Skipper Canteen: An Adventurous Review

Welcome to the Magic & Misadventures review of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen restaurant at Magic Kingdom. I will, of course, endeavor to take things seriously and treat the subject with the sober gravitas it deserves.

Nah, that doesn’t sound like me at all. Nor would it be appropriate for this post. Also, fun fact: if you turn around your phone/laptop/desktop, you’ll be able to see the rare and wondrous backside of this blog!

On a recent visit to the Magic Kingdom, we made a reservation at the Skipper Canteen. Based within the same overarching story as the Jungle Cruise ride–one of our faves–the descriptions of the restaurant promised a similar type of humor and an environment that echoed the style of the attraction. We were intrigued. Plus, an adventurous menu (very different from what you’d expect from a theme park eatery) definitely piqued our interest. We had also just heard more about the Society of Adventurers and Explorers and Adventurer’s Club while at the Destination D convention–which was hosted by the famous Dr. Albert Falls–and learned about the Imagineers’ intentions to incorporate this more into the parks. So seeing that “in action” with this new restaurant was pretty cool. Though that coolness may have actually been the air conditioning.

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The entryway leads to a small foyer where your adventure begins, by which I mean you sit and wait for a skipper to come escort you to your table. It’s also the exit-way, but it seems less productive to sit there when you’re on your way out.

There’s a lot to see as soon as you set foot in the restaurant. Decorations are everywhere, and each room is themed differently. Regardless of where you end up being seated, it’s worth getting up and taking a look all around at some point while you’re there. If you ask your skipper (what they call the servers in the Skipper Canteen) about the décor, they may even point out some of their favorite pieces. Once they’re done with that, they’ll also tell you about a few of them.

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One of my favorite details in the restaurant can be found up on a balcony as you walk into the first dining area. There are three doors, each one referencing an Imagineer who worked on the original Jungle Cruise attraction as well as their particular job: Marc Davis worked on designs for some of the animals, Harper Goff’s early concept art shaped the map of the ride, and Bill Evans was a landscape architect responsible for creating the jungle.

The stuff all over the walls is well and good, and we’ll get to that later in our three-hour tour, but of course the Skipper Canteen is a restaurant. So let’s talk about the food!

Our meal started with the complimentary bread service. At Skipper Canteen they serve Ambasha, an Ethiopian bread that’s infused with fenugreek and other spices. It’s very dense and a bit dry, but it is quite flavorful and has a savory quality to it. On the side was a cup of warm honey for dipping the bread, which really added to it. If you’re hoping for a light, fluffy bread like you’d normally get at an American restaurant you’d be disappointed. However, the Ambasha is quite tasty and different. A good way to start out an adventure! Also, it is now my opinion that warm dipping honey should be served with everything.

One of the things that the Skipper Canteen has become known for is a rather… unconventional menu. You won’t find pizza, burgers, or fries here–instead the offerings include dishes like Trader Sam’s head-on shrimp and whole fried fish. We knew going in that this was going to be a fairly unique experience (though it’s subject to change, you can check out the official menu here), but in fact it’s become a bit polarizing in the reviews. Some applaud what they consider to be much-needed variety, while others have found the dishes a bit too weird.

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While trying to decide what to eat, we had to stop and marvel at the backside of the menu. We also appreciated the nods to the attraction like this elephant sketch.

For our meals, I ordered Skip’s Beefy Baked Pasta: pasta, cheese, shredded spiced beef, and béchamel sauce piled up in a sort of lasagna-like configuration. My wife got the Curried Vegetable Crew Stew, a mix of veggies in a curry sauce served with coconut rice and naan bread.

I found the Beefy Baked Pasta to be a bit bland. It was very rich (thanks to the cheese and the béchamel) and it did have a good flavor, but I was actually hoping for even more seasoning in the beef. What I could taste was quite good, and I suppose they wouldn’t want to overdo it, but personally I think they’re erring on the side of underwhelming. Once mixed with the pasta and the sauce, the beef was lost. I got bursts of the interesting spicing when I found larger bits of meat, and just wanted that to stand out more. It wasn’t bad by any means, I just found myself wishing that the flavors were better balanced as the béchamel sauce dominated the dish. I guess you could say that the beef was… out of season?

