Monday, April 08, 2019

Review of STK Orlando (Disney Springs)

We were invited this weekend to sample the brunch menu at STK in Disney Springs. The brunch concept isn't new in this location - that debuted about a year ago - but the menu turnover since then has been almost complete, so there is a lot to consider trying!

It's a brunch, so we sampled the mango sorbet and sparking rosé ($13) and the cucumber stiletto ($16) listed under the "liquid brunch" category. The rosé was all right, but not aligned with my personal taste buds. The cucumber stiletto, by contrast, was amazingly tailored for me. Hints of mint, cucumber, and St. Germaine, and a base of a Ketel One Citroen make for a great - and potent - brunch combination.

For food, we started with the cinnamon monkey bread ($6), which were soft bread knots meant to pull apart. There was cinnamon, all right, and a layer of baked sugar at the bottom, but it's the cream cheese icing that really makes this a can't-miss. Also, it was filling by itself.

The lemon-ricotta pancakes ($14) was essentially a dessert, and served surprisingly crispy. By outward appearances you'd think these were just pancakes, but each bite reminded you that mixed berries melded with the lemon curd, and you were surprised afresh.

I had tremendous bites of flavor with the crab cakes benedict ($25). The poached eggs were perfect, and the side asparagus salad is a bite by bite complement to be envied (just don't try for the salad alone; it lacks something by itself). The béarnaise sauce was a little much mustard for me, and while the flavor was there, it was also one of the more expensive dishes on the brunch menu.

If it's value you want, then one item in particular on the lunch menu (served at the same time) will be your clarion call: the $10 hamburger plate uses high quality meat - it's essentially a steakburger - at a price point cheaper than other burgers in Disney Springs (that surprised me) and clearly cheaper than any burger plate inside the parks, while also being a world of difference in quality and freshness. We'll be back just for that. But probably also that money bread!

Kevin Yee
Author of "Walt Disney World Hidden History" and other independent Disney books.
See for more information.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

A Tale of Two MaxPasses

I haven't posted to this blogger version of my site in four+ years - most of that time I was active at, which I finally stopped paying for due to lack of time to keep it properly updated.

That said, every so often I want to jot down ideas that are too big/long for social media, and I kind of like the permanence of a google-able record. So I dusted off this blogger platform. I guess I'll use this every so often now - but it's not my plan to return to frequent posting. Just occasional :)

Today I tackle MaxPass at Disneyland, from which I just returned after almost a week's worth of visits. If you don't know, MaxPass is $10/person for the right to make FastPass reservations from your phone, rather than walking to the attraction and getting the same (free) FastPass on paper. It also comes with free PhotoPass photos for the day. Note that MaxPass and FastPass could be used on the same day, because the reservation is really just a digital artifact attached to your park admission ticket (meaning you can't "get both" and have them overlap; it's all one system).

EDIT: this post was written on 1/6... the same day Disneyland increased MaxPass prices to $15 per person. I just found out about the price increase.

I was initially very skeptical. I know Disneyland well enough to navigate it without conscious thought (not an exaggeration) so how much benefit can the phone version bring? Turns out, enough.

We were a family of four, so this is $40/day worth of commitment. We used it on our first day at Disneyland, which, because of our multiday passes, also had ONE day of early entry. We were there right at 7am (operating day was 8am-midnight), and attacked the park. It was a mixture of standby and MaxPass, of course. For those curious, here were our results:

  1. Peter Pan
  2. Alice
  3. Matterhorn TL
  4. Nemo Subs 
  5. Haunted Mansion Holiday
  6. Pirates
  7. Space Mountain (MaxPass)
  8. Big Thunder 
  9. Jungle Cruise
  10. Winnie the Pooh 
  11. Casey Jr 
  12. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  13. Indy (MaxPass)
  14. Indy (re-ride due to ride breakage)
  15. Roger Rabbit (MaxPass)
  16. Small World Holiday (MaxPass)
  17. Matterhorn FL
  18. Haunted Mansion Holiday (MaxPass)
  19. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters (MaxPass)
  20. Minnie’s house. Chip-dale treehouse. Main Street cinema. 
Mind you, all this was done by 6pm - 11 hours in the park. We had a further six hours of operating park time available to us, but elected to end early due to travel fatigue and jet lag. We could have broken 30 rides... on December 26!! (I guess I didn't mention yet that this was during the busiest week of the year at Disneyland).

