"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Disney Is Hiring Heroes

Haters beware, this post is going to be so pro-Disney, even pro-Walt Disney Company corporate, that you may just want to bail out now.

Disney has done something that hits me at home and makes me not just happy, but proud to be dropping thousands of dollars their way this summer. Today, Disney announced the Heroes Work Here initiative. Here's a short piece of the blog post from Disney explaining what the initiative entails,

Disney will:
  • Provide at least 1,000 jobs, career opportunities for returning U.S. veterans over the next three years.
  • Support military families, veterans transitioning into civilian life.
  • Launch a national public awareness campaign to encourage job opportunities for veterans.

The logo alone almost brought tears to my eyes. Disney, built upon the story of imaginary heroes defeating imaginary villains, is recognizing real true-life heroes and the value they can bring. I'm thrilled at the way they go about explaining this, not as some welfare, let's all be kind to the poor dears, affirmative action program, but as a logical and smart business practice. Veterans are trained leaders, they know how to do the most with the least and they tend to have a strong work ethic. They have character, having volunteered for a duty that could very well have killed them or left them maimed for life. These are people you want working for you, and as a bonus for the Disney Company, they allow it to boast of having not only imaginary heroes like Prince Charming and Flynn Ryder greeting their guests, but real ones, ones the children can see are just like their fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. The value in that is unmeasurable.

My father is a Vietnam Vet. He came home to a country that acted ashamed of him. There were no parades. The movies made about him portrayed him as a psycho at best and a monster at worst. His fellow vets were spit on and called baby-killer. My mom told me my dad was a hero, but it took decades for the country and the culture to even grudgingly admit that he deserved some thanks. The toll that takes on a man, even one as strong as my dad, is hard for us who've not had to experience it to understand.

I remember when the first Gulf War started, my dad was glued to the TV until all hours of the night. I thought he was upset about the country getting involved in another war, and he was, but not for the reason I assumed. My dad said he was worried that if we got into another war, the men and women would be treated by the country on their return the way he was treated. He didn't want to see that happen to anyone else.

That never happened, the Gulf War vets were welcomed home as heroes and we have treated all our vets in the conflicts that followed the same way. Sure there are the throw-back anti-war folks, but even they haven't in large part attacked the vets. Good. We learned. But to see a company as huge as Disney, as much an integral part of our American cultural identity as Disney is, embrace veterans as valuable contributors to civilian society really made me proud.

Are you seeing this, Dad? I know it'll make you happy. And thanks to ALL the heroes, but especially mine.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Disney Dinner, At Home!!!!

What's better than a night of Disney Parks behind the scenes shows on the TV? That would be sharing the fun with friends and turning it into a Disney food feast, of course! The food at Disney is one of our favorite parts of the experience, and it's fun and surprisingly easy to try duplicating some of Disney's dishes at home. Chip and Co. have recipes on their site and Disney cookbooks aren't hard to find. Our cookbook is almost 20 years old, so it has recipes from restaurants that no longer exist, which is kind of cool, really. Our feast included treats from Ohana, the Yachtsman Steakhouse, Le Cellier, the old Top of the World and a couple classic treats from the parks.

Jen's Ohana Wings and my own Onion-Cheese Soup
We started out with what my son has declared "the BEST chicken wings ever. Seriously. Ever"  and onion-cheese soup. The wings Jen made are part of the Ohana family-style dinner and are truly delicious. The soup was my contribution and came from our old Gourmet Mickey Cookbook attributed to the Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort. I've had neither dish at the actual Disney location, but Jen says the wings pretty much nailed it. The soup may or may not be exactly like Disney's, but it was really good.

Poutine = Heaven
After devouring the wings and soup around the campfire, we moved inside for Jen's Poutine, a wonderful potato dish from the Canada Pavilion's Le Cellier restaurant. Poutine is basically baked potato wedges topped with caramelized onion and cheese, then covered with a red wine reduction sauce. While that may sound good, words can't describe the deliciousness of this dish. The reduction alone is good enough to eat with a spoon.

Lisa's Mickey Treats-on-a-stick!
For dessert, my lovely bride Lisa provided a classic Disney Parks treat, the Mickey Head Rice Crispy Treat! What could be better than a rice crispy treat that looks like Mickey, on a stick, with ears dipped in dark chocolate? Nothing. Period. For post-dessert TV watching treats we had Dole Whips! Both straight up and in a float, these things are hard to replicate exactly without a soft-serve machine, but ours were awesome and topped off a spectacular night.

