Sunday, September 28, 2008

'50s Prime Time Cafe

The year 1989 witnessed a huge run of interactive kitsch at Walt Disney World; not only did places like Adventurers Club open with the advent of Pleasure Island but a restaurant in the newly opened Disney MGM-Studios became the hot spot on property for improvisational serving. The '50s Prime Time Cafe, where the television obsessed culture of the 1950's crossed with the American stereotyped suburban home, was born and its version of sass and meatloaf have entertained and fed many happy customers ever since.

Featuring comfort foods such as fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, open-faced sandwiches, and mac and cheese, the '50s Prime Time Cafe shares a kitchen and floor plan with the Tune-In Lounge and Hollywood and Vine buffet. What this restaurant is best known for is the style in which your server 'feeds' you; don't be the one at your table to leave food on your plate or no dessert for you! If you have a very outgoing group of fellow diners then this is the place to be in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Groups with shy or cranky members should think twice and, please, be on your best behavior inside!

This photograph was taken by the author in November, 2007.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

So Long, Pleasure Island (1989-2008)

Pleasure Island (1989-2008), first envisioned as a counter to Universal's CityWalk and Orlando's Church Street Station, closes its doors this evening. The only areas to escape the axe are Curl, Harley-Davidson, Fuego, and Ragland Road. Not so lucky are the PI club staples: Mannequins, 8Trax, BET, Motion, Comedy Warehouse, and Adventurers Club


This photograph was taken by the author in March, 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sleeping Beauty Castle's Water Fountain

Extending Disneyland's most iconic image, Sleeping Beauty Castle, are many unique touches. This building is synonymous with the Disney name and, until 1971, was likely the one image children all across the US could identify with little trouble. Unlike it's WDW counterpart, Sleeping Beauty Castle is a richer experience for the Disney fan: its murals, while not as exotic as Dorothea Redmond's glass mosaics in Florida, are simply wonderful; its scale, much smaller than Cinderella Castle, creates an intimate feeling; its style, as designed by Herb Ryman, is subtle; its 'extras' are, well, somehow more charming.

The diorama within Sleeping Beauty Castle, shuttered in 2001, depicts the story of Briar Rose and is soon to reopen. The original, highly stylized diorama, created by Imagineer Ken Anderson and artist Eyvind Earle, was a classic; the one many remember today was actually a 'refurb' that opened in 1977 and was more akin to the set pieces viewable along Main Street USA windows.
A perfect touch is the water fountain located in the castle backcourt area; the attraction is able to tell the fairytale in multiple ways and this fountain is my favorite.
These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

An absolute must attraction for those who are enamored with Disney history, Disneyland's Haunted Mansion at first sight is, for those who have spent all of their time with ghost hosts from other Disney parks, well, rather innocuous. There's no apparent 'scare' factor visible, right?

After all, this looks more like the entry to a debutante ball than something designed to spook and fright. Nonetheless, the Haunted Mansion's architecture is a story well worth investigating and the best part is you don't have to listen to Photos from the Parks to find out. 

Before we direct you to other aficionados who have excellent work regarding the Haunted Mansion's sight lines, just a few pieces of 'did you know?'. First, the carriage, shown above, was long a strange piece of ephemera in our opinion until we heard the storyline includes this carriage as the vehicle Master Gracey used to transport his dead fiancée following her 'odd' death at the hands of an attic trunk. This carriage, after the body was placed within, mysteriously found itself pulled through the night and when Gracey found it the next morn, with no evidence of her body, save her wedding ring embedded in the road, his insufferable grief made him take his own life. (Wow - not exactly Cinderella, is it?) 