My wife’s stew was a concoction of zucchini, squash, cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and carrots in a red curry and garam masala sauce. It was very good, not spicy but full of flavor. My wife is a “spice wimp” and even a bit of heat can be too much for her, but she was able to eat and enjoy this. I found it very good as well, and picked off of her plate more than once. I didn’t try the coconut rice (I can’t stand coconut) but she said it was tasty, and really the only issue we had with her meal was that the naan was cold. It definitely seemed prepackaged and not freshly made, and they hadn’t even warmed it up. A minor complaint, but worth mentioning–I didn’t have many issues with the meal, but it’s not like I had naan at all. 

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Found inside, near the entrance, this plaque references the Imagineers who helped create the Skipper Canteen.

It was just the two of us, so we didn’t have a larger variety of orders to try and therefore I’m basing my thoughts on just those two dishes. We also didn’t get too adventurous in our choices, so I can’t really speak to some of the more unusual offerings on the menu. My wife keeps kosher, so often orders vegetarian dishes when we go out to restaurants, and she found the offerings a bit limited for her needs (though no more or less than many other eateries in the parks). They do have a special allergy-friendly menu available upon request, so if you do have dietary concerns you may be able to find options there.

For dessert, we ordered Bertha’s “Banh Bong Lan” Cake with Mango-Lime Sorbet. It’s a vanilla chiffon cake soaked in lemongrass ginger syrup with sorbet as well as bits of chocolate and meringue. This was really good, sweet without being overwhelming, and the various flavors mingled well together. Our initial perception was that it was a little small, but honestly after our meals it was a fine size for the two of us to split. If you really want to satisfy a sweet tooth, maybe consider getting more than one dessert.

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Our dessert. I’m pretty bad at remembering to take photos of food before I dig in, hence the fork mark in the ice cream (and the lack of any other food photos in this blog).

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We asked our skipper, Paul, if we could have some of the coasters as souvenirs. He gave us a few clean ones to take home, and later we found that he had personalized one in the middle of the stack! Paul was great. Really did a great job. He didn’t just coast through.

So now that we were full of food, it was time to take a good look around the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen.

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Be sure to check out the bookshelves. Some titles are just funny, but there are many references to attractions and Imagineers.

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The Falls family plays heavily into the story of the restaurant, and of course Schweitzer Falls in the Jungle Cruise ride is named after Dr. Albert Falls. I’m not sure what, if anything, is on the backside of this certificate.

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The three dining rooms are themed differently, so it’s worth checking them all out. Just try not to be too creepy when you’re hovering over random patrons trying to take photos of the stuff on the walls. (I’m not sure if I succeeded in that endeavor).

So was our dining adventure a success? I would say yes. The food that we ordered was good, if not mind-blowing, and it was cool to get some options other than burgers or pizza (not that there’s anything wrong with those). If you want something different, and you’re feeling adventurous, the Skipper Canteen could be a good choice. Bear in mind that it is a bit on the pricey side–entrees generally cost over $20 each–so take that into account when planning your vacation budget. It does (currently) take some of the Disney Dining Plans. Also, advance reservations are recommended.

I don’t know that we’d eat at the Skipper Canteen every time we’re in the park, but I could see it being a fun treat now and again. It’s also someplace that I would take family and friends if I wanted to show them a unique Disney themed experience.

The food, the décor, and even the servers are all a part of the Jungle Navigation Co. story, making the Skipper Canteen an attraction as much as a meal. If that’s what you’re looking for, then it’ll be right up your alley. It’s similar in a way to the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland–unusual dishes in a themed environment–and it’s cool to see Disney trending towards these sorts of dining experiences.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it, my name is Aaron. If you didn’t, my name is Hubert Q. Cattington III.

 

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Destination D Trip Report: Day Two

In my Destination D Trip Report: Day One, I detailed the first day of the event (as well as a bit about the day before). There were a lot of presentations, some fun surprises, and it was all capped off by sitting on the beach of the Polynesian Resort and watching Moana before its release. An amazing day, to be sure, but only the first–the next morning we got up early and called a Lyft to take us from Port Orleans to the Contemporary for more Destination D!

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Ethan Allen’s new Disney collection, featuring a variety of Mouse-themed furniture, was on display in the convention room.

The second day began much like the first: we got to the Contemporary Resort, made our way to the Fantasia Ballroom, and found seats. When it was time to get the ball rolling, Dr. Albert Falls came out to welcome the crowd and to introduce the first presenters.

The first presentation of the day was by Disney historians Kevin and Susan Neary, who co-authored a book called Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years From California To Shanghai. During the presentation, called “It All Started With A Map”, the authors showed various maps of Disney parks and talked about their historical significance. They also talked about the book itself, and the work that went into choosing the maps that were included. This was a fairly short panel, only lasting about twenty minutes, but that was more than enough time to get to see some really cool classic Disney maps (and we were so intrigued by the book that we ordered a copy as soon as we got home).

