Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Best Counter-Service Meal in each Walt Disney World Park

     A central challenge faced by Disney Parks is the accommodation of so many people. This manifests itself in the way in which attractions are designed, parks are laid out, and how Disney feeds its guests. The machine Disney has made for feeding the masses is the counter-service restaurant. Considering the concept and purpose of these dining areas, I have been very impressed on most occasions by the quality of the food and service at these places. There are no pointless dining areas; each counter-service restaurant fits into a larger narrative that is being played out by the surrounding attractions, infrastructure, art, cast members, and every little thing you see. So pay attention! Here is a list of my favorite counter-service restaurants, one for each respective park in Walt Disney World:

Magic Kingdom: The Magic Kingdom is a true marvel of theme park design. Everything you see in this place is on purpose. Disney Imagineers put so much effort into continuity of story and experience, and it is never more evident than here. My choice here was not an easy one, as several locations could each be considered excellent in their food and service. However, I have decided to pick:

Columbia Harbor House is located at the gateway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland, and is a perfect example of Disney theming at their dining spots. The name "Columbia" is a cordial homage to the replica vessel that sails the Rivers of America at Disneyland in California. The food and decor of this place, however, is a complete and beautiful throw into the world of sailing around the time of Colonial America. As you can already see, the theme fits beautifully into its host land, Liberty Square. The building is a seemingly endless maze of inviting and enticing hallways, staircases, and little doors that open up into more rooms. The walls are hung with paintings, charts, ropes, and other maritime fun stuff. My personal favorite part of this place is the seating area located in the bridge that extends over the outside walkway. Grab your seafood, sit here, and you will be able to see the Liberty Belle, Frontierland, and all of the mayhem going on in Liberty Square. Ok, I know; The food is great too! I have not eaten one thing that I didn't like here. The place can be really busy, but there will almost always be plenty of seating.

     pssst: If you get here in the morning, before the restaurant opens, the door will sometimes be ajar so cast members can get in and out. I'm not sure if this was allowed, but I have several times just walked on in and explored every piece of art and framed cool-stuffs on the wall, without a soul there to bother me.

Honorable Mentions: Pecos Bill's Tell-Tale Inn and Cafe, Casey's Corner

Epcot: And here is the hardest decision of them all. How can I possibly decide to pick from eleven countries and one theme park's worth of great food places?! I guess I can try. Needless to say, Epcot has many many places that will not disappoint you if you decide to eat there. This is why I first feel the need to tell you to try as much food at Epcot as you possibly can! Your hotel has a treadmill! Whether it's sushi at Japan, tacos at Mexico, salad at Sunshine Seasons, pastries in France, or chocolate in Germany, do not miss your chance to eat the amazing food at Epcot. That said, here is my best attempt to decide on a favorite:

Yorkshire County Fish Shop is probably the best fish and chip spot in Florida. The locals come to Epcot just for these little morsels. The United Kingdom plays host to this quaint tudor shack, which is located just to your right as you enter the U.K. from the International gateway or from France. On top of the fantastic fish and chips, there is beautiful seating on World Showcase lagoon right next door as you receive your food. To avoid the huge lines that can form here, try having an early dinner on a day that will allow you to eat outdoors comfortably.

Honorable Mention: Sunshine Seasons, Cantina de San Angel, Tangierine Cafe

Disney's Animal Kingdom: Here is an interesting one. Since Disney is always working to keep continuity of the story, and the Animal Kingdom's story involves real animals and the conservation of said animals, it can be tricky to fit in places to feed real hungry tourists! You will notice here that the places to eat are not quite at the center of focus like they are at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. However, Disney once again has done a great job with their counter-service options, despite this challenge. This is especially prevalent in my favorite counter-service place:

Flame Tree BBQ is located on Discovery Island, and is the premier BBQ spot in all of Walt Disney World. The food is beautiful and delicious, and can even be healthy if you want! However, the real treasure of this dining experience is the seating. I've mentioned this spot in an earlier blog post because it is that good. After you are handed your food, stroll on down into the forest and through the trees. You will arrive at a collection of seating areas. Keep walking down until you arrive at the water-front. Here, you can sit and watch Expedition Everest, as well as the lake and surrounding theming. Take it in! This is one of the finest views in the Animal Kingdom, and I recommend checking it out even if you don't eat here!

Honorable Mention: Eat at Flame Tree!

