Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Exploring Pandora: Food and Beverage

There are only two places to find food and drinks while visiting Pandora in Disney's Animal Kingdom, but both figure to be busy for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate to sample selections from each location during previews prior to the official opening on this new land and will share my thoughts below.

Satu'li Canteen

A large indoor dining area and covered outdoor tables make for a welcoming location for the newest quick service dining location in Disney's Animal Kingdom. Satu'li Canteen features a relatively short menu that still provides a variety of different choices. For lunch and dinner, adults choose between pods (steamed buns) or a "bowl" that they can customize to their tastes. Children can order small versions of the adult entrees or cuisine more familiar to earth-based travelers. I tried the bowls and the pods and the bowls are what have me looking forward to my next meal on Pandora.

Initially, the "Create-Your-Own Satu'li Bowl" might seem a little confusing, but it requires three relatively simple choices, and while I haven't tried them all, I suspect you won't go wrong with anything you order here. You start by selecting a protein, between beef, chicken, fish, or tofu. You also select a "base" (two different salads, potato hash, or rice) and sauce and then you're set. Each meal is also served with vegetable slaw and yogurt Boba Balls.
I chose the chicken bowl with rice and charred onion chimichurri for my bowl and was pleased with my selection. I might try one of the other sauces when I return (black bean vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing), but the rice was very good and the chicken was outstanding. A friend who eats a vegan diet also raved about the fried tofu bowl, ordering it again when we returned to Satu'li Canteen for a second meal.

I was less impressed with the Cheeseburger 'Pods.' It is an interesting idea and I appreciate the attempt to repackage a familiar sandwich in a different way, but it just struck me as ordinary. I also had some misgivings about the accompanying Root Vegetable Chips, but those turned out to be very tasty.

Satu'li Canteen also deserves commendation for it's beer list. There are only two choices, both of which are also available at Pongo Pongo (see below), but both are above average options. Since it seems breweries are scarce in the Valley of Mo'ara, Disney reached out to Georgia's Terrapin Beer Co. to create two beers that are (to the best of my knowledge) are only available on Pandora. You'll probably see a little of pictures of the green Hawkes' Grog Ale, a pale wheat ale that is more than just a novelty beer that should please just about anyone who enjoys beer. It's not spectacular, but a good solid all-around beer that left me pleasantly surprised.

Less impressive, but still a solid choice for those who prefer lagers is the Mo'ara High Country Ale. There wasn't anything special with this oddly named lager that calls itself an "ale", but also nothing wrong with it. If you want a cold lager on a hot day, then you'll be happy to drink one of these. Also available is a limited wine list an two beers that you can find anywhere on earth, along with sangria and a variety of self-service fountain drinks. If you collect novelty cups, then there's one available here for an additional $8 - $8.50, depending on what drink you want to put in it.

Satu'li Canteen also features a couple interesting desserts, but I haven't tried those yet. One other feature of this restaurant that is worth paying attention to is the ability to place your order online, through the My Disney Experience mobile app. You can enter an order there at any time during the day you are visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom, then return to the app to submit your order when you are near the restaurant. If you are visiting during a busy time, then this could save you a substantial amount of time waiting in line for your food. However, as of the opening of Pandora the app only allowed you to pay for your order by credit card, so there is not currently a way to pay using Disney Dining Plan credits or with a Disney Gift Card. If you are interested in details of how this process works, then the folks at Touring Plans wrote a pretty comprehensive blog post on that topic.

Pongo Pongo

Located just outside Satu'li Canteen, Pongo Pongo is mostly a drink stand, serving beer, bottled water, and some pre-mixed novelty drinks. As of opening, the menu did not include any soda selections, so you'll have to go to the full quick service restaurant if that's what you want.

I tried the Mo'ara Margarita, gold tequila mixed with strawberry or blood orange, topped with strawberry Boba Balls. This was a decent frozen drink that I wouldn't be unhappy having again, but not something I'll make a point of ordering during future visits (ie: it's not like the frozen slushes at the France pavilion in Epcot). it's more likely if I feel like I want a drink on Pandora that I'll order another of the land-specific beers that are also available at Pongo Pongo.

Since I mentioned collectible cups inside at Satu'li Canteen, I'll note that drinks at Pongo Pongo can be served in a different drinking vessel you can take home with you, this time in mugs with "glowing unadelta seed". I've somehow managed to survive this long without "glowing unadelta seed" in my home and as much as I enjoy novelty glowing drinks I didn't need to pay double the price for my margarita for this souvenir.

