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April 4, 2016

It's Back! The 2016 Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival


A long time ago, in a theme park not so far away....there was a Food and Wine Festival. It wasn't the biggest one around, but it experienced steady growth over the years, and every year there were even more interesting events and unique experiences. Its faithful fans loved it, and looked forward to it each spring.

And then came construction. And the Festival went on hiatus.

Construction ended, and the theme park was re-dedicated. And guests started asking: "When will the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question went unanswered.

Several years passed. Guests asked: "WILL the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question still went unanswered.

Until February 15, 2016. When there was an entry on the Disney Parks blog announcing that the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival would be held on weekends from April 1 to May 1. The announcement was very brief, with few details: there would be Festival Marketplaces serving food and beverages, there would be "culinary demonstrations, appearances by celebrity chefs and informative seminars", and there would be some "premium experiences" which could be reserved.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Much excitement and celebration ensued - ok, maybe that was just me. :-) No, really, there were a lot of other people equally as enthused, though I think we were all a little puzzled that there was so little information available when the opening date wasn't very far away!

Some additional details emerged over the next month. Reservations opened for the Beverage Seminars ($15/person) and the Celebrity Kitchen featuring a star lineup of chefs ($99/person, with an Annual Passholder VIP experience offered for $149). And my mouth watered when I read about some of the menu items that would be available at the Festival Marketplaces.

Then we waited for April 1 to arrive...

Upon arriving at DCA that morning, I was a little surprised to see that there was no banner across the park entrance, nor on Buena Vista Street, advertising the Festival. However, there was a nice fold-out Festival brochure available at the turnstiles as we entered. I thought it interesting that the brochure contained a schedule only for the first weekend, and not for the entire Festival. (Click on the map image below to see the full-sized version.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival Map

DCA Food and Wine Festival Map

The first sight of the Festival is the Festival Marketplaces. There are eight of them, and they are placed along the parade route between the Carthay Circle Theater and the entrance to Paradise Pier. This is a big change from previous Food and Wine Festivals, where all of the food items had to be sold out of existing restaurant spaces. These new Marketplaces made it feel much more like what we're used to at Epcot. I thought it also made the Festival experience much more central to the park - we didn't have to seek food items out (and previously they were sometimes in very out-of-the-way areas) like we did in the past.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The booths were not highly decorated (we found out later that they were built on pretty short notice), but I thought they made a good attempt to fit in with the Golden Vine Winery area.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

One very nice thing: they all had eating areas attached to them. There were counters with lattice-type roofs over them to provide some shade. In addition there were tables as well as wine barrels that could be used as places to set your food down.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The Pixar Play Parade is on hiatus during the Festival - the food booths take up too much space along the parade route. It makes the area feel more crowded than it really is.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

We had a short conversation with Jim Ames, Show Producer for the Festival. As you might imagine, he was quite busy on Friday. :-) The reason that there wasn't much advance notice on the Festival is that the decision to hold the Festival was made on December 31, 2015! The decision was also made to focus on the Festival Marketplaces this year. Those individual food kiosks are something quite new to us, since California food handling laws are quite different than those in Florida. This time Disney was able to work with the people who regulate such things to get permission to build and run them. One of the considerations which is not an issue in Florida is earthquake safety - Jim told us that they are all have bolts that go 1-1/2 feet into the ground! So if they come back next year they will be in exactly the same places.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Marketplaces

Considering the very short timetable I'm pretty surprised they were able to put as much together as they did. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

But back to the Festival overview...

The rest of the Festival events take place in Hollywood Land and in the Golden Vine Winery area. The Sonoma Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery hosts the Beverage Seminars. There are three each day on Fridays and four each day on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the sessions are wine tasting with a featured winery, but at least one each day involves beer tasting or spirits such as vodka, whiskey, or tequila. These sessions are $15/person, plus tax and gratuity, and must be booked in advance. There is still limited availability. Reservations can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance, so it's possible there could be some last-minute openings.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The Blue Sky Cellar is hosting an Annual Passholder Lounge during the Festival. Each weekend a different button and recipe card will be available to Passholders. This week the recipe was for fried artichokes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There are tables inside where passholders can charge phones, etc. Passholders can also sit in the viewing area and watch the Seasons of the Vine movie, which played in the cellar when DCA originally opened in 2001.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The remaining Festival events are held in Hollywood Land.

Stage 17 in Hollywood Land is where the Celebrity Kitchen events take place. There are two sessions on most Saturdays. Participants receive food tastings, and there's featured wine pairings for those 21 and older. Following the presentation is an autograph session. The scheduled chefs are:

-- Robert Irvine (Restaurant Impossible)
-- Andrew Sutton (Disneyland Resort Executive Chef)
-- Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives)
-- Keegan Gerhard (Food Network Challenge) and Hayden Wood (“Flair” Bartender)
-- G. Garvin (Road Trip with G. Garvin)
-- Graham Elliot (MasterChef)

As I mentioned earlier, the price is $99, or $149 for the Annual Passholder VIP experience. Plus tax and gratuity. Cancellations must take place at least 72 hours in advance to be refunded.

A new event was just announced on the Festival's opening day: A Conversation with Kurt Russell. During this 90-minute Q&A session Kurt Russell will talk about his experiences as a wine maker. Wine tasting will be included. This event will be held in Stage 17 on April 16. Reservations can only be made by calling 714-781-DINE. The price is $199/person plus tax and gratuity.

Also in Hollywood Land, the Culinary Demonstrations and Lifestyle Seminars take place in the backlot area. The Culinary Demonstrations are held on the Backlot Stage, where a demonstration kitchen has been set up. This is a free event but it is a demonstration only - no tastings will be served. There is some seating available on benches, and there is standing room at the back. (The web site and the Festival Guide both say that the Culinary and Lifestyle demos are standing room only, but that was not the case on opening day.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival Culinary Demos

The Lifestyle Seminars take place on the stage most recently occupied by the Mad T Party band. These are more of a mixed bag: presentations on topics like gardening, wellness, and entertaining, but also live demonstrations by featured artists. This area also has some bench seating available, but most of the viewing area is standing room only.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Lifestyle Seminars

Festival merchandise is available at The Studio Store in Hollywood Land, just outside Stage 17.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There were several different t-shirts, including an AP-exclusive shirt, as well as hats, wine glasses, and other event merchandise.

DCA Food and Wine Festival merchandise

DCA Food and Wine Festival shirt

DCA Food and Wine Festival

DCA Food and Wine Festival

These combination plate and glass holders were popular items.

DCA Food and Wine Festival merchandise

It was opening day, and there were some opening day hiccups. The biggest issue seemed to be with point-of-sale terminals that weren't working, resulting in long lines at most of the food booths in the beginning. Most of the booths had only one working register - and sometimes it wasn't working. That situation improved as the day went on - by late afternoon the lines were short/non-existent. There were also some supply issues - they either ran out of a couple of Marketplace items before the day was over, or had to tell guests that it would be a 15-20 minute wait until they had more. That was frustrating.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Still, people were excited - lots of people there who were fans of the previous Festivals. But we saw lots of young people, too, who would have been too young to drink five years ago when the last Festival took place. :-)

And now I'm sure you're asking: "So what about the food???"

There were only two of us, but we attempted to sample a variety of items. We were hampered in the beginning because of the long lines, but eventually we just couldn't eat any more. Overall I thought the food was good. Nothing that I'm going to rave that "you've got to try this!", though there were several items I'd recommend because I thought they were interesting. I'm looking forward to trying additional items on future visits. I felt the portion sizes and prices were in-line with what you see at the Epcot F&W Festival.

Festival Marketplace Menus

We started at the Gold Rush booth, where we tried all three food items plus a glass of wine. First up was Triple Cheese Mac with smoked chicken, Fontina, cheddar, and Gouda cheeses. This may have been our favorite item of the day. It was a good-sized portion for $6.00, and the mix of cheeses and smoked chicken was very tasty. The crunchy bits on top added some nice texture.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Triple Cheese Mac

Next was the Artichoke Chips with Spicy Aioli for $5.00. This was not what I was expecting, but it was good. I was expecting the artichokes to be crisp like a chip, but they weren't. I think they had a bit of a Parmesan crust, which was crunchy.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Artichoke Chips

The dessert was Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie with maple cream cheese icing and bacon brittle for $3.75. I was really not sure what this was going to be - but it was really very good! This would be one of those "I recommend you try it" things. It did not taste bacony to me - I wouldn't have known the bits on top were bacon. The apple-cream cheese filling was really good. Maybe too sweet for some people, though.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie

I also tried the glass of Zaca Mesa Viognier for $5.00. I like white wines, and this was nice and refreshing. Not as dry as a Sauvignon Blanc, but not as sweet as a Riesling. In between.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Zaca Mesa Viognier

Lee wanted to try the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, but that was one of the things that was unavailable.

