they converted a seventeenth century hacienda into an internationally acclaimed eatery, Restaurante San Angel Inn. The Palmas group also operates the restaurants and lounges at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Here, I really enjoy the Pepper Market but I have marginal feelings when it comes to the Maya Grill.

I have created a short video that highlights both La Hacienda and La Cantina. However, since this was a press event, I was not able to shoot people-free shots. You'll have to look through the guests enjoying their appetizers and cocktails to see the restaurant.



As the evening progressed, we ventured inside of La Hacienda for more socializing and opening ceremonies. The speeches ran for almost twenty minutes but I have edited it down to a mere six. The last two minutes show the official ribbon-cutting complete with Donald and Mickey.



As I said earlier, I have every intention of returning to both La Cantina and La Hacienda. The views are spectacular and the food that I sampled was delicious. Reservations are strongly suggested for La Hacienda and can be made online or by calling 407-929-3463.


September 21, 2010

Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part One

Hi all,

Before I discuss the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


Swan Logo Dolphin Logo


I like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels. I think the architecture is innovative and the resort has a lot to offer. What is to follow is an in-depth look at these hotels and why I think this resort is worthy of your consideration. However, I also know these structures bother some die-hard Disney fans, and I understand their concerns. I will cover these misgivings and some of the rumors surrounding these hotels in Part Three of this article.

To begin with, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are not owned and operated by Disney. They are owned by Tishman and MetLife and managed by the Starwood Company. The Swan operates under the Westin name and the Dolphin is associated with Sheraton. However, they do sit on Disney property (under a 99 year lease agreement) and Disney receives a share of their profits.

Unlike many of the non-Disney hotels on Hotel Plaza Blvd. (Disney property near Downtown Disney), guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin are afforded many of the same benefits as those staying at a Disney resort. These include.

" Reservations for the two hotels and their restaurants can be made through Disney
" Complimentary Walt Disney World transportation
" Complimentary parking at the theme parks
" Guaranteed park admission on busy days
" Package delivery to your room from the theme parks
" Preferred golf tee times
" Use of Extra Magic Hours
" Character meals

Disney perks NOT afforded to Swan and Dolphin guests:

" Theme park purchases cannot be charged to the room
" The Swan and Dolphin restaurants do not participate in the Disney Dining Plan. However some resturants honor Tables in Wonderland
" Disney's Magical Express

The resort was designed by noted architect Michael Graves and a new term was coined to describe its unique design, Entertainment Architecture. Michael Eisner wanted to avoid "boxy" buildings and made this clear when he selected Graves for the job.

With this directive in hand, Graves created unusual shapes, oversized graphics, and used colors not typically associated with hotels. In the end, his designed turned out complementary buildings like nothing seen before - structures befitting the magic of Walt Disney World. The Swan opened on January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin followed soon after on June 1, 1990.

Even though the Swan and Dolphin are convention hotels, the original interior design continued the exterior's whimsical motif. Vibrant colors, a "seashore" theme, and a repeating collection of cartoonish swans and dolphins were used throughout the interior to lure vacationing families as well as conventioneers to the property. However, when the tourist market took a big hit after 9-11, this concept was no longer working and it was decided that a major refurbishment of the hotel's interiors was needed. By September, 2006, a $60M makeover was completed and a new look was presented to the world. Gone was the cartoon atmosphere to be replaced with a contemporary, upscale look geared more toward adults than children. The resort's interior draws heavily now on sophistication and upscale elegance.

I like the new direction the Swan and Dolphin have taken. Before, the interior motif was trying to compete with the fantasy of Disney, yet it didn't have any "Disney" elements that guests could associate back to Walt, Mickey Mouse, or any of the company's movies. In other words, nobody does Disney better than Disney. Now the resort caters to a different, yet important market -- experienced travelers expecting luxury and high end facilities.

Let's start with the Swan.


Swan Hotel

Swan Hotel


The Swan is the smaller of the two resorts with 756 guest rooms. These are located in a 12-story main building and two 7-story wings. Atop the building are two 47-foot tall swan statues. Gracing the end of each wing are large, water-spouting clamshells. Note, on windy days the clamshell fountains are turned off. The swans and clamshells are built out of wood, steel, and fiberglass.


Swan Statue

Clamshell Statue


At the front of the resort is a lovely swan fountain. Also in this area are the bus pick-up area and the porte-cochère where luggage assistance and valet parking can be arranged.


Swan Fountain

Bus Pick-up

Porte-cochère


Through the main doors is the lobby. To the right is the front desk, complete with a designated line for Starwood members. To the left is Cabanas, a Disney merchandise store. At one time, items sporting the Swan and Dolphin logos were available here, but this product line has been discontinued with no resumption seen for the near future.


