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Legendary Epcot chef Paul Bocuse dies at 91

By Robert Niles
Published: January 20, 2018 at 9:14 AM
Paul Bocuse, the famed French chef whose family went on to open Les Chefs de France and Monsieur Paul in Epcot's France pavilion at the Walt Disney World Resort, has died. He was 91.

Bocuse's main restaurant, L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon, France, long has been hailed as one of the world's top restaurants, winning the maximum three stars from the Michelin Guide. Bocuse was one of the leading early proponents of French nouvelle cuisine and the French Interior called him the "pope of gastronomes" in a tribute today.

Bocuse's son, Jerome Bocuse, manages the Les Chefs de France and Monsieur Paul restaurants at Epcot, hiring chefs from the Bocuse restaurant family.

Monsieur Paul serves Paul Bocuse's most famous dish, the Soupe aux truffes V.G.E.. Named for Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (the VGE in the title and the French President in the mid-1970s when Bocuse created the dish), the soup offers beef broth and finely diced oxtail, carrots, onions and celery, with a larger dice of mushroom pate, flavored with slices of black winter truffle and crowned with puff pastry.

A model for entrepreneurial celebrity chefs, Bocuse created the Bocuse d’Or international cooking competition in the 1980s, whose finals once were held at Epcot.


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Efteling seeks expansion for new attraction in 2020

By Robert Niles
Published: January 19, 2018 at 10:04 AM
Dutch theme park Efteling (winner of last year's Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park) is seeking approval for a 20-acre expansion in order to build a new attraction for 2020.

The park has proposed rezoning 20 acres on the eastern edge of the park, south of the Efteling Hotel, to allow the park to expand. That plan will be considered by the local council this summer. However, Efteling is asking for earlier approval for a part of that plan — to allow the rezoning of about seven acres in order to start site prep for construction of an as-yet-unannounced new attraction for 2020.

Efteling expansion plan

The plan would expand the Travel Kingdom land of the park and will require the relocation of the Efteling Hotel's entrance to the park, which will become a direct entry under the expansion plans. Efteling and the local government currently are diverting an access road that runs through the proposed expansion area. That work is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Consider this a green light for fans to start speculating about what new attraction they would like to see the park add for 2020, as well as what else they would like to see Efteling do with this expansion area in the years beyond that. Ideas?

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What's happening this winter at Disney World and Orlando's other parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 18, 2018 at 2:31 PM
Yesterday, we previewed the special events that theme parks in Southern California are offering this winter to keep fans coming back between now and the start of spring break. Today, let's head out to the east coast and look at what's happening this winter at Walt Disney World and the other major theme parks in the Orlando area.

The first big festival of 2018 is underway already at Walt Disney World, where the Epcot International Festival of the Arts runs through February 19. The second annual event features the expected food and drink booths, along with art seminars and workshops, and a "Disney on Broadway" concert series running three times nightly on Fridays through Mondays at the America Gardens Theater.

Salmon Tartare
Salmon Tartare from the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Photo courtesy Disney

After that wraps, Epcot's International Flower & Garden Festival starts February 28 and runs through May 28. Get ready for selfies-with-topiaries throughout the park, along with even more food stands to keep people hovering over trash cans to use as makeshift tables.

At the Wide World of Sports complex, Disney is welcoming the NFL Pro Bowl next week, with team practices and the NFL Pro Bowl Experience on January 24 through 27, leading up to the NFL's annual all-star game at Orlando's Camping World Stadium on January 28. (Fans who want to see the practices must register with the NFL's Fan Mobile Pass first.)

Over at Universal Orlando, the annual Celebration of Harry Potter starts one week from tomorrow, running January 26-28. This year's film talent for Universal's Potter Con include James Phelps [Fred Weasley], Oliver Phelps [George Weasley], Natalia Tena [Nymphadora Tonks], Bonnie Wright [Ginny Weasley], and Stanislav Yanevski [Viktor Krum]. (Here's last year's recap video from the park.)

Next month, Universal's Mardi Gras starts at Universal Studios Florida, running February 3 through April 7. Here's the concert line-up, which features Macklemore and Sean Paul. This year's event also will feature half a dozen new celestial-themed floats for the nightly (family-friendly) Mardi Gras parade.

Finally, SeaWorld Orlando kicks off its weekends-only Seven Seas Food Festival on February 17. The event features Asian, Latin, European, Polynesian and North Atlantic food and beverage marketplaces, as well as a concert series in the Bayside Stadium (artists TBA). The festival runs Saturdays and Sundays through April 15.

