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July 25, 2016

Dining Review: Cafe Orleans

Cafe Orleans

I mentioned in a previous blog that my favorite Disneyland table service restaurant is Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. I hadn't actually eaten there in several years, though, so I wanted to try it again to see if it was as good as I remembered.

I made a reservation just a few days in advance, and was able to get the time I wanted. As it turned out the restaurant wasn't that busy, and walk-ups were being told it was only about a 15 minute wait.

We waited 5-10 minutes after I checked in. While I was waiting I looked around the nearby Mlle. Antoinette's Parfumerie shop. I'd read a little bit on-line about this shop recently. Supposedly Lillian Disney chose the name and the crystal chandelier inside was a gift to her from Walt. The mirrors were painted with a technique called "reverse painting".

Mlle Antoinette's Parfumerie

The shop carries five perfume brands: Guerlain, Givenchy, Christian Dior, Acqua di Parma and Fendi. There are selections for men and woman, and exclusive fragrances that can only be found at Disneyland.

Mlle Antoinette's Parfumerie

It's really quite a lovely space.

Cafe Orleans has seating both inside and outside. I said we'd take first available, but I was really hoping for outside, and that's what we got. It was a very nice evening, and the dining area was mostly shaded. Though as the sun went down it descended below the level of the awning and both Lee and I had sun in our eyes for a while at the end of the meal.

Cafe Orleans Seating

The menu is the same for lunch and dinner, and offers New Orleans-inspired dishes such as gumbo, a muffuletta sandwich, and savory crepes. The famous Monte Cristo Sandwich is also available. There are two versions: the classic with ham and cheese, and a vegetarian three-cheese sandwich. I personally find these to be belly bombs, and haven't had one for years.

Cafe Orleans Lunch/Dinner Menu

Our server was on a break, and it took a few extra minutes before the server filling in for her arrived to take care of us. In addition to soft drinks we wanted to start off by sharing an order of Pomme Frites. These are garlic French fries with Parmesan cheese, served with a Cajun-spiced remoulade. I'd forgotten how large the serving was - it was plenty for four of us to share. They were just as good as I remembered, and were a big hit.

Cafe Orleans Pomme Frites

Instead of ordering an entree here, I usually order the French Onion soup and the La Salade de Maison. And that's what I did. The soup is up to $10 now, but it's still very good, and pretty filling.

Cafe Orleans French Onion soup

The salad is always nice and fresh, with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and candied pecans, and a raspberry vinaigrette. I find it to be a good-sized serving for $6.

Cafe Orleans La Salade de Maison

Lee ordered a cup of the Chicken Gumbo. He said it was very good. $7 for a cup or $10 for a bowl.

Cafe Orleans Chicken Gumbo

For an entree, both Lee and Kristin ordered the Braised Beef Crepe - braised beef in a Bordelaise sauce with Cremini mushrooms and pearl onions. In the past the crepes were flat, but this time they were rolled. It was a very attractive presentation. They were served over a pea puree. I was surprised that the pea puree didn't have any additional flavors or spices - it really was just pureed peas. It needed something else. Lee was disappointed in the beef - it wasn't bad, but the flavor was different than what he expected - he thought there would be more spice.

Cafe Orleans Braised Beef Crepe

Matt ordered the Chicken Gumbo Crepe - chicken, Andouille sausage, tasso ham, and Creole gumbo sauce with sauteed Cremini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and asparagus. It was also served with pea puree. He said it was good, and I think he enjoyed it more than the others did the beef crepes. Both crepes were $20, and we all agreed that for that price the portion size was a little small.

Cafe Orleans Chicken Gumbo Crepe

For dessert we shared an order of Mickey Beignets ($9). There were five of them, and we all enjoyed them. They were warm and slightly crisp on the outside with plenty of powdered sugar and fried dough goodness! Matt and I both liked them with the raspberry sauce that came with them - Lee and Kristin tried the vanilla anglaise, also.

Cafe Orleans Mickey Beignets

I think I was the one most pleased with my meal - but I stuck to the menu items that I knew I liked. Still, I think everyone had a good experience. It's always very nice to be able to sit down for a meal after a busy day in the parks. We all especially liked the pommes frites and the beignets.

After this most recent dining experience Cafe Orleans still holds its position as my favorite table service restaurant in Disneyland. It's especially nice to be able to sit outside on a pleasant afternoon or evening and enjoy NOT being out in the crowds.

July 23, 2016

A Trip to Disneyland in Summerrrrrrr

Frozen - In Summer

Lee and I, along with our friends Matt and Kristin, spent a summer Saturday at Disneyland. Lee and I, of course, are frequent visitors, but Matt and Kristin are not, so we wanted to get in as many of the newer/favorite attractions as possible.

I was the only one who had seen the new Frozen - Live at the Hyperion show, and none of us had seen the new Soarin' Around the World, so those were both high on our list.

We arrived at the Mickey and Friends parking garage just a couple of minutes after 8:00 - I was surprised at how long the line was to get in. It took probably 15 minutes before we were finally parked. And then we had to wait for a parking lot tram. Usually they are one right after the other, but this time, even though they were loading two at a time, there was a 1-2 minute gap between when one left and another arrived to fill its place.

Though I wondered if that was intentional to keep the security lines down - they were relatively short. Only 10-12 people in each line. The bag checkers were being a lot more thorough, though, and that took extra time. And now everyone goes through the metal detectors - it's no longer random like it used to be. But that went pretty quickly.