Next a pair of Walt Disney World Resort Ambassadors, Caitlin Busscher and Nathaniel Palma, came onstage and talked a bit about some of the new entertainment being offered at the Florida parks. Their focus was the new holiday show Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! at Hollywood Studios, and they brought up show director Tom Vazzana to talk more about the nighttime event. He explained how the show was created and then a video of the show was shown on the big screens. Tom gave a sort of “director’s commentary” while the video played, and at a few points requested that the video be paused so he could discuss specific points. I’ll admit that I didn’t have much interest in the show before, but his enthusiasm about it was infectious and now I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to see it in person.

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Tom Vazzana was bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and was probably one of my favorite presenters of the weekend. 

The next part of the presentation focused on Frozen at EPCOT, and Imagineer Wyatt Winter came up to talk about the new Frozen Ever After ride as well as how the real Norway inspired the movie. He delved a bit into the technology that went into the ride–the new audio animatronics and projections are amazing, and I’d expect we’ll see more of that tech coming in future attractions–and he showed photos from their research trips to Norway and how various art and architecture styles in the country helped to shape the look of the Frozen movie. It’s true that I have ranted about the Frozen/Norway connection before (thinking it tenuous at best, as I stated in the post Maelstrom of Annoyance), but hearing from an actual Imagineer on the project helped me to understand how the real country did influence the fictional world. Plus, I had just ridden Frozen Ever After for the first time a few days earlier, so getting a behind-the-scenes look at its creation while it was still all fresh in my brain was pretty cool.

After a short break, Imagineers Jason Grandt and Alex Wright presented “Magic Journeys: 45 Years of Walt Disney World Adventures”. They broke these adventures down into four categories: land, sea, sky, and space. First they talked about some adventures on land, looking back at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and then a look at the past and present of Fort Wilderness. They then moved on to sea, with a short retrospective on Discovery Island as well as the short-lived Seven Seas Lagoon wave machine (which I’ll admit I had never heard of before). Next was a look at If You Had Wings for the sky segment, and finally they wrapped things up with space by talking about Space Mountain. They shared archival photos of these and more, and the presentation was a fun bit of nostalgia as they showed a lot of personal family photos from their trips to Walt Disney World when they were kids.

As a side note: throughout the event, the long-gone attraction Horizons was often mentioned or shown briefly on screen in context. Every time, it got an audible reaction (often applause) from the audience. Someone joked that they could probably do an entire Destination D just dedicated to the ride. They’re… probably not wrong.

After this look back at the past, we moved into what’s coming for the future. Film producer Jon Landau came up, but not as film producer Jon Landau. Instead, he was Marshall Lamm–the head of an outfit called Alpha Centauri Excursions (ACE) that offered guests trips to a planet known as Pandora. The gimmick here was that Pandora is a real thing and that guests, when they get to see it starting next summer, aren’t going to Animal Kingdom but to a faraway planet. After setting this up, he invited filmmaker James Cameron and Imagineer Joe Rohde to the stage. They kept this theme going, talking about Pandora as if it was a hot new tourist destination far away from Earth (the story of Animal Kingdom’s Pandora takes place after the events of the Avatar movie). They showed never-bef0re-seen photos of the upcoming Pandora — The World of Avatar land, and there were frequent mentions of the movie being a “documentary”. It was a cute way to present the information, as well as really show how important the story is to the project.

During the presentation they also talked about the two attractions that will be a part of Pandora — The World of Avatar. The first, Flight of Passage, is a flight simulation thrill ride in which guests will become avatars and ride a banshee (the dragon-like creatures from the movie) through the skies of Pandora. Na’vi River Journey is a slow-moving dark ride–a boat trip through a jungle lit up with bioluminescent plants. The focus of this ride is the nature of the planet, and a music-based ceremony of a Na’vi shaman. They even showed a brief video of the “shaman of songs” from the ride, showcasing the incredible animatronics. Even this kept with the “story” of the presentation, as the character said how she was looking forward to seeing the assembled Destination D guests on Pandora and then looked off camera to ask someone how she did.

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In addition to the “swag bags” that we got at registration, throughout the weekend guests were occasionally given additional gifts–like a set of Pandora posters, a copy of Marvel’s Enchanted Tiki Room #1, and a Pinocchio lithograph and postcard (to celebrate the upcoming release of the Signature Edition Blu-Ray).

