Epcot’s Living With the Land

RM-Living-With-The-Land-SceneAs with each and every Walt Disney World attraction, Living With the Land will not appeal to everyone.  In truth, it’ll probably appeal to fewer folks than most rides and that’s just how it is.  It’s not breathtaking like Soarin’ or thrilling like Mission: Space and Test Track, but it IS unique and special in its own way.  It harkens back to Epcot’s roots (HA! You’ll get that one in a minute) and is both entertaining(-ish) and educational (but still fun).  Plus, it’s a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at the heart of Walt Disney World.

Decidedly slow-moving, Living With the Land takes guests on a boat tour.  No, not like Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain – this tour hasn’t got any singing animals nor does it take you to a world of make believe.  Living With the Land mostly keeps you in the here and now while, in it’s own unique and fascinating way, shows visitors how Epcot uses the most cutting edge agricultural and aqua-cultural techniques to feed Walt Disney World guests.  It’s also packed with lessons on the effects of climate and environment on organic food production.RM-Living-With-The-Land-Production-and-Research-Sign

If Living With the Land sounds boring to you, you’re not alone.  Many people pass up what certainly sounds like a major snooze-fest.  I’d like you to reconsider.  It will eat up a whopping 15-or-so minutes of your Epcot day, but there’s rarely a wait!  The Land pavilion has Soarin’ and one of my favorite snack places, Sunshine Seasons (chocolate croissant, just a suggestion), but if you need a break, want to relax, are tired, hot, or trying to maybe save your legs for a runDisney event, you really can’t ask for a better attraction than Living With the Land!RM-Living-With-The-Land-Tunnel

The tour is made up of two halves – the first explains the Earth’s different agricultural environments and challenges.RM-Living-With-The-Land-Scene RM-Living-With-The-Land-Landscape-SceneRM-Living-With-The-Land-Buffalo-SceneThe second part (which is SO cool!) shows how Epcot raises large quantities of produce to use in Epcot’s Garden Grill and Sunshine Seasons restaurants and demonstrates the use of soil-less and other modern agricultural techniques to reduce the use of natural resources and incorporate natural pest control.RM-Living-With-The-Land-Produce RM-Living-With-The-Land-Greenhouse RM-Living-With-The-Land-Banana-Plant RM-Living-With-The-Land-Agriculture-AreaThere are also displays of modern aquaculture – I’m talking tanks of fish!  Interesting-looking giant “vats” of eels, catfish, tilapia and more.  There is also an alligator-raising area.RM-Living-With-The-Land-Aquaculture-Area RM-Living-With-The-Land-Fish

So maybe your FastPass for Soarin’ isn’t good for the next 20 minutes – whatever the reason, you should consider hopping a boat for the Living With the Land experience.  There’s a little bit of something for everyone and, even if you’re not into educational vacation experiences, you’re bound to see something interesting.

Have you ever tried Living With the Land before?  What did you thing about it?


Walt Disney’s World Showcase – The Maelstrom Matter

Mural in Maelstrom / World Showcase / EpcotYesterday I wrote about why Walt Disney World must change.  I discussed the need for change in a broad, general scope.  Today, I feel the need to weigh in on the Maelstrom Matter.

I don’t feel the outrage I thought I would.  Initially, when the rumors were just a whisper, I was heard to say, “And so begins the utter ruination of the World Showcase.” but then I took some time to consider.  Does this really mean World Showcase is doomed?  It could certainly be the beginning of the end for the initial purpose of the World Showcase.  Conversely, it could be the start of a new era for Epcot.  Time will tell.

Before I go much further, let me add that I am what I would classify as extremely neutralEpcot's Norway Pavilion about Maelstrom at this particular moment in time – I am in no way going to attempt to sway your opinion about this issue one way or another.  It’s the duty of every Disney devotee to feel passionately about their most valued Walt Disney World parks, rides and attractions.  Maelstrom is, soon to be was, a ride I rode and enjoyed on nearly every visit to Walt Disney World.  I sincerely and deeply love the Norway pavilion (I professed my affection here and here).  At the same time, I also have wished for many years now that Disney (or Norway) would pour some much needed resources into updating this special little corner of the World (Showcase).  Alas (oh, yes, I did), beggars can’t be choosers.  Be careful what you wish for?

