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Friday, August 27, 2010

Vinylmation - Good or Evil?

What is Vinylmation?  I was thinking the same thing when I first saw these little critters.  This past March, I was spending a lovely sunny day browsing through a shop on Disney's Boardwalk, a deluxe resort next to EPCOT.  I was actually looking for a swim suit, which they don't seem to sell anymore for women.  Same with underwear.  No swim suits or underwear for us!  I guess Disney doesn't want to think about "lady parts" and wants to completely ignore the fact that when Disneyland first opened the "Wizard of Bras" lingerie shop was operating on Main Street.

Anyway, these ... things caught my eye.  I had no idea what they were.  Was it a doll, an action figure, a paperweight?  The Cast Member I asked had no idea.  I figured they were just the "new thing".  A clever marketing gimic designed to separate us from more of our cash.  Little did I know how insidious and genius this marketing gimic was!

There was one figure that caught my eye:
I admit, it was the pseudo writing theme.  I know it's suppose to depict sketch animation but it was close enough and I thought it would look good on my desk.  I went to find it and.....I was perplexed.  You see, each series has its own tray that holds about twelve or twenty four smaller boxes.  Each box is marked with the series it comes from and nothing else.  That's right, you have no way of knowing which figure is inside the box.

Well, that's easy, I'll just open the box and see!  Nope, now the evil becomes clear.  The boxes are all glued shut.  There is no way at all to determine which figure is inside which box.  Basically, it's a grab bag.  They guarantee that each figure is in the tray, somewhere, along with a "mystery figure" but you have no idea of knowing where it is.

Each figure is $10 retail.  NOW the plan of Marketing genius raises its head.  I must say that even though I hate this with a passion, Disney really needs to give a raise to the person who thought of this idea because from a business stand point, it's a money spinner.  Picture this:  Kid walks in to store with parents, sees cool figure and wants it.  Wants it bad.  Wants it now.  Parents buy one but.... yup, it's the wrong one!  Now the melt-down ensures.  So they go back to buy another one and another one.  Those $10 boxes can sure add up!  If you want, they will sell you the whole damn tray so you can have a complete set but that is $120!

Don't think you can deftly pry the lid off, take a quick peek and then move on to the other one.  Why?  Because the figures are sealed inside mylar packets!  Foiled again!  You just need to buy the box and hope for the best.  Did I try it?  Hell no!  My momma didn't raise no fool!  Besides with my luck, I would get the lamest figure in the whole set.  In my case, I would get the "stoned bear" from Park #3
I know, I know, it's the bear from the now defunct Country Bear Jamboree and before you start writing me e-mails, I realize that tired show is still going at other parks but it's dead at Disneyland and that's what counts.  They replaced it with Pooh.  Not so sure it was a good trade but at least the tubby little cubby of a bear didn't sit on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, smooshing it into extinction like at Walt Disney World and for that I'm thankful.

Update: I just returned from Disneyland a few weeks ago.  I went with my sister and her family and guess what they kids wanted?  Yup, Vinylmation figures!  Did they get the ones they initially wanted?  No.  Did my sister buy them more?  No.  The ones they did get they were happy with BUT it seems Disney has instituted a new system.  I am assuming it grew out of many a "I got the stoned bear!" tantrum.  It is a limited trade rule.  Basically there are three figures in a clear case.  If you don't like the figure you picked you can either (a) trade for another grab bag pick but if you don't like this one you are SOL and no you don't get to keep both unless you pay for both or (b) you can trade for one of the three figures on display.  These figures change each day but if the one you like is in the case, you are sure of getting it.  It's kind of like the lottery that way.  Also like the lottery, life rarely works that well.  Honestly, it seemed to me the Vinylmations chosen were rarely the "popular" figures.  Nine times out of ten, stoned bear is going to be one of the three choices.  The moral of this story?  Choose at your own risk.

To me, Vinylmation figures are the perfect example of shallow American consumerism.  Honestly, look at them.  Do they do anything?  Do they serve any purpose other than instilling in you a need to buy more so you can "collect them all"!  People, there are times when collecting something just because the masses are collecting it, doesn't translate into "collector dollars" down the road unless you operate on a fast turn around schedule.  Don't believe me?  Hey, I have a box full of Beanie Babies I can sell you!

My advice?  Say no to pointless marketing ploys designed to keep you coming back like a crack addict to buy more and more and more.  If you want a souvenir go by a plush Mickey or better yet, a shot glass!  That has many uses and I highly recommend it.  It's a brilliant idea Disney but I'm not falling for it.  I'm going to stuff wax in my ears so I can't hear your siren's song as I go about my day.  You can keep your tons of pins and trading cards and Vinylmation figures.  I'll just spend my money on something else unless of course you know for SURE which box has the sketch animation figure in it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Celebrate! A Street Party Parade

I love Disney.  I just want to reiterate that.  I have enjoyed all the parades I have seen at the parks but this was the worst thing I have ever seen at Disney.  I am so glad I didn't camp out on the sidewalk to see this.  My family and I were on our way out of the Park to grab some dinner at Downtown Disney when we saw the parade coming so figured we would wait and watch it.

I realize Disney has seized on this "Celebrate" theme for the year.  "What are you celebrating?" is their tag but I don't want a parade that evolves around a marketing concept.  Instead of impressive floats with characters going past you, you have average "traveling platforms" that stop in certain spots where costumed cast members dance in the street, encourage people around to wave their hands and the characters boogy down as well.

The music is a mish mash of pop, jazz, and rock ala elevator muzak style.  In the words of my nephew "This is dumb!  It's all Hannah Montana, Jones Brothers crap."  In the words of his little sister "This is booorrrrrrrring!  Can we go?  This is LAME!" and this is from the girl who loves Selena Gomez and watches Wizards of Waverly Place religiously.