Right after the Pandora presentation ended, we were shown a video about a prototype bus. This “Sorcerer Class” bus is a vehicle that features colored lights, music, and announcements that play during the ride. It’s really just a proof-of-concept at this point, with no real plans to build more and put them into circulation, but it was cool to see one possible direction that they could go in the future. Then, right before we broke for lunch, they said that there was a Sorcerer Class bus sitting outside that we could go check out in person!

As soon as they announced the break for lunch, a good number of people immediately went to see the Sorcerer Class bus. We opted to go get food first, and then come back to see if the line would be more manageable in a bit. Which was a good call, since that’s exactly how it all played out.

Upon returning from lunch, we were treated to a short video about the “peaks” of the Disney parks–like the Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and other Disney mountains. Following that, Don Hahn once again took the stage to present another live-action movie trailer. This time, he showed us Treasure Island. Like his presentation on day one, and his previous movie trailer interlude, Don was very funny and just a lot of fun to see.

The next full presentation was by Imagineer Chris Merritt, who is co-writing a new book about Marc Davis. His presentation was, in fact, about the art of the Disney Legend and his contributions to the parks. Throughout this hour-long panel, Chris showed lots of concept art, videos, and offered descriptions about the work Marc did on attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise. He delved into the unique artistic style that Marc Davis brought to the attractions and highlighted specific aspects that he worked on. Chris played an audio “scratch track” of a kachina doll diorama that had been proposed to enhance or replace the Grand Canyon on the Disneyland Railroad, and he also showed pictures and concepts from the never built Western River attraction. This was the sort of thing that we really wanted to see at Destination D–a look at the concepts and the people who helped create Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Getting an inside glimpse at Marc Davis’s work was a pretty big deal to folks (like us) who love the history of the parks.

After Chris Merritt’s presentation, another video played–this one about the Disney Kingdoms comic books from Marvel. The short video showcased the various series that have been released, as well as the new Enchanted Tiki Room one that’s currently being published. I’ve been reading each mini-series as it comes out, and while I sort of wish they turned this section into a larger panel (I’d love to hear from authors and artists about creating the comics) it was neat to see them acknowledged.

Up next was a very cool presentation focusing in Imagineering, called “The Imagineering Adventure: Sparks of Inspiration”. The first part of the presentation was done by Tony Baxter, and was a look at how and why things happen in Imagineering. He talked about how timing, the needs of the park, and new technology all play into the creation of new attractions. He broke down each of those aspects a bit further, and as examples showcased a few different Tony Baxter projects (like the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland). My wife and I are pretty big Tony Baxter fans–here’s someone who started by scooping ice cream in Disneyland and worked his way up to become (former) senior VP of creative development at WDI–and seeing him speak was great. His passion for these projects and his love of Disney came through when he spoke, and his presentation was fun and entertaining. He also, when talking about thrill rides, offered up one of my favorite quotes of the weekend: “fear – death = thrill”. My wife isn’t into thrill rides, but she’s tried most of the offerings in the Disney parks in part because she trusts in their safety and figures that they probably won’t kill her. In some cases, like Tower of Terror, she absolutely loved the experience and even though it’s still scary for her she’ll go on it any time we’re at Hollywood Studios. Hearing that mentality actually put into words by Tony Baxter was neat.

The second part of the Imagineering Adventure presentation was done by Imagineer Luc Mayrand, and focused on the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disney Resort. This new take on the Pirates attraction uses cutting edge projection technology and some new boat movement techniques to create an intense new experience (at least from what I’ve seen in the videos). It’s also focused more on the movie franchise than the domestic rides are. The videos from the ride were really cool, it does look like a lot of fun, but Luc Mayrand was fairly quiet and dry and not as much fun to listen to. Lots of great information about the attraction and its creation, but just not as strong a presentation.

Don Hahn then showed us one last movie trailer, this one for The Island at the Top of the World. Again, it was prefaced by Don setting up the trailer in a very entertaining way. Honestly, I would have loved a few more movie interludes with him throughout the weekend. They were a fun way to break up the flow of information. Also, especially when we were all getting tired here late in the second day, the laughter was a good way to wake up a bit.

We then switched gears a bit from the Imagineering of attractions to the science of real-life animals. Specifically, those that live at Animal Kingdom. The director of animal and science operations, Dr. Scott Terrell, took us through the work that went into preparing the animals for the new nighttime hours and entertainment at the park. He went into detail about the animal welfare studies that they performed, and showed some cool tracking data about how sound and light levels affected the animals. He explained how some habitats were moved or renovated to maximize the well-being of the animals while also working to add nighttime entertainment to Animal Kingdom. It was actually a really neat presentation–the Imagineering is incredible, but there are so many aspects to the Disney parks and getting a glimpse at a different one was very interesting. Plus, the diagrams and charts he showed on the screens were nicely simplified for those of us (like me) that aren’t as science-minded.