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Now here is where it gets tricky. Disney's Hollywood Studios is meant to give the impression that it is a busy and functioning studio. And although this isn't really true any more, that is still the story that they are telling. And once again, the continuity of story here is a bit of a hinderance to the quality of counter-service dining. There are plenty of great places to eat if you want to sit down! However, the more outdoor and casual places are lacking a bit in theming, and all generally give the appearance of a Hollywood backlot, which is exactly what they are going for. Here, my pick was based mostly on the air-conditioning and pretty good food available:

ABC Commissary is located in a strange part of the park, between Star Tours and the Great Movie Ride. If you think that's a wide range of the park, you're right. If this helps a bit more, it is right behind the back side of the American Idol Experience. Anyhow, this place wins my award because of my personal experience on a hot day in Florida. Almost every place to buy food (sans sitting down) in Hollywood Studios is located outside. Now, Disney has put fans that blow water on your back at the other locations to try and cool you down, but I was never a fan of that (excuse the pun). Here, you can step inside a relatively quiet corner of the park, and get a pretty good salad or sandwich, and eat it in a quiet and cool place. The food here is also better than any other counter-service place in the park, and who doesn't like watching a little bit of Disney-created ABC television while they eat.

Honorable Mention: Toy Story Pizza Planet, Starring Rolls Cafe

    Thank you for reading, and I hope this is of some help for your next trip to Walt Disney World! More to come!

    Do you disagree? Comment here! Let's talk!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ten Places to do Nothing for a Half Hour at Walt Disney World (pt. 2)

     Here are my final five places in Walt Disney World to relax for a half hour! Remember to put away your phone and stop reading my blog while you're at these spots. Just take it in.

6. The Liberty Square Porch
     When you enter Liberty Square from the central hub of the Magic Kingdom, look to your right and don't just walk by this beautiful littler porch. There are usually about two rocking chairs on it, three stairs elevation above the walking path, and canopied by all of the Victorian Boston architecture. Take a seat and listen to the piccolo and snare drum music that Disney plays to complement this land (one of my favorites in the Magic Kingdom). At night, get this spot for the Main Street Electrical Parade, and you'll have one of the best views in the Kingdom. Even without the parade, this porch is a wonderfully charming place to enjoy the Liberty Tree and look at the romantic lighting of the buildings. You can also hear the Liberty Belle's tooting from the Rivers of America, not too far off to your right.

7. Boardwalk Benches Outside Jellyrolls
     Yes, I know. This spot is dangerously close to my first spot listed on the part 1 blog. However, this one is listed for a specific reason. This spot, I find, is best solo. If you walk out of Epcot through the International Gateway and walk toward and past the Boardwalk, you will arrive at a series of benches in front of Jellyrolls dueling piano bar. While these benches are empty almost all of the day, they suddenly get pretty busy with people who walk out of restaurants to try to get a view of Illuminations from outside the park. Consequently, if you're one of those individuals who love meeting new people at Walt Disney World (and if you're not, we need to have a talk), you'll be happy to meet these groups of hip young kids with whom you can chat and enjoy the fireworks.
     Now, there is one thing that truly earns these benches a spot on our list. There are several times in the year (very often at Christmas time), when the Magic Kingdom and Epcot fireworks will be going off at the same time. This will give you a very unique position to watch from. Since you can't hear the music from either show, they will sometimes seem to be corresponding and putting on one giant show together. Though the Magic Kingdom fireworks show is a little ways away, you can very much see the fireworks over the Beach Club Resort across Crescent Lake. The Epcot fireworks will be right nearby over the top and to the left of ESPN Zone. Consult your showtimes guide online to see if and when the two shows will occur together!

8. Flametree BBQ Sitting Area
     This is a beautiful hidden treasure at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Though Flametree BBQ, on Discovery Island, is usually for those who want a good lunch, you should go there in the morning as the park opens. The counter-service restaurant won't be open, so just walk past the building itself and into the forest. It is just a bit of a walk, but you will make your way down to the water, and it will be worth it. Many of the sitting areas are covered by wooden rooves, and most are covered by tree canopy. From here you can watch the mob of hurried tourists make their way from Dino-Land to Expedition Everest. Also, you can marvel at the size and beauty of the detail Disney put into Expedition Everest! This is a fine view, and a rare opportunity to feel truly in a natural place on Disney property.
    Pssst: Two things: One, there is a plot of land that you can see from these seats. On this beach area, Disney has put many Asian decorations to give the feel of seeing an Asian shore in China... or something. However, when the park first opened, this was a place where Asian animals just roamed around on the beach, and guests could just watch them in what seemed like an un-caged environment. Cool!
     Second, there is rumor that Disney is looking to use the technology for World of Color in Disney's California Adventure, and place it somewhere in Florida. Now no promises, but people have been saying that this may be a good place for that show to be! The Animal Kingdom is looking for ways to keep guests at the park later into the evening, and spread them out from the soon-to-be Avatar-themed land. No promises, but keep your eye on this spot.