I have to agree.  The parade was dumb, lame, idiotic and a total waste of my time.  We cut through the shops, beat the parade to the front and left for dinner.  I would advise you to spend your waiting time on World of Color and go on some rides while the chumps are camping out waiting for this snooze fest.  I just hope that Disney will go back to what they do best - huge glorious floats with glittering characters waving at us as the whole line sails by.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sleeping Beauty Castle - The Walk Though

When I was a little girl, I wanted to live in Sleeping Beauty's Castle.  It seemed so pretty and magical.  I thought it would be lovely to see inside, then I found out that I could.  Over to the side there was a small out of the way door.  You could climb up inside the castle and look at diaramas from the film that mainly featured dolls dressed up like the movie characters.  It was cool.

Then after 9/11, the castle diaramas closed.  They said it was security and renovation.  Perhaps they thought they were out-dated (they were) or not very popular (they weren't) but I still loved them.  Year after year I would look with longing at the closed door until I just forgot about it altogether.  Then like Aurora waking from her enscrolled sleep, the door opened and the diaramas were back but with an updated twist.

It seems to be there are more of movie scenes to look at.  It may be because of the time that has passed but instead of the cheesy dolls, they have more lifelife scenes, LED light effects (twinkles, head of Maleficents staff, etc) and cool little things that could be missed if you weren't paying attention.  Example:  When you enter the dungeon area (it is more dungeon themed than just a corridor) you pass a barred window where you see the shadow of one of Maleficents pig guards with a spear, walking down some stairs and talking to himself.  It almost puts you into the fortress, trying to find Prince Phillip.

I am sooo glad they rescued this wee but mighty attraction.  Just because something isn't a fast thrill ride or you get to shoot at something, doesn't mean it is without value.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Adventures of Bun in WDW

Allow me to introduce you good gentles to Bun (The Softest Bunny in the World):
I found Bun at the gift shop upstairs at the Dolphin hotel. They had 3 sizes available and I thought the "Momma Bear" size was just right. My companions started coming up with names including "Bun", "Bun Bun" and when in France or when feeling saucy "Mlle. Le Boon". So Bun is here to share snacks from around the World with you. First is from the Magic Kingdom:
The Infamous Dole Whip: ala Bun, you can see the white swirl of vanilla like Buns fur. In my opinion the vanilla cuts the tart pineapple, to make the taste perfect.

Now over to the Polynesian for a Lapu Lapu:
Had to get Bun out of this picture because the pineapple was having a bottom malfunction. The lovely booze was leaking out of the bottom. The bartender said that sometimes they core them a little too deep. He made me a full drink in a glass and set it by the pineapple. This is a "grown up drink". No frozen fruit flavors just booze and juice in toxic amounts but they make you happy!

A quick trip to Animal Kingdom gives Bun one of the yummiest frosty drinks of the trip, the Yak Attack over at the Yak and Yeti.
It is a mango daquiri with myers rum float and a berry swirl. Just yummy goodness! The ones in the actual bar were better than the ones at the outside "to go" counter. I think the ones at the bar had more berry swirl in them.

Now on to Epcot World Showcase. Canada didn't have anything worth drinking so we went straight to England for Guinness and Fish & Chips (or in my case, fish and veg)
The nice chewy breakfast beer was lovely as always and Bun approves of the malt vinegar for the fish and chips!

France brought lovely White Star champagne:
Bun loves White Star and mentions that it is lovely with chocolate croissant! The Parisians were not too happy with Bun for posing with the bubbly. Honestly, you have room to talk, eating cheese that smells like feet. Bun was too much of a lady to say anything. She does recommend the croissant, really!

Japan has wonderful yummies such as sake (hot or cold), Pocky (thin cookies covered in Strawberry or Chocolate with crushed almonds or chocolate cookies), Botan Rice Candy (you eat the thin rice paper the chewy, slightly sweet candy is wrapped in and Kari Gori (snowcones with yummy flavors such as strawberry, tangerine, honeydew melon or a stripe of all three).

Morocco did not yield any drinks other than tea but Bun found a lovely rug to recline on so I could bring her pistachio baklava. Not too sticky, very nice taste.

Norway has two yummy items. First in the Krigla Bakery there is the Gravlox sandwich (lox, cheese, hard boiled egg) with a cloudberry horn and viking coffee:
The sandwich was hearty, the fish was lovely though the whole grain toast may be a little to dense for some American tastes. I thought it was great. The Cloudberry horn was wonderful and better than similar items in France because the cream is not as sweet. The Viking coffee was good on a cold day but not really strong and certainly improved the taste of the coffee. Aquavit, on the other hand is plenty strong as Bun can attest to!

Mexico rounded our day with a trip to "The Ditch" - where all the best tequila lives. While there were some yummy marguritas we tried including Blood Orange, Cucumber and Prickly Pear (yes they have tasting flights) but I went straight for the really good sipping tequila, no training wheels (lime & salt) for me! By the 3rd round I could see that the Ditch was starting to do Bun in.

By the time we got back to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Bun was ready for a little rest:
Yes Bun is a light weight but she is a bunny after all even if she is the Softest Bunny in the World!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

I must admit, I was scared of this place.  I will say here and now I am vehemently opposed to "Glitz Pageants" for little girls, think that sexualizing them and making them look like 19 year old street walkers is not only twisted but just more legal spank material for pedophiles.  I had seen a similar type of shops at DTD "Libby Lu's" (now mercifully closed) that had little girls walking out with heavy make-up, sprayed and teased glitter hair, looking like they were ready to work the red light district in Bangkok.  Also the BBBoutique in Florida is more over the top in my opinion so I walked into this one with trepidation.

Where is it?  Oh yeah, it's in Fantasyland.  Once you go through the castle, turn to your left.  There is a gift shop there and the boutique is in the back.  So I walked in and... I was surprised as in pleasantly surprised.  The little girls were actually leaving looking like... LITTLE GIRLS!

I talked to the cast members there.  They obviously LOVE their job, love giving the girls makeovers but stress that they don't like the ho look either.  The nail polishes are pink, not red.  The color pallets for the make up are natural shades and light shades.  If they see make up going on too thick they blend it, tone it down or take it off and start over.