Lobby

Front Desk

Cabanas

Cabanas


In the center of the resort is a "crossroads" of sorts with a swan fountain as the focal point. From here you can head to the room elevators, convention facilities, or to the restaurants. Also, two outdoor courtyards can be accessed from this location. Be aware, one of these lovely patios has been designated a smoking area.


Swan Fountain

Courtyard


The Swan has a number of restaurants. The first, Java Bar, is open from 6:30am to 11am. This walk-up counter service eatery offers espresso, cappuccino, and a variety of coffees. In addition, pastries, bagels, and fruit are available. A number of tables and chairs are scattered around an atrium and a television is tuned to the morning news.


Java Bar

Atrium


Just off the atrium is Il Mulino New York Trattoria. This signature restaurant is open from 5pm to 11pm and offers traditional Italian cuisine from the Abruzzi region of Italy. Founded 25 years ago in New York City by chefs Fernando and Gino Masci, Il Mulino has been voted the #1 Italian restaurant in New York City for two decades by Zagat's. The Swan's incarnation of this outstanding restaurant places diners in a rustic, loft-like setting. Live piano music is presented in the lounge on Fridays and Saturdays.


Il Mulino New York Trattoria

Il Mulino New York Trattoria

Il Mulino New York Trattoria


Down a long hallway are two more restaurants, the Garden Grove and Kimonos.


Hallway to Garden Grove and Kimonos


Open for breakfast and dinner year round and lunch seasonally, the Garden Grove offers buffet dining with special appearances from Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale (character appearances vary by day of the week). The tables in this establishment sit under a 25-foot oak tree positioned in the middle of a circular, two-story room. The designers were trying to capture the feel of Central Park. Twinkly lights and paper lanterns complete the mood. The atmosphere is quite lovely and is definitely the most kid-friendly restaurant at the Swan.

The buffet stations line the outer wall. Although breakfast offerings remain the same from day to day, dinner selections vary throughout the week. On one evening you'll find BBQ while on another day you might be offered selections from the Old South.

Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 11:30am, lunch from 11:30am to 2pm, and dinner from 5pm to 9:30pm.


Garden Grove Restaurant

Garden Grove Restaurant


Kimonos is open from 5:30pm to midnight. This authentic Japanese sushi restaurant is dark and cozy and perfect for a late night get together after a day in the parks. Sit at one of the lounge tables and enjoy a cocktail or take a seat at the sushi bar and watch the chefs work their magic. Keeping with Japanese custom, a karaoke stage is available for those of you who like to sing. Kimonos was voted Top Sushi Restaurant in Central Florida by the Orlando Sentinel.


Kimonos

Kimonos


The last two eateries at the Swan are Splash Grill and Splash Terrace. Located by the lap pool, Splash Grill is a counter service spot while Splash Terrace offers table service dining al fresco. Burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and other traditional lunchtime fare is offered at both. Poolside tables offer a wonderful spot to dine when the weather is good. Both restaurants are open seasonally from 11am to 5:30pm.


Splash Terrace


I'll discuss the main swimming area later, but the Swan has its own pool close to the hotel. Although children are welcome here, this pool is geared more toward adults with designated lanes for lap swimming. Lounge chairs line the pool's perimeter and a cocktail bar is nearby. Towels are available here so you don't need to bring any from your room.


Swan Pool

Swan Pool Bar


When the hotel's interior was redesigned, Michael Graves was brought back to help with the room décor. Gone are the more vibrant colors to be replaced by earth tones. However this pallet doesn't harken back to the 1970's but instead feels modern and contemporary. The beds back up against a rust colored wall with headboards displaying artwork by Graves. A long bureau made of light-colored wood with pale blue glass inserts lines the opposite wall. The bureau includes drawers, a mini-refrigerator, at 27" flat screen TV, and a workspace designed for laptop computers. An electrical outlet can be found on the base of the lamp and a high-speed internet connection is nearby. A comfortable chair and cocktail table are located by the window. The rooms at the Swan measure approximately 340 square feet.


Swan Guest Room

Swan Guest Room

Swan Guest Room

Swan Guest Room


When I crawled into bed I thought I had died and gone to heaven -- which is probably why Westin calls their beds, "Heavenly Beds." I didn't want to get up. The 13 inch pillow-top mattress sits atop an 8 ¾ inch box spring that cradles your body. The bed was extremely soft, yet firm enough to support me adequately. I don't know how they do it. Add to this the four goose-down pillows, crisp cotton sheets, and down blanket and you're in for a fantastic night's sleep. Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with the mattresses found in the Disney hotels, but they can't hold a candle to the Westin Heavenly Bed. I can't say enough good about these mattresses.