9. Garden at Japan Pavilion, Across From Teppan Edo
     So you're walking around the World Showcase, and you're tired! It happens to the most heroic traveler because Epcot is huge! It's roughly a mile around World Showcase Lagoon. This pavilion is my favorite stop and rest spot. The best thing about this little garden is that you don't have to buy food and sit next to a hundred other people to enjoy it! The point of this garden and koi pond is to relax. So do it! Find a nice bench or pond edge, and just sit and watch the fish. Even better, listen to the Taiko drumming taking place at the foot of the Pagoda behind you. This one is truly a relaxing spot.

10. The Small Streets of Morocco 
     I often hear people complain about the fact that there is "nothing to do" in Morocco at Epcot. Those who complain about this are missing the whole point! There is nothing to do at in Morocco because the designers were from Morocco, and sent by the king of Morocco to build a beautiful representation of their country for the whole world to see. They decided not to build rides or shows, because they wanted those who saw it to feel as if they were in Morocco. The result is my (personal) favorite pavilion at Epcot.
     During the planning for Epcot, the Disney company was having a very hard time getting other governments to buy into the idea and pay for the construction of their pavilion around the lagoon. In the end, Disney ended up finding corporate sponsors for all of the pavilions, except for Morocco. The government of Morocco sent representatives to Epcot and met with Disney, and actually ended up designing and constructing their own pavilion. Keep this in mind while you stroll through the streets and into the beautiful and empty rooms. This place was designed and built by the same people who are responsible for the buildings of the real Rabat. My favorite place to relax here is... well it's a tie. First, there is a room off to the left when you enter the pavilion under the big arch past the fountain. This room is covered in blue tile and the walls are ornate and accented with dark wood. The room gives a sense of sacredness and dignified reverence. There is a fountain against the back wall, which gives life to the room at the same time. Enjoy this spot. Second, walk to the back of the pavilion, just past the giant door to Restaurant Marrakesh. here you will see a fountain and a bench. Sit down. Chances are you will spend several minutes in this spot and not see another soul. This gives you an opportunity to look around and think about the message of this place:
     Though the world seems to be in eternal conflict, representatives of eleven nations, each with their own nationalism, work together and share in each others' joy around one lake in the middle of Florida, because that's what the people of the world actually want. 

     So, do you have your own spots at which you like to relax? Leave a comment! Let's talk! I hope you enjoyed my list! More to come!

Ten Places to do Nothing for a Half Hour at Walt Disney World (Pt. 1)

     Walt Disney World is exhausting. Even I, as a 22-year-old, need (and want) to sit back, listen to music, and watch other people do the adventuring for a little while. Here are my ten favorite places in Walt Disney World to spend a half hour doing nothing but thinking and looking. I encourage to not even take out your phone or your book, or even to take a nap. These spots are worth taking in just as they are. Let me know if you disagree, or have other suggestions! Here are the first five:

1. The Bench at the Yacht Club
     There's a nice and ambiguous title for you! And while there are many good benches on which you can plant your rear at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, there is one in particular which makes all of my troubles melt away. Do this one on a day at EPCOT. After you watch Illuminations, and are once again reminded that the world can be a beautiful and cooperative place, take a stroll past France and out of the International Gateway. Walk along Crescent Lake, past the beautiful closed pool in all of its night-time romance. Stroll past the lighthouse dock at the Yacht Club, and look for white benches on the right hand side of the boarded walkway. The one furthest from the lighthouse is my personal favorite. Have a seat! Look over at the Boardwalk and listen to the night-time entertainment. See the lights. Listen to the soft music coming from the resort behind you. Watch couples and families stroll past you, and give them a smile. You're all in a special and incredibly peaceful place.
         *Hint: take your significant other here.