By the way, those eating areas attached to the booths that I mentioned earlier? Brilliant. Even though the booths were busy, we never had a problem finding a place to set our food down so that we could eat.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Next we visited The Farm. Lee tried the Tenderloin Slider with chimichurri. At $7.75 this was one of the most expensive Marketplace items. He said that it was very good.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Tenderloin Slider

I tried the Golden Thai Vegetable Curry with jasmine rice for $5.75. This was a pretty generous serving but the vegetables were mostly red peppers and mushrooms, two things that I don't like. The curry sauce was good - a little bit of heat, but not too bad. Tasted good on the rice.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Thai Curry

Lee tried the Southern California Beer Flight from The Brewhouse for $12.25. It was supposed to include Hanger 24's Orange Wheat, Karl Strauss Columbia Street Amber, Bootlegger's Brewery Palomino Pale Ale, and Barley Forge's "The Patsy" Coconut Rye Stout. But no Columbia Street Amber, so they substituted something else. The Coconut Rye Stout was really good - definitely could taste the coconut.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Beer Flight

By the Bay is appropriately named, as it's the last Marketplace and closest to Paradise Pier. We tried all of the food items here, also, though it took us two visits, because they were out of the Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail the first time. (And on the second visit I got the next to last one!) It was good, but again not what I expected - instead of cocktail sauce, it was more like gazpacho. And a gazpacho that was very heavy on the cucumber, which I don't like. This one was $8.00. For the amount of shrimp in it, that's probably a reasonable price, as long as you like the cucumber in the sauce.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

The winner here was the White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup served in a Boudin sourdough mini-boule for $5.50. The soup was really good, though it was a very small serving. But the mini-boule was crunchy and chewy and filling and all of those things that good sourdough bread should be.

DCA Food and Wine Festival White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup

We also tried the dessert: Coconut Tapioca layered with fresh mango and lychee boba, topped with green tea micro sponge and mango-couli sesame tuile. What, you might ask, is green tea micro sponge? I wondered that too. It really was an airy spongey thing. Edible, but weird texture and flavor. The tapioca and fruit and boba were interesting, but not really my thing, and $4.25 seemed too pricey. Though given all the layers, there was a fair bit of work assembling this.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Coconut Tapioca

At the Wine Country Marketplace Lee tried the other $8.00 Festival item: Zinfandel-Braised Wagyu Beef with creamy polenta and spring pea puree. He said the Tenderloin Slider was a lot better.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Wagyu Beef

To pay for our more expensive Festival items we used our Festival Marketplace Tasting Passport. These are available for purchase by Annual Passholders. Each passport comes on a lanyard and has 6 detachable tabs. Each can be exchanged for one food item at any of the Marketplaces. Food items only, no beer or wine. The Marketplace menus are listed on the back of the passport, which is handy. The passport costs $45. So if you use it for food items that cost $7.50 or above (and there's only three of those) you'll come out ahead. Otherwise, there's no savings at all.

DCA Food and Wine Festival passport

DCA Food and Wine Festival Passport

One thing I didn't mention before: in addition to the Festival Marketplaces, there were also special Festival-Inspired Menus available at some of the restaurants. We tried the Shredded Pork Tostadas from Cocina Cucamonga. This was the standout item of the day. Plenty of shredded pork, topped with grilled pineapple slaw and chipotle crema, and served with Mexican rice, gucamole, sour cream, and salsa fresca. This is a full-sized entree, and was $13.49. It was served on two tortillas, which looked like they were made of a mix of blue corn and yellow corn - very interesting color. We could've shared this, and then gotten something else later.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Pork Tostadas

Here is the list of the other participating restaurants, and their menu items:

Festival-Inspired Menus

I haven't yet talked about the Beverage Seminar and Culinary Demonstrations that we attended, but this is enough for now. Overall it was a good first day. I'm looking forward to going back again next weekend.

April 6, 2016

Press Junket: "The Jungle Book"



Coming out on April 15th is Walt Disney Studio's latest film, "The Jungle Book." Directed by Jon Favreau, it tells the familiar story of Mowgli, an orphan raised in the jungle, who must seek out Man's Village for protection against the murderous tiger, Shere Khan.

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

At a press junket, Director Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor, and Actors Neel ("Mowgli”) Sethi, Sir Ben (voice of “Bagheera”) Kingsley, Lupita (voice of “Raksha”) Nyong'o, and Giancarlo (voice of “Akela”) Esposito gathered to discuss the process of conceptualizing and realizing "The Jungle Book."



Jon Favreau: [On why remake "The Jungle Book" now.] "...We (Favreau and Chair of Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn) had common ground of both having great affection for this property. And the question became 'if we love it so much in those other forms, why do it now?' And as he pointed out to me...you saw 'Life of Pi,' you realized that the technology may have come to a point where you can actually tell the story in a different way, and maybe bring something that just existed in his imagination while he was growing up, onto the big screen...100 years ago was the book, 50 years ago was the animated film, and now 50 years later, it's time to update the film for our generation."


Neel Sethi: [On becoming part of the cast.] "It felt like it was too easy, like that shouldn't have happened so easily. I just auditioned once and Jon really liked me. The first time I met Sir Ben Kingsley and Lupita...I voice recorded with Sir Ben and I met you (Lupita) at D23...and that was a lot of fun. I got to see my face!"



Giancarlo Esposito: [On how he got involved with the film.] "...It's synchronicitous, because for me, this story came from my Mother...I come from divorced parents and I have a brother, so my Mother would read this Law of the Jungle to us because it was us three--we had to survive! It was the three of us, and so it really meant something very deep inside me. It's like I tell my four girls now, 'never leave a man behind! If you go to the bathroom or anywhere, never leave anyone behind!' So it plays through."



Sir Ben Kingsley: [On getting into character.] "My secret to my performance I discovered later, which is odd, but I had an intuitive feeling/grasp of something in him...and I realized later, that I actually am playing Kipling, that Bagheera is...the voice of Rudyard Kipling in the story. So...although I didn't recognize it, sometimes an actor's intuition is buried, and you don't realize what you're mining as a source of energy until, perhaps, afterwards. I'm privileged to be the voice of Kipling, a man I greatly admire and love and when I was in...the Cubs, actually, which is before the Boy Scouts, our troop leader was called 'Akela.'"



Lupita Nyong'o: [On getting involved with the project.] "This is my first voice-over role, and I was attracted to it because Raksha is like the Eternal Mother. She chooses to take care of this creature who is not one of her own, but as though he was...I did a session...really early on, and then a few months later Jon called me in again, but this time he had Neel's performance captured and that really grounded the Mother-Son relationship for me. To see the vulnerability of this boy and the love he had for the wolf--it only made my love for him grow even more. And it's such a beautiful image to see these two very different creatures have this very real bond."



Brigham Taylor: [On producing such a unique film.] "The biggest job I had was to find the right filmmaker...we knew when Alan (Horn) talked about making this title, what we could do with this title, and we all imagined what it could be, we started to figure out what kind of skill sets we needed to pull that off. We needed someone who had the warmth and humanity to inject it with the charm and with the thematic quality you know you need. And you also had to have someone who knew how to master this incredibly complex thing, because we knew there wasn't going to be a live animal on the set. There couldn't be. In fact, to portray it the way Kipling had imagined it, had envisioned it, perhaps even for the first time, because he was envisioning a live action world with a child living amongst these animals...we needed someone who could do all that, and when you looked at the list, it whittled down to one guy."

Favreau: "...And he wasn't available..."

Taylor: "...And then we called Jon."

April 12, 2016

2016 Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival - Update and Additional Experiences


On Sunday I returned for my second taste of this year's Food and Wine Festival.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There was a new Festival guide map at the turnstiles for the weekend.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

We went to the Blue Sky Cellar to get our AP button and recipe cards - but the button was the same as last weekend. The cast member said they will change on Mondays. So the next day the new button and recipe cards would be released. The Festival is mostly on weekends...but the buttons are released on Mondays??? Doesn't make much sense to me.

Last week I mentioned the AP Passport - which was $45 for 6 tastings (food only), which made it not a good value at all unless you stuck to the three items that were $7.50, $7.75, and $8.00. I'm happy to say that they fixed that - the passport is $39 now. So if you buy food items that cost $6.50 or more, and there are six of those, then you will at least break even, if not come out a little bit ahead.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

AND, for those of us who purchased it last week when it was $45, there is a $10 gift card by way of apology. I went to the Blue Sky Cellar where they scanned my AP and punched a hole in the lanyard, then gave me the gift card. It didn't matter that I'd already used several tabs off the lanyard. So I thought they handled that well.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

At 11:00 on Sunday morning, the lines were already long at the Festival Marketplaces. Last Friday the wait was mostly to order, but this week there were lengthy waits both to order and to pickup the food. In some cases the booths were waiting to be re-supplied with one of the food items - most are prepared in a remote kitchen somewhere. In other cases, there's some plating that happens in the booths, and that seemed to be going very slowly.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Cast members were building masking tape queues - it had rained earlier and they had to wait until the ground was dry.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The good news is that there still seemed to be plenty of interest in the Festival Marketplace booths, and lots of people were trying and enjoying the various food and beverage offerings. But by the end of the second full weekend I would've thought the supply and service issues would have been worked out a little better. (The long line in the photo below is for pick-up - it's especially slow at the beer and wine booths.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival

From the Viva Fresca! Marketplace I was finally able to try the Anaheim Chile and Roasted Cauliflower Burrito with Jack cheese and avocado-lime crema. Last weekend they ran out of them, and it was going to be a 15-20 minute wait. This time they were also out of them, but were expecting more within 5 minutes. There were probably 8 people in front of me also waiting for the burritos. Once they arrived they were served up pretty quickly. This was really good - it's now my favorite Festival item. For $5.50 it's a generous serving. The flour tortilla is stuffed full of mild green chiles, cauliflower and lots of melted cheese. It's a little spicy, and the avocado crema helps to cool it off.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Chile and Cauliflower Burrito

From the same Marketplace I also ordered the Fried Shrimp Soft Taco with pickled red onion and jalapeno, queso fresco, and avocado-lime crema. This was actually two soft tacos - one on a white corn tortilla and one on blue corn. These were also very good, though the pickled vegetables were a little strong and made me cough. I liked them, though. $6.50 for this one.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Fried Shrimp Soft Taco

At LA Style I tried the Pork Belly Bao Taco - also with pickled vegetables, for $6.50. These pickled vegetables weren't nearly as strong, though. This dish was also a winner - the steamed "taco shell" was soft and chewy and the pork belly and veggies inside had a very good flavor. It wasn't nearly as fatty as I expected.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Pork Belly Bao Taco

Both last weekend and this weekend I went to one of the Beverage Seminars. I booked these at the beginning of March when the schedule first went up. They are $15/person (plus tax and gratuity), paid in advance, though the reservation can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance. There's very little availability for the remaining sessions. Most of them are wine tastings (and you'll find wines from some of the wineries for sale in the Festival Marketplaces), but there are also beer and liquor tastings as well.