See?  The girls can get some pretty make-up, nails and have their hair done without the trash.  Some packages go have little hair pieces.  They told me that most girls choose on that matches their own color hair though some do pick a funky pink, purple or rainbow color.  These are NOT paired with ultra teased, sprayed and glitter gunked real hair.

This is a beauty experience I can get behind.  They have 3 packages:

Girls 3 years old and above can choose from three hair styles — Fairytale Princess, Disney Diva and Pop Princess — available in three packages:

  • The Coach Package includes hairstyle, shimmering make-up, princess sash, princess cinch sac and body jewels — $44.95, plus tax.
  • The Crown Package includes hairstyle, shimmering makeup, princess sash, princess cinch sac, body jewels and nail polish — $49.95, plus tax.
  • The Castle Package includes hairstyle, shimmering makeup, princess sash, princess cinch sac, body jewels, nail polish, princess gown of choice, wand, shoes and portrait package courtesy of Disney's PhotoPass® Service (assorted prints in themed folder). Determined by the choice of princess gown and shoes, price ranges from $195.85 to $205.85.
Adult ladies can do this as well but if you go for the Castle package, you don't get a big girl dress, you get a little girl dress.  I thought it would be fun to do this, get the make-up/nails done, then gift the dress and shoes to another little girl.  Think of the Disney Magic!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln - The Triumphant Return

As everyone knows, the first showing of Great Moments with Mr Lincoln was at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York.  It has been in and out of Disneyland since it's arrival in 1965.  Mr. Lincoln was always the comfortable shoe for me.  I admit, I hardly ever saw it except if it was really hot outside and I wanted the air conditioning, or it was too cold outside or I was tired and wanted a place to rest, Mr. Lincoln was always there for me.  Even when I made a huge hog out of myself, demolishing the buffet at Club 33, and couldn't ride any attraction without hurling, Mr. Lincoln was there to give me solace and rest for my distended stomach.
Two years ago I decided I wanted to visit my old friend Abe and noticed he was gone.  Yes gone and replaced with an entertaining film starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck.  It was fine but it wasn't Mr. Lincoln.  I asked a cast member, why Mr. Lincoln was gone.  He didn't know.  I just wanted to know who the Commie was that did away with President Lincoln.  I have an idea it was Eisner who did it before he left.
So now Mr. Lincoln is back, bigger and better than ever before.  Disney has melded the best of all of versions of this show into one.  In the lobby, you can watch the Steve Martin/Donald Duck movie that use to play in the theatre.  It is a fun movie with clips of past shows, attractions and shops and is an excellent way to kill time between Mr. Lincoln viewings.
There are also amazing pictures of Lincoln on the walls as well as a 20 foot model of the Capital that one talented, crazy guy carved from stone.  The workmanship is amazing.  It is perfectly in scale and he made it all by hand.  Brilliant!
A pre-movie shows clips of Royal Dano, the iconic Lincoln actor who Walt had to have as the voice of Lincoln.  He is wonderful.  I am so glad that they use his voice for the show and what a show it is.  It is stirring, inspiring, sad, glorious, just like out Country.  They have kept the ballad "Two Brothers" along with Civil War photos that illustrate the song.  The look of the show overall is very "Hall of Presidents" from Magic Kingdom.
Lincoln is the most advanced audio animatronic figure to date, even better that Jack Sparrow. While he does "defy gravity" when he stands, the facial expressions are amazing.  His new skin (which is less reflective) is more lifelike and his hair is more realistic.  He truly is a marvel of modern engineering.  While having Lincoln stand without an arm to assist him (push him into a standing position like real people do) looks robotic, everything else is dead on.  Kudos to all the hard work that went into bringing our 16th President to life and reminding us of our darkest hour as a Nation and how we can overcome adversity.  
Do me a favor and visit Mr. Lincoln.  He may not be flashy but he is difficult to ignore.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our First Trip To Club 33

Way, way back in the long, long ago - there was a mysterious door. A door you might not give a second glance to.  It almost blends into the background.  It is set back on a dusky street in the French Quarter of New Orleans or New Orleans as it might have been without the alcohol, hookers, trash and debauchery.  For this French Quarter exists in Disneyland and this door stands next to the Blue Bayou restaurant.  This is Club 33.
 Club 33 is a private club within Disneyland.  You ring a buzzer next to the door, give your name to the host and they confirm your membership reservations and buzz you in.  The Club covers most of the upper floor over New Orleans Square and is the only place in Disneyland where you can get alcohol.  While this is not much of an issue anymore with the opening of Downtown Disney (DTD) and Disney's California Adventure (DCA), before those areas were built it was a big deal.

Let's go back in time shall we?  It was the mid-1980's.  A few friends and I managed to gain entrance to the coveted club owing to a "friend of a friend" connection.  Isn't that always the way?  We were young, excited that we were doing something so exclusive and most importantly, we were going to drink booze in Disneyland.  At the time, you had to take the monorail over to the Disneyland Hotel if you wanted to grab a nip at the bar and come back to the Park.  

We were giddy when we were buzzed in and the door opened for us.  Now WE were the people going inside the mysterious club while others looked on in longing and envy. The lobby is very small.  There is a podium where the host stands, an old fashioned Victorian glass elevator and a set of stairs that curve up to the next floor.  We took the elevator.

Club 33 serves lunch and dinner.  When we went the first time, lunch was a buffet.  We arrived around 11am and they were still serving some breakfast items.  We ate and ate and ate.  We had deviled eggs and ham and caviar and eggs benedict and rare roast beef and cream puff swans and wee cakes.  We ate through brunch and into lunch proper.  Oh, did I mention that lunch was all you can eat?  We ATE!  The food was amazingly good.  Let's face it, the food in the Park is pretty much.... bad and YES that includes Blue Bayou.  Some places are better than their counterparts but in no way is the park's food something you would pay for outside the Park.  Club 33 is really good food.