The bathroom is well laid out. The first "room" features a sink and closet. The closet (with doors) contains a wall safe (big enough to hold a laptop computer), an iron and ironing board, luggage rack, and plenty of hangers. In the second "room" is another sink, toilet, and tub/shower. And the towels were extremely thick and fluffy. There is also a full length mirror on the bathroom door - a nice touch.


Swan Guest Bathroom

Swan Guest Bathroom

Swan Guest Bathroom


Here is a 1 ½ minute video of the room.



When you check into the Swan or Dolphin, you will be offered a "Resort Service Package" for $10 plus tax (per day). The package includes:

In-room high-speed internet access *
2 bottled waters
Unlimited admission to the health club
20 minutes of long distance phone calls within the continental U.S.
60 minutes of local, toll-free, and credit card access calls.

* For an additional $4.95 you can upgrade to a faster internet connection. Although I was fine with the basic service, I could see business folk wanting this.

That's it for today. Tomorrow I'll discuss the Dolphin Resort and the shared swimming area. And later I'll debunk some myths and rumors.



September 22, 2010

Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Two

Hi all,

Before I discuss the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


Yesterday, I discussed the Swan hotel. Today I will cover the Dolphin and the resort's shared swimming and recreation area.

The Dolphin Resort's distinctive triangle structure stands 257 feet high. The hotel's 1,509 guest rooms are divided between the main building and four 9-story wings. It's interesting to note, the windows in the upper section of the triangle are fakes and no rooms are actually in this section of the structure.


Dolphin Hotel

Dolphin Hotel


At both ends of the main building are 56-foot tall dolphins, each weighing approximately 60,000 pounds. These dolphins are not supposed to represent Flipper, but instead, mythological creatures. And the Dolphin Resort isn't the only place at Walt Disney World where these fanciful animals can be found. Another good example can be seen at the Neptune Fountain in the Italy Pavilion at Epcot. If you study the dolphins at these two locations carefully, you'll notice a difference. The dolphins at the Italy Pavilion have serious, almost menacing faces. This is the more traditional countenance for this mythological creature. But the beasts at the Dolphin Resort have a more inviting persona, an aspect insisted upon by Michael Eisner.


Rooftop Dolphin

Neptune Fountain


At the front of the Dolphin Resort is a dolphin fountain. Here, a number of these sea creatures line up chorus girl fashion and spout water. Behind this fountain is the porte-cochère where luggage handling and valet service can be arranged. Disney bus transportation is also located in this area.


Dolphin Fountain

Porte-cochere


Inside the doors is a lobby-like hallway and just beyond is the check-in desk.


Lobby-like Hallway

Front Desk


The main lobby of the Dolphin is far more impressive than the Swan. It's interesting to note that the better, Westin brand (the Swan) was given a more humble design than the Sheraton (the Dolphin).

The main lobby sits within a large, multi-story rotunda. Light streams in from overhead windows and illuminates another dolphin fountain. Seating areas are spaced evenly around the fountain and various hallways lead to the convention center and restaurants.


Dolphin Fountain

Lobby Seating

Lobby Seating


The Dolphin also has several non-Disney shops to tempt you to part with your money. Galleria Sottil features original paintings and sculptures by noted artist Luis Sottil as well as other well-known artists. The gallery also has two private viewing rooms allowing you to more carefully observe desired pieces. This is a great store to browse and drool. The gallery is open from 10am to 9pm.


Galleria Sottil

Galleria Sottil


Lamonts features upscale resort fashions like Quicksilver, Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, and Ralph Lauren. Jewelry by Brighton, sunglasses, handbags, candles, lotion and upscale souvenirs are also on hand. Lamonts is open 8am to 10pm.


Lamonts


A candy store called Sugar3 (open 10am to 10pm) and Daisy's Garden, a Disney souvenir store (open 7am to 11pm), round out the shopping options at the Dolphin Resort.


Sugar3

Dasiy's Garden


The Dolphin has a number of eateries, including two signature restaurants, Todd English's bluezoo and Shula's Steak House.

Shula's Steak House was founded by Don Shula, the winningest coach in football history. The restaurant is themed after the 1972 Miami Dolphins' "Perfect Season" - the only team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated. And to complete the theme, the managers here are called Head Coaches and the menus are hand painted on official NFL footballs. But don't let this sports persona put you off if you're not into the whole football thing. The lighting here is very low and somehow all this athletic paraphernalia seems to fade into the background when eating here.

This restaurant serves outstanding aged center cuts of Premium Black Angus Beef known as the Shula Cut®. Before you order, a cart is rolled to your table with a beautiful array of meats from which to choose. They even offer 3-5 pound Main Lobster for those of you who can afford such luxury. And if you can finish the 48 ounce Porterhouse, you join Shula's 48-Ounce Club which currently has almost 35,000 members. Shula's Steak House won the Critic's Choice for Orlando's Best High-End Steak House, and is a multi-time winner of The Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence. This restaurant is open daily from 5pm to 11pm.