Monorail Yellow
Disney also offers some fun and unique cocktails. The beverage I chose to accompany our meal may or may not be offered somewhere on the Disney property today, I don't know. It's the Monorail Yellow cocktail from the old Top of the World restaurant, the place that used to be at the top of the Contemporary resort. Top of the World has been replaced by the California Grill, but we brought the Monorail Yellow back for an encore. The original is a frozen concoction, but I turned it into a martini because I didn't want to bother getting out a blender. It worked nicely.

Trying to re-create some of your favorite Disney cuisine is fun and, thanks to the interwebs, not really hard. If you want to try for yourself, you can start searching either Chip and Co.'s recipe page or the Disney Family web site's recipe pages 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pin Codes and Disney Visa and Free Dining, OH MY!!

OK, so, it seems like ancient history to me now, but I figured out the pin code thing with the help of my Disney bud. It turned out to be a package discount when you booked a room and ticket combo including both the Park Hopper and Water Parks and More options. We weren't interested in the water park option, and the discount wasn't enough to lure us away from our planned stay at a Fort Wilderness campsite. Even though we weren't using it, I was still thrilled to have received an elusive Pin Code just the same.

Fast forward a couple weeks, to last Thursday. The same Disney buddy who helped me figure out the pin codes, fellow Disney Geek Jen Iapalucci, sends me a text early in the morning asking if we have a Disney Visa. We do, I say. Well, she says, it seems a Free Dining offer is being extended to cardholders and it covers exactly the time we plan to be at the Dis! This was the deal I was hoping and waiting for! Free Dining is sort of the Holy Grail of Disney discounts. It can save a family a huge amount of money, or allow them to stay at a resort they otherwise couldn't afford. The Dining Plan is a bit complicated and it isn't for everyone (I'll talk about it more in a future post), but when it's free I think you'd be a fool to pass it up. My momma didn't raise no fool, so we were on board!

I'd been having reservations about staying in a tent for a seven-night trip. My son and I have camped quite a bit, but my wife, not so much. I was worried she'd be uncomfortable or something would flood in a Florida thunderstorm, or blow over. I just wanted our trip to be as stress-free as possible and I worried that I was tempting fate a little too much. I'd decided that if I could find a Free Dining deal, I'd move our reservation to a Moderate resort. I had done the homework on the Disney reservation site and found that with Free Dining, a room at a Moderate would be about $100 less than staying at the campground and paying for the dining plan. I was torn between wanting to give my son the Disney camping experience and wanting to be SURE everything would be stress-free all week. I was waiting for a sign. And Jen gave it to me.

Our minds were made up that we would stay at one of the Moderate resorts now, but which one? We'd stayed at Coronado Springs the last time we spent a week at Disney and loved the place. The last trip we made, we stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, and loved that as well. We looked at the French Quarter's sister resort, the next door Port Orleans Riverside, and found it to be nice, but not our style. The only Moderate we haven't seen is the Caribbean Beach Resort, but Jen stayed there a couple times and gave it a thumbs up.

Caribbean Beach Resort's Pool
I found out that the Disney Visa offer would be extended to the general public on Monday (today), so I figured we'd think it over and call for a reservation Saturday morning. Well, we didn't need much thought. We all pretty much agreed that Port Orleans French Quarter's pool was a little small, so that left a choice between the Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Springs. The CBR pool looked pretty awesome and since we are a family that loves trying new things, we were all happy trying out the Caribbean Beach Resort this time around.

That was decided Thursday evening, which turned out to be a good thing. Friday morning the Disney fan pages on Face Book started reporting that rooms for the Visa Free Dining deal were going fast. I was sent into a near panic. I feared my "sign from above" deal being ripped from my fingers. Luckily, I have some flexibility as to work hours and this is our very slowest time, so I got home at lunchtime and called the Disney Reservation line, with fingers firmly crossed.

After a short hold time, a very friendly woman came on the line and asked me a few questions. She was able to bring up all the info I'd put in the Disney website and seemed very happy with how many times I'd been to Disney World in my 40+ years and especially how many times we'd visited in the last 5 or 6. I have no idea if this helped me get the room I wanted or not, but after a few minutes we were booked into the resort of our choice in the room type we wanted for the dates we wanted and for about $150 less than we had planned to spend camping. Others seemed to be having trouble, but perhaps they wanted different resorts or room preferences, who knows? The important part, for me anyway, is that now our Disney vacation is a reality, booked and reserved and deposit paid and accepted.

All this has just reinforced my belief in the Disney Magic. As Jen said when she was telling me about the deal, it's like they put it out JUST FOR ME!! And it's made it more obvious that Disney Magic is even better when shared. Our family are all believers in the Magic of the Mouse. Finding another family who shares that with us just multiplies the happy. Jen helped bring the magic home for us, and that's magical in itself. She's the best sort of friend and we are lucky and blessed to have her and her whole family in our lives.

Now, it's time to sort out dinner reservations!!!!!