Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmastime at Walt Disney World

Trip Report

Get ready for some pictures! While my recent trip to Walt Disney World was specifically to see the Carousel of Progress event put on by, it was also my first time visiting in December. Christmas was of course in full swing, and before I post my recap about the event, I thought I would share some of the many Christmas-themed pictures I took while down there. Enjoy!

Magic Kingdom and Area

View from the Contemporary

Wilderness Lodge reindeer

Wilderness Lodge tree

Cinderella's Castle

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Hollywood Studios tree

Sunset Boulevard

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

More Osborne Lights

San Francisco Street during Osborne Lights

Epcot Area

Gingerbread Carousel at the Beach Club

Walkway from the Beach Club towards Crescent Lake

Epcot - Future World

Spaceship Earth

Mouse Gear

Pluto behind the Fountain of Nations

Mickey and Minnie,  across from Pluto

Epcot tree at dusk

Epcot - Holidays Around the World - World Showcase

Mexico: Los Tres Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) as they tell of their journey to the Posada and traditions today.

Los Tres Reyes Magos

Norway: The storyteller Sigrid who will tell you of the mischievous Christmas Gnome, Julenissen.

The Fjording, next to Maelstrom

Germany: Helga tells the story of the first Christmas tree and the tale of her first Nutcracker.


Germany Pavilion

Little German Train Village

Christmas stand in Germany

Pickle tree!

Pinocchio ornament

Italy: Italy’s good Christmas witch, La Befana, remembers the Epiphany and her first Christmas 2,000 years ago!

I didn't get to see La Befana, but I did snap a quick pic of the Pavilion.


American Adventure: Kwanzaa: Experience the spirit of Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, creativity and community.


Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

Hi Santa!

Voices of Liberty

Morocco: Taarji, as he celebrates the customs of Ramadan and Ashura.


France: Père Noël shares a letter from a little girl that recreates the magic of Christmas through the eyes of a child.

Père Noël talks about filling a shoe with treats

United Kingdom: Jolly Father Christmas makes traditions from Christmas past just as fun today!

Father Christmas

The Crown and Crest Shop gets festive

Canada: Nowell, a Canadian lumberjack, tells of his journey to find Santa at Christmastime.

Sadly I was unable to catch Nowell's performance. So I just snapped a pic of his stage.


Japan and China didn't offer Christmas-themed performances. Theirs revolved around New Year celebrations.

Also, IllumiNations had a special Christmas-themed ending. You can't tell by the pic, but most of the fireworks at the end were red and green, and it was very cool.

If you have never been to Walt Disney World during Christmas, I definitely recommend checking it out. The parks are beautifully decorated, you can see several Christmas-themed performances (without paying extra), and you even learn about how other cultures celebrate the most wonderful time of year. It was slightly chilly, but by no means freezing. December is possibly the time Disney World is at its prettiest, and I was happy to finally get to see it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walt Disney Family Museum Member’s Holiday Open House

Walt Museum

Hey everybody! It’s going to take me a few days to get my pictures and report together from my Disneyworld trip last weekend, which included the allearsnet December to Remember event titled, “The Evolution and Secrets of the Carousel of Progress” hosted by Jim Korkis, as well as “Christmas around the world” at Epcot. So in the meantime…

On Friday, December 2nd, I attended the special Members Night held at the Walt Disney Museum in the Presidio. The Museum closes at 6pm, and on this night Members got to mingle and enjoy the activities from 6:30-9:30pm. Aside from the galleries being open for all of us to enjoy, they had: food and drinks, a popcorn stand, a Coke-Float station, a caricature artist, and best of all, Rod Miller performing! I of course forgot my camera, but I did have my trusty iPhone.

Hangin' with Rod Miller

The food was really good, and after a little bit of member-mingling, I wandered through the galleries with my friend/Museum employee, Brian. Me, him and his brooch toured the entire place, and even partook in a miniature "scavenger hunt" for quiz answers.

Check out Brian's sweet brooch!

It’s still weird for me to interact with other people who love Disney so much. I grew up being the guy who got looked at sideways for “going to Disney all the time,” and who “owns way too many books about Walt Disney.” But based on some of the clothing I saw that night, there are actually people out there who are into it more than me! Well, Disney at least. Not Walt himself.

At one point I considered letting the caricature artist meticulously record all of my facial flaws, but the line was pretty long every time I passed it, so I never did get around to it.

Towards the end of the evening my friend Brian left, and I had mingled with a lot of the members, but hadn’t yet been able to sit next to Rod Miller. A seat opened up and I plopped down to enjoy his music and countless stories from nearly four decades of playing ragtime at the Coca Cola Corner on Main Street in Disneyland. One of the amazing things about Rod is he never uses sheet music. He just “uses his ear.” Although he arrived at Disneyland just after Walt passed, he heard several stories about the man himself and is always happy to share them. Rod is also happy to take requests, and much to my delight he performed, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” at my request. I doubt that those of you know me are surprised to hear that one! If you have a moment please check out the video I took with my iPhone. The speed in which he uses his hands is incredible!