The beverage seminars are held outside at the Sonoma Terrace. The area is open-air and only partially covered. Plenty of shade, but not windproof. The trees around it sometimes shed leaves, blossoms, etc. that can end up in the wine glasses.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

About 30 minutes before the seminar starts, cast members start going down the line and checking off names. Showing a photo id is also required at this time, as only those aged 21 and over are allowed into the tasting area. You don't need to be there 30 minutes early - they will continue to check off names as people arrive at the end of the line. Anywhere from 10 minutes before to 5 minutes after they will let people in. It's open seating, and first come,first serve, so if you want to sit in the front, you'll want to be one of the first 8-10 people in line. The presenters have microphones, so you don't need to be in the front to be able to hear them.

The first tasting I attended was Hill Family Estates. They grow a lot of grapes that they supply to well-known wineries, but they started making their own wines, also. The presenter was Ryan Hill, who was a very engaging speaker. We sampled three wines, a chardonnay and two red blends. They weren't really to my taste, but a lot of people in the audience enjoyed them. Ryan had lots of interesting things to tell us and there were a number of questions, so this seminar lasted about 45 minutes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

This past weekend I went to Sparkling Wines: Cava, Champagne, and Prosecco. This one started late - it was supposed to start at noon but we weren't even admitted into the area until after that. I was expecting to taste Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) Champagne and Prosecco, but we didn't get to try any Cava. And unfortunately all three wines we sampled had been sitting around too long and there were no bubbles! Very disappointing. We tried a real Champagne from the Champagne region of France (Landon), as well as the Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, which is a sparkling wine from California made in the Champagne method. The third wine was Rosa Regale, which is a red sparkling wine made in the Italian style. I'd had the Iron Horse and the Rosa Regale before, and enjoy them very much. The Landon was also very good.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

This seminar was presented by two Disneyland Resort Sommeliers. They seemed a little nervous, and the seminar was only about 30 minutes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Last weekend I also went to one of the Culinary Demonstrations. These are held on the stage in the Hollywood Backlot. There's a demonstration kitchen set up, but NO samples are served. There are benches available for those who arrive early enough, with standing room at the back. Since there's no samples, there doesn't seem to be nearly the demand for these that there was in the past. While all of the benches were full, there was still plenty of standing room.

We saw Chef Jamie Gwen - we remember seeing her at previous Festivals. This was her first demonstration this year and she was very excited to be back!

DCA Food and Wine Festival

She made buffalo meatball sliders - with two meatballs piled on top of each other. They looked very good. She was an entertaining and informative speaker - I learned how chefs dice an onion. :-)

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Also in the Backlot area, but on the opposite stage (where the Mad T Party band used to perform) are the Lifestyle Seminars. There is quite the variety of topics for these - in addition to gardening and wellness tips, there's also topics like home brewing, "Improving Social Media Photos", and "The Recipes of Star Wars." A number of the sessions also feature artists creating pieces of art right in front of you. Jason saw this session by Stephen Fishwick.

And this past weekend I saw Craig Fraser.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Craig Fraser

It looks like these are pretty lightly attended - there's only one row of bench seating and not much standing room behind it.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

As part of the Festival, several of the artists also have art featured in "Off the Page" and have signing sessions scheduled there.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

DCA Food and Wine Festival

April 13, 2016

Review: "The Jungle Book"



"The Jungle Book," a new live-action retelling of the classic 1967 animated feature from Walt Disney Studios and Director Jon Favreau, reinvents the Rudyard Kipling fable for our time in dazzlingly photorealistic CG.

While keeping some of the songs and whimsy of the Disney feature, Favreau's "Jungle Book" leans more towards the darker tones of the original Kipling tales. In it, Mowgli, a boy orphaned in the jungle, is raised by wolves until the vicious tiger Shere Khan declares open season on him and he is forced to leave the only home he knows.


As he makes his way towards the Man Village, Mowgli is alternately advised by the orderly, regimented Bagheera and the free-spirited Baloo...


...While eluding the grasps of both the predatory Kaa...


...And the ambitious King Louie.


To get the obvious out of the way, the CG on this film is amazing. Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles, it is astonishing how convincing it is--the environment, the animals, the wind and the water all are almost indistinguishable from real, and are absolutely convincing as characters and backdrop for the story.


The voice cast is used to good effect and is as skillful as their combined star power would lead you to expect. Bill Murray shows an impressive sensitivity behind the jovial Baloo and Lupita Nyong’o's Raksha has a goodbye moment with Mowgli with more emotion behind it than many a similar scene between human actors.


The only voice that rings a little light for the role is Scarlett Johansson, whose Kaa never really sounds quite as menacing as she looks. In contrast, the one voice I really wasn't sure about from the trailers was Christopher Walken--however he turned out to maybe be one of the few actors possessing the ideal skill set for the alternately creepy menace/song-and-dance man/Gigantopithecus, King Louie.


Speaking of music, one could hardly think about the 1967 "Jungle Book" without its deservedly popular score. While Murray does hum a few bars of "Bare Necessities," the big number is reserved for Walken and "I Wanna Be Like You," on which Richard Sherman consulted and wrote new lyrics.

Neel Sethi has the lion's share of the business on this one as the only physical character in the film. Fortunately he's naturally engaging, giving Mowgli a cleverness and initiative the animated one lacked, while easily avoiding the child actor pitfalls of annoying and cloying.


Ultimately, I think the film works well because it deviates strongly from both the original book and animated predecessor. Each version on some level reflects the time it came from: Kipling's story, in which Mowgli is abandoned/betrayed by both the wolves and mankind and winds up living solitary and apart is often thought to be commentary on British Imperialism in India. The 1967 feature, coming at a time of social revolution and the Vietnam War shows Mowgli retreating from the jungle and all its dangers, to the safety and familiarity of Man's Village. Today's Mowgli faces a Shere Khan as fueled by fear and hatred as revenge: Whose most chilling scene is that where he amiably teaches the wolf cubs that caring for others who are not your kind, is only to impoverish and weaken you and yours.


While the filmmakers tend to stress the themes of family in "The Jungle Book," what I found most prominent in the film was Mowgli's journey to discover what it means, to be a Man. Is it simply DNA and opposable thumbs? The ability to use tools and understand Physics? A facility for slaughter and destruction? Or a capacity for acts of compassion for others who look, speak, and act differently, at great personal cost? How interesting to live in a time where film animals often display the best of humanity, while TV politicians continually demonstrate the worst of beasts.


"The Jungle Book" is presented by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Rated PG, it stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Neel Sethi and Christopher Walken.

Directed by Jon Favreau and produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor. Screenplay by Justin Marks.

The film enters general release on April 15, 2015.

Disneyland Resort Updates - 4/10/16


Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

Laura covered the Food & Wine Festival in a separate post so I have included some general park update pictures from the visit. My day started off with a calm drive through Los Angeles, but came to a stand still waiting to enter the parking structure at 8:05am.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

An overview of the Star Wars construction site on this cloudy morning. The backstage buildings on the left have been cleared.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Here is a pan across the site from left to right.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

In the foreground the buildings that were removed this past week. The green fences mark a road connecting the two parts of backstage right now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

No visible progress on the rest of the LCD screens for the ticket booths. The project appears to have stalled.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

The current park map and inside ads.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Only 26 days until the Jungle Cruise returns (scheduled to re-open on May 6) and this skipper was excited.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Trees now obstructed most of the parking structure. I am assuming these are the ones they saved from the berm/island.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

The views up river are getting more limited. Here is one of the few left from near the Canoes.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Critter Country was empty and I was waiting for the rest of my group so took a look at the critter benches.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Decided to take a hike up the tree house to see what can be seen. A clear view backstage beyond Big Thunder.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Looking up river the other direction you can see the trees right behind the screen and the bare berm beyond.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Moving on to the far end of the Big Thunder Trail.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

More cleanup/removal in the Ranch area but not much else visible through the fence.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Scaffolding still up on the hills of Toontown as the final details are replaced.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Autopia refurbishment continues. The blue matches the Monorail station.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Super Hero HQ signage is still up even though the area is closed and the meet and greet has moved to DCA.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

The skies were turning darker on us...there was a 10-30% chance of rain in the forecast.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Lilly Belle was not out today. Guessing with the rain they moved it back to the round house.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Stopped by Off the Page in Disney California Adventure. There is a rack of vinyl records now. They had some film sound tracks and these.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Captain America and Spider-Man are on Sunset Blvd, where the Monsters University space was. There was a healthy line and no good angle to get them without waiting.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

A look at some of the props.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Captain America heading off, to the left you can see Spider-Man

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Laura went to a seminar/tasting, I stopped by the Lifestyle stage and Jenn Fujikawa was talking about Food & Fandom: The Recipes of Star Wars. As she talked and answered questions a slide show of some of her creations played in the background.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

Something new to me...today they had all the popcorn flavors available at the Cozy Cone and you could pick what you wanted instead of just the two for the day.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

By Disney Jr they were passing out free buttons.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 10, 2016

To close out some brighter views from the parking structure.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Sunday, April 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, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

April 25, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend

But really, it was only last summer that runDisney announced a new Star Wars Half Marathon weekend to be held in Florida in April, 2016. But this one would have a Dark Side theme. All of the usual races: Kids Races, 5K, 10K, half marathon, and 10K/half marathon challenge. For those who also ran the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland there would be a new coast-to-coast challenge: The Kessel Run, with a medal shaped like the Millennium Falcon!

