Kudos: Alfred at Epcot’s Norway

As previously mentioned, during my trips, I like to make a note of any cast members that go above and beyond what I expect for my money. I thought sharing these stories might be a fun article series, so let’s get started.

During a recent visit to Epcot, I was enjoying sampling drinks and treats from the various World Showcase pavilions. Mostly drinks. I came across this beer stand in front of Norway:

Beer cart at Epcot’s Norway on April 7, 2019.

They had a Scandinavian beer listed which had a pronunciation guide. This caught my attention. The beer was called Aass Pilsner, an apparently Disney preferred people saying “Ouse” instead of … something else.

Norway’s Aass Pilsner, which is not pronounced that way, on April 1, 2019.

I tried one, and enjoyed it, even if I promptly forgot how it was pronounced.

Later during my visit, I passed through Norway again and wanted to check out the Kringla bakery.

Kringla bakery at Epcot’s Norway on April 7, 2019.

This used to be one of my “must do” things at Epcot back in the 1990s. They had a popular apple pastry I would always get, though I later found very similar ones at local bakeries so perhaps it wasn’t particularly Norwegian.

Looking inside on this trip, I saw no such pastry — or even anything close. Instead, I saw many items I hadn’t had before. Plus lots of Frozen themed treats. Of course.

Food items at Kringla bakery at Epcot’s Norway on April 1, 2019.

I also noticed they had alcohol bottles on display, which was something I don’t remember from my earlier days at pretty much any Epcot food location. (I still recall my surprise at finding a cart in Germany selling shots for the first time!)

Liquor bottles on display at Kringla bakery at Epcot’s Norway. April 1, 2019.

I tried a Viking Coffee, which I am sure is a culturally accurate representation of Norwegian culture 😉 It was coffee with Baileys Irish Cream, which is quite common here, and Kamora Coffee Liquor, which I had never heard of.

Epcot Norway’s Kringla Bakery menu board on April 1, 2019.

It’s amazing how tiny of a cup you get for $11.25 at Disney.

Later that evening, while camped out to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, I went on a food run. After walking practically the entire length of Word Showcase, I ended up back at Kringla. They had a Norwegian Club sandwich which looked tasty, even though I assumed it was another Disney invention. Much to my surprise, the cast member there explained that it was actually as special sandwich they had at home. He also introduced me to Lefse, which was a “soft flatbread rolled with cinnamon, sugar and butter.” It resembled a rolled tortilla. I also found out that the Aass Pislner was special, in that it was only available back in Norway and at Epcot.

I was set for a dinner, dessert and … another drink. The Lefse and sandwich were both delicious. The second Aass, even more so.

A bit later, I passed through the bakery one more time, to ask some questions about pronunciation. (“Uh, what was the thing I just ate called again?”) I spoke with the same cast member who had assisted me earlier, Alfred.

The bakery was slow at the moment, and Alfred took time to educate me a bit on Norwegian spelling, including writing out some of the alphabet characters they use:

A spelling lesson, compliments of Epcot Norway’s Alfred, on April 1, 2019. I saved this as a souvenir of my trip!

We also discussed the School Bread item, and I got a bit of a background about its history and cultural significance. He said it was one of the most popular pastries there.

So I left with a School Bread.

School Bread at the Kringla bakery at Epcot’s Norway on April 1, 2019.

This type of interaction is what I remember from the EPCOT Center I visited as a teenager in 1983. That was the first time I’d ever had any interaction with people from other parts of the world (other than Mexico, of course; I lived in Houston at the time and that was right next door). I was so glad to see Epcot still had ambassadors like Alfred.

Kudos to you, my foreign friend. I thank you so much for your time and attention, and for making my visit extra special.

Until next time…

Fantasmic and the Walt Disney World alcohol turning point in 1998.

UPDATES:

  • 2019-04-19: Added a 2014 version of the “beer tray” photo, compliments of DisneyDrinking.com.

In 1955, Walt Disney opened the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. After he passed away in 1966, his brother Roy continued part of Walt’s vision of his Florida Project. In 1971, he opened Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom theme park.