What's your favorite late-winter special event at the nation's theme parks?


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Voodoo Doughtnut is coming to Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: January 18, 2018 at 10:17 AM
The Universal Orlando Resort announced this morning that Portland, Oregon-based Voodoo Doughtnut will be coming to Universal's CityWalk this spring.

The Orlando location will be the first east of the Mississippi for the novelty doughnut chain, which is best known for its risqué designs. Voodoo opened last spring at Universal Studios Hollywood's CityWalk... with a notably more family-friendly collection of doughnuts available.

Orlando's Voodoo Doughnut will be located next to the NBC Sports Grill & Brew. There's no more specific official opening date yet.

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What's happening this winter at Disneyland and SoCal's other parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 17, 2018 at 8:12 PM
With the holidays now over, Disneyland and the rest of Southern California's theme parks are programming a variety of special-event festivals to keep fans coming back to the parks between now and the start of spring break.

Three parks are offering Lunar New Year festivals this winter, starting with Disney California Adventure on Friday, January 26. This year's festival will welcome the return of the park's China, Korea, and Vietnam food marketplaces, serving Xiao Long Bao (pork soup dumplings), Kimchi Bokkeumbap (vegetable fried rice), and Chao Tom (Sugar cane shrimp skewer), among other small plates and beverages. Paradise Garden Grill will be serving its seasonal menu, including Pho soup and Banh Mi sandwiches. The "Hurry Home" preshow returns for World of Color, and Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession will run in front of the Paradise Gardens. The event runs daily through Sunday, February 18.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Lunar New Year runs February 10 through the 25th and brings Po's Village to Universal Plaza, where guests can order noodles and dim sum from Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. Po and Tigress from Kung Fu Panda will be posing for photos, as will the Mandarin-speaking Megatron and Gru's Minions, in Chinese attire. (What could go wrong?)

SeaWorld San Diego's Lunar New Year event runs the same dates and includes Asian food selections, an acrobatics show, and — because it's the Year of the Dog — a Puppy Garden where visitors can watch puppies at play, while the guests learning about adoption options from local shelters.

Knott's Berry Farm is celebrating its Peanuts characters with a new event that runs on weekends starting January 27 through February 25 (plus on President's Day, as well). Knott's Peanuts Celebration features photo ops and new shows with the characters, an "Animation Academy"-style Peanuts Sketch School in the Bird Cage Theatre, and Woodstock's Music Festival (I see what they did there...) on the Calico Stage at night.

Later this winter, Disney, Knott's, and SeaWorld bring back their annual food festivals, starting with the California Food & Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure on March 2. The event will feature 13 food and beverage marketplace kiosks as well as cooking demonstrations on the Hollywood Land Stage on Thursdays through Sundays. Disney also is offering $99-a-seat, reservation-only events at the Hyperion Theater featuring celebrity chefs Guy Fieri, on March 9, and Robert Irvine, on March 30. The festival runs through April 12.

Knott's Boysenberry Festival runs March 16 through April 8 and will feature a wide variety of sweet and savory Boysenberry dishes offered throughout the park. SeaWorld's Seven Seas Food Festival runs March 17 through April 15 and will include dishes from around the world as well as a new "7 Daring Flavors" challenge, featuring "some of the world’s most exotic ingredients." Stay tuned for more on those events in the weeks leading up to their start.

Tomorrow: We look at the late-winter festivals at Walt Disney World and Orlando's theme parks.

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Let's review Walt Disney World's new Star Wars VR experience

By Eric Freilich
Published: January 17, 2018 at 11:53 AM
If you’ve dreamed of joining the Rebellion against the Empire, then Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire by the VOID at Walt Disney World's Disney Springs (and Disneyland's Downtown Disney) can make your dream come true. The attraction was created by ILMxLAB and The VOID and is located in Disney Springs in the Marketplace where the former middle room of Once Upon a Toy once stood. Branded as a “cutting-edge hyper-reality experience,” it combines a virtual world with multiple sensory effects and an original storyline to immerse guests in the Star Wars Universe.

My journey began by purchasing my tickets through the official website or Atom Tickets (online or through their app) and selecting my arrival time. It’s important to arrive at the selected time, as when I visited towards the end of December, employees were asking guests who arrived early to wait to enter as they were running at full capacity.

Once it was time to check in, I entered the lobby and used a tablet to locate my ticket and sign a liability waiver. Guests must be at least 10 years old and 48 inches tall to experience the attraction, and those under 16 need a parent or guardian present to sign the waiver. Inside the lobby, they play a brief video on a loop highlighting the experience, and there is also a counter to purchase T-shirts and walk-up tickets, if they are offering them at the time. On the day I visited, they were turning away guests without a reservation, so it is a good idea to purchase tickets in advance.

