Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 2: An Evening at the Tahitian Terrace

Keith talks about the Mousetalgia event "An Evening at the Tahitian Terrace" with special guest and Mousetalgia host Dave Breiland. Also included are some audio clips from the event, and as a frequent visitor to the original Tahitian Terrace, Keith shares his thoughts on its past and future.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Evening at the Tahitian Terrace

Like most lifelong Disney fans, there are many experiences that hold special places in my heart. As a huge Tron fan, I remember loving the wall of Tron video games in the Disneyland Starcade. They even had TV screens above them so people could watch you play! Simple things register as well, such as being able to see Disneyland from where your dad parked the car, or riding the escalator to enter the Space Mountain queue.

Few memories, however, encapsulate my early years at Disneyland better than dinner at the Tahitian Terrace. Sadly, the Tahitian Terrace shut its doors in spring of 1993 to make way for Aladdin’s Oasis, a dinner show based on the popular animated feature. The Aladdin show was cute, however it failed to capture the charm and certainly the serenity of a tropical paradise. And personally, I grew tired of picking nuts out of my rice. The Oasis only lasted a few years, and was converted into a storytelling venue in 1997. Since then I would occasionally peak my head in and look longingly at what was once my all-time favorite Disney eatery, and hoped that one day my beloved Tahitian Terrace would return.

On Saturday, October 13, 2012, it did just that.

The wonderful folks over at Mousetalgia hosted a “one-night only” event that night called “An Evening at the Tahitian Terrace.” They procured the original venue, and with a little Disney magic, transformed it from its current Arabian theme, to the soft splendor of the South Pacific.

Our lovely greeters/dancers

Tony Baxter enjoying the band

Check-in began just before 6pm, and we all received our lanyards and puka shell necklaces. It was open seating, which meant as soon as you walked in, you picked a table. I opted to sit closer to the stage, not far from where I usually sat when I was a kid. The band was onstage performing tranquil music from the Islands, as the final guests located a place to sit. We were then invited to help ourselves to the buffet, which included such dishes as: Fried Chicken with Coconut Sauce, New York Sirloin, Grilled Mahi Mahi, Polynesian Vegetables, Cantonese Rice, and more. I was mingling with different friends at first, and opted to grab food after the initial rush. There was plenty to go around, which was good since I helped myself to seconds!

Plate #1

The desserts were equally delicious, which consisted of little rum cakes, pineapple upside-down cakes, mini flourless chocolate cakes, and several other small but delicious treats. And what did we wash it all down with? Why Tahitian Terrance Punch, of course! At that point just eating that style of food inside that venue was worth the price of admission. It’s hard to put into words the feeling that comes with experiencing something that you so cherish, and that you’d never thought you’d ever experience again. It was like time travel, without the messy plutonium.

Towards the end of our meal, the entertainment began. Emerging from the cave next to the stage (only this time sans waterfall), groups of dancers came out performing a variety of authentic South Pacific dances, featuring the cultures of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and more. All of the performances were beautiful, from the grace of the hula, to the fury of the slap dance. Soon it was time for one of my former favorite performances to begin, the flaming knife dance! The host however gave us a heads up just before the performance. “They wouldn’t let us use fire, so please enjoy… the flameless knife dance!” I guess fire safety rules are a little different these days, but the dancer still came out and performed wonderfully. And perhaps one of the coolest moments of the evening was when our host informed us that he was the fire dancer for the Tahitian Terrace for the last seven years before it closed, and his father held that role for seventeen years before him!

Our host - SO cool to find out he used to be the fire dancer

Samoan Slap Dance! 

See the silver part on the edges of the stick? Yeah, normally that's flaming when he does this

Another tradition that I had presumed they wouldn’t forget was bringing unsuspecting audience members onstage. Some of the folks picked included Disney Imagineer Josh Shipley, Mousetalgia hostess Becky Breiland, and Disney Legend Bob Gurr (who opted to give his alias “Roberto” when asked for his name). Each guest brought on stage had their own personal dance instructor, and were given a very brief, very public tutorial on how to shake it, Polynesian style!

The "volunteers"

Go Josh!