Shula's Steak House

Shula's Steak House

Shula's Steak House


I have yet to eat at Todd English's bluezoo, but my neighbors have dined here a number of times and seem to like it a lot. Primarily known for its fresh seafood, this restaurant offers raw and cooked shellfish, swordfish, tuna, salmon and Chilean sea bass. And for those of you with a more land-based pallet, beef, chicken, and pasta selections are also available.

The restaurant was designed by noted architect Jeffery Beers and reflects an underwater theme. This theme is made evident even before you set foot in the restaurant. A beautiful waterfall/sculpture graces the entry with a television, advertising the restaurant, cleverly placed behind a sheet of cascading water. Inside, low lights, rich colors, and a beautiful use of glass artwork create a comfortable environment.

Todd English is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, television personality, and author. Although English runs a number of eateries, he is best known for his restaurant, Olives, located in both Boston and Las Vegas.

Todd English's bluezoo is open from 5pm to 11pm. The lounge opens at 3:30pm.


Todd English's bluezoo

Todd English's bluezoo

Todd English's bluezoo


Across the foyer from bluezoo is The Fountain. This playful restaurant is intended for those of you who want a casual meal but crave something more gratifying than a counter service establishment. The theme here is American Diner gone modern. Traditional fare is offered like burgers, salads, sandwiches and homemade ice cream. The Fountain is open from 11am to 11pm.


The Fountain


Down the hall from The Fountain is Fresh Mediterranean Market. This casual spot is open daily for breakfast (6:30am to 11:30am) and seasonally for lunch (Mon-Fri 11:30am to 2pm and Sat-Sun 12pm to 2pm). As the name implies, chefs here use the freshest seasonal ingredients with food inspired from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and Morocco.


Fresh Mediterranean Market

Fresh Mediterranean Market


Picabu (Peek-A-Boo) is aptly named because you will never find this restaurant unless you're looking for it. And even then, you might not locate it. Tucked away on the ground floor beyond Fresh Mediterranean Market and past a bank of elevators, this is perhaps the most hidden restaurant at Disney World.

Open 24 hours, this eatery offers grab-and-go and cafeteria style American favorites in a playful atmosphere. The decor here is abstract Caribbean. Waterless aquariums act as room dividers and calypso characters, funky fish, and pink flamingos adorn the walls. This is maybe one of the best restaurants at the Dolphin for budget minded families.


Picabu

Picabu

Picabu


Like the Swan, the Dolphin also has a lap/quiet pool. Next to it sits Cabana Bar and Beach Club. This South Beach inspired location features outdoor seating under cabana-like structures. Traditional luncheon fare is offered as well as gourmet flat breads and several unique appetizers. This spot is especially appealing after dark when a romantic mood sets in.


Dolphin Pool

Cabana Bar

Cabana Bar


The guest rooms at the Dolphin are decorated similarly to those at the Swan. However, they are slightly larger measuring 360 square feet compared to the Swan's 340. Sleek, light colored furniture and earth tones create a modern, yet welcoming décor. The Dolphin also uses double, rather than queen-sized beds and the bathroom only has one sink compared to the Swan's two.

Since the rooms at the Swan and Dolphin are so similar in style, I choose to stay in a room featuring a king bed at the Dolphin to provide you with a different room view. "King" rooms also feature a sleeper sofa instead of a chair. Other amenities such as toiletries, refrigerator, internet connection, and in-room safe are the same as at the Swan.


Dolphin Guest Room

Dolphin Guest Room

Dolphin Guest Room

Dolphin Guest Room

Dolphin Guest Room

Dolphin Guest Room


Here is a 1 ½ minute video of the room.



The backside of the Dolphin is very impressive. An intricate waterfall starts high up on the building and splashes down from clamshell to clamshell until it reaches a much larger clamshell supported by four dolphins. From there, the water makes one final cascade to a pool at ground level. This is a beautifully designed fountain.


Dolphin Fountain

Dolphin Fountain


An attractive land-bridge/walkway connects the Swan and Dolphin. An arbor flanks each side and lovely gardens run up the middle. It's on this walkway that you'll find the dock where you can catch a boat to Disney's Hollywood Studios or Epcot. If you're catching the boat to Epcot you will stop first at the Yacht & Beach and then the Boardwalk Resorts before eventually making it to the park. This will take about 15 minutes. Between the resort and the Studio, there are no other stops and it only takes about 10 minutes to get there.


Land Bridge

Boat Dock

Boat Dock


Bus transportation is available to the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney, and the water parks. Be advised, the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht, Beach, and Boardwalk Resorts all share the same bus. It took me 40 minutes to travel from the Swan to Downtown Disney because of all the stops.