It wasn’t all science and charts, though–there were also live animals! First, Dr. Terrell introduced Beaker the black vulture. With the assistance of some fellow Animal Kingdom cast members, he talked about the bird and they even spread out a bit to allow him to fly from one person to another. After they put Beaker away, they brought out their second (and final) animal ambassador: Willy the aardvark. I’ve never seen an aardvark before, and he was cute and kind of weird looking and while Dr. Terrell talked about him Willy was happily moving around the stage eating the treats that his keepers offered him. They got him to put his front paws up on a box so we could see his impressive claws, and then they convinced him to go back into his carrier so they could wrap things up. I love live animal presentations, and this one was no exception. Getting to see a vulture and an aardvark amid all of the Disney talk was an unexpected, and very cool, surprise.

It was time for the final presentation of the day, and that was by Imagineer Joe Rohde. What you have to understand, before I get into the actual content of the presentation, is that my wife and I are pretty big fans of his. We follow him on Instagram and Twitter (if you don’t, you should. His posts are often fascinating). We’ve watched videos of him talking about his work on various Disney things. So getting to see him up on stage, talking right there in person, was amazing and yet another reason we opted to come to Destination D. We were not disappointed, either. His was a great presentation, fun and humorous and full of his passion for what he does. He talked about the history and the future of Animal Kingdom, from its early days to the upcoming Pandora — The World of Avatar land that’s opening in 2017. He showed photos and shared stories about some of his research trips around the world, and talked about the artisans that helped create the look of the park. He explained some of the Animal Kingdom concerns when they were designing the park, Disney’s conservation efforts, and a few of the relationships they’ve forged around the world. He talked fast and often branched off onto tangents, his excitement for the subject apparent. I’ve always enjoyed Animal Kingdom, though admittedly I haven’t spent as much time there as I have at the other Walt Disney World parks, but after seeing Joe Rohde and his infectious enthusiasm I really want to go back there and just delve into the details.

After that, it was time for the D23 staff to come back onstage and thank everyone for coming to Destination D. Before the event, the schedule just said that there would be an optional “in-park gathering” later that evening. There were some rumors about what that could be (a popular one was that we’d be getting an advance look at Animal Kingdom’s Rivers of Light show), but in the end we were all given tickets to get into Magic Kingdom for the remainder of the day. We were also told that the MagicBand 2.0 we had gotten in our swag bags were loaded with a (not time specific) Fastpass for the Jingle Cruise.

We headed over to Magic Kingdom right after the convention ended, grabbing dinner at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and using the time to meet up with Herb from World of Walt for a bit (I’ve done many podcasts with him, but we’d never had the chance to physically meet yet). We did go check out the Jingle Cruise, as well as other attractions, and we watched the Once Upon A Time show that uses projections on Cinderella Castle.  It was a pretty cool way to cap off a great weekend.

When we first started researching Destination D back in the summer of 2016, there wasn’t a lot of information out there. We could find websites that explained what it was, and a little bit about the presentations from the 2014 convention, but there weren’t that many full trip reports that really described what one could expect from the event. So I knew, even before we got there, that I wanted to do a more detailed breakdown of what we saw while we were there. So maybe the next time a Disney fan starts hunting around online about Destination D, they’ll come across this and it will help give a clearer picture of what it’s all about. I hope this helps!

The entire weekend was simply incredible, and even better than we had anticipated (which is saying something, since we figured it’d be awesome). Getting the opportunity to hear Disney Legends and Imagineers speak and share stories, seeing videos and pictures about the past and the future of the parks, and interacting with other fans–it was a bit of a whirlwind but it was absolutely worth the price of admission. Honestly, we sort of figured that this would be just a “one-time thing” for us, but even before the end of the weekend we were already wondering if we’d be able to attend the next one (presumably in 2018, as this and the D23 Expo in California seem to alternate years). So if you read this and it convinces you to check out a future event, maybe we’ll see you there!

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Destination D Trip Report: Day One

The 2016 Destination D convention happened on November 19th and 20th, and Magic & Misadventures was there! Throughout this post, and the next, I will be breaking down the presentations and events that we had the opportunity to see over the weekend.