I checked in and received a wristband with a unique QR code that I had to wear throughout my visit. I waited about 45 minutes in line before entering the briefing room. Employees bring up to eight guests at a time into the next room and divide them into two teams of four. Each guest is assigned a spot on which to stand and teams are greeted by Cassian Andor from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, who briefs them on their mission to go undercover and infiltrate an enemy base to retrieve an important artifact.

We were then directed to scan our wristbands on the tablet in front of us to customize our avatars. We assumed the role of a Rebel spies posing as Stormtroopers, and could choose from several colors to help us identify each other during our mission. I experienced some technical issues getting the tablet to read my QR code, so I didn’t have much time to select my avatar’s uniform color.

After the computer created our avatars, Cassian returned to the screen and provided details on our mission. Another staff member then led us to the next room where we received our gear and suited up. Our gear consisted of a vest that reminded me of my laser tag days; and, I found it comfortable once making some adjustments. My headset fit over my glasses, and although it was a bit snug with the chin strap, a few twists and turns of the attached knobs helped. The combined gear weighed around ten pounds, which is one of the reasons for the aforementioned age and height requirements. This was also one of the few times I was allowed to take pictures, and the staff on hand offered to help us capture the moment. They then scanned our wristbands again to register us with the computer and then it was time to lower our visors and line up at the entrance to the arena.

Geared up for Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire

When I lowered my visor, I saw the entrance to our shuttle, and the computers powering the attraction did a superb job of creating the virtual world we entered; although there were several times when my avatar’s hands disappeared. We could also see, and communicate with, each other through the headset. When the “real” doors in front of us opened we stepped into our shuttle’s hangar and took a seat. Yes, we really did sit down on a bench, as the creative team physically engineered every object with which we interacted, including doors, buttons, and droids. [Here's the teaser trailer:]

Our guide, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk and just as snarky as in Rogue One), informed us we were about to land on Mustafar where our objective was waiting inside a heavily guarded Imperial base. All of a sudden, our shuttle was intercepted by the Empire, and we were directed to land and prepare to be escorted into the facility. We exited our shuttle and walked across a narrow bridge onto another transport. Although I knew my feet were firmly planted on the ground, the combination of the heat and smell of the virtual lava flowing several hundred feet below made me step cautiously onto the waiting platform.

Our host led us into the facility and directed us to wait in a locked room until receiving further instructions. I pulled a handle next to me and found a closet with blasters which I distributed to my team. My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to test it by blasting a hole in the wall which caused the alarm to sound - so much for being discreet.

We found ourselves fighting off a steady stream of Stormtroopers, whose aim was much more accurate than their movie counterparts, and I could feel each shot hitting me. Fortunately, there are no “lives” in the game, so there aren’t any consequences for not stepping out of the way of incoming fire. After all, when paying $29.95 plus tax to play, getting eliminated early on would be disappointing. This was one of the few times that the attraction felt repetitive; however, the monotony was soon broken up by a fight with the game’s first boss.

We emerged victorious and made our way further into the complex fighting off several dozen more Stormtroopers along the way. We soon found ourselves trapped in a locked room and took turns solving a Simon-like puzzle, coached by K-2SO, while the rest of us provided cover fire. After several attempts, we successfully unlocked the door and located our objective. The attraction came to a climax as we faced the final boss, whose identity I will leave a surprise, and we successfully retrieved the object we were seeking and escaped on our shuttle.

We exited the arena and found ourselves in the room where we received our gear, which the staff helped us remove, and were asked to complete a brief survey about our experience. I didn’t have time to do so; however, I would have given it high marks.

Overall, I highly recommend making Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire part of your visit to Walt Disney World. I’m not sure if they can modify the attraction as the physical sets are tied to the virtual experience, which somewhat limits the replay value. That aside, I very much enjoyed my visit and think others will as well. May the Force be with you!

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Finding the taste of Ireland at Dublin's Guinness Storehouse

By Natalie Niles
Published: January 16, 2018 at 12:33 PM
Last month, as I was wrapping up my semester abroad, I squeezed in a visit to the Guinness Storehouse during a weekend trip to Dublin, Ireland. Among my bubble of college-age friends who were abroad across Europe, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse almost was obligatory. Friends from Denmark to Spain had managed to add trips to Dublin into their busy schedules, and nearly every person I knew who went to Dublin visited the Guinness Storehouse. With more than 1.7 million visitors last year, the Storehouse has become Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, following a 2011 redevelopment by theme park design firm BRC Imagination Arts.