If you study our list, you'll see some patterns. Much of the MaxPass riding came late in the afternoon. The reason is that the return times increasingly push out into the evening, but you can stack up holding multiples ones (just not the same attraction over and over) until your time comes. You need only wait 90 minutes from the booking.

And that is a major benefit as far as I can see - 90 minutes is faster than the normal 120 minutes you have to wait if you didn't purchase MaxPass, and just scanned your ticket for the free FastPass. The MaxPass option gives you an earlier window.

The other thing I underestimated is how much time you save by instantly creating the next reservation at the 90 minute point. You may be standing in a 35-minute Matterhorn line, but with the phone you can grab that next reservation right away, instead of waiting to ride, then walking over to get the reservation. Those stray 30 minute bits add up big time!

And then there's the free PhotoPass, though we managed to not take the requisite Castle shot by some miracle of oversight. For those who care, though, this is also worth the money (side note: if all you care about is PhotoPass and not the early reservations, just have ONE person in your party pay the $10 upgrade).

Upshot: Disneyland benefited greatly from MaxPass. I went into it thinking we were spending money for something we get for free at WDW, but they aren't the same. There's the time window advantage and there's the PhotoPass benefit, but the overall USAGE of reservations is different in Anaheim. True, in Orlando, you get to make selections ahead of time - one month in the case of us annual passholders. But it's hard to get the BEST rides that way in Orlando (especially for those of us not staying at a Disney hotel), but the Anaheim version is more egalitarian. You start the day with NO ONE having reservations, so you can get what you want. If you start early enough and plan cleverly enough, you can get all of what you want, perhaps even multiple times. As you see above, we scored six reservations on one of the busiest days of the year--something you'd have trouble doing in Orlando even in the off-season, and it wouldn't be the top-tier attractions (those are sold out months early).

Enthused, we bought MaxPass the second day, in DCA. That turned out to be a mistake. Malfunctions on Radiator Springs Racers conspired against our carefully laid plans, and we stuck it out in the Standby line when we should have aborted (and, as we learned later, just use the single rider line). As a result, our first two reservations expired without being used, and I learned that the attractions computers have no way of knowing I had those reservations, and the CMs are rightfully worried I might just be making it up. (For those curious, the problems came from not assuming the worst once Racers broke. We stayed in the standby line as the announced wait time ticked up... and up... and up, and ultimately spent 3+ hours in here and missed our reservations - we were hoping we could come late and just explain, but we didn't know their computers would keep no records. Also, we had a smaller-than-usual list of rides we cared about since much we'd seen before or had in Orlando, so we stuck it out in this line longer than we would have in Disneyland).

Guest Relations helped, sort of, with two "make up" reservations not part of our paid plan (but not Racers, one of the ones which had expired). The GR Cast Member shared, somewhat conspiratorially, that the free legacy paper FastPasses were probably the way to go in DCA, and we agreed.

So: skip MaxPass at DCA, but use it to great effect at Disneyland. Start as early as you can for maximum benefit. And plan very carefully which rides you'll do in the morning rush ("morning advantage"), which you'll do in the peak of the day, and which you'll do in the late evening, especially once Fantasmic and the fireworks start and lines start to slow. If you aren't doing MaxPass every day, delay shows and fireworks for a different day.

Kevin Yee
Author of "Walt Disney World Hidden History" and other independent Disney books.
See for more information.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dick Tracy movie tribute in Backlot Tour warehouse

Just a few moments after you enter the warehouse on the Backlot Tram Tour, look to your right to find a display case on the wall. 

First, ogle with me the park map displayed here, which shows the park back when it was called Disney-MGM Studios... a true remnant lying around in plain sight.

Then, let your eyes travel upward to a poster above the display case.

Who is district attorney (John) Fletcher? It turns out this is a character in the Disney movie Dick Tracy (1990) - and the photo here shows the same actor/character, so it's the sort of "all in" tribute Disney does best!

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Monday, January 27, 2014

WDW Clicks #13 - Spice Road Table, Smokehouse, All Star Sports dining area

WDW Clicks #13 is now online!

We visit the new counter service Smokehouse at House of Blues, then also drop in to finally sample (and photograph) Spice Road Table, which opened a couple of weeks ago. We tour the new dining room of All Star Sports, which includes a very cool tribute to a Disney fan (rather than a Disney insider) for a change. Finally, we unveil a (small?) spoiler about the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, so skip the last part of the video if you don't want to hear of something I assume they want kept as a surprise.