Before we get to day one, though, there was… day zero-point-five, I guess we could call it. On Friday, November 18th, we went over to the Contemporary Resort (where Destination D is held) to register so we wouldn’t have to deal with doing that on the first morning of the convention. There was virtually no wait at the registration counter when we arrived that afternoon, and the actual act of registering only took us a few minutes. There looked to be slightly longer lines later in the day and the next morning, though even those seemed to be moving fairly quickly.

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Contents of the swag bag included: a Destination D pin, a “happy birthday Mickey” button that they had been giving out in the parks, and a special Destination D-themed MagicBand 2.0.

The MagicBand 2.0, which is slated to release for annual passholders in December and in January for regular guests, was given to attendees. Additionally, there was a display case of other styles as well as cast members on hand to talk about the new design and show off its features. Check out the photos and video on the Magic & Misadventures Facebook page to see more.

We also took this opportunity to check out the great exhibit set up by the Disney Archives, which featured photos and items from Walt Disney’s real-life adventures around the world. That was very cool to see, and it really showcased how these trips influenced so many aspects of the Disney parks. We stopped briefly outside of the exhibit to look at the art and photo reprints they had for sale. Incidentally, Imagineer Joe Rohde was standing RIGHT BEHIND US but we didn’t want to bother him so we didn’t say anything. He was totally like three feet away from us, though.

The Disney Archives exhibit was a very cool look at Walt’s travels, with photos and items from his trips.

We then wandered over to the Mickey’s of Glendale “pop-up” shop, but it wasn’t open yet and a pretty long (like two hour long) line had already formed. In addition to Destination D and Imagineering merchandise, they were selling limited exclusive pins that many people were very excited for. It seemed likely that most of the people in line were actually waiting for those pins, and since we didn’t really care about them ourselves we opted to leave and try again. We had dinner reservations at the Contemporary later in the day anyway, so we figured that we’d try again when we came back later. Before heading out, though, we headed to the Contempo Cafe (the quick service eatery at the Contemporary) for lunch. There, we ran into and chatted with John from BigFatPanda.com. This was one of the reasons we were really looking forward to Destination D–the chance to interact with other Disney fans and particularly other Disney bloggers/press.

This is Robert Lisinksy, a visual artist and fellow Destination D attendee. He overheard a conversation I had with someone about EPCOT Center, and stopped me later to show me this papercraft Horizons model that he had made. The model actually splits open to reveal “if we can dream it, we can do it” on one side and Mesa Verde on the other–which can be swapped out with Seabase Alpha. It was a very cool piece, and it was great to meet a fellow Horizons fan.

We took advantage of the beautiful afternoon and went back to the Grand Floridian to lounge in the pool for a bit. We did make it back to Mickey’s of Glendale later that evening (around five o’clock or so) and the line was considerably shorter. There was a separate queue for those exclusive pins that still looked to be pretty long, but there was no wait to shop for other items. We proceeded to spend a fair bit on exclusive Walt Disney Imagineering clothing items. We then found ourselves with a fair amount of time before dinner, so we did actually wait in line to check out the pins (partially because friend and former Imagineer Brian Collins had asked me to look for a certain pin), though we didn’t end up purchasing any of them.

The next morning we, along with hundreds of other Disney fans, collected in the Contemporary’s Fantasia Ballroom for the first day of Destination D!

The entry to the Fantasia Ballroom was decked out in the “adventure” theme of the event.

We got there early enough to check out the room (the convention kicked off at 9:00am, and we got there around 8:30am). There were adventure-themed photo op backdrops set up in the back, and in one corner the new Ethan Allen line of Disney furniture was on display. Aside from an area reserved for press and the front couple rows that were earmarked for the (very expensive) VIP ticket holders, it was open seating, so we picked chairs and soon things were underway. There were a lot of people there, but we were easily able to find good seats and it didn’t look like the room was actually at capacity.

At the back of the conference room were dioramas, like this Pirates of the Caribbean one, which was perfect for adventure-themed photos.

(NoteAs they didn’t allow any photos or recording during the presentations, I have no pictures to show you of the actual speakers.) 

A short video about “adventure” started things off, and then our host for the weekend took the stage. Dressed in a khaki jungle explorer outfit and pith helmet, with a neat beard and curled mustache, Dr. Albert Falls (who, of course, Schweitzer Falls in the Jungle Cruise is named after) introduced himself and welcomed guests to Destination D. He would reappear to introduce almost every presentation over the next two days and make announcements, and he was really a lot of fun. Kudos to the performer they picked to bring this character to life. Personally, I’d love to see Dr. Falls appear in the parks around the Jungle Cruise as a walk-around character.