Buildings in Epcot's Norway PavilionSo, now we’re getting a major change.  While I liked the movie and found it entertaining, I’m not a huge Frozen fan (gasp!).  Here’s what I believe will be the best case scenario and what I’m strongly hoping for at this point –  Norway will continue to be all about Norway.  Frozen‘s characters will be integrated in a way that is strictly in keeping with the traditions, vision, and values of the original World Showcase concept.  It would be ideal if Hans-Kristoff-Anna-Sven (the movie’s nod to Hans Christian Anderson) and the other characters would guide guests through the history, folklore, culture, and customs of Norway.  Hey, a girl’s gotta have hopes, right?

I know what you’re thinking. This thing could go the other way completely – and you’d have a very valid point!  Disney could go all “Little Mermaid” on it and replace Maelstrom with nothing Norway Pavilion's Viking Statuebut a series of movie scenes, some big, in-your-face animatronics, music, and some colorful props.  The World Showcase will be packed with children and their parents willing to wait five hours for a trip through Arendelle.  Norway, the country, will be completely lost in the melee.  I know!

Naysayers will say nay.  Little Mary Sunshine types (like me, in this case) will hold on to our belief that the Disney Company will do the right thing for everyone and amaze us with a new and improved Norway Pavilion.  Only time will tell.  Come 2016, we shall see.  I will be there, with an open mind.  I’ll be visiting the actual country of Norway on Disney Cruise Line in June (2015) and I’m pretty sure the experience will only make me wish for a happy ending all the more.

I’ll leave you with this:  “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained” – Walt Disney

Troll Topiary in Epcot's Norway PavilionWhat about you?  How do you feel about the matter of Maelstrom? 








New Closures at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Planes at Disney's Hollywood StudiosAs with each of Walt Disney World’s parks, Disney’s Hollywood Studios garners its fair share of rumors and debate – especially lately with the not-yet-finalized Star Wars expansion plans in the works, the announced closure of the American Idol Experience, and just last week – the announced closure (August 17th) of the American Film Institute Showcase and Shop.  Rumors continue to swirl about other closures ahead and, while that makes me a little sad for what will be lost, I’m completely thrilled that the Studios will be getting some long overdue attention – and not just with Star Wars – I’m really hoping Disney will be adding more new and different experiences.  Old rides and attractions did not receive necessary updates – Many have gone virtually unchanged for 25 The Showcase Shop / Disney's Hollywood Studiosyears!  My hope is that these worn, tired, and outdated experiences, even if they’re completely replaced, will allow the Studios to reach its potential as a full day park.  I even heard a rumor this week that the park might receive a completely different name…we’ll see, won’t we?

Saying Goodbye

If you’ve ever been on the Studios Backlot Tour, you’ve been in the American Film Institute Showcase – a collection of easily recognizable props from famous movies.  As you exited the exhibit, you’d pass through a shop selling movie memorabilia and props.  The shop had some very cool merchandise which was Disney's Hollywood Studios - Catastrophe Canyoncompletely different than in most other Walt Disney World retail stores.  Sadly, it was one of my favorite parts of the Backlot Tour!  I’m extra pleased in light of the closure of the exhibit and shop that we took the time for one last Backlot Tour while we were at Walt Disney World in May.  On that tour, we notice right away that no volunteers were chosen for the Pearl Harbor filming demonstration at the beginning of the tour – that was another of my favorite parts of the experience.  Once, many years ago, Raymond and I completely shocked our children by volunteering to be in the show – our few moments as deckhands in Pearl Harbor remains one of our happiest Disney memories to this day.Volunteering for the Studios Backlot Tour

Certainly, the Studios Backlot Tour is a perfect example of an attraction that could have, should have been updated over the years.  Instead of being updated, it slowly lost its magic over time.  After showing mostly the same special effects (like Catastrophe Canyon) and prop types (especially in the abandoned vehicle graveyard), elements of the tour were removed or diminished.  As with most of the Studios, the Backlot has been in need of a change for a long time.