The other perk of Club 33 is that your admission to the Park and parking are included as long as you purchase a meal at the Club.  Lunch was the best deal as it was the all you can eat buffet for $40 a person (NOT including booze).  We ate and drank for 3 hours straight.  We were young, skinny and had metabolisms like rabid squirrels.  We ate until we thought we were going to be sick and then we ate some more.  The sin of Gluttony, in all its glory, was on grand display at our table that day.  At the end we really thought we would hurl if we ate one more thing.

The Club also encompassed some very interesting things.  First, the Ladies ROOM.  I went into one of the stalls and saw.. a chair:
 Yes it is a Victorian styled chair for you to sit on and yes, when you lift the seat there is a toilet bowl there.  I really didn’t expect to feel like you were doing your business while sitting in your living room.  I even made my girlfriend take a picture of me sitting on the chair (with the seat down).  It takes a real friend to do that for you!

We had a wonderful, magical time.  I will warn you that eating that much food leads to adverse side effects.  Here we were - young, thin, fit and that food kicked our ass.  We looked at each other, glanced in the direction of the Matterhorn, turned green and all agreed to ride the train and then go watch Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.  Those seemed like the best attractions for our bodies at the moment.  I swear even Mr. Toad would have caused us to lose our lunch on a three year old at this point.

Currently the membership list is closed and the waiting list is over 8 years.  A non-corporate membership costs (you need to sit down now) an initial membership fee of $10,450 and an annual fee of $3,275.   So if you want to be a member, get on the list now and start saving your pennies.  Also if you are one day late paying your annual dues, your space is given away to the next person on the waiting list.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tokyo Dining - Sushi & Sake or Thank The Gods It Isn't California Roll

Well this was my last day at Epcot and I hadn't planned for a sit down lunch since I was having dinner at Victoria & Alberts at 8:30pm. However it was POURING rain so I decided I would check out Tokyo Dining. I figured they might be able to get me in without a ressie since the rain was keeping people away.  

They sat me right away, gave me a window seat and were sooo polite! I didn't bring Bun with me due to the excessive rain however I had a very good time none the less.  

First let me clarify a few things about sushi. This will save you from looking like a dork in a real sushi bar: 
* California Roll is NOT real sushi! That isn't even real crab in there. It is crab flavored white fish. It was invented to help Americans with their "weird food fear". 
* Wasabi is NOT to be heaped into the bowl of soy sauce and stirred until it is a muddy paste! STOP IT!!!! It is insulting to the sushi Chef. Both the wasabi and soy are to lightly accent the fish. When you do the sludge thing, you are saying you want to taste wasabi and not the FISH. 
* Some pieces of sushi (that come with their own sauce) are NOT to be drug in soy sauce. 
* NEVER stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice. That indicates an offering to the dead. Either use a chop stick rest or place them sideways across the bowl of rice. 
* If you are dipping sushi in soy, pick the piece up with your chop sticks and touch them to the soy "upside down" so the top of the fish touches the sauce and not the rice. If you place it in the soy rice end first, it will tend to fall apart. 
* You will receive a warm washcloth before eating. This is for wiping your hands NOT for taking a BATH!!  

I also must say that I eat many things white people don't eat. I eat organs (like brains and sweetbreads), I eat live things, I eat things that move, I eat things that smell so rank it makes Mickey cry (like Durian). Doesn't mean I would eat Durian again but I try it. One of my favorite sushi offerings is Ama Ebi. They did not have any but they are raw sweet shrimp with the heads deep fried. one sushi chef I know calls the heads "Japanese French Fries". They are WONDERFUL!!!! One Chef also took the brain out after chopping their little heads off and gave it to me with a thin slice of lemon. It was still pulsing. YUMMY!  

Anyway, I ordered some hot sake (for such a cold day) and the following sushi dishes Maguro (Tuna) - they didn't have Toro which is a higher grade of tuna belly, Sake (Salmon), Unagi (Eel) and Ika (squid). They were out of Conch (you know those big shells Hawaiians blow) and Octopus. :sad1

This was very decent sushi. Not as good as the places in San Francisco but it was on par with your average sushi place. Some of the cuts of fish were a little on the thin side but the prices were a little lower than I have seen in sushi bars so I guess it evens out. Sushi can be an addicting and pricy enterprise. I have been known to eat $75 worth of sushi by myself. I also love Uni (Sea Urchin Gonads, which they didn't have) which is pretty pricey. This is a definite return for me even if they have "dumbed down US food" like California Roll and that abomination Philidelphia Roll on the menu. That Philly roll is GROSS! Cooked salmon, cream cheese and rice in a roll. BLECH! Had it at a place in Oakland (a friend ordered it) and I think it was near as bad as Durian and that is bad. Here if you are not a true Japanese sushi person or not an adventurous eater they have tempura, teriyaki and *shudder* California Roll. Have at, more conch for me however, please try one thing for me. Use chopsticks, not a fork. Really it isn't that hard, I learned when I was 8. Just try for me. Promise?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Partners - A Story of Statues

As you can see from the picture at the top of this blog, Walt & Mickey are partners in creative work, in Disneyland, in life. The bronze "Partners Statue" was installed in Disneyland in November, 1993. It is located in the circular hub in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It is also surrounded by small bronze statues of Chip & Dale, Goofy and the White Rabbit among others.
A copy of these statues were added to Walt Disney World in front of Cinderella Castle in June of 1995, dedicated by Roy E. Disney

The "Partners," statue was sculpted by long time Imagineer artist Blaine Gibson. During the Halloween season, pumpkins sporting cut outs of Disney characters surround the hub with Walt's statue in both parks. Blaine contributed his sculpting talents to such attractions as the Haunted Mansion, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Enchanted Tiki Room. He also sculpted the faces for all of the Presidents for the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.  Current President Barak Obama was his last.  Mr. Gibson is currently 90 years old.
The Magic Kingdom opened on October 1st, 1971 and this plaque commemorated all that had gone into furthering Walt's dream.  
The plaque above reads: Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney and to the talents, the dedication and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney's dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place ... a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together. Dedicated this 25th day of October, 1971.    Roy O. Disney  