Bob Gurr easily won best dance of the night

After the wonderful dancing, both professional and amateur, it was time for the special guest of the evening to speak. Disney Legend Rolly Crump was on hand, and the talented Disney artists Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily interviewed him onstage. Rolly’s impressive resume includes: animator on films like Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, designer on beloved attractions like the Tiki Room and the Haunted Mansion, creator of the Tower of the Four Winds marquee for It’s a Small World, and project designer for The Land and Wonders of Life pavilions for EPCOT Center.

Jody, Kevin, Rolly

Rolly shared many wonderful stories about his long and amazing Disney career, and due to memory card restraints, I was able to film about 80 percent of it. For those interested, that video can be viewed below.

Rolly’s current project is an autobiography outlining his incredible experiences with the Disney Company, told in his own words and photographs. It’s Kind of a Cute Story, put together by Communicore Weekly co-host (and good friend of The Disney Project) Jeff Heimbuch, is due out within the next two months, with a book tour already scheduled for early 2013. For more information, please check out the book’s official Facebook page.

At the end of the evening, the crew from Mousetalgia took the stage and thanked us all for attending, while it should have been us on stage thanking them for the wonderful event!

Dave, Jeff, Kristen, Becky

Before we were ushered out, I was able to speak with Kevin Kidney and let him know how great his and Jody’s work was. I also asked if he had any spare Moonliners lying around! Alas, he did not. So I settled for a photo with him instead.

Keith, Kevin

Oh, and I thought it would be fun to post a photo of my young self enjoying the original Tahitian Terrace. I know I have more, and when I find them I will post them. In the meantime, please enjoy my horrible early 90s fashion (left), hanging out with three of my cousins.

Don't act like you never owned overall shorts - Circa 1991

HUGE thanks to the team at Mousetalgia for putting this event together. I was surprised to discover I was one of the few people that night that had actually frequented the original Tahitian Terrace. After dinner when a bunch of us were recapping the evening, many of them asked me, “Was tonight just like it was?” With the exception of a few obvious things out of their control (the cave’s fa├žade, the “no fire” fire dance), I was happy to say that Mousetalgia and Disney did a magnificent job recreating one of my very favorite Disney memories.

Note to Disney: When asked if any of us wanted the Tahitian Terrace back, everyone in the crowd erupted, including Bob Gurr and Tony Baxter!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 Tower of Terror 10 Miler Race Recap

I knew this race was going to be tough before I ever laced up my Sauconys. For one, I didn’t train. Like at all. I ran a total of maybe five miles in the months leading up to the ToT10. I know that’s not necessarily the best blueprint for an enjoyable race, but I had a few reasons. One of them being, it was only ten miles! Yeah, I’ve had smarter moments. I’ll just lean on my other reasons for justification.

Another reason I had predicted difficulty: it was hot. Hot and humid. It may have been the most humid that I’ve ever experienced while in Walt Disney World (or anywhere for that matter). We don’t get much humidity in San Francisco, so my primary exposure comes during my trips to Lake Buena Vista. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the humidity, by the way. Next to Epcot 30, it may have been the most-discussed topic that weekend. So I’m en route to the Studios, amidst maxed-out humidity, and having a (admittedly self-inflicted) whopping five miles of training under my belt. What’s on my mind? Why, “Let’s run a race!” of course.

The last bus departed the Beach Club just before 8pm, so my friends and I arrived with about 2 hours to spare. RunDisney loves getting runners to the race nice and early, so to kill time I met up with a few other friends and snapped some pre-race photos. Many runners were sitting on the ground either relaxing or stretching. And there were more than a few runners in line for the port-a-potties.

Holly, Keith, Stacey


One of the pre-race backdrops for photos

I was set to be in corral A, but my friends were in corral D (even though they shouldn’t have been). I decided to hang back to run with them, because not having trained for the race, I figured I was going to move pretty slowly anyway. Mistake number two.

The race began for corral D, and I literally walked the first mile. A few people maintained a slow jog, but I have such long legs, my walking was keeping with the pace of the runners. I knew I couldn’t handle just walking for long, but it wasn’t until I came to the first mile marker at somewhere around the 17-minute mark that I made the move. I told my friends I had to go, and I began weaving through the throng of people. I swear it feels like all that weaving adds an extra mile or two to your run. As I weaved, I started to notice some of the course decorations.