Superman's CapeGoodbye original Studios Backlot Tour – We’re really looking forward to what’s coming next!

Are you a fan of the Studios Backlot Tour?  What are/were your favorite parts of this attraction?Scene Drawing from E.T.

Sound of Music Puppets

Enjoying Wine at Walt Disney World

Wine Wall in Epcot's Tutto GustoEnjoying Wine at Walt Disney World

I love a glass (or two, sometimes) of good red wine.  I may occasionally enjoy a nice chilled glass of Chardonnay, but predominately I like Cabernet and prefer to enjoy a glass with dinner.  This is never more true than when I’m on vacation.  Raymond has similar taste in products from the vine, so when we eat at a Disney table service restaurant, we usually order a bottle to share.  I’ll add that it doesn’t go as far as it used to now that one of our offspring has reached the ripe old age of 24 (this week!) and has inherited her parents’ taste in wine.  (Happy Birthday, Megan!)  I suppose perhaps this is why we’ve only dined at Cinderella’s Royal Table one time.  I would have enjoyed the experience much more with a glass of wine!  No, I am not advocating a rule/menu change, just making an observation.  But (as usual) I digress.

Back to Wine!  Let me preface the rest of this post with a disclaimer – I am not a sommelier.  I’m not an expert or even a wine snob, really (except I do tend to steer clear of most pink wines) – I Disney's Flying Fish Cafe Interiorjust have developed a love for a good, tasty wine – I’m thinking maybe all those lessons learned at wine tastings on Disney Cruise Line are taking hold.  I thought I’d discuss a few of the places we’ve found at Walt Disney World with especially good wine selections and ask you to comment with your suggestions on where else we should go for good vino!

Flying Fish Café – Just having eaten at this popular Boardwalk eatery in May for the first time, the memory of the delicious food and wine is fresh in my mind.  We loved absolutely everything about the Flying Fish – especially our waiter, Bob!  Should we have needed assistance with selecting a wine to enjoy with dinner, I’m confident Bob would have been more than up to the task of making an excellent recommendation.

Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge – In general, we don’t drink a lot of African wines, so here we do rely on our server’s assistance.  Last time we ate at Jiko, we had a wine pairing for each course and this worked out very well for us.  Kudos to Jiko!  Always exceptional food and service – and excellent wine.

The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort– Raymond and I have only eaten here once – we stopped in for a late lunch, sat at the bar, and let the bartender select a wine for us to enjoy with our Bison Burger – I don’t know which we loved more – the wine or the burger!  Both were top shelf.  If I’m not mistaken, the wine was a Bommarito Cab from Whitehall Lane Winery and Vineyards.  It was an exceptionally great late lunch at The Wave!  Afterwards, I remember Raymond headed off for a massage at the Contemporary’s spa and I, for the fist time ever, went Tutto Gusto in Epcot's Italy Pavilionto the Magic Kingdom by myself.  I can even remember wearing my classic Donald sweatshirt that day.

Tutto Gusto – Small plates, huge wine selection – that’s what you can expect in this cozy little corner of Epcot’s Italy Pavilion.  This may not be the place if you’re looking for a big meal, but it sure won’t disappoint you if you want a snack and a great glass of wine.

The Hollywood Brown Derby – The Derby has my vote for one of the coolest restaurants on Disney property for atmosphere – sweeps you away, far from its location smack dab in the middle of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The food is great and as far as the wine list, guests can select from “Old and New World wines from Italy, France, California, Australia and The Hollywood Brown Derby / Disney's Hollywood Studiosbeyond” (as described on Disney’s website).  If you want a good meal and glass of wine in the Studios, this is the place.

Are you also a Walt Disney World wine lover?  What have I missed that I need to try?  We’re less than two months away from our next visit, so any and all suggestions will be most welcome!