10.31.2010

New Fears at The Old Haunt


When I visited the Haunted Mansion on October 4th, I didn't realize I would be one of the last who got to see the infamous tombstones that align the queue outside of the Mansion. When I returned just a few days later, walls were up along the queue blocking the tombstones. By this point, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were already lit up by mortified souls, with rumors of an "interactive queue" to replace these legendary tombstones. Why tinker with something perfectly in theme with the attraction while also a long-standing tribute to Imagineers?


Sadly it seems in keeping with the odd dichotomy that is the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World. The attraction has largely stayed true to its origins, a cornerstone of the Magic Kingdom that continues to delight fans new and old for almost 40 years now. When they've done a refurbishment, like the recent one done a few years ago, it was only to enhance the pre-existing effects. It's not like they integrated Eddie Murphy into the storyline!


However, the tombstone removal points towards a need for unnecessary meddling by the current regime. In the old days, part of the experience in the queue was the fear of the unknown that awaited inside. With the gothic mansion looming overhead, and the sound effects luring guests in, the patience on line only lent itself to the haunted theme. Are we so distracted now that we need to be entertained by some interactive games that have already proven to be mediocre enhancements elsewhere? There used to be interactivity in the Haunted Mansion queues: the cast.


Which brings me to my next, sad point. I can still recall my Dad's delight with how dry and spooky the cast members were when my family visited regularly in the '80s and early '90s and it became a highlight for me. "Please drag your bodies to the dead center of the room," a cast member would exclaim with sinister dryness. Outside, the cast were an extension of the fear of what horrors awaited inside. But this seems to have gone completely by the wayside, replaced by cast members who, while still helpful and professional, seem to have traded in the act for a requisite role as an employee going through the motions. I thought the whole point of calling them "cast" members was to imply that they were part of the experience. The problem is that them seemed more likely part of the cast of Clerks than the Haunted Mansion. I assure you, we're haunted.


This all unfortunately undermines what is still a very vital and brilliant Walt Disney World experience. The Haunted Mansion has been there since Day 1 and as I mentioned earlier, is still very much the same ride as it has always been. You can't say that about Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean or it's a small world. It epitomizes what Walt Disney World has always been to me: an experience that transcends carnival rides and amusement parks. As a child, I was horrified at the prospect of a haunted mansion simply because I only ever knew them to be an attraction who's sole purpose was to scare the living daylights out of its visitors. But as we all know, Marc Davis wouldn't have it that way. As a kid, I got over those initial fears and couldn't wait to revisit the Haunted Mansion. Now that's not to say that it gave me no fear…but it gave me enough delight to overcome those fears.


The Haunted Mansion became one of the most anticipated experiences on my recent trip as it had been a long five years since I enjoyed the attraction. As is requisite for certain rides, I made sure to experience the Haunted Mansion both in the daytime and at night. There isn't a whole lot to say here that hasn't been covered ad infinitum. It is very much still the attraction I have loved for nearly 30 years.


I also found the enhanced effects to be perfectly in spirit (pun intended) with the origins of the attraction. The ride felt sharper and enhanced, as if I had traded up from VHS all the way to Blu Ray. The more significant enhancements were wonderful and increased the supernatural quotient nicely. And Paul Frees, as the Ghost Host, has never sounded better.


Will the Pet Cemetery be replaced by a Dead Princess meet-and-greet?


Recent history has shown that no attraction is completely free from major refurbishment so in some ways we are lucky to have Frees still narrating and the rooms at the Haunted Mansion still telling the same storyline. Certainly in the grand scheme of things, the lack of cast charisma and the queue meddling won't affect the actual ride experience. But they were always a very enjoyable extension of that experience and its frustrating to see these things changed or dumbed down.


Why tinker with something just to tinker? There's a reason why lines still happily form outside the old haunt. The substance of the original ride was so perfect that it never needed changing, from the front gate to the exit. Apparently some foolish mortals felt otherwise.

10.24.2010

Fabled Tables: Tales of Food and Wine, Volume 3


Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival offers a lot of marketplaces for countries not often represented even by the most ethnically-diverse areas of America. Whereas at some marketplaces, you can sample foods you may have had elsewhere or simply know of, many of them offer treats people have never heard of. It was fun mixing in the tried and true with the varied and new.