An outstanding swimming pool and recreation area are shared by the Swan and Dolphin, and in my opinion is one of the most elaborate facilities at Walt Disney World. This area doesn't have a theme in the sense that other Disney resort pools offer. Instead, it conveys the feeling of a high-end hotel where no expense has been spared to bring you a lavish area in which to relax away the hours. The centerpiece of this facility is the waterfall pool where water cascades over extensive rockwork. Guests can swim beneath the falls and those seeking a respite from the sun can lounge in a cave-like atmosphere. My only complaint is that I wish this was a swim-up bar as seen at similar type pools.


Waterfall Pool

Waterfall Pool


The pool is large and meandering. There is even a permanent volleyball net strung across one section of the pool. And the same rockwork that makes up the main waterfall is continued throughout the entire area. Even the hot tubs are bordered by rocks and falling water.


Main Swaimming Pool

Main Swimming Pool

Hot Tub

Nearby there is a playground for children. Here you'll find a jungle gym, cabana with giant checkers, and a huge sandbox with a water spouting seal. And for the bigger kids, basketball nets are available for a little one-on-one or team play.


Jungle Gym

Checkers

Seal

Basketball


In the mood for a leisurely sail around Crescent Lake? Then rent a paddle swan boat for $15 per half hour. Swan boat hours of operation are 11am to 5pm.


Swan Boats


Since the Swan and Dolphin are not Disney hotels, the cast members do not wear Disney name tags. Instead, their name tags were specifically designed for these resorts. Rather than displaying the wearer's home town (as done by Disney), Swan and Dolphin cast members proclaim their "passion." When joining the company, each person is asked to select a topic that they are passionate about. Some select generic, hospitality slogans, while others will choose a personal hobby or interest. Noticing their passion is a wonderful way to start a conversation.


Name Tag


Other items and services available at the Swan and Dolphin are:

Health clubs
Game rooms
Tennis
Day spa (Mandara Spa)
Laundry facility
Room service
Glow in the Dark Volleyball on Friday nights (complete with black lights)
Poolside movies on Saturday nights
Camp Dolphin - Children's Activity Center
Two complementary hours in Camp Dolphin when dining at Shula's Steakhouse, Todd English's bluezoo, and Il Mulino.

Regulars of Disney resorts should be aware that the Swan and Dolphin charge for parking. The rates are as follows:

Self parking:

Register Guests: $11 plus tax per day
Non Register Guests: $12 per each exit*

Valet parking:

Register Guests: $15 plus tax per day
Non Register Guests: $18 per each exit

* Some of the signature restaurants offer validation.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I like the Swan and Dolphin Resort. I feel I receive high-end luxury while being surrounded by playful surroundings. However, these are not Disney hotels. You will not find hidden Mickey's in the bedspreads, wallpaper, and carpet. And I've heard some people complain that the cast members here do not have the same spirit as those working at a Disney hotel. However, this certainly wasn't my experience. Every cast member I dealt with was outstanding. The Swan and Dolphin offers a more "grown-up" experience than the Disney resorts. This is neither positive nor negative. There is a market for more sophisticated hostelries at Disney - which is why The Four Seasons is building a resort near the Fort Wilderness Campground. So if someday you're calling to book a vacation at Walt Disney World and you're offered a room at the Swan or Dolphin, give it some serious thought. I think you'll be pleased with the offerings.

The Swan and Dolphin maintain an extensive webpage. To check it out, click here.

As is my custom now, I have created a video presentation of the resort. I hope you enjoy it. For those of you curious about the music, here is a list of what I used.

Portions of Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 by Tchaikovsky

Rondo- Allegro Vivace from Horn Concerto No. 4 by Mozart

Portions of Appalachian Spring by Copland


This includes my review of the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Check back tomorrow when I discuss why these hotels exist on Disney property and I'll debunk some never ending rumors about these hotels.


Givenchy – Grand Opening in the France Pavilion

Hi all,

Before I discuss Givenchy, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



Givenchy Logo

Today, September 22, 2010, Givenchy opened its only stand-alone retail location in the United States. Where? The France Pavilion at Epcot. Located in what was once the "library" section of the pavilion (with a "Beauty and the Beast" stained-glass window backdrop), this 400 square foot shop offers the entire line of Givenchy fragrances, cosmetics and skincare.


Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop


To celebrate their association with Disney, Givenchy has created a fragrance to be sold exclusively at Epcot, eaudemoiselle de Givenchy (eau de toilette vaporisateur spray). Ladies, I'm a guy and know very little about perfumes. All I can tell you is that it smelled good to me. If you're curious, you're going to have to check it out for yourself.