The 1970s were the era that I grew up in, and was exposed to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom during one amazing family road trip from Houston, Texas.

In 1982, EPCOT Center opened. It was the first Disney theme park that did not feature Disney characters! Yes, Virginia, there was a time when you couldn’t meet Mickey and every fairy tell princess at Epcot… Another first was the addition of alcohol to guests (if you ignore Holidayland at Disneyland, which served beer back when Walt was still alive and in charge).

In the early years, alcohol was limited to restaurants. You could buy a margarita at the quick service food stand in Mexico, but a cast member would make sure you did not carry the drink out to the rest of the park.

Obviously, at some point both of these things changed and now about the only thing you can’t get at the park is a photo of you holding a beer while standing next to a Disney character.

But I digress…

I don’t recall when the open carry policy for alcohol changed, but I do recall the first time I ever saw booze being sold “in the lanes.” I had visited Universal Studios Orlando earlier, and noticed they were selling booze in the lanes, and I clearly remember thinking “I wonder how long it will be before Disney does it?”

Within a year, apparently. The Disney/MGM Studios was opening a version of the Disneyland smash-hit Fantasmic!

Fantasmic! coming soon sign at Disney/MGM Studios on May 19, 1997.

By coincidence, I happened to be in town when they first did a soft-open preview performance. The wikipedia says the show opened on October 15, 1998, but I thought it was later, and that the earlier shows were for cast members only. I remember waiting in a long line for a chance to see it and the (first?) show was cancelled (or full?). The earliest photos I have are from October 16, 1998:

Fantasmic’s first public showing on October 16, 1998.

I don’t recall the details, but something happened that caused a swarm of people to go to guest relations that night:

Disney fans swarm guest relations on October 16, 1998.

I guess Disney fans were whiney back then, too. I seem to recall they did a second show and that is that one I watched. Perhaps this first night didn’t happen at all and I am remembering a second attempt later? I don’t seem to have any photos of the show from that night.

I have a photo from October 23 that shows was cancelled:

The brand-new Fantasmic cancelled on October 23, 1998.

Tonights? I guess people forget apostrophes even at Disney World!

It appears the first photos I took of the actual show were from October 24, 1998:

Fantasmic! on October 24, 1998.

Well, either my memory is wrong, or the Wikipedia is wrong, or the Mandela Effect is real. But that’s okay, because that has nothing to do with this article.

THIS is what I am writing about today:

Popcorn being sold to folks in line for Fantasmic! on October 16, 1998.

Well, not those popcorn sellers, specifically, but the whole concept of people walking around with trays of stuff to sell to folks standing in line. More specifically, people walking around with trays of beer to sell to folks standing in line! That’s what I saw the first time I tried to see this show.

Beer being sold to people in line on October 16, 1998.

Can you believe it? Disney had cast members walking around with a tray of beer cans, selling it to people standing in line for Fantasmic!

And that, my friends, may have been the first time Disney sold alcohol “in the lanes.” Do you know of any earlier instance?

Today, most ice cream carts seem to have a few beers on tap.

UPDATE: And, it seems the “beer in the lanes” trend continued. Here is a photo taken by DisneyDrink.com on June 1, 2014, showing a Fantastic-aproned cast member selling beer from a tray:

A Fantasmic! cast member selling bottled beer (poured into plastic cups) from a tray, and @DrunkAtDisney of DisneyDrinking.com, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on June 1, 2014. (Photo by DisneyDrinking.com).

My, how things have changed from the early years of Walt Disney World (no alcohol from 1971 to 1982, then limited alcohol at EPCOT Center) to what we have today (shots, ice cream “bars”, spiked drinks at coffee stands, etc.).

Until next time…

Epcot’s temporary food booths aren’t.

Wow. So many changes at Epcot since I last visited in 2006-2007… One that really stood out was all the “temporary” Food & Wine festival food booths now seem to be permanent.

The backside of an Epcot Morocco festival food booth on April 1, 2019.