Lee and I, as you might expect, signed up for the new Dark Side Challenge - running the 10K and half marathon on consecutive mornings. Since we were also running the Star Wars Half at Disneyland we also qualified for the Kessel Run Challenge. All of the races sold out very quickly. But we were surprised when registration for the half marathon and the challenge re-opened briefly a couple of months later. It again sold out, though.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend

There were new courses for the 10K and half marathon, since both of those races would start at Epcot and end at ESPN Wide World of Sports. The half marathon looked like essentially a reverse of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon course, which starts at ESPN and goes through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. The 10K would be completely new, though, and go through Epcot and the Studios before finishing at ESPN.

Star Wars Dark Side race courses
I find your lack of running disturbing.

I was concerned about transportation since the start and finish were in different places, and parking at ESPN would not be allowed. Everyone who drove themselves to the start would require transportation from the finish area back to Epcot. The rumor was that the 10K had 12,000 runners and the half had 19,000, and that's a lot of people to move around. Any bags that runners checked at the start line needed to be transported to the finish. And there were separate start and finish areas, which meant multiple sets of porta-potties, medical tents, concession stands, entertainment stages, etc. Yes, Disney has done that sort of thing before, but it looked logistically challenging.

Thursday, April 14 - The Expo

Lee and I had arrived at Walt Disney World on Wednesday night. The Expo opened on Thursday morning, and we knew that it would be a zoo, with great demand for all of the inaugural merchandise. So we didn't go until about 2:30 on Thursday afternoon. By then there were no lines for packet pick-up or to enter the merchandise area.

I was happy to see that the individual race banners were back at the entrance again - they were missing for Princess weekend.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

A view of the show floor at about 5:00 p.m.

Star Wars Dark Side Expo show floor

Some of the merchandise was already sold out. Except for Kids Races there were no magnets left, which is my usual race weekend souvenir. And almost nothing that said "Kessel Run". There was a Kessel Run Challenge shirt, but my size was the only one still available, and there weren't many of those. Lee was very disappointed not to get a Kessel Run shirt.

Star Wars Dark Side Kessel Run shirt

There did seem to be plenty of "I Did It" shirts. Though the women's version of the Dark Side shirt was pink. "Pink" and "Dark Side" do not go together. (Now that I think about it, I didn't see anyone wearing one, either.)

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge I Did It shirt

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge I Did It shirt

It was nice to see and "I Did It" shirt for the 5K.

Star Wars Dark Side 5K I Did It shirt

There were still some fun shirt designs left, though.

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

The race weekend shirt was a nice design on both front and back and Lee and I both bought one of those.

Star Wars Dark Side weekend shirt  Star Wars Dark Side weekend shirt

I was able to buy my mini-medal pins of the half and challenge medals, also, but not the Kessel Run medal. So the good news was that there was still some merchandise left, even if it wasn't everything we wanted. I still don't understand why they don't impose quantity limits on race merchandise.

Star Wars Dark Side merchandise

But of course we also had three new race shirts. I thought the designs were nice, though I didn't need yet another gray shirt.

Star Wars Dark Side race shirts

We didn't run the 5K, but that shirt was nicely done as well. (Thanks Helen, for use of the photo.)

Star Wars Dark Side 5K shirt

The Expo done, we had time to enjoy WDW before our first race on Saturday morning. This was a slightly longer trip for us and it was great to have most of the day Thursday and Friday to go to the parks before rather than having to rush to our first race day.

Saturday, April 17 - 10K

The race started at 5:30 and the buses were due to start running at 3:00. We decided to drive to the start at Epcot. (Actually we swapped driving duties with friends: they drove us all to the 10K, we drove us all to the half.) The secret to driving yourself is not to use it as an excuse to sleep in. We get up almost as early as we would if we were taking the bus, and that way traffic and parking are still easy.

It was a very warm and humid morning - already 70 degrees at 4:00 am! There was a chance of thunderstorms, but fortunately those did not materialize. But it was humid.

I could never get inspired to make a Dark Side costume so I wore my Rey costume instead. But without the arm wraps - too warm for those. This photo was taken by a Disney PhotoPass photographer. That's one thing that was new with this race weekend - no more MarathonFoto. Instead there were PhotoPass photographers all along the courses and at all of the photo locations, and all of our photos were included as part of our registration! There was information on the back of our race bibs on how to link our race photos to our PhotoPass accounts. It worked really well for the most part. I was really pleased - I had more race photos than I have ever had from MarathonFoto - and they were free! Well done, Disney.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K pre-race

N.B. I stand corrected - the PhotoPass photos are free if you otherwise have access to free downloads of your PhotoPass photos: e.g. you are a qualifying Annual Passholder and/or you have purchased Memory Maker. Otherwise there is still a charge for them. Still, a friend or family member can link your photos to their account and access them that way.

In the pre-race area there were seven or eight different photo spots, all with PhotoPass photographers. Some of them were set pieces, like Jabba the Hutt and the rapthor, but there were also characters: Boba Fett, Captain Phasma, Storm Troopers and Darth Maul. The lines were pretty short when we arrived so we had our picture taken with Jabba, and then went to Captain Phasma but they had closed the line, even though it wasn't that long and there was still over an hour until the race started. :-(

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Jabba the Hutt

So we got a photo with BB-8 instead.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K BB-8

We waited for friends in the pre-race area - they were still at their resort in the bus line. There was a huge line at Pop Century and no buses. They finally arrived but it had been a long wait. (That was an issue at some of the other resorts, also.)

For the other 10Ks the start line is in the Epcot parking lot, but for this 10K and the half marathon the start line was out on World Center Drive as it is for the marathon and most of the other half marathon races. One big difference: this time we started in the opposite direction. It was a slightly shorter walk than it is to the start of the "regular" half marathon course, but still pretty slow getting to the corrals. This sign was entertaining.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

For the 10K the corrals were A-F. I unfortunately never submitted my proof of time (though I was sure that I had) and so I was in the last corral, F, while Lee was in A. It was my own fault, and no reason to make him suffer, too, so he went up to A and I went to F. (At least that meant that he got photos, so most of the ones you'll see are his.) But I wasn't alone - my friend Liz had done (or hadn't done) the same thing, so we were at least together.

The race started at 5:30, but we didn't start until almost 44 minutes later. And F was a huge corral - I think there were over 2,000 people in it. We were in the first 1/4 of it, and mostly surrounded by walkers.

There were fireworks for each corral.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K fireworks

Star Wars Dark Side

I'd looked at the race course in advance and I knew the first three miles would be a slog, since most of it would be on fairly narrow roads and paths where we wouldn't be able to find much running room. I was especially concerned about running the path between the Boardwalk and the Studios along the canal. I've done that at the end of the Wine and Dine half and the end of the marathon a number of times and it's congested enough then when runners are a whole lot more spread out than we would be at the beginning of a race.

And the running experience was about what I expected. To try to find some running room we did all of the things you're not supposed to do - dodging and weaving around people and running on the grass. We weren't alone - there were a number of other runners also back in F. I can't fault the walkers, as they were doing their thing - we were in their territory really. Liz and I were running single file and trying not to annoy them too much. About 3/4 of a mile in we got clear for a little while - and then we caught up with the back of corral E. :-/

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

The course took us backstage at Epcot where R2D2 had a character stop. The line was huge, not surprisingly. We entered World Showcase near Mexico, then turned right and ran past Canada and the UK and out the international gateway. Chewbacca was there, and I think that line was even longer than the one for R2D2. We ran around Crescent Lake past the Boardwalk resort. There were a number of people who had come out to cheer us there - thank you to those who came out so early!

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Once we passed the Boardwalk we came to the dreaded canal path. One good thing: rather than running on the concrete path right next to the canal we were on the asphalt access road above it. That was a little wider. I was afraid we'd end up walking that whole path, but it wasn't that bad. We did drop to a walk several times, but we never totally stopped, and we could usually jog. Still, it was a huge relief to get off the path near the entrance to the Studios.

Just like the Star Wars Half Marathon in California, runDisney invited Star Wars cosplayers to come out and cheer the runners on. Some of them were just outside the Studios entrance. At first I thought it was a regular character stop because there were long lines - THAT doesn't happen in California! I honestly did not get a good look at them because too many people were around them, but it wasn't crowded when Lee went through, and he stopped for a photo. There weren't as many of them as we've seen in CA. And it was still pretty dark.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K cosplayers

We took a short tour of the Studios: down Hollywood Blvd, around the stage in front of the Chinese Theater, and then down Sunset, then past the Tower of Terror and out of the park onto Buena Vista Drive. That's where we finally had some running room, now that we were over 4 miles into the race.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

We ran up an overpass and ended up on Osceola Parkway. We had to do a short out-and-back where the course doubled back on itself to add a little bit of extra distance. At about 5.5 miles we ran on a narrow gravel path towards ESPN. This got us all bunched up again and there was a lot of grumbling from runners and walkers. There was a photo op with the speeder bikes from Endor along there, also - not really a good location for it.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K speeder bikes

Congestion wasn't much better when we got onto the concrete paths at ESPN, which were still narrow and lined with cheering spectators.