With everything that's been going on in the United States and around the world recently, I was not surprised to see much more of a security presence this time. There were significantly more uniformed security personnel in the parks, Downtown Disney, and the Esplanade. And that doesn't count the plainclothes security that I know is also around.

We got Fastpasses for Frozen and Radiator Springs Racers, and then rode a number of other attractions standby. Midway Mania was about 20 minutes, but California Screamin' and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree were less than 10, and Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters was under 15 minutes. Matt and Kristin had been fans of the former Luigi's Flying Tires attraction, so were somewhat disappointed at the change, but thought the new ride was cute.

We went over to Disneyland to get a Fastpass for Hyperspace Mountain. It sounds like that will be going away soon, since Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is returning for the Halloween season.

It was not a particularly busy day at Disneyland. I waited at Space Mountain for about 15 minutes while the others went to get coffee, because (surprisingly!) the Fastpass return time was still too early and overlapped with our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass. The standby line for Hyperspace Mountain was only 45 minutes.

Weather-wise it was a very nice day - it might have gotten into the low 80s, but not warmer than that. For a July day it was really very pleasant, and cooler than usual.

We went back to DCA and got a Fastpass for Soarin' Around the World - the return time was only 50 minutes away! That surprised me.

It was not a very busy day in either park - certainly not what I would normally expect on a Saturday in the middle of summer. But maybe the new seasonal pricing scheme, where this day was a "Peak" day for one-day tickets, is starting to have an affect. It was also a blockout day for most annual passes - everything except Signature/Signature Plus and Premier. While things seemed busier than usual first thing in the morning, the crowds did not pick up appreciably throughout the morning like they usually do. Maybe if you're going to pay that much for a one-day ticket, you're going to be sure you arrive at park opening? The seasonal pricing does not apply to multi-day tickets (yet), and I saw lots of people using those.

We returned to use our Soarin' Around the World Fastpasses. I find it frustrating that Fastpasses for Soarin' never have worked as efficiently as they do for most other attractions. Even with a Fastpass we waited about 15 minutes.

I was wondering if the interior would be different, but it's not - you still walk through the California Aviators Wings of Fameexhibit. It seems odd that there's not a more international focus now.

Soarin' Around the World

The logo is slightly different.

Soarin' Around the World

I had already heard this, but I was happy to see that Patrick was still our flight attendant. :-)

Soarin' - Patrick your flight attendant

This was my first time to see the new movie in person (I had seen it on-line). I was disappointed. The scenery is beautiful, but I found the gratuitous use of CGI to be very distracting. Most of the scenes had added elements that obviously weren't really there. And we won't even talk about the Taj Mahal scene, which was entirely computer-generated. The locations they chose were beautiful, and could stand on their own - they didn't need any effects added to them.

Though speaking of effects...the "speed-up" effect that we experienced a couple of times was really well-done. I felt like I was moving a lot faster.

While I was underwhelmed, I will say that Lee really liked it, and says I spoiled it for him by pointing out all of the things that weren't real. Kristin said she preferred the original California version.

I liked the grass scent - though I'm not convinced that's really what the plains of Tanzania really smell like. :-) The ocean scent was similar to what we smelled in the original attraction. I did not detect the rosewater fragrance that was supposed to accompany the Taj Mahal scene. But I may have been too focused on how fake it looked. I really loved the Iguazu Falls scene - I think that was my favorite.

It was time to use our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses. Now this is how Fastpass SHOULD work - we were on the ride about 5 minutes after entering the queue. Afterwards I used a feature of my AP that I hadn't tried before - I took a cell phone photo of our attraction photo, then put that number into my AP Photopass account after we returned home, and was able to download our photo for free. Nice. (The free Photopass download is available with Signature, Signature Plus, and Premier APs.)

Radiator Springs Racers Photo

Apparently regular guests can purchase a single day Memory Maker package for $39, which includes all attraction photos as well as any other Photopass photos. That almost seems reasonable.

On Buena Vista Street, a number of the "Citizens of Buena Vista Street" were out and about. This was the first time that I'd seen both of the messengers, Molly and Millie, out at the same time. They are twins, and they squabble over which one gets to ride the bike. :-) Molly is on the left in the photo below.

Citizens of Buena Vista Street Molly and Millie

We'd ended up with several Fastpasses in a row, so we went back to Disneyland to ride Hyperspace Mountain. Unfortunately it was down. But the good news was that our Fastpasses would be valid any time for the rest of the day - assuming it came back up.

On our way to Hyperspace Mountain we'd stopped to get Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. The return time was only 35 minutes away. So we went and got Dole Whips (Matt's request) while waiting. Even the Dole Whip line was not particularly long, and it moved quickly.

Dole Pineapple Juice sign

We defeated the Evil Emperor Zurg, and although we didn't quite make it to Galactic Hero status we had fun.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

We had Fastpasses for the 4:00 performance of Frozen, but wanted to be in line about 3:15, so we went back to DCA to do what we like to call the Wine and Beer Ride. :-) Normally we would've gone to the Al Fresco Tasting Terrace but we really didn't have enough time for that, so we went to the Sonoma Terrace instead. They have a good selection of craft beers (though they are all in bottles - none on tap), and a few wines by the glass. The guys each had a beer, and Kristin and I both had glasses of the St. Hilaire sparkling wine. The cast member who poured the latter filled the glasses ALL the way to the top - we had to take a sip before we could carry it to a table! We also got one of the cheese plates to share.

Sonoma Terrace wine and cheese plate

The Sonoma Terrace is next to the Wine Country Trattoria on the Paradise Pier side. There's a nice large seating area there, and most of it is shaded. It's usually pretty quiet and it's a great place to sit and relax.