Some "spooky" Twilight Zone effects

Kinda hard to see, but it's the Shadow Man!

Mile 1 was easy, because of the walking. Miles 2 through 5 were pretty rough. Aside from the weaving, that part of the course takes place along the Osceola Parkway, which means not much to look at and a few overpasses. The course takes you to the Animal Kingdom, but unlike the Wine & Dine, you never enter that park.

Blurry Lion King character

Neither his teeth or his ambition were bared

It wasn’t until mile 5 or 6 that I really got going. Running lanes were starting to open up as we approached the ESPN complex. I had also just gobbled up some GU Chews (which by the way are way better than the inedible paste), so for the first time that night I felt pretty good. Plus that section of the course is nice and flat, and well-lit. Looking back on the race photos, I was pretty happy during this stretch of the run. Now when it comes to spotting the race photographers, my friend Jenn’s ability is the stuff of legend. I must usually be focusing on not dying then, because I typically only notice a handful of them. In the ESPN Complex portion of this race, however, I spotted them all.

The “creepy” Haunted Mansion CM’s from the Boo to You parade made an appearance, so I tried to snap a picture. It came out blurry, but I think that actually adds to the creepiness!

Mile 7 took us up along Victory Way, and back onto Osceola Parkway. By mile 8, my GU Chews had worn off, and I began to miss the smooth, illuminant grounds of the ESPN Complex. The humidity had been an issue for most of the race, but my not-so-secret “trick” was helping. What I do when it’s particularly warm is at every water station down two cups of Powerade, and poor a cup of water or two on either the top of my head or the back of my neck. It’s not for everyone, but it helps me.

You better lose yourself, in the music...

Home stretch time! Right around mile 9, we entered Hollywood Studios. Just like all the parks, this one is pretty at night. I am used to running through this park for Wine & Dine however, so I was a little sad when we made it to the Streets of America and the Osborne lights weren’t glowing. At least there were a lot of people there to cheer us on, and funnily enough that really helps towards the end. I feel like the loudest concentration of spectators was located at the Sorcerer’s hat. I tried to get video of it on my phone, but it didn’t work out. I eventually crossed the finish line, and while tired, I was pretty shocked that I felt as good as I did, considering the weather and my (lack of) training.

As bad as I look in this pic, it's better than my "official"  post-race pic!

After the race we received our Powerade and food boxes, which consisted of crackers, a protein bar, cheese, and a few other items. I ate the crackers and the protein bar, and waited for my friends to text me. As I looked around, I noticed a few runners weren’t feeling very well. One girl was either being sick, or she was yelling at a bush. After receiving a text from my friends, I made my way over to the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, where they were picking up their bag. As soon as I walked in, and realized I had to traverse stairs, I became sad. I was quickly distracted however as I had to dodge the puke from a girl sitting on a nearby bench. All told I had witnessed about four incidents of regurgitation that evening, which was a new record for me. Also at one point inside the bag check area, a man became extremely lightheaded, so my friend Holly (who is a nurse) ran over to make sure he was okay. Thankfully he was, as it turns out he was just a little dehydrated.

There was a planned meet for members of the runDisney Facebook group at 1am, in front of 50’s Prime Time. Only a handful of us made it, so while there, we took advantage of the opportunity and posed for a photo.

runDisney Facebook group in the house!

This was not the worst race I’ve ever had (in terms of difficulty, it would be the Triathlon I ran in 2009 – in terms of heat index, that honor goes to the 2007 Disneyland Half), however overall it was pretty rough. While runDisney did have a decent amount of characters out, much of the course is a little bland. The only reason I ran this race instead of the Wine & Dine Half is because they moved that race to November this year, and I already had the time booked at the Beach Club (not to mention this was Epcot 30 weekend). The humidity certainly didn’t help matters, although you can hardly blame runDisney for that. Overall I think they did a good job with the water stations, characters, post-race party, etc. However I would like to see some slight tweaking to the course in the future. Ten miles is such a weird number, why not just make it a full Half and let us run through Animal Kingdom? Since they labeled this race as the inaugural Tower of Terror 10 miler, I don’t think that’ll happen any time soon. I would run this race again, but I still definitely prefer the Wine & Dine Half.