Roy, Walt's brother, partner and "money guy" died 2 months after this dedication of a stroke.  However Blaine preserved his presence at the Park he finished for his brother.  While not as commanding as Walt's statue in front of the castle, this one conveys the more casual demeanor of Roy.   The "Sharing the Magic Statue" of Roy O. Disney seated with Minnie Mouse is located on a bench near the park's entrance. The statue was dedicated in October of 1999 by his son, Roy E. Disney, who recently passed away from cancer. He was just shy of his 80th birthday.
Here is me and "Pal Mickey" sitting next to Minnie and Roy.
Not only are these statues reminders of the great men who gave us the best playgrounds on Earth but are inspirations for what we can do if we dream it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grim Grinning Ghosts Come Out To Socialize - The Various Mansion Flavors From Abroad

Today I thought I would give everyone a brief intro to the Haunted Mansions that live in the non-USA parks.  The Haunted Mansion is the only attraction that is in a different land in each Park.  Well we know the original Mansion is in New Orleans Square and the WDW Mansion is in Liberty Square but what about the other ones and how are they different?
Haunted Mansion: Tokyo Disneyland (Fantasyland): opened 1983
Look familiar?  No, it's not the Haunted Mansion in WDW but you really can't tell these two apart from the outside at a glance.  The exterior is a copy of the Florida Mansion with a little more "wear and tear" however the ride itself is located in Fantasyland.  Why?  My guess for the exterior is that is was quick and cheaper than developing something original.  

The land placement issue has to do with Asian culture.  The departed spirits of their ancestors are very much a part of their lives.  Many families have Butsudan (shrines) in their homes to honor their ancestors.  "Ghosts" in Japanese lore are not friendly or humorous.  These spirits are vengeful, evil, jealous, angry.  They are not the same as their ancestors or other spirits in the world around them.  The Haunted Mansion is in Fantasyland because Disney came at it from the point of view that these ghosts were make believe.  They were not real and thus were in Fantasyland.

The ride itself is mostly the Florida ride but with a few changes such as a room filled with cobwebs & spiders, a free floating spirit in Madame Leota's room and the old attic treatment with the "Bride" and the beating heart that freaked me out as a kid is here.

Phantom Manor: Disneyland Paris: formerly EuroDisney (Frontierland): opened 1992
Yes, I know, it looks like the Psycho house which is kind of cool.  Actually this was inspired by the original Haunted Mansion sketch from Harper Goff in 1951 when Walt thought of having a walk-through Haunted House off of Main Street.  He pictured a church with a graveyard and a run down house up on a hill.  

So now you can see how the Mansion evolved and I think it is nice they were able to find a Park to use this first concept in.  This is also the first Mansion that has a very definite story line.  It is based loosely on Phantom of the Opera (written by Gaston Leroux - a Frenchman) but with a western twist to fit the Thunder Mesa (Frontierland) feel.  

The basic story has Henry Ravenswood, who struck gold in Big Thunder Mountain, build this victorian mansion for his wife and daughter Melanie.  The gold dried up, his daughter wanted to marry someone he didn't approve of, then an earthquake buried Henry and his wife.  No one heard from the family again.  Later the story surfaced that on Melanie's wedding day, a mysterious phantom appeared, lured the groom to the attic and hung him.  Melanie, not being able to find her groom slowly went mad, wandering the house in her tattered wedding gown, waiting for her groom.  The Mansion became over run by spirits and demons enacting a parody of the wedding party she never had.  Her singing is heard through the Mansion at night.  The earthquake also cut through the old, abandoned mining town (which for some strange reason is in the Mansions backyard).

I have a friend who actually went to Disneyland Paris and gave me her views on the ride:
The obvious difference from the beginning is the exterior.  Not only the design of the Mansion but how it is obviously derelict with weeds, peeling paint, shuttered windows.  This is genuinely creepy especially at night.

The stretching room shows various portraits of the daughter in some scary, creepy situations.  This Mansion also utilizes an elevator so it does "stretch".  The scene at the end in the copula shows the Phantom hanging the groom and not just a hanging body.

The effects from the hall through the Doombuggies are pretty much like the original.  As you travel past the suit of armor you see familiar items with an overlay of either the girl appearing and disappearing or the Phantom doing the same thing.

Madame Leota is there for the seance but instead of general lingo about conjuring spirits to ring bells, she is talking about calling ghosts to a ball that specifically references the Bride and the vanished groom.

The ballroom is pretty much the same only with the addition of the bride and a laughing Phantom.  When you enter the brides bedroom (attic), you see the bride now as an old lady crying in front of a mirror while a music box plays.  Another Phantom of the Opera touch.

This is where it gets really different.  When you go into the graveyard, you see the Phantom with a dead dog instead of the live caretaker, you go underground into catacombs and see the busts singing Grim Grinning Ghosts.  You now enter the western ghost town with shoot outs, a dead Mayor (with the original ghost hosts voice), a saloon with ghostly showgirls, gamblers and bartenders.  At the end you still get a ghost in your car and Little Leota telling you to hurry back and bring your death certificate.  Same things as the original ride but the theming is a wine cellar from the Mansion.  All and all it was pretty cool since so much of it was different, you can judge it as another attraction in a way and not compare it too closely to the original.

Mystical Manor: Hong Kong Disneyland (Adventureland/Mystic Point) - Opening 2013/14
We can only speculate on what this ride will eventually be as it is not open yet.  I have heard two rumors as for as location.  It will either be in Adventureland or a new land called Mystic Point that still will have an Adventureland feel.  There IS an Adventureland in this Park (will be writting about it later) but at the moment I can not get definite confirmation on the location.

My Imagineer insider did tell me this ride would be the first to have NO GHOSTS.  I am assuming it is a similar culture issue, just like Japan.  This ride will take you on a dark ride tour through the Manor of Lord Henry Mystic, an Edwardian adventurer and explorer.  His Victorian home rests on a jungle hilltop and all hell breaks loose when his mischievous monkey opens a cursed music box.  It's always the monkeys......