That wraps up your food choices while you visit Pandora. I'd love to hear what your experiences are with these new quick service locations!

Keep a close eye on your drinks in Pandora, because you never know who or what might try to get their hands on it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why do I go to WDW? A Place Where People Look Out for Each Other

People often ask me why I go to Disney World so frequently and I've never been satisfied with the answers I've been able to articulate. It is a comfortable place, with a variety of fun activities, I know my way around, there is great food on property along with excellent cocktails served in beautiful seeings, and there are ample opportunities to practice different photographic techniques. So, the Disney parks and resorts fit well with some of my favorite hobbies and there's even a part of me that likes trying to outsmart the crowds and figure out how see and do more in a single day than most other guests would think possible. However, I could accomplish much of this without straying far from where I live, so there's more to why I choose to spend so much time in Central Florida and I will endeavor to answer that question for myself and for curious friends and readers in this series of blog posts.

Before leaving Disney's Hollywood Studios this past Tuesday I saw a sweet moment that I was able to capture with my camera. Goofy had just finished meeting with guests and was setting off on a break, when he looked over and saw a little girl with her father. I did not observe whether the little girl may have been agitated with someone that went wrong in her day or really excited to see Goofy walking past, but I did see that Goofy took her hand and started walking with her on his way to his break.

There are a couple ways to look at this. The most common is to say this was a moment of Disney "magic." However, I don't buy that explanation. What I do believe is that the environment inside the Disney World "bubble" is one where everyone is expected to behave differently than in other places. It is a world in which everyone is expected to be courteous and to look out for each other's safety and well-being. Those expectations are explicitly stated to Disney Cast Member's and [Spoiler Alert] there is an actual human being inside that Goofy costume who not only has been trained to try to make other people's days a little better, but has also been surrounded by other people trying to make other people happy. This Cast Member, who just spent half an hour picked kicked, grabbed, pushed, and shoved in 90 degree heat and humidity, while wearing an unwieldy costume he can barely see out of, could easily have rushed off for his air conditioned break and few people would have faulted him for doing so, but he instead chose to create a moment that this little girl and many of her family and friends will remember for a lifetime.

For the most part Disney Cast Members take great pride in fostering an environment where people look for ways to create joy and inspiration for each other, but it is not Cast Members alone that may Disney parks that happy places that they are. I can't claim to be an expert on human behavior, but it seems that we generally understand that there are different expectations for us in different places. I'm not talking about a set of rules posted on a wall someone, but rather that when we see other people giving gifts to other guests, checking to see if we can help a stranger who looks distraught, or just striking up a conversation with people we've never met before, then we seem more likely to emulate that behavior. We don't do this because someone said we would be thrown out of the park for failing to comply with a rule, but because we feel safe to do so and maybe because we think that if other guests are treated each other with this sort of kindness and respect that we should do the same.

I've experienced many examples of special guest behavior over the years, but one that stood out from my most recent trip was this past Monday night standing near the Partners statue in the Magic Kingdom Hub, waiting for the new Once Upon a Time fireworks show to start. Shortly before the show was scheduled to begin we heard a P.A. announcement that the evening's show was delayed. During the delay, a couple guests and I started talking about how the show wasn't likely to be canceled and speculating why the show wasn't starting when it appeared that rainstorms from earlier in the evening had passed out of the area. A little bit after the show's scheduled 9:00 PM start we found out why we were waiting for the show to start, when the skies opened up and rain began pouring down on us. I had my camera setup on a tripod to photograph the show and a couple thousand people stood between me and the nearest shelter, so there wasn't much choice other than to ride out the storm in place. I had ponchos for me and for my camera, but didn't have time to take either of those out of my backpack before this particular storm arrived. While I was scrambling to keep my camera (and eventually, myself) dry two people who I had never met before decided they needed to protect my camera and hold their umbrellas over top of it. I didn't ask them to do this, but I didn't need to. They understood that in Disney World we look out for each other.

Some people dismiss Disney parks as "fake" and contrived environments. Buildings are, indeed, often just facades and I realize I'm not seeing the original Eiffel Tower when I visit Epcot, but the parks are more than just buildings and attractions. The real Disney "world" is one in which people want to make a little girl's day better or where they don't want to see a stranger lose his camera to a surprise rain shower. We can do these things in the "real" world, too, but too often we don't, so until the rest of the world catches up, I'll still spend some of my time in Disney World.