Less than .4 miles to the finish was the second set of cosplayers. There weren't lines for most of them, and we stopped for one quick photo. (No PhotoPass photographers with any of them.)

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Cosplayers

The course widened out for the last quarter mile or so, and I was relieved to see the finish line. I was very happy to be done. It was really not a good race for me - 1:12 with NO character stops. I could never really get into a rhythm, and the high humidity didn't help. But at least the first part of the Dark Side Challenge was complete. And I enjoyed running with Liz again - we ran the second half of last year's Wine and Dine Half Half Marathon together.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K finish

Liz and I posed for a finish photo, but unfortunately it never showed up under either of our bib numbers. :-( It would have been nice because PhotoPass put a special 10K border on it. Here's the one that Lee got, though:

Star Wars Dark Side 10K finish photo

The TIE Fighter medal is really nice. Lee pointed out that it was very fitting that we received an X-wing fighter medal for the "Star Wars - The Light Side 10K" in California, and the corresponding Dark Side fighter medal in Florida.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K medal

Lee had finished over 45 minutes before I did, so he'd used the time to get several photos taken. All of the photo ops in the start area were duplicated in the finish area. And he'd finished early enough that the lines were short. I was very envious that he had a photo with Captain Phasma - that was the one I really wanted.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Captain Phasma

He had one with the rapthor, too. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Rapthor

But by the time I arrived the photo lines were pretty long and we both wanted to get back to the room. So we went to the bus area. Our friends had already finished and taken the Epcot bus back to their car, so as planned we took the Swan/Dolphin/Boardwalk bus back to our resort. We were glad we were not going to Epcot because the line was huge. It seemed to be moving steadily but it was still very long. (Our friends waited about 15 minutes, but later we heard the wait was well over an hour!) We waited 10-15 minutes for our bus. The line had more than doubled behind us, so our timing was not too bad. The lines for buses to the resorts seemed to be much more reasonable than the line for Epcot.

We had the usual runDisney snack boxes. The selection seemed a little better than usual - or maybe I've just resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to get real food from Disney. I ate the applesauce while waiting for the bus.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K snack boxes

I really like the idea of this 10K course - it is SO much more interesting than the one that spends half its distance looping around on roads outside Epcot - but running it from Epcot TO ESPN is the wrong direction. The first three miles is just too narrow, and I think it would be much better in the opposite direction. Which is likely what we'll get when the new Wine and Dine 10K makes its debut this fall. Though even then I expect that path along the canal will be crowded - we got a taste of it (so to speak) during the abbreviated Wine and Dine Half last year, which was about 6.8 miles long, and the path was more crowded than during the normal half marathon because we weren't spread out as much.

Not a lot of characters along the course, but on a par with other Disney races. In addition to R2 and Chewie there were Ezra and Sabine, and Storm Troopers, plus the cosplayers. There was also a photo op with the Emperor's chair which was very popular. The lines were very long for all of these.

Big failure with the buses for the 10K. Lots of issues traveling both to the start and from the finish.

Even more than the other Disney races, I think your perception of the race experience was inversely proportional to where you started. If you started early the course was much less crowded - Lee was in A and really enjoyed the course. And for those who finished early the wait for buses at the end was minimized. If you started at the back, well, whole 'nother world - or galaxy, as the case may be.

Still, the addition of PhotoPass was a major benefit, and having so many characters available at the start and finish was also a plus. The thing I liked most about the characters at the start is that it's a level playing field for everyone. It didn't matter what corral you were in. If you were willing to get up early and get to the race start area as early as possible you had the opportunity to maximize the number of photos you could get.

Half Marathon the next day...Don't get cocky!

Silicon Valley Comic Con


This year marked the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con--a three-day event celebrating pop culture and technology, spearheaded by Steve Wozniak, key founder of Apple Computer.


Almost 60,000 guests crowded the San Jose Convention Center for what was the biggest comic con to take place in Northern California.


At the Opening Ceremonies, Wozniak related how technology has advanced to the point of giving people some of the super powers of communication and transportation that he dreamt of when he was little. Subsequently, Madame Tussauds San Francisco unveiled their latest wax figure.


On the schedule for the weekend were appearances by a number of celebrities from Disney-owned properties. Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, had a question and answer session on a wide range of topics.


Nathan Fillion, from ABC's "Castle," also had a Q&A where he related hilarious anecdotes both personal and professional.


While not strictly Disney related, the big event of the convention was a "Back to the Future" reunion of Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines).


(This marked Michael J. Fox's first appearance at a North American comic con, and the first time all three stars were available for group photo-ops.)

That evening was the Costume Contest, in which guests showed off an impressive array of cosplay.




The next day continued on with panels such as "The Heroine's Journey," in which author Valerie Estelle Frankel and film professor Patti McCarthy spoke on Joseph Campbell's classic "hero's journey" story structure, and how it contrasts with the traditional stories featuring women. Using examples from "Star Wars," "Cinderella," and "Frozen," they contrasted various plot points such as the start of the tale where the hero discovers his unique destiny/power, and realizes that he is more special than he knew, whereas the heroine usually discovers that there is something terrible and malignant in her home life, and that her situation is worse than she suspected.


Celebrity Q&A also resumed with former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee.


Later, Nathan Fillion returned to the stage with Walt Disney Animation Studio's current lucky charm Alan Tudyk, along with executive producer PJ Haarsma, and writer/artist Shannon Eric Dentonto, to talk about their crowd-funded internet series in the panel "Con Man: The Fan Revolt 14 Years in the Making."



Finally, as all good things must end, Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee finished off the con with a closing address in which they thanked everyone for coming and expressed their hopes for making this an annual event.


In addition to the many panels and presentations that were scheduled for the weekend, SVCC had the requisite Exhibitor's Floor, which also featured large displays from Rancho Obi-Wan (the world's largest private Star Wars collection)...





...And the Stan Lee Museum, a variety of items from Stan Lee's private collection.





For a first-time convention, SVCC was run reasonably well--while there were a number of times where it seemed as though all the volunteers were a little foggy on some of the procedural details, such as whether the rooms would be cleared after each panel (answer: Sometimes,) I actually found the staff to be more cordial than you find at the bigger, more stressful conventions. Besides the big "Back to the Future" reunion which was a separate-pay ticket, I heard few complaints about people being shut out of panels, which leads me to think that there was reasonably adequate seating for the demand.

In this era of multiple large conventions all competing for the attendance and dollars of genre fans, I think SVCC is smart to market itself as having more of an emphasis on technology as a differentiating niche. Part of that is no doubt due to Wozniak being so heavily involved with it, and his connections to the tech industries in the area. One of the big areas on the floor was a collection of VR demos that I never got through the 45-90 minute lines to experience, but which were highly touted as good examples of the new frontier of entertainment.

The guest list was impressive for a starting convention, despite some of them, like Carrie Fisher, having to cancel beforehand. If SVCC can keep up the momentum of good technology representation, celebrity guests, and the monopoly of being the only big comic con in Northern California, I see no reason why it shouldn't become a regular staple in the annual comic con circuit.

April 26, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Sunday, April 17 - Half Marathon

The half marathon was scheduled to start at 5:00, rather than the usual 5:30. Even though we knew that, the alarm going off at 2:15 was still a shock. The buses started running at 2:30, but we were driving, so we left about 3:00. As we walked to the car we could see two buses waiting to transport runners. No one was getting on them, so there wasn't a line. Looked like Disney was much better prepared than the day before.

We had little traffic on our drive, and even ended up in the same row of the parking lot that we had for the 10K.

I forgot to mention the bag check area. As usual, everyone needed to pass through the security perimeter. There was a queue set up for those who had bags, but there were plenty of people checking. There was no line when we went through.

The characters were out again. I wanted to get a photo with Captain Phasma but the line was long and not moving at all, so we skipped the photos - all of them had pretty long lines.

It was a much cooler morning than the day before - 64 degrees, lower humidity, and a cool breeze. Very nice running weather, and we were thankful that the half marathon had not been the day before! It was a bit cool for sitting around, though, and most of us were sporting various fashions of trash bags or runDisney mylar sheets saved from previous races. (Lee and I have quite a collection of them at home.)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

There were over 50% more runners than in the 10K so the pre-race area was much more crowded. We were sent to our corrals about an hour before the race, and that was a pretty slow shuffle most of the way - until the split for A-G and H-L.

I was in corral G, but everyone that I was planning to run with was in corral F. My friend Kim was also in G, and she managed to wend her way through the runners to place us near the front of the corral.

While we were waiting, there were clips from the various Star Wars movies shown on the big TV monitors.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The race started pretty close to 5:00, with the usual burst of fireworks. For A-G the release was spaced 5 minutes apart - I'm not sure about the later corrals. Those are larger, so there may have been more time between them.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Kim got me right up to the start line - I've never been up there before! I got a smile and a wave from race announcer Rudy Novotny, who also lives in San Diego.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Kim told me "Go get them", and when Rudy said "Runners...Set...Gooooooo!" I went.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The proof of time thing really seems to be working. I was one of the faster runners in the corral, and very few people passed me in the first mile. There were several guys ahead (and pulling way), but I ran by myself for about .2 miles. At .4 miles I caught up with the walkers at the back of corral F.

Even once I caught up with F the course was much less crowded than it had been the day before.

The first part of the course was similar to the 10K, with R2D2 in Epcot's backstage near mile 1. In addition to the long line for R2, there was a line for photos with the mile marker! So I didn't stop for that.

I caught up with my group not long before we entered World Showcase. Our entry point was still near Mexico, this time we went left towards Norway and around to the International Gateway. I think there was a character somewhere along there, and Chewie was again by the International Gateway.