I sat with Rod until the lights came on, which was our indication that the Museum staff was telling us, “You don’t have to go home, but you gotta get the heck outta here!” I went to shake Rod’s hand but instead he gave me a hug! He is such a warm and delightful man. And on my way out I stopped to chat with one of the volunteers who had looked awfully familiar to me. It took me a second, but then I realized it was one of Walt’s grandchildren! I had seen her during this presentation. It was Jenny, and it was such a pleasure to chat with her for those last few minutes of the evening. I know most of my regular readers don’t live in the Bay Area. But for those of you who are ever planning a trip out here, do not miss a chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum! If you ever need any advice on when to go/what to do/how to get there, definitely let me know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Nieces and I Review The Muppets (2011)


The Muppets (2011)

PG - 98 min (comedy/family)

Jason Segel – Gary
Amy Adams – Mary
Chris Cooper – Tex Richman

When I told my dad on Thanksgiving that I was going to see The Muppets over the long weekend, he replied with, “Again? I took you to see that when you were a kid.”
“Um, no dad. Not the original Muppet movie. There’s a new one.”
“There is?” My dad, one of the smarter men I know, is not a movie buff.

Indeed The Muppets is the first theatrically released Muppet film since 1999’s Muppets in Space, which prior to the release of the current film, I had never even heard of. And aside from watching Muppetvision 3D in Disney’s California Adventure (or Hollywood Studios in Florida), I hadn’t even thought about the Muppets in ages. But thanks to Jason Segel, who co-wrote, executive-produced, and stars in the film, the Muppets are back.

Gary (Segel) plans a trip to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Mary (the endlessly cheery Adams) to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Gary decides to bring his brother Walter along—who is not only a huge Muppets fan, but more than slightly resembles a Muppet himself—so they can take a tour of the Muppet Studio. It is dilapidated and nearly deserted, indicating that the Muppets haven’t been popular in quite some time. While on the tour, Walter overhears oil tycoon Tex Richman (Cooper) offering to buy the studio so he can restore it and turn it into a Muppet Museum. Moments later Walter discovers Richman’s real plan is to level the studio so he can extract the oil beneath it. Walter, Gary and Mary find Kermit the Frog, and together they travel the world rounding up the old gang so they can put on a show to raise the 10 million dollars necessary to save the studio.

The Muppets is a welcome influx of good-natured humor in today’s cynical world. Silly but not juvenile, there are plenty of laughs for both children and adults. This film benefits from multiple cameos (Jack Black and Zack Galifianakis were my favorites), a terrific pace, witty self-deprecation and in-jokes, solid acting, and of course, nostalgia. One might include its musical numbers in that mix, but for me one or two of those numbers were the only time(s) I felt the story stalled (particularly Amy Adams’ diner song and dance). One very notable musical number exception was during the start of their telethon, and we heard: “It's time to play the music - It's time to light the lights - It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” Goosebumps!

In Summary: I kept this review short because the real review is at the bottom of this post. I saw this film with my family and we all loved it, no matter the age. The Muppets themselves do a great job of carrying the film, and Segel and Adams do their part to fill in the cracks while still giving the real stars of the film their due screen time. The multiple cameos (the only good part of some movies) are icing on the cake here, and again the pacing of this film was great. The Muppets will now be a relatively new addition to many children’s lives, but at the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s good having them back in mine!

Oh, and speaking of “real stars of the show,” please enjoy what Roger Ebert has recently declared, “Cutest. Review. Ever.” My four nieces, ages 2-11, review The Muppets:

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Recap


With the 2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival wrapping up last week, I figured it was high time I posted my review of it. This annual event has been taking place at Epcot since 1995, and personally this was my sixth time in attendance. I don’t drink alcohol so I’m afraid I can’t comment on the quality of the wine (I did have a few sips of some sort of strawberry beer, you’ll see why later). I rarely attend any of the "eat to the beat" concerts or cooking presentations, so I'm afraid I can't review those either. I do however love food, and I did my best to “eat around the world.” Here are the 29 booths that were situated throughout World Showcase:


Brewer's Collection












Fife & Drum



Hops & Barley




Desserts & Champagne

South Korea



South Africa

New Zealand

Craft Beers



There were some countries that I had little interest in sampling, so I either skipped them, or just mooched a bite from the plate of one of my friends. Patrick and Jenn were there, and with their help I was able to check off 23 of the 29 countries in my little Food & Wine Passport. Below isn’t the Festival's entire menu, just the dishes I personally sampled. I did snap a few pics of some of the dishes, so I'll include them.

