Friday, November 23, 2018

Weird WDW: Eulogy For A Dancing Hippo

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It doesn't feel like it anymore, but there's still a lot of weirdness left at Walt Disney World. The past ten years have seen a shocking amount of expansions, reboots, reconstructions and rejiggering, not all of which have sat well with fans. But travel outside of the well worn haunts to the distant corners of property and you will find remnants of the 90s and even 80s still hanging on, passive observers of a Disney nearly unrecognizable.

One of these corners is Fantasia Gardens, a miniature golf course Disney built only after a long legal battle with the hotel entities that own the Swan and Dolphin. The Swan and Dolphin themselves were once emblematic of weird WDW, but they were redone in the 00s and again recently and their teal and salmon decor and rococo, trellesed madness has long since been subdued. But keep walking.

Out on the edge of nothing, backed into a corner by an onramp, is one of WDW's great forgotten corners - the Swan and Dolphin's picnic pavilions. While it seems that the nearby tennis courts were originally constructed in 1990 with the opening of the hotel complex, part of Disney's agreement with  the operating partners for those hotels was that the space across the street was earmarked for any "entertainment complex". Five years and much gnashing of teeth later, Fantasia Gardens opened in 1995.

The Swan and Dolphin have always been more heavily favored by a certain class of business traveler than families, and so perhaps the idea of adding picnic pavilions to complement the full array of meeting facilities seemed a good one at the time. But I can think of no other area at Walt Disney World that has lived out such an abandoned, twilight existence as the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Dancing Hippo" pavilions. At least River Country, Discovery Island, Wonders of Life and the ImageWorks were in use at one point in time; I don't think I've ever seen the picnic pavilions in actual frequent use.

Visited today, it's clear that cast members treat these pavilions as a backstage area, the event space strewn with chairs, burnt out light bulbs and intermittently in use fans. Between the two pavilions, in an antechamber that hasn't seen a simple dusting in many years, are two bathrooms, cleaned and stocked daily, for the patronage of nobody. There are areas of the Disney convention centers, especially the less popular ones like the Grand Floridian, where the bizarre disjunction between the effort to keep them maintained and the actual patronage feels as acute, but rarely as at Fantasia Gardens.

In college, when I was a rebellious Cast Member, I'd sometimes park at Fantasia Gardens and walk into Epcot the back way. I'd pull into the unmanned parking lot and wonder at those bulky warehouses on the other side of the pond, silent and empty. I'd visit the lobby of the Dolphin, stroll the Boardwalk, then enter Epcot and make the World Showcase loop. It was a pleasant afternoon, and each visit began and ended with the pavilions on the edge of forever, as dark and empty as they always were.

Disney is about to tear these down, and the Tennis Courts too. An expansion has been deemed necessary, and a small tower is being built on the former parking lot and tennis courts. The pavilions will become the new parking lot for Fantasia Gardens. By the time you read this, they may already have been dismantled.

In our current amped-up, plugged-in world of Disney fandom, consider that the closure of the garish Hanes T-shirt shop at the Village was deemed worthy of a minor round of complaining, and yet there are people who practically live at Walt Disney World but who have never even seen the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Dancing Hippo pavilions. They've been around for 23 years, meaning they lasted longer than many of the original EPCOT Center attractions, but they've entered life and are now leaving it as desolate and forgotten as ever.

Weird Walt Disney World is still out there for you, if you're willing to go find it.

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Friday, November 02, 2018

Let's Have A Drink On It! Adventureland Punch

I tried hard, I really did. After the last, surprisingly successful installment of this series, I knew summer was coming soon and a nice, summery WDW drink would be appreciated. The Monorail Yellow, a classic Disney variation on the Pina Colada, seemed as good and summery a place to start. But after about two months of testing, with summer come and gone, I have to concede defeat. You shouldn't make a Monorail Yellow; instead, you should make a Painkiller*, which uses the same four ingredients in a vastly improved proportion.

(*For my notes on this process, see the comments)

Which left me pretty well out of ideas for a new drink. However, with the holidays on the horizon I had been thinking of the large-bore old fashioned punch recipes of times past. With large gatherings of friends in the future, what if I created a new punch in honor of Adventureland? After all, the punch tradition evolved into the cocktail, and probably began at English colonial outposts in places such as Macao and Bombay. And while my own efforts to put together a tiki-esque drink in honor of Adventureland had met with mixed success, surely if there was any drink that could represent Adventureland, it was punch.

Punch - Getting Drunk the Long Way

Punch? You mean that stuff that's made at Christmas out of 7-Up? Well, no, not exactly.

In this case we're going to make a genuine 19th century-style punch, which provided the template for the cocktail and eventually morphed into the Tiki Drink. And although the techniques are similar, a punch requires a slightly different mentality than a cocktail. If you're accustomed to the cocktail way of doing things, you're going to be tempted to make substitutions - but please, don't. This section exists to show you why you need to think of building this drink differently.