Before my trip to Dublin, I’d seen dozens of pictures people had been tagged in on social media — Facebook albums and Instagram posts of friends cupping Guinness pints in the Storehouse Gravity Bar, grinning through beer-foam mustaches. I didn’t know much about Guinness at the time, just that I liked their beer and I’d seen some cool, old-timey-looking Guinness posters in a few bars that featured cute cartoon animals. However, despite any real passion for or knowledge about the company, my friend Madison and I were quick to book tickets for the Storehouse tour upon our arrival in Ireland.

On our first taxi ride into the city the next morning, we drove by the St. James Gate, which is the entrance to the Guinness brewery. Our taxi driver launched into an in-depth history of the gate. He told us that the gate itself has been popularly associated with the brewing industry since the 1600s, when it was the traditional starting point for pilgrims setting sail from Dublin to Spain. They would get drunk at the gate before heading off on their lengthy and precarious journey. The way he wove this tale made it sound almost like folklore, and I began to think of the Storehouse with an air similar to how I imagine little Charlie thought of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. What’s behind that big famous gate? Why is everyone I know so hellbent on visiting this place... isn’t it just beer?

In a sense, yes, it is all about the beer, but the experience of the Storehouse tour is more than just a long-winded explanation of the Guinness brewery process. When I entered the Storehouse alongside the three friends I was traveling with, we were immediately herded up a staircase, which was pulsing with fluorescent orange lights. The staircase opens up to the gift shop (where we would later spend more money than I’d like to admit), and the tour commences in the first room across the gift shop. The basic tour tickets we had purchased (the price runs from €17.50-25) allowed us to do a self-guided tour, and we had fun going at our own pace, touching all the fun things that made the first floor of the tour the delightfully tactile experience that it was.

Inside the Guinness Storehouse
Photos by Madison Etherington

As speakers around the room explained the vital roles of barley, hops, and water in the brewing process, we sunk our hands into a giant sandbox of barley, strolled past lush rows of hops, and walked underneath a giant waterfall (which really did make it feel like Willy Wonka’s factory). The Storehouse is shaped like a giant cylinder, which made me feel like I was walking my way up a giant glass pint of beer as the tour continued higher and higher up each circular floor. The ending point? An entire floor of bars, where everyone with a tour ticket gets a free pint.

At the suggestion of a friend who was living in Dublin at the time, we scurried up to the top of the Storehouse at the beginning of our 4pm tour so we could catch the sunset from the Gravity Bar (a bar on the top floor with a 360° view of the city - it’s doubling in size under a new €16m [US$18.5m] expansion). We enjoyed our free pints and the view of Dublin, then worked our way down the Storehouse as it got dark outside. I’m not sure if the tour was strategically created to be done from the bottom up, but if we were doing it backwards, I didn't notice. Each floor focuses on a certain attribute of Guinness. The lower floors are dedicated to explaining the basics of the brewing process and the history of the company, and the upper floors focus on advertisements, and the experience of drinking a Guinness beer (complete with an opportunity to learn the proper pint-pouring techniques, in order to maximize the quality of your Guinness drinking experience).

Guinness Gravity Bar

My favorite floor by far was the third floor, the “World of Advertising.” Guinness is known for its plethora of charming advertising campaigns and slogans. From John Gilroy’s zoo themed adverts and the famous whistling Guinness oyster to more modern TV adverts, the third floor is a trip through Guinness history characterized by wacky animal sculptures, stretching screens, and photo booths. The most amazing/ridiculous part though? An animatronic fish riding a bicycle alongside the Guinness ad slogan, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Playing the Guinness harp

With its numerous restaurants, hands on activities, and captivating visuals, the Storehouse tour caters to all the senses, and we could’ve easily stayed in there all day. With the new expansion currently in the works, I image it will be an even more immersive experience in the near future. We came out around three hours after our tour's start time, draped in souvenirs and awed by all we had learned. I was most awed to learn that the state emblem of the Republic of Ireland is a wire-strung harp, but Guinness had made the same harp its emblem decades prior, so when the Republic of Ireland was creating its emblem they had to flip the image of their harp so as not to infringe on Guinness’ copyright. That’s how integral this company is. They literally had the emblem of Ireland before Ireland did. That being said, a trip to Dublin doesn't feel complete without a trip to the Guinness storehouse. It is a fun, educational, family-friendly experience that quite literally gives you the perfect taste of Ireland.

For more information and tickets:

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