We enjoyed the opportunity to sit down for a while before we had to deal with all of the Frozen Frenzy. On our way to the Hyperion Theater we stopped at the 60th anniversary photo stop in "a bug's land". This one is a lot of fun, though the photographer didn't have the butterfly net prop for Matt to use. My AP is also my Photopass card, and again, free downloads!

Disneyland 60th Ant-iversary

But back to Frozen - Live at the Hyperion Theater. This was my first time experiencing it as a regular guest - I'd only see the media preview. The show started at 4:00. Our Fastpasses said to arrive between 3:00 and 3:40. (The Fastpass line closes 20 minutes before the show and those in the Standby line are allowed to fill any available seats.) We arrived at the Hyperion about 3:20. Each Fastpass specifies which section of the theater it is for: Orchestra, Mezzanine, or Balcony. We had Fastpasses for the Mezzanine. Those who had Fastpasses for the Orchestra section were already packed in like sardines (which used to be an export of Norway's - we toured an old cannery in Stavanger last year), and there were still people arriving. The Mezzanine section was filling up quickly, also. There was a huge line of people trying for standby in any section they could get into. I should mention that the 11:00 show had gotten canceled that day, so my guess is that many people who had Fastpasses for that show were now trying for standby.

We were admitted to the theater closer to 3:45 than 3:40. We were able to get seats in the third row center of the Mezzanine. The Mezzanine was always my favorite section for Aladdin, so I wanted to see how it was for this show. (I saw Frozen from Orchestra the first time, at the Media preview. I was in about the 6th row, which seemed like a fine choice at the time, but ended up being too close.)

Frozen Hyperion from Mezzanine

There's what I assume is a safety bar about 15" above the railing of the Mezzanine, and if you were in the first two rows it obscured your view of the stage somewhat. Even in row three it was in our view when the actors were towards the front of the stage.

Frozen - In Summer

There still seem to be some issues with this show. As I mentioned, the first show of the day was canceled, and our show had a technical issue of some kind less than 10 minutes from the end. Fortunately after a few minutes they were able to continue. I know it's a very complex show, but since it's been running for over six weeks I was surprised that there still seem to be so many problems.

Frozen Finale

I still really enjoyed the show. The viewing was much better overall from the Mezzanine than it was when I'd seen it from row 6'ish of Orchestra. There was a good view of Elsa on her ice staircase. Though I think the best seats might be the first couple of rows in the second tier of Orchestra (Loge?).

Frozen - Elsa on ice staircase

I thought the "Aurora Curtain" effect was much more pronounced from this seat location and I felt more immersed in Arendelle. There's one scene where Elsa is walking forward and a zoom effect on the projections at the back of the stage and on the curtains makes it look like she's really moving towards us much more quickly.

The acting and singing were still excellent. The Kristoff, Hans, and "Weaseltown" characters were played by the same actors that I saw before, but Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and the King and Queen were different. I thought this Anna/Elsa pair was better. The Olaf was just as good as the first - both of the actors I've seen were outstanding, and really captured the character.

Frozen - Anna and Elsa

Kristin and Lee both thought the show was very good. Matt had never see the movie, but still enjoyed the show. Though parts of it were a little confusing since there's a few plot points that were in the movie that are skipped in the show. If you haven't seen the movie, the climactic Elsa-Hans-Anna-Kristoff-on-the-ice scene is a "where are they and what's going on?" kind of thing.

Frozen Anna and Elsa

Disney is currently scheduling four shows a day - and that doesn't even come close to meeting the demand. Even with Fastpasses people are lining up as soon as possible to try to get good seats. That makes for a long wait even before the show starts. The $49 that Disney is charging for the pre-show experience and priority seats is looking more appealing to me all the time.

I was concerned about big crowds getting out of the theater but it wasn't too bad. We had a 5:30 priority seating for Cafe Orleans in Disneyland that I'd made in advance before I knew what Frozen show we'd be seeing. Once we had the Fastpasses I knew it would be a little tight, but I thought we'd be ok - but then we had the delay in the show. It was 5:15 before the show ended. We made it, but just barely. As it turned out the restaurant was still accepting walk-ups, so it wasn't really a problem. I'll have a separate blog with a review of our meal.

After dinner the Disneyland app showed us that Hyperspace Mountain was running again so we went over to use our Fastpasses. No problem, and we were on the attraction quickly. I was again able to use my AP Photopass feature to download our ride photos. Though unfortunately the CM seated us in two different cars, so we aren't all in the same picture.

Hyperspace Mountain

We had planned to head home after that, but the Disneyland All-American College Band was performing a set at the train station so we stopped to hear the rest of it. This is the first time we'd seen them this summer. They are always so talented, and a lot of fun to watch.

Disneyland All American College Band

We really had a very nice day! We were able to do all the attractions we really wanted to and we had a few opportunities to relax, also. I was pleasantly surprised that the parks were relatively uncrowded - that wasn't what I had expected that day.

I enjoyed the Frozen show as much the second time - I predict it's going to be around for a long, long might even beat Aladdin's 13 year run at the Hyperion Theater.

Though I'm hoping the new Soarin' film is NOT around for 13 years...I was really disappointed in that.

July 15, 2016

2016 Mickey's Halloween Party Information and Updates

Mickey's Halloween Party

Disneyland (finally) announced details for this year's Mickey's Halloween Party events...and there are a number of changes.

There will be seventeen different parties this year: September 23, 26, 28, 30 and October 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 29, 31.