Direct link:

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Spoiler: An unexpected ride feature on Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster confirmed by photo

As construction has proceeded on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster over the months, I've come to suspect that the big drop from the mountain (which faces the Be Our Guest castle) has a double drop to it. My telephoto shots of the area, taken while holding the camera over my head many yards back from the construction wall, seemed to imply that the visible drop coming out of the tunnel was preceded by an earlier, short drop while still inside the tunnel. But the light was always tricky and it was hard to see inside the tunnel.

This last weekend I finally happened to be there when the interior work lights were on, and it was clear to see even without the telephoto lens that indeed, we're looking at two drops for this thrilling moment of the attraction.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, even in the world of Disney park tributes

When you're a Hidden History hunter, practically every anomaly gets you to question whether there's an inside connection. After all, there are no accidental "71s" in the Magic Kingdom, and all those random numbers you see on pipes usually look like some variation of birth dates and years. Photos of kids have to come from somewhere - is it a stretch to think maybe the Imagineers used pics of their own kids?

When you get to an attraction rich with inside jokes like Carousel of Progress - lots of Hidden Mickeys (sorcerer hat, abstract painting, nutcracker, sorcerer plates) and at least one Imagineer call out (to Herb Ryman, whose name can be seen through the window in the 1920s scene) - you're on high alert.

You know especially that the bulletin board and dry erase board in the finale scene are full of insider things.

On the dry erase board, you've got a reference to 1401, the address on Flower Street in Glendale where Imagineering is based.

There's the famous post-in note saying "Marty called -- wants changes" in reference to then-head of Imagineering Marty Sklar.

So when you take your zoom lens and locate a business card on the same corkboard, the tendency is to think you've hit upon another reference and homage. Take this business card from just below the Marty reference:

Perhaps your first thought, like mine was, is that Roger Everett must be an Imagineer associated with the project, who found a way to make himself timeless! But it doesn't appear to be. I couldn't find evidence of Roger Everett having worked at Imagineering (this is not conclusive, btw), so I turned to an open Google search.

What I found online is that "Roger Everett" is the name of someone who actually does carpentry work in the Orlando area. In other words, probably there is no Imagineering connection, but this could be a tribute of sorts. One assumes Mr. Everett assisted in the 1990s refurbishment of the attraction, and got to include his calling card as a kind of... er, calling card... in the finished experience.

So it's not a smoking gun connection to an Imagineer. That makes this a red herring search in a way, but as the title of the post says, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Diagon Alley details - from the Universal webcast on Jan. 23 (pics)

Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative (which is like Imagineering for Universal), gave a briefing from a Gringott's vault set today and revealed some details about the upcoming Diagon Alley expansion to Universal Studios Florida:

  • Opening is "months away" (this summer)
  • "Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott's" is the official name of the attraction.
  • There will be not just Diagon Alley, but also Nocturn Alley

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WDW Clicks #12 - Diagon Alley, CityWalk, Monster Jam, More

Diagon Alley updates at Universal (including a tiny peek at Leaky Cauldron), plus CityWalk construction, Falcon's Fury construction at Busch Gardens Tampa, Monster Jam truck event at Citrus Bowl in Orlando this Saturday, and a new Walt Disney World Earbook (for calendar year 2013) is now on sale!

Direct link:

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Diagon Alley photo update

I dropped by Universal on Monday and saw that the construction scaffolding was mostly down, though there is still some fine detail work to be done. The insides are nowhere near done. But check out this telephoto shot through one doorway:

Enjoy the rest of the photos!

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Tribute on Space Mountain to movie Armageddon

Somewhat-new video screens at the exit upramp to Space Mountain (in Orlando) show astronauts in posed scenes with some fake quotes. The names attributed to those quotes - Commander Dan Truman and Grace Stamper, are characters from the Disney movie Armageddon (1998)--played by Billy Bob Thornton and Liv Tyler, respectively. 

Click any image for a larger version:

These screens are likely part of the personalization effects that will come from MagicBands in the near future.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Matterhorn tribute in Expedition Everest (explained)

There's a somewhat-new (added in 2013) series of videoscreens at the very end of the queue for Expedition Everest in Disney's Animal Kingdom. This will presumably become part of MyMagic+ and give personalized shout-outs to visitors, courtesy of MagicBands.