Another difference from the day before is that we ran by the Yacht and Beach Club resorts this time before getting to the dreaded canal path. It wasn't as bad as it was for the 10K - but I had also started ahead of a lot more people than I had the day before. We had a group of 9 running together, so we tried to stay mostly single file where it was narrow.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We took the same route through the Studios that we had for the 10K - down Hollywood Blvd, then Sunset, and past the Tower of Terror. Kylo Ren and some Storm Troopers were on the stage in front of the Chinese Theater. (Kylo Ren and the Storm Troopers - that might be a good name for a rock band.)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The first set of Cosplayers was backstage behind the Tower of Terror, but again, there were lines. The Emperor's chair was in that area again, too.

This time when we reached Osceola Parkway at about mile 5 we went right towards Animal Kingdom. Lots of running room, which was very nice.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

At just before mile 7 we reached the Animal Kingdom toll plaza - it was about sunrise.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We took a big turn around the parking lot before going backstage. The Wampa ice cave photo op that they'd had at Disneyland's Star Wars race was set up there. With a pretty long line, of course. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The course took us through a fair bit of Animal Kingdom, from Dinoland around to Asia past Expedition Everest, though we turned left at the first bridge instead of going all the way to Harambe.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We ran past the Tree of Life and out through the Oasis. The second set of cosplayers was just inside the park entrance. No lines for photos, but I took this video. Not the number of folks that we've seen in California, but we appreciate all of them coming out to cheer us on!

As we left the Animal Kingdom area and hit mile 10, we could still see a lot of runners who were over three miles behind us still heading towards Animal Kingdom. There were a fair number of people who had come out to cheer us on from the overpass near the McDonalds.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

By now the sun was up, and it was a clear day. I had been concerned that it would warm up quickly, but the temperature was still holding at 64, and we still had our cool refreshing breeze. It was a lovely day to run.

I was surprised that there was very little on-course entertainment in the form of cheerleaders and bands for this race. There were some DJs, and several big screens showing Star Wars clips, but I only remember one band, and no cheerleaders.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

About mile 10.5 we saw the "Balloon Ladies" on the other side - appropriately carrying Death Star balloons. Many of the runners on our side called out encouragement to those on the other side.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Our merry little band of runners was moving along just fine and keeping each other entertained and motivated. When you're not going for time I think it really is easier to run with a group, especially mentally. It made the race go much faster for me.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

As we approached ESPN Wide World of Sports we ran on the same gravel path we did the day before. One of the props there was the leg of an AT-ST Walker (apparently recovered from the Forest Moon of Endor). The Speeder Bike photo op was also there again.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The last mile+ of the course was the same as it had been for the 10K, though it didn't seem quite as congested as the day before.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We made it to the finish - my time was 2:45:51. A nice mellow pace, and I was still feeling pretty good at the end, though my feet were tired.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

After we finished there were volunteers handing out the Dr Kool towels - those felt really good, even though it was still only about 65 outside. We also could pick up the usual bottles of water and PowerAde, and the runDisney snack box and a banana.

We got our half marathon medals, then went to the Challenge tent for our Dark Side Challenge, and most importantly, our Kessel Run medals. One interesting thing about the medals: there were a number of people who picked up both their Kessel Run and blue Coast-to-Coast medals that day! They allowed people to use the two Star Wars races for both. We'd gotten our blue Coast-to-Coast at the Princess Half in February. I was just as happy NOT to have one more medal around my neck. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Kessel Run Medal

For the official finisher photos, PhotoPass put a nice border on the bottom - there were different stations for the half marathon, Kessel Run, and Coast-to-Coast.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We got our group together for a photo.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

One surprising (and disappointing) thing about the finish area: it's in a different county than Epcot, and because of that, they couldn't sell beer and wine in the finish area on Sunday until after 11:00! (We finished around 8:15.) I had been looking forward to a celebratory glass of champagne, and most of the rest of our intrepid band had been looking forward to a beer. I guess the good news was that Dave, our advance scout, had already discovered this, so we didn't waste time heading over to that area after we finished...Lee and I decided to just go catch the bus.

The bus situation was MUCH improved. I'm not sure if part of that is because I finished ahead of more people than I had the day before, or changes that Disney made, or both. Certainly they had completely changed the location and queue for the Epcot bus, which is what we took. It was a very long queue off to the side, and there were a lot of buses lined up waiting. It took us a while to walk the queue, but we were moving the whole time, and essentially walked right onto a bus - they were loading three at a time. In speaking with friends who took buses back to their resorts, they also reported that the bus service was much better - anywhere from no wait to less than 15 minutes in a line that was consistently moving.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The half marathon was a much better race for me than the 10K - starting in an earlier corral made a lot of difference. At the front of G, I figure I started before 2/3 of the runners - there were 18,171 official finishers. While the first 3+ miles of the race was still more congested and narrow than I would've liked, conditions were much better than they had been the day before. The rest of the course was fine, and I especially enjoyed all of the running room we had when we ran both directions on Osceola Parkway.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

I'd essentially run this course backwards previously for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, which has been at night. (Though it will be a morning race this year.) I have to say that it was nice to run through Animal Kingdom during the day rather than at night.

And although I know runDisney is trying to change things up, I'd rather see the Star Wars race also start at ESPN and end at Epcot like Wine and Dine does. That three miles at the start from the Epcot side is just too narrow to support the number of runners that are all bunched together early in the race. And not being able to buy beer and champagne at the end??? GASP!

I thought the whole Dark Side theme was well done. I really liked the race medals for these races - very nicely designed. As were the race shirts. I thought it was a little odd having "Light Side" characters on the course, like R2D2, Chewbacca, and Ezra/Sabine. But there was a really good selection of Dark Side characters in the start and finish areas.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon medals

I'm a big fan of the new PhotoPass system for race photos. The photos seem to be of much higher quality and there are a lot more of them than before. AND I don't have to pay an exorbitant fee for them - they are included since I am an annual passholder!

runDisney has already announced the dates for next year's Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend - April 20-23, 2017. I was chatting with Cindy (Hi Cindy!) who pointed out that next year's dates are the week after Easter. And that for those of us who are DVC members, that week falls into Premier Season, where point costs are very high - 30-40% higher than for Magic Season. I hadn't realized that. Wow. Not to mention that the weeks before and after Easter are always very busy at the parks.

We had a good time this year, and I'm very happy to have my Kessel Run medal, but I think we'll probably pass on this race next year. I think we'll concentrate on the Star Wars Half in California instead - it's a lot easier for us to get to, and I prefer the course, the characters, the weather, and the logistics in general.

Disneyland Resort Updates - 4/21/16

Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Thursday, April 21, 2016.

Starting off my trip at the Mickey and Friends garage with an overview of the Star Wars construction site.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

This week several large earth movers are onsite and working to transform the landscape.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The old berm is disappearing. The earth around this tunnel is gone and very little of the tunnel is still around.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The cabin and tree are no longer on the riverbank. Assuming they have been moved somewhere waiting for their new home.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Disneyland Park Tickets, still 60th Anniversary.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Walking through Adventureland you could hear the Jungle Cruise boats cycling and some of the effects. The countdown to re-opening continues.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Toontown Hills renovation work has wrapped up.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Matterhorn is closed during the week for some renovation work. Walls up on the west side.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

A new finish line sign at the Autopia is visible over the wall.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Monorail is closed for renovation.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Work continues on Autopia

The scaffolding is down but the new entrance sign has not been installed.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Next stop Disney California Adventure. The Food & Wine Festival continues. During the week the Marketplaces are open and the lines on Thursday afternoon were very mild.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is hosting the top 10 finalists for the Environmentality Art competition. The art projects were on display in the lower area around the shake-a-log.

Each entry had a card next to it indicating the team that created it, where they worked, and info about the creation.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Silly Symphony Swings are closed for renovation and the mechanism is currently removed.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Cars Land cactus is blooming.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Kelloggs truck from the Backlot was parked near the Bakery/Child Car Station in the Wharf today. I forgot to check the Backlot to see what was in its former spot. It is is back to almost near where it started in DCA.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Incredibles Heros In Training is back and being performed twice daily in Paradise Pier. The show appears to be basically the same as the last time it ran.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mrs. Incredible warming up/stretching with the recruits.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mr. Incredible bring the weights out.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

I did not record any video on Thursday. Here is a look at the show from 2011.

The AP button and recipe for this week at the Food & Wine Festival.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 2016

Walls up around the Muppet Theater as the Frozen Sing along moves out. A preview of the upcoming Alice film is moving in.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Thursday, April 21, 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, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

April 30, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3 - The Food


What's a Disney race weekend without the opportunity to enjoy a little food? And some adult beverages, too. :-) One of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was the opportunity to sample foods from the food booths at Epcot's Flower and Garden (aka mini Food and Wine) Festival.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Lee and I arrived fairly late on Wednesday night. We were headed to the Boardwalk Bakery when we noticed that the Trattoria al Forno pizza window was still open...so that's what we had. We were hungry, and scarfed it down pretty quickly, so there's no photos. :-) My cheese pizza was just ok - it had been sitting around under the heat lamp for a while. Lee really enjoyed his piece of the Boardwalk Signature Pizza, though. (This is the stock AllEars.net photo of the cheese pizza - mine didn't look quite this good. :-) )

Trattoria al Forno Pizza Window Cheese Pizza

The next morning we went to the Bellevue Room at the Boardwalk, which sells "Continental Breakfast" types of foods in the morning - pastries, bagels, cold cereal, yogurt, fruit cup/whole fruit, and beverages: coffee, tea, juice, milk. We were planning to visit the food booths at Epcot, but needed something to eat since they didn't open until 11:00.