Exclusive Epcot Fragrance


Givenchy also offers limited edition scents. Each year, three flowers are selected from various countries around the world. After the harvest, these flowers are used in the creation of three unique fragrances. In much the same way a vintage bottle of wine is packaged and marketed, these scents are dated and once they run out, there are no more.


Limited Edition Frangrances

Limited Edition Frangrances


Another feature of Epcot's Givenchy shop is a complete makeup counter, complete with experts to help you select and apply the appropriate product. And as a learning tool the associate will be happy to apply the makeup to only half of your face then allow you to take over under his guidance for the second half. If you decide to purchase their products, you will be provided with a complete, step-by-step chart so you'll know exactly what to do once you return home.


Makeover

Makeover


Guys, if your girl decides on one of these makeovers, I see two options for you. You can be dutiful and stand there during the transformation or you can cross the street and partake in some wine tasting. But when I think about it, there is a third option since Givenchy also offers a number of men's fragrances for you to try.

I chose not to inquire about prices since this is a constantly changing item. If I quoted you something now, it would not necessarily reflect the price when you visit. However, I was assured that the prices are not inflated here at Epcot. Items in this shop will be priced identically to those at Macy's back home.

For those of you with sensitive noses or allergies I will tell you, the aromas in this shop are not overpowering. I have asthma and I am susceptible to such things, but it was not an issue here. One of the Givenchy cast members suggested that it could be because they use all natural ingredients in their perfumes.

So next time you're in the France Pavilion, be sure to check out this latest shop. If you want to pamper yourself with a nice non-Disney souvenir, this might be a good spot.



September 23, 2010

Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Three

Hi all,

Before I discuss the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


For the last two days, I've been telling you all about the Swan and Dolphin Resort and the amenities that are offered. Today I'm going to discuss why these non-Disney hotels exist in the middle of the action and are not relegated to some remote corner of the World.

In the early 1980's, the Disney Company was subjected to several hostile takeover attempts. In order to fend off these attacks, the company needed an infusion of money -- quickly. One of the parties Disney turned to was Tishman, the construction company that built much of Epcot. In return for the loan, Tishman would be allowed to build two convention hotels somewhere on property. In the end, Disney prevailed and the takeover attempts were thwarted, but many of the company's executives were ousted. It was at this time that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells entered the picture with a directive to further develop the Florida property.

In 1984, the only on-property hotels were the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Golf Resort (later the Disney Inn, currently Shades of Green). Eisner wanted to build more, architecturally pleasing resorts to lure off-property guests to spend their entire vacation on Disney property. But there was this pesky contract with Tishman that needed to be honored first. After reviewing Tishman's plans, it was discovered that they intended to build uninspired "boxy" buildings. This did not please Eisner, so in typical fashion, he demanded that the contract with Tishman be broken. Of course Tishman did not take kindly to this and filed a countersuit against Disney. In the end, Disney had to back down but a new contract was crafted. It gave Tishman a prime location next to Epcot but it gave Disney the right to determine the design. So Eisner hired famed architect Michael Graves, who had never designed a hotel before, to create the whimsical Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Swan opened January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin opened June 1, of the same year.

In all my research, I have never found a good explanation as to why Eisner okayed a design that would intrude so much on Epcot. If you stand anywhere on the east side of World Showcase (from Mexico to Italy) you can see these massive buildings standing behind France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. When Walt built Disneyland, he insisted that a berm be built around his park. He wanted to keep the outside world from intruding on his realms of fantasy. It's beyond me why Walt's philosophy was not followed in this case.

This next picture was taken from between the Mexico and Norway Pavilions. Notice how the towering Dolphin dwarfs the Eiffel Tower in France.


Swan & Dolphin Seen from Epcot


But if you can get past the Swan and Dolphin's controversial location, they represent inspired architecture. They're fun. They're silly. They're whimsical. They are not "boxy" anywhere U.S.A. hotels. These are one-of-a-kind buildings that are full of magic. It's just a shame they are located where they are.

There are two persistent rumors that will not die in regards to the Swan and Dolphin. First, that the "black boxes" in the middle of each building can be removed so a future monorail can pass through the buildings (in much the same way the monorail travels through the Contemporary).


Dolphin Black Box

Swan Black Box


Another rumor insists that the giant swans and dolphins were placed atop the wrong buildings. The swans sit on a building painted with ocean waves while the dolphins are on top of a building with palm trees. Many think this is incorrect and ask "Shouldn't the dolphins be on the building with waves and the swans associated with the foliage?"


Swan Waves

Dolphin Leaves


Both of these rumors can be dispelled with one explanation.

Even though these are not Disney hotels designed by Imagineers, architect Michael Graves crafted a "story" to help him with his design. Unfortunately, this story never found its way into any formal documentation and has more or less been lost with time.