Punch was intended to be made in a huge vat and it was, essentially, the evening's entertainment for a group of people. This differs from a batched cocktail primarily in the fact that punch was only rarely iced and was intended to last a very long time. This means that water was always added to the punch to dilute the alcohol before it was consumed - it was designed to remain the same flavor of the course of how ever many hours it took the group to demolish the contents of the punch bowl. Compared to this, cocktails are intended to be consumed fairly quickly - indeed, much of the charm of an Old Fashioned or a Zombie is in the way its flavors change as the ice melts and dilutes it over the course of its life. Cocktails dilute while they sit; punch is already diluted to the proper levels in its construction.

The dilution in punch was often accomplished with water - sometimes boiling, if the punch was a winter time drink intended to be served hot. Several of the most infamously strong punches were diluted with champagne, like the Chatham Artillery Punch. So when you assemble this recipe, please don't be tempted to over-chill the contents - it's intended to be cool, but not cold. You also need to drink it slowly, not just because it's stronger than you think, but it can be hard to stop drinking punch once you start!

The other item you need to be mindful of is punch's main distinguishing characteristic vs a cocktail... the oleo-sacchrum compound, which I will be calling the "sherbet" in this article. "Oleo-sacchrum" is faux latin for "oil sugar", and that's basically what it is: sugar infused with citrus oil. You make this in a big batch at the start of the recipe, and it has a heft and body which cannot be replicated by any shortcut method. The sherbet is what makes a punch a punch, and what makes this recipe delicious, so you will need to take the time to do it properly. I promise you, your patience will be rewarded.

Finally, besides the somewhat time consuming creation of the sherbet, the real trick in punch making is getting the proportions correct. After some testing and reading up on the subject, I have decided to embrace the proportions of 1:1:4:6 as the most delicious and easy to remember.

We're off for Adventureland, and punch awaits! But first, let's take a quick tour through our ingredients before we get into the nitty gritty of how to make the thing.

One of Sour, One of Sweet

The Sherbet, or oleo-sacchrum, is the kind of thing you read about and shake your head, but any home drinker who has mixed up their own simple syrup can do this. To be fair, the cause has not been helped by those who advocate for soaking the sherbet for four hours or some absurd interval. They didn't have that sort of time, not even in India in the 18th century, when getting roaring drunk on punch was just about the only thing worth looking forward to. The creation of the sherbet will be expounded in painful detail during the construction phase.

By the way, the term "sherbet" is historically correct and borrowed from the famous dessert. If the liquor component of the punch is added and the whole thing bottled, this is called a "shrub" and was a common labor saving technique in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Four of Strong

Here we get into murkier territory. Limes cannot be used to prepare a sherbet, as their oil is far too bitter, yet lime is absolutely the citrus of choice if we are going to be using rum as our main strong component here; more on how I get around that later. I've gravitated towards rum, not only because it's cheap, but because this drink is intended to represent Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, of which Pirates of the Caribbean is a key component. In order to make the rum get along nicer with the rest of the cocktail, I've cut about a quarter of it with brandy.

The brandy here need not be an excellent one; Paul Masson makes a surprisingly good California brandy which is spiked with a bit of actual cognac, called "Grand Amber" and it can be obtained for less than the cost of a Big Al Trading Pin. Of course, if you have a bit of Hennessy or Martell laying about, it won't hurt the final mix either.

Personally I suggest you save your money for a  excellent rum, which must be of a Jamaican variety and have a good amount of that island's characteristic pot still "funk". The best choice here is Smith & Cross, which is expensive but makes a truly nectarous punch. I've also had good luck with the Plantation line; their flagship offering as well as their O.F.T.D. have enough of that chewy heft to cut through the sugar. In times of extreme duress, you can cut a smooth dark rum like El Dorado with a bit of Wray & Newphew White Overproof, which is a great funky mixing rum, but it won't quite have the same luscious texture.

Six of Weak

Time to add some Magic Kingdom to our punch, and there's nothing more Magic Kingdom Adventureland than the Orange Bird. Originally I was experimenting with orange sodas such as Fanta here, but they simply drowned out the delicate balance of spirit and lemon I had worked so hard to get to. Orangina, the driest of the sugary orange sodas widely available on the market, was also far too sweet here.

Thankfully. San Pellegrino is distributed in even the most humble hamlet, and their dry orange soda - San Pellegrino Arancia - has barely any sugar in it and did the trick nicely. If you have a favorite Italian-Style dry soda in stock, it may be substituted. I also had excellent luck mixing various sodas as well as trying out combinations such as blood orange and ginger ale, but none quite matched the clean citrus flavor of the Arancia.

Finishing Touches

With a sturdy framework established, it was time to try variations. I tried to add cherry notes reminiscent of Hawaiian Punch or the Singapore Sling through Cherry Heering, Marascino and Kirsch, but all of these simply muddled the existing flavor. Ditto attempts to introduce pineapple juice, which is simply too thick and distinct to integrate into the punch. Gin, Benedictine, spiced rum, and absinthe similarly failed to perk up my punch in any appreciable way.