Visiting during Food & Wine, then returning a few months later for the Garden Festival was … basically the same thing, except they changed the signs and menus, and I guess topiaries replaced food demonstrations.

At least they are decorated pretty nicely.

Taste of Marrakesh food booth at Epcot Morocco on April 1, 2019.

They still clash with the actual permanent structures around them, and the signage really stands out as “I’m a food booth, even if I’m a permanent building in a World Showcase pavilion.”

Still, all these unique menu items are fun (even at $7 or more for three bites or less).

$7 of food (Harissa Chicken Kebab) from Taste of Marrakesh food booth at Epcot on Apri 1, 2019.

And I should say, while the Epcot scenario no longer seems “special” to me, I quite enjoyed Disney California Adventure‘s Food & Wine event a few years ago. There, the booths disappeared after the event rather than remaining to clutter up the lanes.

I ask my audience: Do they ever remove these buildings? Quick connects on the power and water lines or something? Or are they really there every day? If so, are they always open?

Until next time…

Bryon, my 2007 Animal Kingdom bartender

In the late 90s, I used to travel with a PalmPilot PDA (a Palm III, actually). These PDAs (personal digital assistants) were what we used in the years before Androids and iPhones. I also had a snap on 14.4 modem (spiffy!) so I could dial in to my ISP and download/upload e-mail from a hotel, or even from a payphone (if it had a phone jack on it). High tech! Later I would upgrade to a Kyocera 6035 – one of the very first smartphones. It was a phone with a PalmPilot and modem built in! Higher tech!

I used my Palm III (and later, Kyocera) to take vacation notes and maintain a TO DO list of everything I wanted to see/ride/experience. These notes are how I used to document my trips on my 1990s website from my front page “news.”

But I digress.

When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I purchased one and brought it with me on Disney trips. It became my new notepad and TO DO list. Even though I’ve upgraded my phone a few times since then, my old notes and reminders I had migrated to my later phones.

Recently, I came across my “cast member kudos” notes I took during a trip in March 2007. If I ran into a CM who I thought was really exceptional and going above and beyond “typical Disney,” I’d make a note of them and write into to Disney to share my kudos after I returned home. (This is something I encourage all of you to do.)

My 2007 trip notes included the following:

Barry Plank City, FL photopass
bryon at Dawa Bar DAK
Tomoko, Yuki

Cast Member Kudos, March 2007

I don’t recall what PhotoPass Barry did to impress me, but I think Tomoko and Yuki were the fun CMs at the saki bar in Japan. (That was the first time I’d ever really been there.) But Bryon? He was one I think I remembered. I wondered if he might still be around, twelve years later…

Many things have changed since 2007. The Dawa Bar in Animal Kingdom, for example, has been rebuilt and relocated since I last saw it. Here’s the version I remember:

Dawa Bar on September 30, 2007.

And here’s what it looks like today:

Dawa Bar in 2018.

I decided to ask at the current incarnation of Dawa Bar if they knew of a bartender named Bryon. Indeed, the bartender I spoke of said he did, and informed me he was still with the company and currently working over at Epcot at the Garden Grill.

I now had a mission to find out if it actually the same Bryon that impressed me so much in 2007 that I included him on a very short list of cast member kudos?

The next day, I visited Epcot and made a specific trip into The LAND to ask about their Bryon.

Garden Grill in 2018.

To my surprise — their Bryon was indeed the Bryon I remembered! He’s been with the company for almost 30 years.

It’s a small world, after all!

If you make it to Epcot, and feel like a huge all-you-can-eat breakfast with visits from Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto, check out the Garden Grill and ask for Bryon. If he’s not around, Vickie is also great fun.

That’s your Park Hopping tip for the day. Use it wisely.

Until next time…

EPCOT turning points, part 2

In an earlier article, I speculated a bit on when EPCOT Center became the Epcot we know today. Today I’ll dive a bit deeper and include some comments from others.