The most interesting to me is the announcement that The Headless Horseman will appear on Main Street prior to the "character cavalcade." That's the first time that I know of that we've seen the Horseman on the left coast. He'll ride a black stallion and carry his jack-o-lantern head. From the parade route posted on the Halloween Party page it appears that he will enter Main Street next to the fire station, go around Town Square, up Main Street, around the hub, and then back down Main Street and exit next to the fire station. I may have to go to the party this year just to see that!

But there's a hefty price increase this year. The cheapest ticket is $72 for Annual Passholders for advance purchase of tickets to seven different week night parties. It's not clear if there is a discount for DVC members or Visa card holders. The advance purchase price for the general public for those parties is $79, and the same day price is $89. There is no discount at all for the other ten parties, and in fact the parties on October 29 and 31 are $99! Last year an AP ticket was $63, advance purchase was $69, and the same day price was $77. The October 29 and 31 parties were priced at $84 - so they received a $15 increase this year. That's almost 18% higher.

And also factor in that this year parking is NOT included with the ticket - essentially raising the price another $18 for many guests. At least they did not take away the early entry feature, and as in previous years party guests will be allowed to enter Disneyland three hours before the party starts.

Ticket sales open on July 21 for Annual Passholders, DVC members, and Disney Visa cardholders, and for July 28 to the general public.

A significant change this year: While in the past all guests have been "welcome to dress in costume" - this year there's not the same level of encouragement for adult guests. There are many more costume guidelines this time - and they will be very familiar to those of you who have participated in recent runDisney events.

From Disneyland's web site:

While we encourage creativity, we also value safety and good judgement. Please take a moment to read over our latest rules and regulations:
-- Costumes must be family-friendly and may not be obstructive, offensive, objectionable or violent.
-- Guests who dress like characters may not pose for pictures or sign autographs for other Guests.
-- Costumes may not contain any weapons that resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.
-- Costumes may not contain sharp objects, pointed objects or materials that may accidentally strike another Guest.
-- Layered costumes or costume props that surround the entire body are strongly discouraged and may be subject to additional security screening.
-- Costumes may not reach or drag on the ground. (e.g. full-length Princess dresses).

For Guests Ages 13 and Under: Costumes and some masks may be worn, as long the mask does not cover the entire face and eyes are visible.

For Guests Ages 14 and Older
-- Capes may be worn if the length does not go below the waist.

-- Themed T-shirts, blouses, sweatshirts and hats are acceptable.

-- Acceptable accessories include: transparent wings, plastic light sabers, toy swords and tutus. Headwear may be worn as long as it does not cover the face.

-- Masks of any kind may not be worn.

Guests who do not adhere to these guidelines may be refused entry into, and/or removed from, unless his or her costume can be modified to meet the above standards.

Takes a lot of the fun away for the adults, I think. I get it, but it's still disappointing.

But back to the positives:

New this year is Villains Square - Town Square will become the Disney villains meet and greet location. According to the web site, the villain appearance times will be available on the Disneyland app.

The Cadaver Dans will be back, and will perform their sepulchral hits and melancholy melodies in Frontierland.

As in past years, attending a Halloween Party is the only way to see the spooktacular Halloween Screams fireworks show. I still think it's one of the best firework shows ever at Disneyland.

The usual trick-or-treat stops and meet-and-greets with Disney characters in costume will return, as well as a dance party at the Tomorrowland Terrace.

The Character Cavalcade will also be back this year (last year the Paint the Night parade ran instead). I keep hoping that Disney will make this more of a real parade, but I'm not very optimistic.

I was a little surprised to read that the resort-wide Halloween Time celebration has been moved forward another week, and starts on September 9. Just barely after Labor Day! But it is very popular - in fact I have a friend who says she enjoys it more than the holiday season.

This year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the incredibly popular Haunted Mansion Holiday. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is also returning, so I guess that means we will say goodbye to Hyperspace Mountain later this summer. No official word yet on whether that means we'll see a turning of the Season of the Force. (Just how long ARE the seasons in that galaxy far, far away?)

What do you think of the changes to Mickey's Halloween Party? Does any of it affect your decision on whether (or not) to attend this year?

Lee and I haven't been to the party since 2010, I think, but I'm interested in going back this year - I'd really like to see the Headless Horseman. And I really enjoy the Halloween Screams fireworks.

More information:

Mickey's Halloween Party

Halloween Time Returns to the Disneyland Resort

July 11, 2016

Disneyland Resort Updates - 7/8/16


Contributing photographer Jason of sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, July 8, 2016.

An overview of the Star Wars site from the Parking Structure.

A wall is taking shape on the far side of the site, near Fantasyland.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

The mound is where the Skyway building once stood.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Another wall is taking shape along the former Big Thunder Trail.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A closer look at the far wall. a crew is working on the rebar that will be in the wall.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Here you can see the conduit coming in from the left into the junction/access box.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A new fence along Disneyland Drive is taking shape right behind the existing one.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Pipes are onsite waiting to be installed. Assuming there is a trench along the fence line where the new road will be going and these will be buried there. But you cannot really see from this angle.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A lot of conduit and piping is run to this area near the center of the site.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A small structure taking shape. Guessing it is one of the two utility buildings that there are permits for.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Stopped by Oswalds. Ortensia is now on several pieces of merchandise.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

There is some new Oswald merchandise too.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

The fountains were on this afternoon. Seems like it has been a long time since I saw them in action.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Ghirardelli was back to handing out minis as the freebie today..