He introduced D23 chairman Michael Vargo, who thanked everyone for coming and stated that the attendees for Destination D came from thirty-nine different states and from eight different countries! He brought up other D23 staff members as well, who talked about some of the different D23 events that we’ll be seeing over the course of the next year. Like the EPCOT 35th anniversary party in the Fall of 2017 that I really want to attend but probably won’t be able to.

Then, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek came onstage and sat down for a talk with D23’s Jeffrey Epstein.  One of the first things he said was to announce that Pandora-World of Avatar will be opening at Animal Kingdom in the Summer of 2017! He went on to talk a bit more about the project, explaining that there would be two attractions: a slow boat ride through the jungles of Pandora, and a thrill ride in which guests would “fly” on a Banshee creature from the movie. He then moved on to Marvel news, touching briefly upon the Iron Man attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland and then stating that while Guardians of the Galaxy is replacing Tower of Terror in Disney’s California Adventure, the attraction is remaining as it is at Hollywood Studios. He mentioned Star Wars Land briefly, but other than showing a new piece of concept art there wasn’t much by way of new information. He did, however, state that Star Tours would be refreshed with new content as new Star Wars movies get released (though he said that this means the numbered films like the upcoming Episode VIII, and not Rogue One).

Chapek then spoke about EPCOT, and admittedly this was something I was dreading. I had heard rumors about what may be closing and what could be coming in, and I feared that this was when all those rumors turned into truths. While he didn’t go into specific details, and he didn’t necessarily confirm or deny anything, he did state that EPCOT will be undergoing a “major transformation” in the future. He explained that there were points that they intended to hit in this, including making it: more Disney, more relevant, timeless, more family oriented, and true to the original vision. He didn’t really explain much about what any of those meant, nor did he give any sort of timeframe or concept for this. He moved on to talk about how they were focusing on the guest experience at the parks, and how they wanted to bring Disney Magic to every aspect of a vacation–from the resorts to transportation to the parks themselves. He said that they were working hard on “personalizing” the Disney experience, and we’ve already seen some of that come to fruition with the connecting of MagicBands to certain attractions. He also teased that the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (of which Dr. Albert Falls, as well as Dr. Henry Mystic from Hong Kong Disneyland, are members) would be getting a bigger role in the parks. There’s a bit of this already happening in the new Skipper Canteen restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and I’m excited to see this story–and hopefully the characters–get used a lot more.

After Bob Chapek’s presentation, movie producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the BeastLion King, and a bunch of others. Including one of my fave bad movies, The Haunted Mansion) and Becky Cline (director of the Disney Archives) came onstage to do a presentation about Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures” nature documentaries. They showed clips and talked about the production of the movies, which led into the more recent DisneyNature series (which Don produces). Learning how the crews past and present captured this footage–which often took weeks of waiting for a minute of film–was very interesting. They then showed a new clip of the next DisneyNature film Born In China, that’s being released on Earth Day 2017. Don Hahn in particular proved to be a hilarious presenter, with a deadpan delivery of comments that really had the crowd laughing hard. To be fair, the content itself lent itself to such commentary (if you ever cross paths with a Destination D 2016 attendee, ask them about the throwing of ducks) and it was a really fun presentation overall. The newer DisneyNature footage, including the new Born In China stuff, was simply breathtaking to watch.

The next presentation opened with a video of Walt Disney talking about the original Adventureland, and then legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar came up to talk. He shared photos of original Imagineers taken during the construction of Disneyland, plus a rare photo of Walt himself standing in Adventureland chatting with guests. These photos were accompanied by his own commentary of what was happening in the photos, and anecdotes about the creation of the parks and the people involved. He showed and talked about original Harper Goff concept art for Adventureland, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film, and the Jungle Cruise attraction. He talked about Bill Evans, the landscape designer for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and then showed a short video of Bill on the Jungle Cruise talking about the different plants that were used on the ride. In all honesty, getting to hear Marty Sklar talk in person was one of the big reasons we were excited to be at the convention, and his presentation did not disappoint. Getting to see these photos and listen to his stories was an incredible experience.

After Marty Sklar’s presentation was a two-hour break. We hopped on a monorail and went to the Polynesian Resort for lunch, as the Contempo Café at the Contemporary (their quick service eatery) was packed. The Polynesian was busy as well, but it wasn’t nearly as bad. Plus, as it was a beautiful day, it was nice to sit outside for a bit after spending the morning in the conference room. There was a pop-up food service in a nearby room for the convention, but the line was really long during each break so we never checked out what they had to offer.