Derek Mullins on Twitter commented:

From my observation, it was most likely the beginning of the sponsor losses, and the changes to be more thrilling (Test Track) and ‘hipper’ (Ellen’s Energy Adventure) in the mid-90’s. Of course, it’s all subjective, so I’m curious what answers you get.

Derek Mullins, @mewhunter67

Sponsor losses. That’s interesting, because sponsors go both ways. An existing ride could get a new sponsor which causes big changes… Or a ride could become sponsor less, and stay frozen as-is.

The comedic additions of Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy to Universe of Energy were certainly a change in feeling. That began in 1996.

Ellen is coming to Epcot! August 29, 1996.

World of Motion had closed and was to become Test Track in 1997.

Test Track opening spring 1997 on August 29, 1996.

The times they were a changing…

Howard Bowers on Twitter commented:

1999. Horizons is closed for the second time. Journey into Imagination is closed. Test Track is finally operational, having replaced World of Motion. And the 2000 wand is up next to Spaceship Earth.

Howard Bowers, @GoAwayGreen 

At this point in time, the park looked like this:

The ride’s closed. Mouse outside shoulda told you. November 11, 1999.
Lines out the door for the newly-opened Journey into YOUR Imagination. November 8, 1999.
The new Test Track with a 1 hour wait. November 11, 1999.
Epcot 2000?

Four notable changes certainly is a good percentage of the original attraction lineup. Howard also added…

Original Epcot took some hits in 1994 with the closing of Kitchen Kabaret and the addition of Food Rocks and the switch to Ellen’s Energy Adventure, along with Innoventions, but all of that still felt like Epcot, just the next generation. / Taking out Journey into Imagination and Horizons basically removed the Heart and Soul of Future World.

Howard Bowers

Ah, Kitchen Kabaret! Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit was the “it’s a small world” song of EPCOT Center… During my first visit with a digital camera, Food Rocks had already taken over:

Food Rock on August 29, 1996.

That was part of the sponsorship change from Kraft to Nestle.

The Land, presented by … the chocolate company? August 29, 1996

I recall many of “us” joked at the time that having a chocolate company take over the “healthy” pavilion made little sense. But it’s not about finding a sponsor that fits — it’s about finding a sponsor that will spend the money. At least Listen to the Land didn’t become a chocolate boat ride ala Willy Wonka! (Hmmm, that would have made great sense and fit the sponsor… It just would have not fit at Epcot…)

The loss of Imagination was sad, since no other attraction ever embodied just what “imagination” really was like better than that original dark ride. Still, the two updates (Journey into YOUR Imagination, and Journey into Imagination with Figment) at least tried to keep the theme rather than becoming, say, a Wreck It Ralph ride through.

But Horizons, well, that was just a total loss. Nothing put the “future” in Future World better than Horizons. And, unlike updates done to Tomorrowland, or the final scene of Carousel of Progress, the futures presented in Horizons would still be as futuristic today as they were in the 1980s. I think it had much more life left… Pity the crowds disagreed, and it was almost always a walk on when I visited.

The closed building made a nice backdrop for Cast in Bronze, at least.

Cast in Bronze performs in front of the closed Horizons on November 8, 1999.

I think this needs “to be continued”…

Until next time…

Final year Horizons cast member on October 24, 1998.

Happy new year!

Welcome to 2019!

Aren’t you glad Disney didn’t do this every year?

November 8, 1999.
November 7, 1999.
November 8, 1999.

Man, that thing was huge. It actually made Spaceship Earth look small!

November 8, 1999.

It was a massive structure.

November 8, 1999.

…which looked pretty nasty from the side.

November 8, 1999.
November 8, 1999.

But hey, it says “2000” on it, so it’s only going to hang around until the end of the next year. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Until next time…

EPCOT turning points.

At what point did EPCOT Center become Epcot? By this, I mean, at which point did the original vision change to what we have today? The proverbial “straw that broke the theme park’s back,” if you will.

First, some ground rules for this discussion. Let’s consider “original” EPCOT Center to be the theme park that opened in 1982, as opposed to Walt Disney’s dream for the E.P.C.O.T. that would have been an actual city that people lived and worked in.