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A preview for Pete's Dragon has moved into the Sunset Showcase (formerly Muppets) Theater. It runs every 20 minutes (top of the hour, 20 and 40). Nice to know there is a schedule, but it is not published. The cast members out front were telling guests this.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

At the Studio Store a couple pieces of merchandise for the film.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Elliot is $19.99

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

The seating in the Animation Building has changed to six hard benches in the center of the room.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Nick was out when I walked back by. They seemed to be looking for Judy.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Headed into the preview next. The preshow room appeared untouched. The theater was open to go and sit down and wait for the next show. I had about 5 minutes to wait. Inside they were projecting a forest on the screens above the doors and had a 3D placeholder on the screen for the film until it started.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Next stop Disneyland.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Out on Tom Sawyer Island most structures are now surrounded by scaffolding. This is the pirate ship.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Making my way to the end of the Big Thunder Trail. You can see the new wall taking shape through the trees.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A look through the fence. You can see the walls going up right along the walkway. Assuming these will be rock work along the Big Thunder trail.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Dance the Magic was at the parks this weekend for their summer program. Before Soundsational they filled the parade route with dancers. This year their music was from the Jungle Book.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

It was about a 5 minute stream of dancers. Here are a couple video clips of Dance the Magic passing by.

Scaffolding up around the cabin.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Interesting to see scaffolding up around the tree house. I saw rumors it may be removed. But seems it is staying in some form.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Looking through the fence by the Canoes.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

The far seating area of the Hungry Bear was closed off again this week.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

No scaffolding on the fort though.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Several Disneyland security cast members showed up for the flag retreat today.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Walking by Autopia, the new green car really stands out.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

It looks like most if not all of the cars sport the new colors now.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Walked through the Star Wars Launch Bay to see what was going on. It was really quiet. Only a 5 minute wait for one of the meet and greets. The upstairs is still closed with no signs of any work going on.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A small crowd along the Rivers of America enjoying the Jambalaya Jazz. They now perform four sets on the river (6:20, 7:45, 8:55 and 10:25 on Friday).

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

The light tower does look bare right now with a majority of the equipment removed. This is the center Fantasmic tower.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

A couple video clips of the All-American College Band performing Let it Go.

In the Paint the Night parade Jessie was MIA...her cowgirls were all there, though.

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Disneyland Forever Finale

Jason @ image from Friday, July 8, 2016

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

July 4, 2016

Dining Review: River Belle Terrace

River Belle Terrace

Earlier this year the River Belle Terrace restaurant in Frontierland was converted from a counter service restaurant to a table service restaurant. As a counter service restaurant breakfast service was offered in addition to a lunch/dinner menu, while the table service restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner.

Many of us have enjoyed eating breakfast at the River Belle Terrace over the years - the outdoor patio offered a lovely overlook of the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island in the morning. And it was the only place around to get a Mickey Mouse pancake!

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Fortunately, the Mickey Mouse pancake and most of the other breakfast items live on at Rancho del Zocalo, which has now picked up the morning breakfast service. Unfortunately my personal favorite, the Cinnamon Roll French Toast, did not make the move, and is no longer available.

Cinnamon Roll French Toast

Recently we had the opportunity to try dinner at River Belle Terrace. We arrived at the podium about 5 minutes before our priority seating time. Our party of three was seated about 10 minutes later. We chose "first available" and were seated inside, though I was hoping for an outdoor table. It's a pleasant dining room, though very simply decorated.

River Belle Terrace Table

The menu is Southern inspired. It is the same for lunch and dinner and features sandwiches (fried chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket), pork ribs, fish and several entree salads.

River Belle Terrace Menu

We shared one of the appetizers: Creamy Pimento Cheese Dip, served with toasted bread and crispy celery for $10.00. This was actually quite tasty, and there was quite a bit of it. We quickly ran out of bread, but our server brought us more.

Creamy Pimento Cheese Dip

I tried the Grilled and Chilled Shrimp with house-made BBQ cocktail sauce and lemon. At $12.00 I thought this was a little pricey. Still, I enjoyed the shrimp and the sauce.

River Belle Terrace Grilled Shrimp

Lee ordered the House Salad with arugula, apple, Gorgonzola, dried cranberries, candied pecans, and apple vinaigrette for $6.00. Much more modestly priced, and a nice serving.

River Belle Terrace House Salad

As an entree I ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich - BBQ sauce and tangy coleslaw served on toasted ciabatta. The pork was not fatty and had a good flavor, though it could have used some more BBQ sauce. I was happy that they stuck with a traditional coleslaw and did not put peppers in it.

River Belle Terrace Pulled Pork Sandwich

All of the entrees come with their Signature baked beans and choice of an additional side: coleslaw, potato salad, seasoned tater tots, or seasonal vegetables. I ordered the tater tots and they were the clear winner here - we all really enjoyed those. They tasted really good dipped in the leftover pimento dip.

Lee tried the Beef Brisket Sandwich with smoked Provolone and fried onions served on toasted onion hoagie roll with steak sauce-mayo. He was very pleased with that.

River Belle Terrace Beef Brisket Sandwich

Our friend Michelle ordered River Belle's Chopped Salad with Romaine lettuce, black beans, garbanzo beans, pickles, roasted corn, red bell pepper, and tomatoes topped with fried onions and served with BBQ ranch dressing. It's served with choice of chicken, grilled shrimp, brisket or BBQ tofu. She had the tofu. I tried a bite of the tofu and I enjoyed it - it had a good flavor and a nice texture.