SOUTH AFRICA

While I didn't have the capacity to try any of the food offerings at South Africa, Mrs. Disney Folly thoroughly enjoyed the La Capra Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps the one she enjoyed the most outside of New Zealand.


SINGAPORE

My wife has an allergy to wheat but was able to swap in Jasmine Rice and Curry for the Singapore Noodle Salad in the Shrimp Cake offering, which was indicative of the type of helpfulness we were accommodated by Disney cast members. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and very tasty. The rice made a perfect complement to the dish.


Singapore's Shrimp Cake with a Jasmine Rice side substitute

AUSTRALIA

The much-hyped Grilled Lamb Chop with Roasted Potato Salad at the Australia marketplace didn't fully live up to my expectations. The lamb had great flavor to it but was more fat than meat (and I say this as a connoisseur of lamb!) Also the potato salad just tasted like someone left roaster potatoes to the cold.

The Lamington dessert dish was a chocolate-covered butter cake. What they don't tell you is that the chocolate is covered with coconut. You'd think this would be advertised as many people are not a fan of shredded coconut. The cake texture was indeed buttery and heavy, but ultimately the cake was undone by the overuse of coconut.


BELGIUM

While it seemed the waffles and the beer were the obvious favorites at the Belgium marketplace (a Food and Wine rookie), I went for a lighter fare in the Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream. Mussels are typically prepared in a plainer fashion or with the requisite marinara sauce so I was impressed with the garlic cream preparation. It added a little substance to an otherwise quick and light bite. Smartly, the mussels came with a slice of garlic bread to dip in the leftover sauce.

I also liked the Belgium marketplace layout. The stand was set off from the World Showcase walkway and surrounded by low tables and chairs (not the typical high, standing tables around the lagoon). The area had a lot of space and room to breathe.


FRANCE

France provided one of the absolute foodie highlights for me my entire trip with the Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes. When I was handed what looked like some sort of cake, I corrected the cast member about my order, which they reiterated the dish in fact was. The short ribs were actually housed inside of the mashed potatoes. The cabernet marinade gave both a deep tasty flavor and the presentation made the dish a joy to eat. It was also quite filling. Even a few weeks later, I can still recall the memory of sitting in a crowded French square enjoying this newfound favorite dish.


Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes, a Disney Folly favorite!

10.18.2010

Pixel Hollow: A spire to great heights...


Being at the parks in the early hours with an October sky overhead created a lot of light and shadow issues with pictures during my recent trip. A lot of buildings and scenery were difficult to photograph at certain angles until later in the day. Unfortunately you had then trade sunlight issues for crowds. One trick I like to do is to get the sun behind an object and utilize it to my advantage as I did here. It's mostly overwrought symbolism but it works for me. The spiritual part of me can look at this and say it's Walt keeping an eye on his World. And the practical part of me can continue to applaud the Imagineers who constructed this beautiful land and all of its wonderful buildings, allowing us to take photographs that can mean so many things to every one of us.



10.14.2010

Fabled Tables: Tales of Food and Wine, Volume 2

The Mexico marketplace stands astride the iconic pyramid of the Mexico pavilion.


Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival provides marketplaces for countries who are not only foreign to World Showcase, but those who have had a home at Epcot for years. That said, there are surprising tastes to be found at all. I actually took in the following three countries as a sort of appetizer run before lunch at Via Napoli. One of the best things about this Festival is that while having a taco, pork dumplings and a lettuce wrap before pizza might get me shunned from my Italian family, it was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the Food & Wine Festival!


MEXICO

There is no shortage of restaurants representing Mexican cuisine at Epcot, with one counter service and two table service restaurants, including one (San Angel Inn) which I dined at during our recent trip. That said, the fare represented at their kiosk at the Food & Wine Festival still offered a nice change of pace from the various aforementioned options.

The Taco de Chilorio was a filling and flavorful taco. A flour tortilla (soft and unwrapped) is filled with slow-cooked, marinated pork topped with an avocado sauce and red onions. Though a tricky dish to navigate whilst parked off the World Showcase walkway without a table, the taco was one of the more surprising items that I sampled during my trip. (And that is coming from an area of America with no shortage of authentic Mexican cuisine!)

My wife and I also shared the Conga Fruit Punch, a non-alcoholic frozen drink containing pineapple and orange flavoring. This drink was a particularly successful refreshment on one of the more hotter days of our trip. As someone who has cut out a lot of artificially-sweetened drinks in his diet, I was particularly impressed with the moderate amount of sweetness in the drink. Definitely a nice departure from the usual beverages and certainly a good respite for those seeking a mixed drink without the alcohol.