EPCOT Center

In 1982, the name of the park was EPCOT Center. Here’s a look at the first park map, taken from the museum display on October 1, 1007 (the day the park celebrated its 25th anniversary):

Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com (Taken on October 1, 2007)

I have one of these maps, though it’s not preserved as well. Mine was on my wall as a child, and has been folded and unfolded many times, and kept in storage since then.

We will extend this “original Epcot” to include items that were not quite ready yet, but were added during the park’s first decade.

First, we have to ignore the Equatorial Africa (Future) as shown on this map since it was never built. We can include Morocco (also listed as Future) and Horizons (listed with a specific opening month). We will also include items this map didn’t even tease us with: Norway and Wonders of Life.

Future World

The original vision of the Future World side of the park was based around concepts such as Imagination, Energy, Motion and Communication. Then we had things like The Seas and The Land. Even at the start, the theme of Future World wasn’t fully cohesive, but each area had an icon, and it somehow all linked together quite nicely — at least through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.

I visited EPCOT Center the first summer it was open (1983). Because of Future World, it immediately became my favorite park. A few years later, though, I went back to liking Magic Kingdom the best. I wonder why? Was it after changes started being made, or did I just grow bored with the limited offerings compared to the castle park?

Finding Future World turning points are probably the easy.

World of Motion was an elaborate omnimover dark ride through animatronic scenes. It closed in 1996 (sadly, before I visited with my digital camera). In 1998, it  became Test Track, a high speed thrill ride…

November 8, 1999.

The theme of being in a General Motors auto testing facility didn’t quite fit with the surrounding pavilion concepts. This was definitely a turning point.

And then there was Horizons, which represented the vision of EPCOT better than anything else in the park:

May 22, 1997.

It was closed in 1999. It reopened in 2003 as Mission: Space, a high speed thrill ride:

Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com. October 2, 2007.

Mission Space is one of the few Disney attractions I will probably never ride. I can’t do spinny rides and, apparently, I’m not alone. Not too long after it opened, they halted one of the centrifuges and created a tame version of the ride that lets you watch the video without the spinning. I’ve at least gotten to ride that one, but why did Disney even build such an extreme ride for any of their parks, let alone Epcot?

Many other Future World attractions were updated, but they mostly retained the original concept or theme. Kitchen Cabaret became Food Rocks, Listen to the Land became Living With the Land, and Journey into Imagination changed, removing all the elaborate sets and animatronics and becoming a much shorter ride … then adding some of the animatronics back in a second update.

There were also changes to Communicore with the introduction of Innoventions, but I still think the concept of “real tech of literal tomorrow” made sense and could fit in fine if constantly updated. (I saw a “digital versatile disc” player for the first time there, and also a glasses-free 3-D display. One of these items became very popular, and the other I am still waiting on…)

Let’s move to the other side of the pond now…

World Showcase

World Showcase has remained fundamentally the same. Beyond the expansion of restaurants and more bars, the biggest change has been the insertion of Disney characters. Mexico’s El Rio del Tiemo (River of Time) became Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros…

December 7, 2006.
Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com.  October 1, 2007.

Norway’s Maelstrom became Frozen Ever After:

January 25, 1998. Before Fastpass!
September 15, 2018.

There weren’t many other attractions on this side of the park, else maybe there would be more updates like these two. But now that the park has changed, a Ratatouille ride coming to France seems to fit right in with this “new” Epcot. Probably.

So what was “patient zero” of this transformation from EPCOT Center to Epcot? The name officially became Epcot ’94 in 1994, and then Epcot ’95 a year later, then just Epcot. At some point the logo changed into a more whimsical one than the sleek 1980s futuristic one it opened with.

But surely this started happening before 1994. All I know is, the EPCOT Center I fell in love with is long gone. I like what is there, but mostly for the food and drinks. I wonder how popular the park would be without all the alcohol…

Maybe I can revisit this topic in the future.

Until next time…