There will a pre-show introducing the monkey and the music box.  The doombuggies will be replaced by turn of the century horseless carriages.  The manic monkey opens the box and the magic that is released brings the artifacts of the Manor to life.

The planned rooms are a music room, a Greek room, a conservatory, a Norse room filled with cold wind and smoke, an armory where an animated cannon blasts the ride vehicle backward, the Egyptian room (I'm sure there will be mummies), a tribal room that resembles the Tiki Gods from the Tiki Room, a Chinese room and then the return to the end where the Monkey traps the magic back in the box and returns things to normal.

However in spite of the issues with opening Mansion, Hong Kong Disney DOES have something no other Disney Park has - a real haunt.  Not Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party but a real scary haunt like Knotts Berry Farm or Magic Mountain with haunted mazes, spook houses (including a haunted hotel on Main Street).  As you remember Walt talked about putting the Haunted Mansion at the end of Main Street.   It was later moved to it's own land of New Orleans Square. 

If you think I am joking about the Haunt, watch the promo (this one is in English) for the 2009 event.  American kids would wet their pants going by how uber-PC Disney is in this country with not making anything "too scary".  Well unless you count the now defunct Alien Encounter (read my previous blog on that).

While the Tokyo Mansion is pretty standard, the Paris and Hong Kong one sound pretty cool and make me want to take a trip abroad to see them for myself.  Maybe some day!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yak & Yeti - Tibet, the Dali Bunny & an Attack by a Yak

Well today was my day at Animal Kingdom. Initially I had decided to just grab some counter food (something I rarely do) but everything (including the counter by Yak & Yeti that serves things in cute colored Chinese food boxes) looked either greasy, unhealthy or too large a portion. I will be 100% happy with package delivery if they will shlep my left overs back to my room. I know they won't do it but.....

So I decided to try to get in at Yak & Yeti when they opened. I've found that if you check in for a non-ressie time right when they open (11am usually for lunch and 5 or 5:30 for dinner at most places) that you can be seated.

While the place was empty, they were not taking any walk-ins for tables. I am thinking they had lots of ressies for 20-30 minutes later HOWEVER you can eat at the BAR without the ressie as they serve the full menu.

This is the view from the bar.  I decided to start with a drink I heard a great deal about - the Yak Attack. This is a mango daiquiri with more rum and a berry swirl. I decided to have Bun try some.

Who is Bun? Well, Bun is The Softest Bunny In The World and I found him at the gift shop at the Dolphin Resort. He went drinking around the World with me and now he was on Safari (in his protective plastic bag).

That drink was sooo fruity good! In fact, while they do sell them around the corner from the counter food place outside, they aren't as good. Maybe the bar one gives you more of a berry swirl. I compared and these won. YUMMY! Bun agrees.

I decided I would order some food and the bartender suggested the American Kobe Burger but since I was lower carb, I ordered it without the bun, medium rare. It was sooooo good.
It was tender and juicy and full of flavor. I cut pieces, wrapped them in lettuce and ate them with the onions and tomatoes with a little bit of dressing. The nice bartender even brought me more lettuce. The fries were also wonderful. True, I only ate half due to the carbs but they were amazing! I'm so glad McDonald's is out of the park. These are tons better than Mickey D's! Next trip I am coming here again for sure!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rose & Crown Dinner - Attack of the Killer Squirrel

OK, well this was kind of weird. I need to back up, let's go back in time - whoooooo whoooooo whoooooooooooooooooooooo

OK, 2 months ago I was talking to Beth at Dreams Unlimited and making my table ressies. I know things were late but I had just gotten the word I was going to WDW from my cadre of traveling companions known as "The Singing Marys" but that is another story.

Anyway, I wanted to get right in for lunch at Askershus first thing, like 11 or 11:30 BUT they were full and the only time they had was 1:45pm. I wanted dinner ressies at Rose and Crown but their only time was 5pm. Ummmm, that is only 3 hours after eating a HUGE buffet lunch.

We were going to grab some counter service but that is usually iffy or nasty. Beth said to keep the ressie just in case so we decided to use it.

OK, going back to the present and first person since my traveling companions like to be mysterious to protect their public sector and Disneyland jobs. (They were the ones singing show tunes out to the bus later tonight - OK that is for later..)

So I check in and am seated right away over by the water. I contemplate boggarting the table for the next 4+ hours but figure I will get heaved out by a bouncer by at least 7pm.

I wasn't that hungry but I figured I would get some little bits to tide me over since I was staying for Illuminations. I start with a cup of the potato and leek soup. SOOOOOOOoooo yummy!

I was soooo into eating this that I forgot to take a picture until it was nearly gone. It was lovely in taste and texture. Creamy with that lovely sharp onion leek taste that mellows with the cream.

Now after the soup, movement caught my eye down by my foot. It was a squirrel.  (It says something that I could even FIND THIS EMOTICON) If you know anything about me you know that squirrels are out to get me. They are the evil minions of Satan I tell you! One lobbed a wee lemon at my head once and also tried to run off with a pair of my knickers. So when I looked down and saw the squirrel by my foot I started calling it a minion of Hell and threatening to whack it and make it into a wee hat.

The squirrel, whose name is Brian!!, jumped up on my table, looked it me with his beady black souless eyes, twitched his nose and ran over to the wall using my dining companion as a spring board. 

I realize I probably looked like a crazy person. OK, I looked like a crazy person but you've never had your thong snatched by a rodent OR have a squirrel hang its furry butt over the power line and try to piddle on your cats head! There is a reason why I am crazy.

The server explained that the cheeky little bugger, who they have named Brian, has made this his private playground. They shoo him off but he comes back. They always come back..... Minion of evil..... 

For my entree I decided to get the fish & chips but since I am low carb I told her not to bring any bread to the table and to substitute veggies for the chips. I told them it didn't matter what kind of veggies, I will eat them all.