When we walked into Epcot I picked up a "Garden Passport". This little booklet had the menus for all of the food booths, and there was a place to get a stamp at each booth.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Passport

All of the food booths had unique stamps, and there were some really interesting designs. There were stamps for the butterfly garden, the Festival shops, playground, and tours, also. No reward (such as a pin) for getting all of the stamps - just the completion stamp. But I had fun doing it anyway.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Tasting Passport stamps

The first thing we sampled was Seared Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragout, Spring Vegetables and Marble Potatoes from Urban Farm Eats. It was excellent, and a good-sized serving for $6.00. I appreciated the fact that it had some vegetables - pieces of asparagus, onion, and beans - in addition to the sliced potatoes.

Seared Pork Tenderloin from Urban Farm Eats

Next was "Adult Soft Serve", as the Pineapple Promenade CM called it: Pineapple Soft-Serve with Parrot Bay Coconut Rum for $10.00. Oh wow. This was SO good! The rum was on top so we had to make sure we got a little on our spoons in addition to the pineapple soft serve - but once the ice cream level was low enough we could mix it in. We liked this so much that we went back later in our visit to share another one.

Pineapple Promenade Pineapple Soft Serve with Coconut Rum

One thing we really enjoyed about the food booths was that there were no lines! Mostly we walked right up to the cashier, or at most waited behind 2-3 other people. Very different from the Food and Wine Festival.

Hanami Japan Food Booth

From La Isla Fresca we sampled the Jerk-spice Grouper with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette. This was another good one though I had to eat around the red and green peppers.

La Isla Fresca Jerk Spice Grouper

We also tried the Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum. I was surprised that this had chunks of mango in it - but I thought that was the best part. It was all pretty tasty, though.

La Isla Fresca Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum

At the coffee kiosk near Mexico I tried the Tiki Torch - a passion fruit slush with Grey Goose vodka. I was expecting it to be more slushy, but it wasn't really frozen. It was fine, but Lee enjoyed this one more than I did.

Coffee Kiosk Tiki Torch

At Lotus House in China Lee tried a Gaoli Beef Bun, which a friend had recommended. He really liked this.

Lotus House Gaoli Beef Bun

I had my first sparkling wine at Germany's Bauernmarkt: Farmer's Market - Hugo-Charles de Fere "Organic" Brut with Elderflower and Mint. This was good - fortunately the mint was not overpowering, so I could taste the elderflower. Lee tried the Kostritzer Schwarzbier Black Lager, which he enjoyed.

Bauernmarkt Brut with Elderflower and Mint

From Primavera Kitchen at Italy we ordered Mezze Lune Primavera - Egg Pasta stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach in a Creamy Sauce with Spring Vegetables and Pecorino Cheese. This was...OK. It seemed a little bit dry.

Primavera Kitchen Mezze Lune Primavera

At THE SMOKEHOUSE at The American Adventure we tried most of the food items. The Pulled Pig Slider with Crispy Onions and Coleslaw was pretty good, but not great. I think I liked the coleslaw more than the slider.

Smokehouse Pulled Pig Slider

We also tried Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad. I thought these were better. They were pretty meaty and tender. Lee liked the corn salad.

Smokehouse Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad

For topping the BBQ offerings there were three BBQ sauces at the condiment station to choose from - I had North Carolina (nice and mustardy) and Lee had the classic.

For dessert we tried the Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. This was just ok. The top part of the cake which had the caramel sauce and nuts on it was the best part. And when they say "spiced" pecans they mean spicy hot and not spicy cinnamon. These had a kick to them.

Smokehouse Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce

That was pretty good for a first round of tastings. The last thing I tried was the La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush - Grey Goose vodka orange, St-Germain liqueur, white and red cranberry juice at France. Lee didn't care for it, but I thought it was tasty. I knew I had to finish it before we could leave the park, though. :-)

La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush

That evening we went to Disney Springs for dinner at Morimoto Asia. This was our first experience driving ourselves there and parking in the "Orange" garage. The "smart garage" worked really well - when we first pulled in the sign told us which parking levels had the most spaces, and then once we chose level 4, each row told us how many spaces were in it, and there were green lights on the ceiling of the garage over each open space to identify it. Super easy! We arrived about 5:20, so it might be more of a challenge when it's busier, but we had no problem.

We were a little early at Morimoto Asia - instead of a pager, they told me they would send a text message to my phone instead. We were seated in less than 10 minutes, but had a nice conversation with a blog reader (Hello!) while we were waiting. Our table was the outside corner of the middle block nearest the hostess station - I was concerned it might feel very busy with the aisle right next to us, but it was fine.

I'd been to Morimoto in February, but this was Lee's first visit. We started off with a couple of glasses of wine from their "Spring Selections" list. They were both very good. We also shared two appetizers. The first was the Tempura Rock Shrimp. It was $16, and I was expecting it to be just a few pieces of shrimp, but it was a very generous serving! Easily an appetizer for 3-4 people and not just two. Very good, also.

Morimoto Asia Tempura Rock Shrimp

Our other appetizer was Kakuni Pork Bao - steamed buns, braised pork belly, lettuce, spicy mayo. This was also excellent, and very filling. Lee was concerned that the pork belly might be very fatty but it wasn't. I was expecting it to be more of a traditional bao (sort of a large dumpling) rather than the something more like a taco, but we definitely got a lot more filling this way.

Morimoto Asia Kakuni Pork Bao

And then the entrees arrived. Honestly, after the appetizers I didn't need much more to eat!

I ordered something different this time and tried the Lo Mein Noodles with Chicken - stir-fried egg noodles, Napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, and scallions. This was good but not awesome - the Shrimp Pad Thai I had last time was much better. I still enjoyed part of it (I was too full to eat much of it), and took about 2/3 of it with me, figuring it would taste good after one of the races (and I ended up eating it after the half marathon, when it tasted REALLY good).

Morimoto Asia Lo Mein Noodles Chicken

Lee tried the Singapore Laksa Noodle - creamy coconut and spicy curry, rice noodle, chicken meatballs, and soy marinated egg. He was disappointed in this. He didn't care for the chicken meatballs, and thought the curry didn't have enough coconut flavor. I tried it, and it was a bit too spicy for me. He also ended up taking about 1/2 of it with him, which he also ate after the half marathon. Things taste a lot better after a half marathon when your body is just saying: "FEED ME", and you're shoveling it in as fast as you can. :-)

Morimoto Asia Singapore Laksa Noodle

We'd left some room for dessert. I would've liked to have had the MM Parfait again, but there was no way the two of us were going to make any serious inroads on that! So we tried the Churro Fondue instead. Housemade churros, with Nutella and vanilla cream sauces. The churros were freshly made and hot, but I thought they were a little doughy inside. They were dipped in sugar - I would've preferred cinnamon sugar, though. I really liked the Nutella sauce, but Lee preferred the cream sauce. I didn't think it was very creamy - it was a little too thick.

Morimoto Asia Churro Fondue

When our server brought us the dessert menu, I had a chuckle over a typo under the tea selections. I guess this is not the Mos Eisley Cantina, and they serve droids here. :-)

Morimoto Asia Tea Menu
Cylon Tea

It was still a really good dinner - we loved the appetizers. Next time (and there will be a next time!) we might just do appetizers/sushi/dessert and skip the entree. This is not a quiet intimate experience - the restaurant is very noisy. Though our table, being along the edge, wasn't as noisy as the one I sat at the last time. I think one of the tables along the outside wall might be better, also.

Friday morning we went to Animal Kingdom. As a snack we tried the Smoky Cheddar Grits, served with pulled pork and bread-and-butter pickles, from the Smiling Crocodile kiosk. We'd wanted to try this in February but the kiosk was closed, so we were happy to see that it was open. At $5.99 it's a pretty small serving - the size of the bowls you get at the F&W Festival. But it was really good - once Lee pulled the green peppers out of it. Ick. The pork was moist and flavorful and the grits were very cheesy - even had little bits of cheese in them. Yum.

Animal Kingdom Smoky Cheddar Grits

That afternoon we went back over to Epcot to sample from some of the food booths we hadn't yet tried. First was the Cider House at the UK. We wanted to sample three of the food items. Unfortunately they had just run out of the corned beef and cabbage that Lee wanted to try, and wouldn't have more for 15-20 minutes. But we tried the Land-harvested Field Greens with Apples, Dried Blueberries, Stilton Cheese and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. This was a nice salad, though I don't care for blue cheese.

Cider House Land Harvested Field Greens

We also ordered the House-made Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare. We both really liked the biscuit. I also enjoyed the salmon tartare, especially with the little bit of fresh dill, but Lee let me eat most of that. :-)

Cider House Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit

We washed it down with two of the ciders: Keel & Curley Mad Man Blueberry Hard Cider for Lee and McKenzie's Black Cherry Hard Cider for me. We tried what the other had ordered, and both were happy with our own choices.

Cider House Blueberry and Black Cherry Hard Ciders

Next stop was Hanami in Japan, where we ordered all of the food items. First up was a Chicken Edamame Bun: Steamed Bun filled with Chicken and Edamame and topped with Curry Sauce. It was very good - maybe my favorite Festival item. The curry sauce was more like a curry aioli, but it really added a lot of flavor to the bun and the filling inside. Yummy.

Hanami Chicken Edamame Bun

One of Lee's favorite items was the Beef Teriyaki Udon: Thin-sliced Beef, Onions and Noodles tossed on the grill with Soy and Ginger. We ordered this and the steamed bun again on a later visit.