A bit less morbid are the following items: 
  • The weather vane, featuring a schooner, is possibly a remnant from one of the original story lines;
  • The attraction itself lies outside the berm - the building above is the only element inside the park;
  • The building we see actually sat for close to a decade before the attraction opened and drew 82,000 people into Disneyland the day it finally opened its doors.
For much better information, please see the most excellent Doom Buggies' articles on this subject of Haunted Mansion architecture here. (Thank you, Patrick!) And, of course, kudos to everyone'sgood friend, Progressland, for his identification of the Mansion's real-life counterpart and inspiration for Imagineer Ken Anderson who executed Harper Goff's early vision for this attraction. 

These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Where else would you rather be on a day like this?
This photograph was taken by the author in July, 2007.

Monday, September 15, 2008

South Seas Traders

Tucked in the midst of the manic that comprises Disneyland's Adventureland retail offerings is an interesting item: South Seas Traders. Opened in 1984, South Seas Traders is located opposite of Tropical Imports mMarket and features a kitchy shipwreck motif within and sports a corrugated tin roof on the outside. The merchandise is much of the same but Shrunken Head Ned resides here and is always quick with such pearls as "Don't buy green bananas" (if you fail to breathe in deeply), and "Avoid the Jungle Cruise ride" (hear, hear.) 

Of particular interest to this blogger are the items which have, from time to time, frequented the second story especially the 'Chandler' sign. Can anyone shed light on the significance of the sign and why it's currently missing? What does Chandler mean and what's that underneath the anchor? Inquiring minds want to know! (Special thank you to Davelandblog's photo history.)

This photograph was taken by the author in July, 2007.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Adventureland Architecture

Adventureland, located in Walt Disney's World's Magic Kingdom, features a unique stretch of buildings extending from the entrance off the hub on towards Aloha Isle and the Swiss Family Treehouse

The color palette for this area is heavily focused on warm earth tones that stand out nicely from the lush, tropical plant life that hides much in this area. Once home to the Adventureland Veranda Restaurant, this vacant space, above, pulls seasonal duty for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and as a character greet location. The former restaurant (home to the one and only teriyaki burger) is rather expansive so the facade continues close to 200 linear feet as you head into Adventureland

The concept art submitted by Herb Ryman and Dorothea Redmond prior to the park's construction emphasizes 19th century colonial building styles keeping with the somewhat tamed version of the South Seas, Caribbean, and central Africa attractions within and the finished product keeps close to these themes.  

At any time one might think they're in the Congo or in the caribbean islands; the effect is very powerful in terms of tying together such a wide range of imagined geographic locations. 

There are a million stories to tell at Walt Disney World and Adventureland has more than its fair share. This span of structures does a great job with setting the stage for this land and the fabulous and widely diverse attractions within.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Harambe Buildings

Of the twenty-two or so Imagineering disciplines there are quite a few which have the ability to completely transform a Disney experience. Perhaps one the strongest pieces of evidence for this claim is the seemingly fictitious village of Harambe located in the Africa section of Disney's Animal Kingdom brought to life by WDI's Architecture, Character Paint, and Character Plaster teams.

Based on the equatorial town of Lamu, Kenya, Harambe village is the focal point of the visual storyline told on the way to the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. In the opinion of the author, let your party head on to watch the animals and keep your camera trained on the buildings, instead.

Architecturally speaking, this area is interesting in its ambitiousness. While this area of Animal Kingdom comprises over 110 acres (by comparison, larger than the Magic Kingdom) that's largely for the animals and the foot traffic space is far smaller. Nonetheless, WDI managed to create compelling sightlines as you enter and exit Africa. Mombasa Marketplace, stocked with home and art goods, features a white-washed exterior somewhat reminiscent of Epcot's Morocco pavilion and its Moorish influence.