River Belle Terrace Chopped Salad w/Tofu

Other entrees include Fried Chicken Sandwich, Pork Spareribs, Oven-roasted Sausage Link Combo Sustainable Catch of the Day, BBQ Tofu, and Roasted Half Chicken.

For dessert Lee and I split the Maple, Apple, and Bacon Bundt Cake, because that sounded really interesting. It was an apple bundt cake with a hint of maple flavoring and some candied bacon. The bacon mostly just tasted sweet and added a crunchy element - I didn't really taste any bacon flavor. The other two desserts available were a Butterscotch Pudding Parfait and Fried Cheesecake.

Maple, Apple, Bacon Bundt Cake

Our server was good but not exceptional. Our meal was nicely paced, she kept our drinks refilled and brought us extra bread for the dip.

For what you get I thought it was overpriced, especially compared to options like Cafe Orleans and Carnation Cafe. The menu seems to be a combination of the (closed) Big Thunder Ranch BBQ and River Belle's former counter service menus. I'm glad we tried it, but I'm in no hurry to go back. My favorite Disneyland table service restaurant is still Cafe Orleans.

June 27, 2016

"The BFG" Press Junket With Filmmakers and Cast



Entering into theaters July 1 is Stephen Spielberg's newest film, "The BFG." A retelling of the Roald Dahl book, it follows the adventures of a precocious young orphan named Sophie whose curiosity results in the acquaintance of the Big Friendly Giant, and a potentially one-way trip to Giant Country. Although they initially regard each other with some suspicion, the two lonely souls eventually become fast friends and work to bring about a happy ending for themselves and children everywhere.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

At a recent press junket, some of the film's distinguished talent--old and new--gathered to talk about the experience of bringing "The BFG" to life.


Penelope Wilton (“The Queen”) on playing a child's version of Queen Elizabeth: "I think you have to start from trying to catch the person...if you don’t have a real person, then it wouldn’t be fun. If I made a fantasy queen in a fantasy, that would...cancel each other out. So it has to be based on reality so you do a double take all the time: “Did she say that? Did she say that?” And then it makes it interesting, and that’s what Roald Dahl does. That’s why he uses the queen, ‘cause in a little girl’s mind the person who is on all the stamps and all the money in England is the person who will be able to...if they have a problem, she will fix it. And so in a 9 year old’s mind, that is what she does."


Mark Rylance (“The BFG”) on the movie's appeal: "I hadn't thought of it before, but I like the fact that here's a man in a very difficult family, isn't he? It's his brothers who are doing this--they've got very degraded, they weren't always like this, and he's kind of given up on it. And he goes around behind to blow dreams, like we might give money to peaceful charities or something to compensate...But the young girl comes in and she's so marvelous, in that she says 'no, we can do better, we can change this. It doesn't have to be like this.' I was very impressed with that because increasingly I think well, maybe it all is just a jungle, just a dog-eat-dog jungle and there's nothing you can do, but the younger generation always comes through with either foolishness or hope that things can change, and in this case she actually does succeed and change the situation.

"At least, until they do a sequel."



Ruby Barnhill (“Sophie”) on what she learned from working with Stephen Spielberg: "I think I've just learned from Stephen's ok to make mistakes. I was at Parent's Evening, and my art teacher said 'every time you make a mistake in lessons, you start panicking, and you need to stop doing that because everybody makes mistakes and it's absolutely fine." And I learned from Stephen that making mistakes is ok and to just...everybody does it and you learn from them and it's fine. And so that was one thing that I really worked on."


Steven Spielberg (Director) on why he was drawn to make this film: "Because I...what really appealed to me was the fact that...the protagonist was a girl, not a boy. And it was a very strong girl. And the protagonist was going to, you know--the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point, to believe that--four feet tall can completely outrank 25 feet of giant. And I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story, and her courage, and her values, was going to, in a way, turn the cowardly lion into the brave hero at the end...which is what she turns BFG into. And I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, “Oh, here’s a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion - just the two of them.”

Spielberg on Walt Disney: "I was really influenced as a kid, growing up, by Walt Disney. Walt Disney did two things for me: For one thing, he scared me more than anybody else ever scared me, then he rescued me from the fear that he instilled in me five minutes after he terrified me. And he did that like a sine wave pattern again and again and again until there was complete memorable redemption at the end. The other thing Walt Disney did, was he extolled the virtues of strong women characters. He did that throughout his entire career, through his animated films.”


"The BFG" will open in theaters July 1, 2016.

June 23, 2016

Recap: E3 2016


So back we went again for a look at this year's E3--the preeminent trade show for electronic entertainment. Here is where most of the major game companies make their big announcements and trailer releases for the year.


The big shockers for me actually came some months ago, when Disney first announced they were pulling out of E3, and then a few weeks beforehand abruptly revealed they were closing down Disney Infinity and shuttering Avalanche, their internal console game studio. While they will still be licensing their various franchises to other game developers, they are apparently ceasing to self-publish their own console games.

Another big blow to E3 was the revelation that EA, the company currently responsible for making the bulk of the Star Wars games, was also going to sit E3 out this time around.

In an interesting spin, EA instead held their own version of E3 off-site and open to everyone, not just the Industry and Media traditionally allowed into E3. All guests to EA Play were treated to swag bags, refreshments, and the opportunity to demo four of EA's upcoming games: Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, FIFA 17, and Madden NFL 17.


While it was a nice facility, outside of the demo areas it had kind of a vacant, stark vibe. There was a separate floor for VIPs which was probably more populated.