It was soooo good. I took off half the yummy batter to lower the carbs and calories. The fish was so flaky, the batter was light, the veggies were perfectly seasoned. I just couldn't eat it all so I took it to go. I wish I could have had dessert. Next time this will be a definite return and with an empty stomach so I can have sticky toffee pudding.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco, CA

(Thanks to fellow Disney Geek Will R. who took this picture and yup, that is me on my iPhone.  We are total geeks)

It was a dark and stormy night.  Actually it was an overcast, lowering day but our hearts were full of giddy joy as myself and three stalwart companions breached the battlements of the Walt Disney Family Museum in honor of fellow Disney Geek Will R's 21st+ turn around the sun.

This wonderful museum to "All Things Walt" was built in the Presidio, a former army base by the Golden Gate in San Francisco.  Why San Francisco for a museum about Walt?  Well, firstly this museum is about the Man, not just The Mouse and was paid for with Disney family money.  The Disney Corporation did not build this.  Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, lives in Napa with her husband, LA Rams football star & former Disney Studio CEO, Ron Miller.  Together they own and operate the award winning Silverado Winery in Napa.  Thus the museum to her Fathers memory in the area where they live.
This museum is inspiring, tasteful and widely encompassing.  It fills 2 floors and starts with Walt's birth and childhood in Marcelline, Illinois.  It features tons of family photographs, an ambulance similar to the one Walt drove as a teen in WW1 in France.

You see his early animation works (Laugh-O-Gram Studios), his partnership with Roy, the live action Alice Comedy films, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the loss of rights to that character and the birth of Mickey Mouse.  You see cells from Snow White, Walts special one of a kind Oscar for that film which included one standard Oscar statuette along with 7 small ones on "stairs" next to it.  This Oscar was presented to Walt by Shirley Temple.  There is a section that discusses color mixing, ink & paint, original cells and the infamous Multi-Plane Camera (of which they have one and yes it is HUGE).

You go through the Wars Years, the War Shorts (including the infamous Der Fuehrer's Face),'s_Face, realism in animation shows itself in Bambi, Walt's pet project that was way before its time - Fantasia and the revival of the Studio with Cinderella.

You see Walt's hobbies such as polo, pictures from his vacations with Lillian to Europe and South America where he worked on live action shorts.  There are family mementos, watches, pictures, lots of interesting things that give you a peek into the life of Walt.  However, the Museum does not gloss over the rough patches.  It documents The Strike in detail.  How betrayed Walt felt and the feelings from the workers on the other side.  It should be noted that not all of Walt's people went on strike and not all of them felt work conditions were not fair.  However the Studio changed after that and so did Walt.

There are pictures of Walt at home, making sundaes for his daughters (Diane and Sharon) and their friends.  The most thrilling part for me personally was seeing the original Carolwood Pacific Railroad cars.  This was a live steam powered train that Walt would drive, give people rides on and ran on a track in his backyard of his Holmby Hills house.  It seems animators Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball had their own backyard trains which got Walt obsessed with his.

You see the birth of Disneyland.  There is a special miniature Disneyland that includes all the rides (and only the rides) that were either original to Disneyland or that Walt worked on.  Thus the most recent ride is Pirates of the Caribbean.  If you look above the firehouse on Main Street, you see the lamp in the window that is always kept on, just like at the Park.

There is an area devoted to the television shows such as The Mickey Mouse Club, The Wonderful World of Disney and The Wonderful World of Color.  As we travel by a replica of Walt's office at the Studio and the planning of Walt Disney World, especially Walt's vision for EPCOT, you know where this is going and it is not a happy place.

Walt Disney died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966 in Burbank. 
However in spite of the sadness that this great talent has gone, you are left uplifted by the body of his work that lives on and brings joy to so many people.

It is a shame that Walt's daughter Sharon did not live to see this as she passed away in 1993. There are so many things that fill this museum that it really does take a day to take it all in.  Tickets are available on-line and are timed for entry however when the weather is bad and tourist season is low (winter), there is never a problem getting tickets.

They also have a theatre which features one Disney film a month along with films on special topics and seminars.  If you are peckish, they have a counter that sells lovely sandwiches, salads, cookies, lemonaide, etc.

Adult admission is $20, Seniors and Students (with ID) are $15 and Children 6-17 are $12, Children under 6 are free with Adult paid admission.  These prices are MORE than reasonable for a day of one of a kind entertainment.  If you are a Member, free admission is one of the perks.  Memberships are priced from $55 - $500.

If you are in Northern California, this is not to be missed.  It is TONS better than wandering around the Haight looking at aging hippies.  Trust me, you will love this!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kona Cafe/Poly - Why Eating Here Might Not Have Been A Good Idea

Well, this was Tuesday and my first Epcot day. It was drizzling in the morning which then resolved itself into rain by 11am. My original plan was to do all of Future World, then go to DTD, have lunch at the Earl of Sandwich or Raglan Road and then have dinner at House of Blues with a hang out at Pleasure Island for a bit.

However after walking around all day in a hoodie and getting rained on (umbrellas and plastic ponchos that make you look like bags of produce are for the weak and the sober), I decided to have dinner at Kona Cafe at the Poly. I had heard from this Board that the Tuna Oscar was really good so I decided to try it.

I was also on a quest for Pineapple Bread. I have been dreaming about this since I had breakfast at Ohanas 4 years ago. After wringing out my socks on the monorail, Hey, my shoes & socks were SOAKED, I was an hour early.

I had an adult beverage, looked around, wondered WHY on God's Green Earth anyone would pay tens of thousands of dollars for a giant Imeron red painted dolphin, and made some notes.

I was seated right when the restaurant opened, ordered Kona coffee and here is where things got weird. It seems there is a bit of a pineapple bread grudge match between Kona Cafe and Ohana. When I asked my server about pineapple bread she said they had it. I asked her if it was the same as Ohana because that is what I want. I just loved the soft, sweet, sticky bread with the pineapple on the bottom. She said that theirs was freshly baked and that Ohanas is flat and comes in a box.