The Tusker House Restaurant is a welcome sight for most and unlike its counterpart town in Kenya, which is predominantly Muslim, Tusker House features the Dawa Bar located alongside of the restaurant at the entrance to the larger area. If you took our advice earlier, and left your traveling companions to the long wait for Kilimanjaro Safaris, this is the place to wait for their return. Located across the street from Mombasa Marketplace, this building is quite different in style. The use of faux mud plaster and stone evokes a completely different reaction from the somewhat austere facade just examined. Further down, and closer to the key attraction here, you'll see a tower of sorts that brings to mind a coastal fortress a bit like the one over in Adventureland. This facade extends the entire length of Harambe and features all of the sit down dining options in the area. (Editor's note: the above photo was taken while Tusker House was undergoing renovations in preparation for the current Character Meal dining. This was a bit of a mess as Yak & Yeti had yet to open over in Asia.)

Looking back across the street one can find the 'fast-food' options: Tamu Tamu Refreshments, and the Harambe Fruit Market. Noticeable are the details on all of these buildings; the wear and tear, billboards plastered to the exteriors, phone numbers, street addresses, and other bits of detritus all combine to make you feel you're somewhere other than central Florida. More than any other Disney park, Animal Kingdom is a visual delight and these buildings are a key component to its success.

Rumor has it the only 'live' baobab tree in Disney's Animal Kingdom is the one picture above, located next to the Harambe Fruit Market just outside of Kilimanjaro Safaris' queue. Can anyone confirm?

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A gastronome's take on Epcot's France Pavilion

Lots of visitors to Epcot's World Showcase come with one thing in mind: to eat and drink around the 'World'. And while that's a fine goal, let's cut to the chase and settle it once and for all - you don't need to go any further than Epcot's France Pavilion to accomplish this task. And, with the good luck that befalls this pavilion based on its location in World Showcase, you can take in all you can with a few words of advice from a friendly gastronome.

First things first: your time in Epcot's France pavilion should begin and end at Boulangerie Patisserie. While World Showcase doesn't open until 11am it's never to early for an early lunch and this is the best place and best use of your cash. Boulangerie Patisserie is stocked with items both sweet and savory. Skip the sweets for later and grab a wonderful ham and cheese quiche or croissant with your beverage of choice (a beer is nice) or sample the cheese plate and a baguette and then purchase a glass of wine at Les Vins de France. Trust me - there's nothing finer. 

I know you will be tempted to eat at Chefs de France and, if you've read your guidebooks, will most likely make the 'smart' move by wnating to eat here at lunch. Normally I'd agree with such smart advice but in the case of Chefs de France it's best to just look inside via those beautiful plate glass windows and window shop only. Chefs de France is a bit of a misnomer; it should be called 'Bistro de France', which is much more descriptive of its fare

Yes, yes; you're thinking, "Where else can I go and have onion soup, escargot, steak frites, and souffle while visiting Walt Disney World? Where else can we introduce the kiddies to French food? Where else can my spouse break out his/her terrible high-school French on unsuspecting waitstaff?" The answer: it doesn't matter. Don't do it - you'll just ruin whatever preconceptions you had before walking through the door. It's not that we hate Chefs de France here at Photos from the Parks, it's just that it's not your best choice. Americans have expectations which are unrealistic for this restaurant both in terms of food and service so do yourself a favor and next time you're at Epcot follow this advice: eat at Bistro de Paris instead. 

Bistro de Paris is located on the top floor of Chefs de France and offers one of the best day-in and day-out culinary experiences in the parks. While the fare downstairs is pedestrian and stereotypical in nature, Bistro de Paris offers a menu fairly representative of french cuisine. As evidenced by the menu shown above, Bistro de Paris offers a pleasant evening repast and the duck is always good. [Editor's note: Always order the duck, pork, or rabbit if it's on the menu!]

An appropriate bonus is the wine list. Just ask your waiter for advice and you'll be fine. The chefs menu is not a bad idea but steers you toward the less special items on the menu, so be aware. Time your ADR so that you can catch the fireworks and, following that, skip desert, get up on your feet, and head back to Boulangerie Patisserie.