I had kind of hoped they would have some/any information on the new Star Wars projects or the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda, but there really wasn't much outside of merchandise beyond the demos for the four games.


(I did wind up demoing Battlefield and Titanfall, which was pretty humiliating as I am possible the world's worst at FPS. My experience was very much like this tweet:)

In any case, however, it was certainly easier to demo the games with specific appointment times here, rather than wait hours on the show floor as is sometimes required.


With two of the traditionally largest and splashiest booths missing, this year's E3 was quite a bit more sedate than in years past. While there were still quite a few photo-ops and demos available, it seemed a lot quieter with a lot more room to move around.



The big piece of technology that was present and promoted at what seemed almost every booth this time around was VR--either in the conventional form of games, or as a facet of what looks like an upcoming trend in theme parks rides.


I rode one ride demo that was basically a roller coaster motion simulator with a VR headset--it was nice if you're not a gonzo roller coaster fanatic as I am not, but I think people looking for the same kind of thrill as the live version will be a little disappointed.


While I don't think the VR I saw was really good enough to simulate real-life situations, where it does shine was at putting you into a completely unworldly environment. The ability to look in all directions and see a seamless 3-D environment you can travel in and interact with is astonishing. I don't know that I'm ready to plunk down the money for a system just yet (the PlayStation VR headset will launch in October of this year for a MSR of $399,) this definitely seems to be the direction the industry is headed.

Out on the main show floor, there were the usual elaborate booths set up to simulate various game environments, whether they were a street in New Orleans, complete with fortune tellers and jazz funeral processions...


...A post-apocalyptic fallout shelter...


...Wherever "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" is supposed to be...

(This booth was so popular, there were actually two lines to get one--one that took forever that enabled you to actually play the demo, and one slightly shorter just to walk in and look around.)

...Or the ubiquitous zombies.


Over at the LEGO booth, they were demoing the upcoming "LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens" game.



As far as Marvel games, Sony announced a new "Spider-Man PS4" game, in partnership with Insomniac Games.

Probably the closest Disney tie exhibited however, was over at the Square Enix booth which was heavily promoting the upcoming compilation "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue."


A crossover RPG featuring both Final Fantasy and Disney characters, the long and convoluted series has recently been repackaged into "Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix" and "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix" for the PlayStation 3. "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8" and the even-further-off "Kingdom Hearts III" which was announced at last year's D23 Expo will both be for the PlayStation 4.

While I don't have any experience with the game currently, I can tell you that if "Kingdom Hearts III" does, as they said last year, base its plot around Baymax, I am all in.


So looking back, I would say that this E3 felt the smallest of all the ones I've attended. There does seem to be a movement away from this "professionals only" show towards companies wanting to open it up to fans and players as well, which may indicate a change in the way games will be marketed and distributed in the future. E3 did give a nod to this by holding "E3 Live" which was an off-site event that was supposed to be a mini-E3 anyone could attend. Unfortunately, as I walked through it, I found it was mostly a small collection of vendors with very few game-playing opportunities available. If E3 does want to hold these kind of inclusive events, they're going to have to try to emulate the actual E3 environment a little better in order to avoid disappointing people's expectations.


Another thing that would help the experience is figuring out some way to manage the lines for the demos better. PlayStation at least had an app where you could make reservations to try out various games or watch trailers, but other popular companies had brutal lines. I tried briefly to line up for the new "South Park" demo, but bailed quickly after I was told the wait was thought to be around three hours.


In all, despite the low numbers of booths and long lines, it was another fun E3 filled with announcements and teasers for an abundance of good-looking games. Now if only I was a little better at combat...


June 20, 2016

"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" Premiering This Week


"Focus your abilities. Master the Force, and you can lead us to the crystals!"
"That was a lot of words, and my mind wandered in the middle."


"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" debuts this week on Disney XD as the latest addition to the panoply of stories in the Star Wars universe.

This new Disney XD series takes place between "The Empire Strikes Back" and
"Return of the Jedi," It follows the adventures of the Freemaker family: Sister Kordi Freemaker, older brother Zander Freemaker, younger brother Rowan Freemaker, and their droid RO-GR a.k.a. Roger.


The three siblings together make up the entirety of Freemaker Salvage and Repair--a relatively unsuccessful scavenger business that involves them collecting debris from various space battles and vehicle crashes and reformulating the LEGO bricks into spaceships they can sell. Kordi is the brains and saleswoman of the enterprise, while Zander is the gearhead that designs and constructs their ships. Rowan, as the youngest, is usually relegated to RO-GR's relatively ineffectual guardianship...which does not tend to mitigate his propensity for causing disaster.


Their lives tend to revolve around making their business pay enough to keep from getting evicted from their workspace until Rowan is discovered to have a Force Sensitivity that draws him to pieces of the legendary Kyber Saber. This, the first light saber ever made, holds enormous power and becomes a source of some interest to Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice.

Recently, Executive Producers Bill Motz and Bob Roth and the voice cast of "Freemaker," Eugene Byrd (“Zander Freemaker”), Vanessa Lengies (“Kordi Freemaker”), Nicholas Cantu (“Rowan Freemaker”), and Matthew Wood (“Roger”) met at a press conference to answer questions about the new series:


Some points of note from the discussion:
--That two of the characters were named "Kordi" and "Zander" was not intended as a nod to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
--The show aims to be more intense than you'd expect from the LEGO franchise, but still retain the fun and humor.
--They have no intention to tell the story of the Freemaker's parents.
--There will be a crossover with Luke, Leia, Dengar, and others.
--The color for the Freemakers is "nougat," a pre-existing LEGO color, indicating their undefined, mixed ethnicity.
--The storyline is "canon" in the sense that it is in continuity, enacted by a child playing with LEGO.
--Your media correspondents are willing to risk burning to death in a building to get you information on LEGO Star Wars.