2. Arusha Rock
     The Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of my favorite places in Walt Disney World. Just walking into the lobby will make you feel like you're in Africa and at your peaceful home at the same time. But the lobby isn't even the best part! Keep going past the gurgling stream and big couches, walk down the stairs toward the monolithic overgrown window, and walk outside. Whether it's day or night, this rock into the savanna gives you some of the most up-close views of grazing and relaxed animals. My favorite spot is the last outcropping on the right-hand side. This is the furthest spot from the lodge, and is therefore usually the least crowded. Have a seat on the bench, take in a bit of Florida sun, or the beautiful night-time noises and lights, and watch a giraffe eat slowly from a tree.

3. Tomorrowland Terrace
     Formerly a Noodle Station, and occasionally a counter-service restaurant of the Magic Kingdom, this stretch between Main Street and Tomorrowland provides lots of shade. On top of that, it is almost always empty! Disney has decided to not decide what to do with the space, but leaves the tables and chairs out for those smart enough to come by and sit. And the true asset of this spot is the view of the Magic Kingdom central hub and Cinderella Castle. You can watch the corny and lovable shows that Disney puts on in front of the castle, or just listen to the music of Main Street and think about life. From this spot, you can also look down to the ...err... moat (?) of the castle and see the boat dock where once-upon-a-time guests could embark on small boats for a little ride.
     *Hint: In a Florida thunderstorm, hit this spot. You can sit shielded from the rain and lightning, and watch the castle and hub be pounded with rain. If you have a soft spot for melancholy, or like music by Debussy, check this out.

4. Grand Floridian Beach Sand
     Classic, right? If you have a spare hour on your Magic Kingdom day, or are staying at the Grand Floridian (you lucky jerk), head on down toward the sandy beach at Disney's "flagship" resort. From my experience, there is usually not a single other person on this beach, which is a puzzle to me. From here, you can look left and see the castle, see the Contemporary, keep an eye on the Polynesian, and laugh at the ugliness that is the TTC (Transportation and Ticket Center). Are you as pale as me? Cool! You can sit under one of the canopies that Disney has scattered on the beach. My personal favorite thing about this spot is the theming. I cannot help but feel that I need to be wearing knickers and a frilly shirt for the purposes of enjoying my Victorian getaway. I, being a patron of ragtime and all things turn-of-the-century, love forgetting that the year 1920 has come and gone. And if you really have free time, stick around until dark and watch the Seven Seas Lagoon Water Pageant from here!
     *Psst: If you look at the Island closest to the Polynesian, and squint through the trees, you can see the remnants of the wave-producing machine that is still left on the island, though it is overgrown. When the Polynesian first opened, it had a wave system that allowed guests to swim and even surf on the Seven Seas Lagoon.

5. Main Street (After Closing)
     You may be thinking, "so do I have to break in to the Magic Kingdom at night?". My response would be, "No! And please don't! And if you do, and end up in jail, don't mention my blog!".
     Here's the dish: The Magic Kingdom closes most nights at fireworks time. However, the park remains open(ish) for an hour after "closing". Now right after the fireworks, there is a mass exodus of rampaging tourists that will run over you if you're not careful. You, however, will find a seat with a view of the Castle, and stick around for twenty minutes until it is mostly just you and some friendly cast members. The motion of the Park will try to get you to walk through the gift shops on your way out, but you again will outsmart them. You will walk down the LEFT side of Main Street, and find another seat. The music that is played in the Magic Kingdom for the last hour of operation is truly beautiful. The blinking lights of the clocks and shops of Main Street are some of the most beautiful and uplifting sights in the world (in my opinion). Then you can look to the right and see a giant colored piece of architecture, standing so regally, and beckoning you to drop your pretentiousness, and buy into what this place represents and stands for. You'll emotionally and mentally revel and surrender to the whimsy and positivity that this space brings to the hearts of all who are there. Then, an hour after closing, you can mosey along toward the train station, and smile at what good comes from this place.

     Part 2 coming soon!

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is This Thing anyway?

     Hey friend! My name is William, and I am a dedicated and passionate fan of Walt Disney World. Through my dozens of trips over the last ten (or so) years, I've come to not only love the feel and and aura of the World of the mouse, but also become more and more surprised and delighted by the ethic and message behind the Disney Parks company and the fan community on which it relies. This page will not only be a place for me to post my thoughts on the best way to spend your Disney World vacation, but also a community center for fans to come and discuss (and maybe debate) about my favorite place, and yours, in the world. Please keep comments positive! Thank you for your visit!