When the convention resumed, representatives from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment came onstage with a special announcement: Pinocchio is coming to blu-ray in January as a Signature Edition release. Like the previous Signature Editions, this means that it’ll be packed with behind-the-scenes extras. To celebrate this announcement, they also gave each attendee a special Pinocchio lithograph.

After that brief announcement, the next presentation featured Disney legend/Imagineer/former senior VP of creative development Tony Baxter as well as Imagineers Jason Grandt and Luc Mayrand, talking about the different Adventurelands at the Disney parks around the world. They shared photos and anecdotes, including a lot of information about the new Adventureland in Shanghai. Honestly, getting the chance to hear Tony Baxter talk in person was another big reason we were stoked to attend Destination D. He started as an ice-cream scooper at Disneyland in 1965 and became an icon, responsible for overseeing attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain and Star Tours, and both my wife and I are pretty big fans of his.

The next presentation, though, was one of the surprise highlights of the weekend. Called “Tales from the Jungle Cruise”, it featured a panel of Imagineers, former Jungle Cruise skippers, and Disney historians. Obviously, the presentation was full of humor and puns as the group (Justin Arthur, Kevin Lively, Alex Grayman, Wyatt Winter, Trevor Van Dahm, and Chris Merritt) talked about their own experiences as well as the history of the attraction. They shared stories about funny moments they had encountered, showed photos, talked about Marc Davis’s contributions to the creation of the ride, and more. They also spent some time talking about Skipper Canteen, the new Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Adventureland. When my wife and I saw the original schedule we figured that this would be a fun one (it was about the Jungle Cruise, after all) but it was even more entertaining than we had envisioned. Also, we were all inducted into the Adventurers Club (part of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers). We had to recite an oath and everything. Truth be told, we love goofy moments like that and we even went back to Mickey’s of Glendale and bought an SEA pin the next day to commemorate that moment.

Don Hahn then briefly returned to the stage, and (after some hilarious set-up) showed the original theatrical trailer for The Swiss Family Robinson. This would end up being a recurring bit throughout the weekend, as he would return to the stage a couple more times to show more trailers for different Disney live-action movies.

Disney artists Casey Jones and Richard Terpstra, as well as Steven Vagnini from D23, then presented a look at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. They showed photos and artwork as they took us through the history of the resort, from its opening in 1971 to the recent renovations.  They then invited Auntie Kau’i, an original Polynesian Resort cast member, to the stage. She talked a bit about her own childhood (growing up not far from Pearl Harbor, and recalling the day of the bombing) and her time at the Polynesian Resort. Towards the end of the presentation, she was joined by fellow Polynesian cast members Ku’ulei and Kalei, and the three of them encouraged the entire audience to stand and dance as they offered us a brief lesson in the hula.

The final presentation of the day was by Jared Bush, screenwriter for Moana. He detailed the writing process, discussed many of the ideas that made it in and some that didn’t, and showed lots of exclusive clips of the (at the time) upcoming film. He also talked about how they tried very hard to embrace and respect the culture that they were representing in the film, and talked about their research trips and the incorporation of the legends that became a part of Moana‘s story. This led into a detailed explanation about the start of the Oceanic Trust, the group that was formed to make sure that the production offered an accurate and respectful representation of South Pacific culture.

Finally, Michael Vargo and some of the D23 team came back up to end the day’s presentations and also to give us information about the nighttime event that we were all invited to: watching Moana on the beach at the Polynesian Resort!

We rushed back to Port Orleans to get changed (we had changed resorts, from the Grand Floridian to Port Orleans, which is a longer tale that I won’t get into here) and grab a quick bite to eat, and then we headed over to the Polynesian Resort where we were directed to the beach by cast members. We were offered a bag of popcorn–which also had dried fruit, nuts, and possibly some other tasty snack things in there–and a drink, and then we settled into our seats in chairs on the sand. Jared Bush and a few others–including Disney Park Blog livestream host Mark Daniel and a Moana face character–came up onto a small stage and talked, and then we watched the movie. It was a great film, and we had been looking forward to seeing it, and getting the chance to do so a few days before release–and at the Polynesian Resort–was just a cool experience. After the movie we were invited to stay on the beach to watch Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show) from across the water. They even piped in the music from the show.

Then, we headed back to our room. We were exhausted, but full of great information and still thrilled from the experience. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be back at the Contemporary for day two!

 

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