"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" airs June 20th, 10:00 am EDT on Disney XD. A new episode will be released each day of this week at that time until June 23rd.

June 19, 2016

Disneyland Resort Updates - 6/17/16


Contributing photographer Jason of sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, June 17, 2016.

An overview of the Star Wars site from the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure.

Now a pan across the site from left to right.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The large mound of dirt is shrinking as trucks haul it away.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The Skyway building is now gone this week. Almost all the demolition work is done and major clearing. They have now started to build.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Soarin' Around the World premiered today here (as well as in Epcot; Shanghai opened yesterday). Only change outside I noticed is the "Around the World" replaced "California".

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

FastPass logo has been updated. Not surprisingly they were almost gone for the day at 1:35pm.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Since the wait was posted at 75 minutes and looked slightly shorter I decided to get in line at 1:38pm.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

FastPass distribution ended around 1:50pm and they closed it up while I stood in line waiting. They made an announcement of technical difficulties and they would be down to one theater. Which doubled the wait time.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Almost to the front door at 2:36pm, an hour in. They were letting less than 10 standby guests into each cycle. So we were moving very slowly. The FastPass return line stretched out toward the entrance of Smokejumpers Grill (it turned the corner and I could not see the end).

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Finally made it inside the door at 2:58pm I saw no changes to the interior queue. Background music seemed the same loop too.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Watching the pre-flight video at 3:33pm. Instead of clouds and cities the new one has a map that features the locations.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The safety video is the same, just no over California in it. I was seated and ready for my flight at 3:38pm

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

On my way up the exit at 3:45pm. So it was 127 minutes from when I entered the queue till I exited the building.

My first impressions - The clarity of the new film is impressive and the scenic locations are amazing. Though I felt they went to the computer graphics well too many times. The locations themselves are visually stunning and in almost all cases did not need the "enhancements". Sometimes they seemed to dominate and distract from the amazing sights. I also found the transitions between scenes to be annoying - the abrupt motion and sound versus a peaceful transition bothered me. I would have liked to have seen them show a little more restraint and pick/choose where to use the effects more.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The Silly Symphony Swings are back in operation.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Frozen Live at the Hyperion is up to four shows daily now.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Next stop Disneyland. Surprised there was nothing going on for Finding Dory. First stop for me was the Big Thunder Trail. A second fence with mesh has gone up blocking the nice clear view we had of the Star Wars construction.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

There was a small crack left with no fence, so here are a couple quick pics. The forms look to be up near the old Big Thunder Trail, wonder if it is for a retaining wall or structure that will be the visual barrier for the new walkway.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The hole in the fence here is still available (this week at least).

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The 2016 All-American College Band started their summer in the park on Thursday. Here is Ron at the nightly Flag Retreat.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The All-American College Band performing a Disneyland Attraction Medley during their 6:15pm The Castle Set

The band moves to Main Street to perform music from the Incredibles

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

As they move toward Town Square they play Gonna Take You There from Princess and the Frog.

They stop again near the Emporium and perform Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

After their performance I headed for Tomorrowland.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Autopia was down for some reason.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Time for the 7:15pm All-American College Band set at the Train Station in Town Square. The set opens with "Bubbles was a Cheerleader."

Meet the 2016 All-American College Band.

The set features a Jungle Book medley this year.

The band plays a pre-parade starting at 8:15pm near Small World with their Disney Movie Medley.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

They then move to the hub and perform Uptown Funk.

The band stops on Main Street and performs Let it Go.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

The last stop for pre-parade is Town Square and they performed a Star Wars Medley.

Since I was in Town Square I found a spot for Paint the Night

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

I closed out my evening with Disneyland Forever

Jason @ image from Friday, June 17, 2016

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

June 16, 2016

Disneyland Resort - Jammin' on the Backlot & Polynesian Nights - 6/10/16


Contributing photographer Jason of sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, June 10, 2016.

This posting will focus on two of the summer evening entertainment options. For a look at other happenings on Friday visit the full picture set on my site.

Jammin' on the Backlot has taken over for the Mad T Party this summer. It kicked off at 6pm and runs until park closing.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The benches are turned to watch the DJ and dance party. Not much happening on the dance floor right now. Just a couple kids out there. This was around 6:15pm

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The DJ for the evening on stage. She was playing a mix of music including current tracks and some Disney ones on occasion.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

A couple of set pieces on the stage.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

A few more families join the dancing.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The DJ was working to try and engage the guests.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The decorations are minimal for this event compared to previous events like the Mad T Party and ElecTRONica.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The food truck is open. Here is the menu.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Picnic tables to sit at in the former House of Cards stage area.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

A closer look at the tables

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The former House of Cards Bar is un-named with covered menus, but it was open in the evening.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Here is the menu. Guessing this will change after Grad Nite season concludes.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The face painting area has returned, this was open throughout the day too.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

The Backlot Stage does not appear to be in use for the party.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

This was around 6:40pm

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

In Downtown Disney this summer each night has a musical theme. Fridays are Polynesian nights..

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Tupua has returned again and the show is nearly identical to previous years. You travel the South Pacific through music and dance.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016


Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016


Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

I returned to California Adventure and took another walk through the Backlot. This was just before 8pm

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

A few more guests around the dance floor vs a earlier.

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, June 10, 2016

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

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