OK, so she brings me this HUGE load of bread:

It was fresh baked but looked NOTHING like Ohanas and it is WAY too many carbs for me. I asked her if it has the pineapple on the bottom. She said it has pineapple in it and there is macadamia nut butter.

Ummmm, SHE LIED! This is NOT Pineapple Bread. It is nice, sweet, soft bread. A bit like that Hawaiian bread you can buy at the store but better. The butter was nice but it was NOT what I wanted and NOT what I asked her about and there was NO pineapple in it at all. It was just sweet bread. PERIOD.

My coffee comes. It isn't Kona. I don't drink coffee as a rule but I was cold. It wasn't that Nescafe crap but the check only listed the coffee as $2.50 and that didn't sound like Kona which should have been 3x that amount. Of course I didn't find out about this until after the meal.

So I decided to deal with the MOUND OF CARBS and waited for my Tuna Oscar. Here is how it looked when it was delivered:

Tuna Oscar - served with fried green tomatoes, tempura-fried jumbo lump crab, and wasabi hollandaise $22.99 ($23)

This dish looked amazing. Then I tasted it. ummmm, damn. This Chef is smokin crack!

OK, first the Tuna (seared rare which is perfect) is blackened. NOWHERE on the menu description does it say that. There is just so much wrong with this I don't even know where to start.

First I think what the Chef was going for was a take on a Southern Fav with a "tropical twist". What am I talking about? Does this plate remind you of something? How about cajun catfish with fried green tomatoes and hush puppies?

So working with that concept he blackened the tuna, replaced the hush puppies (deep fried cornmeal balls) with the tempura crab, added asparagus for the whole "Oscar" concept and wasabi to the Hollandaise to give it an Asian flair.

Why is this wrong? Let me show you the plate after I moved things around:

First as far as presentation, the tuna is not sliced. Seared tuna is usually sliced thin after it is cooked. You are presented with two HUNKS of tuna that you have to slice yourself. The slicing actually improves the texture of the fish and hacking at it yourself with your not-so-sharp knife doesn't work.

The red pepper spice on the tuna DOES NOT WORK! It is WAY too spicy and completely detracts from the fish. You can't taste the tuna at all. When I brought this up to the server, she looked at me like I was high and offered to..... take it to the kitchen and WASH IT OFF FOR ME!!!!!!! Let me say that again, WASH IT OFF! WASH MY FISH!!!!! ***??!!!

I told her, no thank you, I would just scrape it off and could she bring me some more sauce and a steak knife since this knife was in no way sharp enough to cut the fish like it should be sliced.

The crab lumps were light, lovely and cooked perfectly. The Green Tomatoes were nice but not the same as they make in Georgia. I did take a doggie box to have leftovers for breakfast (including half of that carb monster bread).

I give this a B-. This will not be a return next trip but I am glad I went. The service was spotty, the food was ill conceived and the server lied to me on numerous occasions, denying me the Pineapple Bread that I sought for so long. Perhaps next time I will go to the podium at Ohana and ask for some to go. Does anyone know if they do that?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What is Wrong with Parents? Kids vs. Bars at Disney

What is the drinking age in your State?  18?  21?  Most States are 21 including California and Florida.  We all know that it is illegal for a minor to drink or even hold alcohol.  I am hoping we all agree with this.

How many of you would go to your neighborhood watering hole/dive/bar/whatever, take your 5 year old with you and then sit them at the BAR next to the drunks?  If you are normal I would say none.

Now how many of you would go to Disneyland Resort or WDW, take your 5 year old with you to a BAR and sit them on the stool AT THE BAR?  I'm willing to bet there are more of you that would do that and right now I am calling you out as a bad parent.

If it is not ok to take Timmy to your local dive and sit him at the BAR (not a table) why is it ok to do so at the Mouse?  Because it is DISNEY?!  All of a sudden that makes it ok?

I know there are some people out there who think rules are made for everyone else but not for them and especially not for their special child.  Sorry to ruin your day but your kid isn't special and neither are you.  In California it is ILLEGAL to have a child at the BAR.  I found out that while it is not illegal in Florida, what kind of message are you sending your child?  Think about this for a minute.

Bars are places where grown ups go to drink fermented fruits and grains, let their hair down, perhaps curse, debauch, try to get laid, etc.  This does not change just because that bar is now at the Polynesian or the Grand Californian.  There are some places where it is just not appropriate for children to be.
* Strip Clubs
* Bath Houses
* The Adult Film Awards
* The French Quarter during Mardi Gras and....

I am so happy to report that the Rose & Crown pub in England at Epcot took out all of their bar stools!  YAY!  Now the kids can't sit at the bar, they have to go to the tables where they belong.  However, not all of the bars have picked up on this.

This past trip I was at the Tune In Lounge and a family that was waiting for a table at the eatery next door decided to sit at the bar.  While they are waiting, Dad wants a drink and sits their two tykes at the bar.  So I turn to the kids and ask them "Are you going to order a beer or a shot of whiskey?  Now make sure when you get back to school to tell everyone at Show & Tell that Mommy & Daddy took you to a BAR at Disney!"  At that point Dad paid for his drink and Mom drug the kids over to a table, where they belonged.  There was seating available so trying to tell me there was nowhere else to sit while they waited for their table was bogus.

I know, I'm a dick.  Actually, no I'm not.  I was being the adult.  The fact that these parents could not walk 5 more feet to sit down on the chairs provided is not my problem.  They are the ones setting the bad example for their kids by letting them know it is OK to sit at a bar before you are legally old enough to drink.  They are saying that drinking is a family activity, like waiting in line to get autographs from Princesses or taking a picture with Mickey Mouse.

We should be teaching children to be responsible adults and part of that is the reality that there are some activities/areas that are for grown ups and not for kids.  Period.  Please think about the message you are sending to your child when you allow them into an adult environment and understand that when you bring your kid into my grown up house, I will not change my language or behavior because you were the one who decided to be a bad parent and take your kid to a bar.