Instead I found the best option to put some life back into it was through the simple addition of fresh citrus. Since there's already rum in the glass, I found it best to cut a wedge of lime, run the cut edge of the lime around the rim of the glass or punch bowl, squeeze the fresh juice into the punch, then drop the spent wedge in as garnish.

It was this combination of three citrus flavors - lemon, lime, and orange - that really pushed the punch over the top, making it redolent of tropical shores without being cloying. It is, as they say, almost as much fun as New Year's Eve in the orange groves.


Here we go, and we're going to be doing this with Instagram-friendly photos to show everyone just how easy it is to make the Sherbet. You want to gather up two very large lemons, a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, a muddler, and weigh yourself out four ouches of sugar.

For the sugar, you can use refined white sugar, but I found I liked Florida Crystals, not just because Adventureland is in Florida, but because they add a nice complexity to the sherbet. You can go overboard and use Sugar in the Raw here, but it will take much longer to dissolve. You need a nice fine-grained sugar.

If you don't have a muddler, you can use anything that will allow you to squish the lemon peel and release the juice, such as the bottom of a glass jar or a heavy spoon.

Pare off the lemon peel in as much of a single, continuous strip as you can. Leave as much of the white part behind as you can. If you're used to making lemon and orange twists at home for martinis and old-fashioned, you may surprise yourself with how easy you will find this.

The long strips are more for ease of retrieval down the line, so if you have trouble making the long peels, don't worry - you can strain them out later.

Dump on your sugar and muddle the peels a little bit. You don't need to go crazy here, just get everything nicely combined.

Put aside your lemon-sugar and juice your lemons. You want to reserve as much lemon juice as you had sugar, so in this case, 4 ounces. I like to use 2 ounces of sugar and 2 ounces of lemon juice per lemon, which will get me close to that nice 1:1 ratio.

Okay, you're done for now. Go water the lawn, make a drink, or play with your dog. Go away for about 45 minutes, when you come back, you should see this:

This is one of those cases where a photo isn't nearly as obvious as this is in person, but the sugar should be very saturated with lemon oil and the whole bowl should have a nice clean lemony scent. Now to combine the juice into the sugar.

I've found the easiest way to do this is to dump the whole contents of the bowl into a tight lidded jar, add the lemon juice, and shake it. Leave it out on the counter, and every time you walk past, shake it again. Very soon, you'll notice the sugar is fully integrated into the juice. Now you can fish out the spent lemon peels and pop your sherbet into the fridge.

Ready for a drink? Measure it out thusly:
.5 oz oleo-sacchrum
1.5 oz strong rum (Smith & Cross)
.5 oz brandy (California)
2 - 3 oz dry orange soda (San Pellegrino Arancia)
cut a lime wedge, rub it on rim of glass, squeeze juice into punch

If your sherbet and soda are nice and cold, no ice is needed. You don't need to put this in a shaker and strain it off; everything can simply be combined into a glass and, if you like, stirred. If you use a short glass, you'll find the simple action of adding each ingredient, especially the carbonated soda, combines everything just fine. I like this with more like 2.5 ounces of the soda, but experiment and see what works for you. Always start with less; you can't un-dilute your punch.

If you want to make your sherbet into a shrub, to your 4 ounces of sherbet add 12 ounces (a cup and a half) of rum and 4 ounces (half a cup) of brandy. Shake, then refrigerate in bottle until ready to use.


I named this after the Jungle Navigation Company because, much like working at the Jungle Cruise, it's sweet and tropical but it will lay you out if you're not careful. Despite being nearly half alcohol, the lemon oil and sugar takes the edge off the rum to such a degree that by the time you've had three of these, it's far too late. What I'm saying is: approach with caution!

The whole thing can be built in a bowl and will serve, say, six adults to various degrees of lubrication; if you do that you can build the punch right in the same bowl as the sherbet. It may be hard to get the sugar to dissolve in the lemon juice without the use of force in a sealed jar, which is why it was common in the 18th century to add a bit of boiling water to the punch bowl (say, 2 ounces) to mix the whole thing up.

In my opinion, if you're going to go through the trouble to get you and your friends good and drunk on punch, it's worth taking the time to assemble the bottled shrub as specified above and then cutting it with around 2 cans of the dry orange soda. Again, start with less and adjust to taste.

The glasses used should be very small, around 2 ounces each, not only to encourage conviviality around the bowl, but to help temper the urge towards excess.  If you stop by a thrift store, you should be able to procure a punch bowl and set of glasses for relatively cheap.

There are two other entries in the "Let's Have A Drink On It!" series: The Howling Dog Bend and Seven Seas Drink. If you have a favorite WDW cocktail that you think is worth reworking, suggest it below!