Pork dumplings


CHINA

I had originally planned on skipping China as I was mostly intent on sampling more exotic foods at the Festival. That said, I've never been one to pass up a good dumpling. Though, they're calling it by the more trending name, the Pork pot sticker. Though typically an appetizer, two pork dumplings are actually a pretty hearty dish. These were very tasty and an accessible treat for most people.


South Korea's Lettuce Wrap with Roasted Pork and Kimchi Slaw

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea is one of the debuts at this year's Food and Wine Festival. Of course, it was my first Festival so every kiosk was making its debut with me. I can happily report that it is nevertheless a great addition. Having had my fair share of ribs, short or otherwise, I skipped the tempting Barbecue Short Rib and went for the Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw. If you are a connoisseur of well-cooked pork, I highly recommend this dish. For the uninitiated, Kimchi is a sort of pickled vegetable slaw. It's an incredibly popular Korean recipe and their most common side-dish. Fret not, while tasty and exotic, it's not a flavor that will turn off those easy scared by far off lands! (Though I do recommend you really try to situation yourself at a table for this dish as it's a tough one to tackle on the go.) This is another hearty and eclectic dish, with a subtle spicy kick.


And that's a Wrap!

10.10.2010

Fabled Tables: Tales of Food and Wine, Volume 1

The Food & Wine Festival cake display outside of Wonders of Life.


Disney's Folly visited the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival this year for the first time. The festival celebrated its 15th anniversary with its usual assortment of marketplaces, demonstrations, seminars and other experiences. For me, though, it was an inaugural experience, not only for the festival but for visiting Walt Disney World outside of the summer months. Here is the first volume of my recollections of the festival.

For years, I'd heard what I could only imagine were tall tales of a familiar land in central Florida expanded to include kiosks serving beer, wine and assorted foots, as an accompaniment to pre-existing country pavilions. Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival has been going for 15 years strong but for most of that time, I was largely unaware of the joys contained within.

However, this year I knew that my planned trip to Walt Disney World would coincide with the Festival, something I'd been hoping to do for a few years now. I strategically booked reservations at an Epcot resort, the outstanding Yacht Club Resort, so we could be a mere stroll away from Epcot.

Hype and anticipation soon gave way to shock, and not necessarily the good kind. Arriving at Epcot early Saturday evening, we were met with a weekend crowd significantly sauced on hops, barley and fermented grapes. What have they done to my Epcot?! Awe-struck families galloping through World Showcase were replaced with overdressed hipsters and stumbling bumbling drunks.

Thankfully we realized this was more a byproduct of timing than anything else. Sure, the week would bring its collection of characters, but my wife and I navigated the Festival more adeptly on the weekdays, sampling a fair share of foods and a little bit of wine. (I am not a wine drinker.)


CHILE

We recently visited Costa Rica and had the opportunity to sample amazing shrimp ceviche. The shrimp ceviche dish at the Chile marketplace was tasty, but not quite as good as what I've had before. A little heavy on the onions and not tangy enough. Also, the shrimp was slightly overcooked.

My wife sampled the Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc, and enjoyed it. However, she found it a step below some of the other Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Shrimp ceviche from Chile


BRAZIL

Brazil offered an interesting item in its grilled pork skewer with Farofa. Farofa is a toasted manioc flour mixture. The pork skewer is rolled in the flour turning it pale, not unlike the look of poultry when dredged in household white flour. The taste was very diverse, with the Farofa created a dry, crumbly exterior around the juicy, tasty pork inside. One of the more eclectic samplings I had at the Festival.

Brazil's Grilled Pork skewer dredged with Farofa and my camera flash.

Also on tap was the shrimp stew with coconut and lime. The stew had a very tropical flavor, and topped white rice quite well. The shrimp was also cooked effectively. Definitely a dish that would make well as a full meal.


ARGENTINA

Argentina provided one of the most dynamic dishes of my whole trip, the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce and boniato puree. This was clearly a favorite dish among those I spoke with at the Festival and for good reason. The chimichurri sauce has a strong zest to it, in large part due to the seasonings and vinegar used to make the sauce. However it combined well with the beef and boniato puree. (Boniato is a sweet potato, though more related to the white potato than the orange yam.)