Hanami Beef Teriyaki Udon

We also tried the Frushi - Fresh pineapple, strawberries and melon, rolled with coconut rice, topped with raspberry sauce, sprinkled with toasted coconut and served with whipped cream on the side. These were tasty, though the fruit leather they were rolled in was a bit odd. And they gave us an awful lot of whipped cream - we didn't use very much of it.

Hanami Frushi

We decided that Japan won the award for most attractive presentation of their food items. They really were very pretty.

I also tried a Desert Rose from Taste of Marrakesh at Morocco. It was sparkling wine with pomegranate liqueur. It was very pretty, though a little too sweet. At $7.00 it was the cheapest sparkling wine I had, though!

Morocco Desert Rose

That evening we met friends at the Crew's Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club for dinner. I hadn't realized this place existed, much less that they served food! It was a really nice place to hang out with friends and enjoy some beverages and conversation. I tried the Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich. It was excellent - plenty of thick-sliced fresh mozzarella, with nice slices of tomato and pesto sauce on toasted sea salt foccacia. The bread was very good also. I had a choice of house-made chips, French fries or pasta salad and chose the chips - they were crisp and salty and yummy.

Crews Cup Lounge Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich

Lee ordered the Angus Cheeseburger - he had his choice of cheese, and it came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and French fries. He said it was an excellent burger.

Crews Cup Lounge Angus Cheeseburger

Saturday morning after the 10K we went to the Boardwalk Bakery to get something to eat. I got a great big Sticky Bun. After a 10K I figured I was entitled to it. The pastry at the bakery is lighter and not so doughy, which I really like. So this was not as huge and filling as it looked, though I was still surprised that I ate the whole thing.

Boardwalk Bakery Pecan Sticky Bun

We went to the Studios later that morning...after using our Star Tours Fastpasses we were hungry, and the Backlot Express was about to open. This place has a Star Wars overlay menu now. We both had the Dark Side Chicken and Waffles, though Lee had the adult portion and I had the kid's meal. I wasn't expecting chicken nuggets as the chicken part, though at least they were tasty chicken nuggets.

Darth Vader Chicken and Waffles

I was surprised that my kid's meal came with fries - the menu said carrots and applesauce, which was actually what I wanted. I enjoyed it all, though, and it was plenty of food for me. At $7.99 the price was not too bad, either, especially since it included a small bottle of water.

Backlot Express Kids Chicken and Darth Waffles

The friends with us got their food on the lucky orange tray, which meant that they were invited to choose a free dessert. They chose the BB-8 cupcake, and shared with the rest of us. It was lemony, and just ok. We were all glad that no one had paid for it. The "pebbles" on the outside were candy covered chocolate - but very inferior chocolate.

Backlot Express BB-8 Cupcake

Saturday evening a group of us went to Il Mulino in the Swan Hotel for our pre-half marathon Italian dinner. Our reservation was at 5:00, which was when the restaurant opened. We were seated pretty quickly at our table for 11 people. The server was a little slow getting drinks and initial orders taken, but after that things moved along ok.

Lee and I ordered Parmigiano Reggiano for Two as an appetizer. I think I forgot to take a photo of it. But it served more than two people! Quite a lot of really yummy cheese for $10. We passed it down the table and a few other people partook and we still had about 8 pieces left that we took with us at the end of the meal.

We also shared an Insalata Trattoria, which our server split onto two plates. Nice selection of greens with fennel, red onions, and pine nuts.

As an entree I chose a half order of the Pappardelle Pasta with a tomato basil sauce. I'd had this before and thought there wasn't quite enough sauce, but this time it was a more generous serving. Still very tasty and I enjoyed it - and a half serving was plenty for me.

Il Mulino Pappardelle Pasta

Lee tried the Spaghetti Carbonara - spaghetti with pancetta, cheese and egg. He ordered the full serving, and managed to finish all of it.

Il Mulino Spaghetti Carbonara

While most of us enjoyed our dinners, one of our fellow diners ordered the Pollo Parmigiana and did not like it at all. It was very tough, and she couldn't cut it. Our server apologized, offered to bring her something else, and did not charge her for the entree. Unfortunate, but they tried to do the right thing.

The restaurant is pretty noisy, but fortunately it wasn't packed with diners, so it wasn't as loud as the last time I'd eaten here. (Obviously I came back, because I did enjoy the food I had last time.)

We all passed on dessert though the Torta Di Cioccolati (flourless chocolate cake) was tempting.

I found Il Mulino to be a nice alternative to the Disney restaurants like Mama Melrose, Via Napoli, and Trattoria al Forno which always seem to be disastrous dining experiences on the night before a half marathon. And actually there were a number of menu items that I'd enjoy trying when I don't have a race the next day.

For "breakfast" on Sunday after the half marathon we finished our Morimoto Asia leftovers. :-) That afternoon we went to Afternoon Tea at the Beach Club - but that is going to be a whole separate review coming soon to the All Ears Team blog. It was a very nice experience.

Sunday evening we had dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby with our friends Dave and Holly. The restaurant was very busy and loud...so we were very pleasantly surprised when the hostess led us to a separate room at the back of the restaurant. It was so nice and quiet in there! There was one large group in there, plus two tables that were set for four people. It was really, really a very welcome oasis of calm. So nice to talk to each other without shouting!

Our server was not very good. He seemed to keep getting lost, or forgetting about us. It was a long time before we got any water or bread. Dave's drink order was messed up (though that might have been the bartender), and there was confusion about Lee's wine and he brought me the wrong salad.

I ordered a sparkling wine flight, with a prosecco, Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, and Rosa Regale. It was very nice.

Brown Derby Sparkling Wine Flight

Holly had a martini flight, with a gin martini, citrus vodka martini and cosmopolitan. Such cute little martini glasses!

Brown Derby Martini Flight

For an appetizer, Lee and I both ordered the Local Greens - tossed in champagne vinaigrette, with blueberries and peaches, Laura Chenel goat cheese, spiced candied pecans. It was a really nice salad.

Brown Derby Local Greens Salad

Dave tried the Tomato Soup.

Brown Derby Tomato Soup

As an entree I ordered the salmon, which was very tasty. It came with roasted potatoes, crispy leeks, English peas, and cauliflower puree.

Brown Derby Salmon

Lee and Holly both ordered the Charred Filet of Beef - Cabernet and Shallot Butter, Forest Mushroom and White Truffle Oil Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Rainbow Carrots, Haricot Verts, and Red Wine Reduction. They were both pleased with it and the way it was cooked to order.

Brown Derby Charred Filet of Beef

Dave had the Pork Three Ways with a grilled wild boar chop, pork rillette, and crispy pork belly. Served with sweet corn and chili spoonbread.

Brown Derby Wild Boar special

Desserts are served as a choice of three mini desserts now - no full-sized servings of anything (even the famous Grapefruit Cake). We were disappointed in the dessert choices, so didn't order any of them. Our choices were: Amaretto Flan and Opalys White Chocolate Whip (whatever that is), Warm Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Mascarpone Sphere, Double Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana-Toffee Cake, and the aforementioned Grapefruit Cake.

The food was good, the service was so-so. The company was terrific, and we really enjoyed being in the "quiet room" - we were sorry to leave it. And we probably lingered longer than we would have if we'd been in the main dining room.

Monday was our final park day - we had an evening flight home. We started with breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. We've eaten breakfast here several times since the conversion from Kouzzina. Mostly because it's the only place to get a hot breakfast at the Boardwalk rather than because we really love the food.

I ordered something new this time: Breakfast Pizza, with sliced potato, tomato sauce, and cracked egg. Normally it also comes with fennel sausage but I requested bacon instead. It was really good, and VERY filling - it was unfortunate that it was our last morning because otherwise I would've had most of it to take with me. As it was I ate the eggs and two pieces of the pizza, and picked off the potatoes and bacon from the rest.

Trattoria al Forno Breakfast Pizza

Lee had the Frittata - with red peppers, prosciutto, onions, potatoes, and pecorino romano cheese topped with arugula. It was served with breakfast potatoes and a multi-grain croissant.

Trattoria al Forno Frittata

Monday afternoon we made one last circuit of the food booths at Epcot. We had a few favorites a second time, but also tried some new items. Lee was able to get his Pear Cider-brined Shredded Corned Beef with Braised Cabbage and Pears and Branston Dressing from Cider House this time, and enjoyed that.

Cider House Corned Beef and Cabbage

We also tried the Lemon Scone with Créme Fraiche and Mixed Berries. I thought this was very good - it wasn't overly lemony (and that's a good thing). I was very surprised to read that this was gluten-free - it certainly didn't taste like it.

Cider House Lemon Scone

Lee sampled a Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset – Layered frozen Strawberry and Lemonade topped with Grey Goose Vodka from the coffee kiosk near the American Adventure. He said it would've been better without the vodka. :-)

Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset

From Florida Fresh we ordered Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. This was very good - I think it was the best salad I had anywhere the entire weekend.

Florida Fresh Kale Salad

We finished our food adventure at Japan, where we ordered the Chicken Edamame Bun and Beef Teriyaki Udon again. And I also tried a Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy. It was different...not bad, but not my favorite beverage.

Hanami Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy

I really enjoyed the mini Food and Wine Festival aspect of the Flower and Garden Festival. It wasn't nearly as busy, so it was a much more pleasant experience. And with fewer food booths it seemed like there were more tables set up - only rarely did we not find an open table. I enjoyed the selection of foods and beverages - with fewer food booths the choices weren't so overwhelming.

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About April 2016

This page contains all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in April 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2016 is the previous archive.

May 2016 is the next archive.

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