Graves wanted to represent the essence of Florida with his design and color selections, and he felt the theme of "water" could best accomplish his goal. As the story goes, there was a massive upheaval beneath the ocean that spewed forth and created an island. As the land mass grew, it lifted dolphins out of the water. It's these dolphins we see sitting on top of the hotel (or island). And the island is lush with tropical growth which is why we see banana leaves on the side of the building (island) and palm trees encircling the structure. The black box represents the heart of the island that burst open when the upheaval occurred. (It's symbolism, folks.)

As the island continued to grow, water began to cascade down the side of the mountain. As more water began to flow, it started to splash a nearby island (the Swan). If you take a look at the walkway that connects the two buildings, the railing is wave-like, representing the water flowing toward the Swan. And the waves on the side of the Swan represent the water lapping up against its shores.


Dolphin Waterfall.jpg

Walkway Waves


When it comes to the swans themselves, I have read two accounts. The first suggests that the swans were so transfixed by this phenomenon that they decided to take a closer look and were turned to stone as they sat watching the events unfold. The second story says that the eruption captured the attention of two passing birds and they were so awed by the spectacle that they alighted on the top of the waves to get a better look and were magically transformed into swans.

The original interior of both resorts helped tell this story, but during the redesign, much of the tale's elements were lost. It's also said that Graves selected the swan and dolphin because they weren't already in Disney's arsenal of characters.

I think this story illustrates that the swans and dolphins were placed onto the correct buildings. And as for the black boxes being removed for a monorail, this just doesn't make sense. I know the "heart of the island" story is a bit over the top and symbolic, but if you look at things practically, these spaces are tremendously huge. Why would you take out all of those cash-generating rooms when all you need is a small space for the monorail to pass through? I grant you, it would be impressive to see this happen, but it just isn't so, folks.

So there you have it, the controversial Swan and Dolphin Resort - a resort that has its admirer's and its foes.



September 28, 2010

I Know I Heard It Someplace – A Quiz – Part Two -- Questions

Due to popular demand, I have created Part Two to the "I Know I Heard It Someplace" quiz. This game will test how well you listen while visiting Disney World. I will give you a line or two of dialogue and you must determine where it can be heard. Remember, not everything will be from a ride or attraction. The answers will be posted tomorrow.

Once again, no winners will be announced and no prizes will be awarded so please do not send me your answers.

Have fun!



1. Shift your cargo dearie. Show 'em your larboard side.



2. The time is now on an evening very much like the one we just witnessed.



3. Here I come. Big star coming through. Mercat on a mission here.


4. Donald. Hey Donald. Are you all done up there? Gorsh. I wonder where he went.



5. We're three happy chappies with snappy surrappies. You find us beneath our sombreros.



6. Voice 1: Poor child. Voice 2: Poor sweet child. Voice 1: She has a very serious problem. Voice 2: If only there was something we could do. Voice 1: But there is something.



7. Wait. It's not even over. It gets really weird from here. Now some person I don't even know reminds me there's no eating, drinking, smoking or flash photography allowed in my dream. And no videotaping. Okay?



8. Simba 1 to Wilson Matua we are at the crossroads now. Looks like our gates have been smashed open. Over.



9. All right now. The rest of you on this party line you can all hang up now. I'm only calling Dinglinger's store and there won't be anything you can gossip about at all.



10. Voice 1: You insolent pup. Voice 2: Take that. Voice 1: I'll run you through. Voice 2: Watch this Wendy.



11. Good morning Viet Nam.



12. You are not the first to pass this way. Nor, shall you be the last.



13. The cosmos - a universe of good and evil where a small group struggles to bring freedom to the countless worlds of despair.



14. Time to get serious. Locking autopilot on homing signal NOW!



15. Some imagination. Huh?



16. Oh. Is everybody alright out there? Oooo. I hope none of you are allergic to acid. Oh my. Best to move along.



17. Rise and shine. Let's go team. We've got a problem.



18. What if everyone could have one of these amazing machines in their own house? There's just one problem. They're as big as a house. The solution comes in 1977 in of all places, a garage in California.



19. Everything in this room may change time and time again as we move ahead. But the basic philosophy of what we're planning for Disney World is going to remain very much as it is right now.



20. This is the Global Broadcasting Service serving remote outposts since 1928. The weather here this morning is hot and humid. A typhoon warning has been issued for coastal areas near the South China Sea and a storm watch has been posted along the coast of Eastern Africa.



Reminder: If you send a comment, you must write "blog" in the final field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.


.

September 29, 2010

I Know I Heard It Someplace – A Quiz – Part Two -- Answers

Due to popular demand, I have created Part Two to the "I Know I Heard It Someplace" quiz. This game will test how well you listen while visiting Disney World. I will give you a line or two of dialogue and you must determine where it can be heard. Remember, not everything will be from a ride or attraction. The answers will be posted tomorrow.