Grilled Lamb Chop with Potato-Goat Cheese Salad and Shiraz Reduction:
This little piece of lamb was quite delicious. Very flavorful and cooked perfectly. I only wish I had about 10 of them.

Feijoada (Black Bean and Pork Stew):
Not too bad. Jenn ordered this and didn't care for it, so I got the leftovers. I would recommend it.

Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree:
Very good. They added a little too much of the Chimichurri for my taste, so I just scraped it off and enjoyed this little dish.

Thanks to Patrick for holding this dish for me!

Ropa Vieja (slowly braised beef) with White Rice:
Decent. Not bad, not great.

Grilled Ribeye Taco (Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Scallion on a Flour Tortilla):
Maybe the tastiest dish out of all of them. Ribeye is always great, but the seasonings they used made this cut of meat pop even more.

Taste of Scandinavia - Shrimp Salad, Cured Salmon and Herring:
I love all three of these types of seafood, so this was a great dish for me. The shrimp salad was okay, the herring was very good, and the salmon was delicious. 

Rice Pudding with Driscoll’s Only The Finest Berries:
Eh. This was another one of Jenn's leftovers. I took two bites and was done.

South Korea
Boolgogi BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Kimchi:
I had just one bite of this dish. It was pretty good.

South Africa
Seared Filet of Beef with smashed Sweet Potatoes and Braai Sauce:
Yum. Nice tender beef, and you can't go wrong with smashed sweet potatoes.

Kielbasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream:
Had just one bite of this. I didn't love it.

Fife & Drum
Red Stag Lemonade by Jim Beam:
I had only one sip of this so I could get my passport stamped! I don't drink so my opinion wouldn't be useful on this one.

Hops & Barley
Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce:
The mousse itself was very good. The orange sauce was okay, but it was a little too thick in some parts. I didn't enjoy the Craisin flavor mixed in. Craisins are better on their own. Didn't vibe well with the pumpkin.

California Sushi Roll:
Pretty average sushi. Not the quality you'd find at the California Grill. More the quality you'd find at the Yakitori House.

New Zealand
Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney:
I love lamb! Not as good as the chop in Australia, but still pretty good.

Kefta Pocket (ground seasoned Beef in Pita Bread):
Not a fan. Jenn took one bite and gave it to me. I took one bite and threw it away.

Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil:
This dish looked better than it tasted. I love calamari, but this dish suffered from too much paprika and not enough flavor.

Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream:
I am a huge fan of Belgian food. Obviously not as good as the waffles I had in Brussels, but still pretty tasty. The berry compote was only okay.

Coq au Vin sur Gratin de Macaroni (Red Wine Braised Chicken, Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Macaroni Gratin):
I loved the chicken, but I don't do cheese.

Crème Brulee au Chocolat au Lait (Chocolate Milk Crème Brulee topped with Caramelized Sugar):
I had one bite of Jenn's. It was good. I don't love Crème Brulee, but as far as it goes this one was above average.

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Baileys Ganache:
So good! I had one bite of Patrick's and wish I had ordered one for myself. Its only downside was that there wasn't enough. The cake and the lava were both excellent.

Chicken Chipotle Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta:
Wow this was spicier than I had anticipated. For me it was a little too spicy to enjoy. But I am a spicy food wuss, so maybe I'm not the best choice to critique this one.

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki:
Pretty good. Jenn is the authority on Greek food so I'm hoping she chimes in on the comments!

Desserts & Champagne
White Chocolate Macadamia Mousse with Dark Chocolate Pearls:
I love dark chocolate, so this dessert had me at hello. The mousse part of it was not too shabby either. Behind Ireland's lava cake this was the tastiest dessert I sampled.

Tres Leches Verrine:
So-so. Didn't hate it, but I wouldn't need to try it again. 

Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise:
Deelish! This was one of the last dishes I had and if it had been my first, I probably would have repeated it. 

Craft Beers
Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss:
Again, I don't drink. But this beer was a little on the sweet side. I was told by my friends that it was basically "carbonated Hawaiian Punch," so maybe that's why I enjoyed it. They didn't, so I ended up finishing it for them.

Speaking of which, Craft Beers was actually our last stop. Jenn and Patrick ordered six 6oz beers from that booth, and Jenn brought a 6oz beer from the Hawaii booth. Look at how happy this made Patrick!

Patrick looks like a kid at Christmas

And then when Jenn ran to the restroom, Patrick chugged them all by himself!

"I may have to pee..."

Ha ha, I'm kidding of course. In fact Jenn and Patrick wrote a great review for all seven of those beers, as well as the beers at the Brewer's Collection booth.

Every year the International Food & Wine Festival is a wonderful addition to Epcot. Like I said previously I have been there six times, but that's out of the last seven years. There are always miniature culinary delights for every palette, and the weather during the Festival is in my opinion some of the best Walt Disney World enjoys all year. The 2011 F&WF was one of the best I've attended.