Now is the time to take advantage of the sweets on the bakery's menu. Don't hold back; you're going to hit a food coma anyway due to dinner so stock up and take something home for tomorrow morning. The only thing that fails to deliver here is the coffee and that's a subject best left to others to bemoan. Get rid of the Nescafé! 

So, in just a day's time, you've pretty much enjoyed all there is to have in this little pavilion. Be sure to keep it a secret, however. We don't want everyone in on the plans.

And, if you remember, we mentioned earlier about why the pavilion's geographic location plays such an important part of its appeal. Consider the International Gateway as your backdoor pass to Disney's Hollywood Studios. For park hoppers, start your day in the Studios, take the Friendship Launch to Epcot for lunch, head into Future World for the rides, and then back to the pavilion for dinner. It works every time!

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gratuitous Spaceship Earth Photograph

For Walt Disney World photography addicts it's impossible to turn away from a nighttime shot of Spaceship Earth, Epcot's 'weenie'. One could argue this park icon makes a great shot at night each and every time which is welcome due to the large number of miserable daytime shots most of us are subjected to. (Gray against gray is not my idea of a picnic.) However, at dusk and beyond, you just can't stop yourself from more than just one.

This photograph was taken by the author in November, 2007.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Epcot's Belle Epoque: France

Ahhhww. Buenas días, senorita. My siestas are getting longer and longer. . . Hey, Michael, mi amigo, it's show time.

If you're bold enough to thwart Imagineering's blueprints - and pass into the heart of Epcot's France Pavilion via the Arcade mentioned in our last post - you'll enter into a setting very Parisian in manner. While the Imagineers drew their picture of Paris by way of their Pont de Arts (the bridge that crosses the International Gateway area) and the Seine, replete with vendor carts, gardens, and fountains, a quick pass through the Arcade onto La Promenade in its fictional 3rd Arrondisement is far more likely a scene. 

This promenade features the wonderful Impressions de France attraction in the aptly named Palais du Cinema building and the above mentioned fountains alongside Le Chefs de France. (The nighttime view here, alone, might be worth the price of admission if you're missing the real thing and squint your eyes ever so slightly.)

Impressions de France is a great way to spend 17 minutes and 44 seconds; Buddy Baker's arrangement of classics by Saint-Seans, Debussy, Boieldieu, Ravel, Dukas, and Offenbach (see quote at top) combined with his own compositions are reason alone to snuggle into a seat and daydream as the gorgeous images pass by on the five screens. 

After taking in the show, I'd recommend a stop in La Maison du Vins / Les Vins de France and taking in something else altogether. The wine bar inside stocks varietals you'd expect to find in France; try either a wine flight or a Kir Royale to put you in the mood for further exploration. Like most of the shops within Epcot's World Showcase, Les Vins de France is appears to have a personality disorder when viewed from the outside. 

The first story storefronts all look different; this technique, combined with forced perspective, provides the 'sense' that there's more to this area than what's really there. This shop features a pass-through and while you enter via the Promenade you exit onto Le Petit Rue. If you look closely, you'll see an homage to the Sun King, Louis XIV, based on the 1643 A.D. date at top.  

Look across the 'Little Street' and you're suddenly transported to the French countryside as evidenced by the liberal use of stone and slate. Boulangerie Patisserie is the main attraction on this side of the street; if you have a weakness for pastries and sweets then don't even look. This bakery gives the one in Norway a run for its money as a fan favorite and includes elusive savory tarts. 

Completing the shopping options on Le Petit Rue would be the storefronts for Soleil et Lavande and L'Espirit de la Provence (look to grab a seat outside after nabbing something at the bakery) and the wonderful and ridiculously overpriced Gallerie des Halles / Souvenirs de France shop. 

All in all, the Imagineers packed more into this pavilion than any other on property in terms of fooling your senses into thinking there's much more than this small space can afford. And when you factor people will have more preconceived notions regarding this country than most others in World Showcase the effort becomes almost Herculean in nature. More about the food later.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.