Once again, no winners will be announced and no prizes will be awarded so please do not send me your answers.

Have fun!

1. Shift your cargo dearie. Show 'em your larboard side.

This line is spoken by the Auctioneer in "Pirates of the Caribbean" at the Magic Kingdom.


Pirates of the Caribbean


2. The time is now on an evening very much like the one we just witnessed.

Rod Serling speaks this line in the Library of "Tower of Terror" at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Tower of Terror


3. Here I come. Big star coming through. Mercat on a mission here.

"Festival of the Lion King" at Disney's Animal Kingdom is where Timon takes center stage and makes his entrance.


Festival of the Lion King


4. Donald. Hey Donald. Are you all done up there? Gorsh. I wonder where he went.

Goofy opens "Mickey's PhilharMagic" at the Magic Kingdom with this line.


Mickey's PhilharMagic


5. We're three happy chappies with snappy surrappies. You find us beneath our sombreros.

Panchito Pistoles sings this at the end of "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros!" in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.


Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros


6. Voice 1: Poor child. Voice 2: Poor sweet child. Voice 1: She has a very serious problem. Voice 2: If only there was something we could do. Voice 1: But there is something.

Flotsam and Jetsam lure Ariel to seek Ursula's help in "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Voyage of the Little Mermaid


7. Wait. It's not even over. It gets really weird from here. Now some person I don't even know reminds me there's no eating, drinking, smoking or flash photography allowed in my dream. And no videotaping. Okay?

Ellen DeGeneres speaks these words in the preshow of "Ellen's Energy Adventure" at Epcot.


Ellen's Energy Adventure


8. Simba 1 to Wilson Matua we are at the crossroads now. Looks like our gates have been smashed open. Over.

Our tour guide on "Kilimanjaro Safaris" at the Animal Kingdom speaks to the game warden before we take off to catch the poachers.


Kilimanjaro Safaris


9. All right now. The rest of you on this party line you can all hang up now. I'm only calling Dinglinger's store and there won't be anything you can gossip about at all.

These words are spoken by Mama on the old telephone on Main Street.


Telephone on Main Street


10. Voice 1: You insolent pup. Voice 2: Take that. Voice 1: I'll run you through. Voice 2: Watch this Wendy.

Captain Hook and Peter Pan battle in "Peter Pan's Flight" at the Magic Kingdom.


Peter Pan's Flight


11. Good morning Viet Nam.

Robin Williams speaks these words during the ending film montage on the "Great Movie Ride" at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Great Movie Ride


12. You are not the first to pass this way. Nor, shall you be the last.

These words are spoken at the beginning of the "Maelstrom" attraction at Epcot.


Maelstrom


13. The cosmos - a universe of good and evil where a small group struggles to bring freedom to the countless worlds of despair.

"Captain EO" at Epcot opens with these words.


Captain EO


14. Time to get serious. Locking autopilot on homing signal NOW!

Dr. Seeker is determined to bring back an iguanodon on the "Dinosaur" attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Dinosaur


15. Some imagination. Huh?

Mickey Mouse ends "Fantasmic" with these words at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Fantasmic


16. Oh. Is everybody alright out there? Oooo. I hope none of you are allergic to acid. Oh my. Best to move along.

After the termite-ator sprays the audience in "It's Tough to be a Bug" at the Animal Kingdom, Flik tries to console everyone.


It's Tough to be a Bug


17. Rise and shine. Let's go team. We've got a problem.

You are awakened from hyper-sleep on Epcot's "Mission: Space" as you approach Mars.


Mission: Space


18. What if everyone could have one of these amazing machines in their own house? There's just one problem. They're as big as a house. The solution comes in 1977 in of all places, a garage in California.

These words are spoken by Judi Dench as you reach the top of "Spaceship Earth" at Epcot in reference to the first home computers.


Spaceship Earth


19. Everything in this room may change time and time again as we move ahead. But the basic philosophy of what we're planning for Disney World is going to remain very much as it is right now.

These words were spoken by Walt Disney. This clip and many others can be seen and heard in the film shown in "One Man's Dream" at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


One Man's Dream


20. This is the Global Broadcasting Service serving remote outposts since 1928. The weather here this morning is hot and humid. A typhoon warning has been issued for coastal areas near the South China Sea and a storm watch has been posted along the coast of Eastern Africa.

This radio broadcast can be heard while waiting in line for the "Jungle Cruise" at the Magic Kingdom.


Jungle Cruise



Reminder: If you send a comment, you must write "blog" in the final field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.



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About September 2010

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in September 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2010 is the previous archive.

October 2010 is the next archive.

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