One screen shows a fanciful yeti product. But look closer. There are two references here to Disneyland's yeti attraction, the Matterhorn, which opened decades before Expedition Everest.

First, the fake quote by Klaus Wesselhoft is a clear reference to a character in the movie Third Man on the Mountain (1959), played by Lee Patterson. That movie was about the real Matterhorn, but in filming it, Walt realized he wanted his own Matterhorn at Disneyland, so that was built concurrently.

Then, examine the tin of yeti meats and you'll see yet another representation of the mythical creature. That alone is no surprise; the whole conceit of the queue is that we don't know exactly what he looks like, so there are lots of different images. But THIS image looks a lot like the Abominable Snowman from Disneyland's Matterhorn (added years after Walt died), which would make it a second tribute on the same poster!

Yeti tinned meats.

Disneyland's Harold; photo copyright Disney.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Monster Jam coming to Orlando this weekend (preview pics and review of same event from Tampa)

This Saturday in Orlando is Monster Jam, a monster truck event held in the Citrus Bowl. I was recently invited to nearby Tampa to see the same show a week early, so I could write up the experience here in this blog. 

I should preface this review by pointing out that I have never in life before attending a monster truck event (my brain wants to call them monster truck "rallies" but I suspect that word has been out for a few decades.) I kind of vaguely recall the era of Bigfoot in the late 70s or early 80s but don't know much at all about this sport. I brought along my wife and two boys (10 and 7) who were all equally naive about what to expect.

Let me just jump to the punchline: by the end of the night, my entire family felt we had a GREAT time and we will be going next year - the only question is whether we buy the cheap seats or spring for the closer ones. Neither are that expensive, really, especially when compared to baseball and football seats.

The event starts at 7pm and doesn't finish until a while later (9:30, maybe? Or was it 10:00?) so young kids expecting an early bedtime might be cranky for a bit. But the last half of the show is likely to be gripping for most of them.

The show is split into roughly two parts: racing and then "freestyle." Racing is time trials (two trucks on the course of obstacles and ramps/jumps at the same time), and whoever has the lowest score advances to the next round. Eventually there's a winner, but this takes a while, and for a novice it stretches just a little long. My seven year old was getting tired by this point.

A short intermission separated the two halves, and then the Freestyle began, which meant each truck would do what it could to impress the judges in a minute and a half--jumps, smashing cars laid on the course, spinouts and doughnuts, and so forth. This part was way more entertaining. Some of the trucks, you see, end up trying to do more than they could handle, and tip over. The excitement of watching almost-tips was way more than I expected. And if someone managed to pull OUT of an expected tip-over, that was cause for a great wave of euphoria rippling through the crowd. Eventually, a couple of the more experienced drivers pulled off a few backflips off the steep ramps, which I have to admit were pretty darn impressive.

This is the sort of event that introduces fireworks during the National Anthem. Two kinds, actually. One for the "rockets' red glare" and a different, louder variety for "the bombs bursting in air." There are pyrotechnics when the trucks first arrive also, and an even bigger show, all around the arena, when the show reaches its conclusion.

The trucks and drivers are all in a competition for points, which gives the event drama. The fan favorite (and playbill headliner) "Grave Digger" seemed to always score the highest marks, but I'm too ignorant here to know if this is intentional. They inject a lot of info about the drivers - it was father and son in the Grave Digger and Grave Digger Legend trucks on our visit.

Press photo - click for larger version

The cheapest seats in the house cost less than what you'd pay per person for the most expensive movie tickets (IMAX and 3D), yet this stadium event is almost 3 hours long, so it's roughly in line with what "amusement" costs in Florida.

It's pretty far afield of the kinds of amusements we usually discuss here in Orlando and Central Florida, but it *is* still an attraction, no doubt about it. We really will be back for this!

We did wander the Pit Party before the show, and now that we know the trucks a little better, next time it will be even more of a treat to take pictures with them before the big event.

The show on Saturday Jan. 25 takes place in the Citrus Bowl.

Press Release about this Saturday's show:

About:                        MONSTER JAM® is one of Orlando’s most popular and largest single-day stadium events, attracting capacity crowds of over 60,000 fans. A huge field of sixteen monster trucks will compete in side-by-racing and the fan-favorite freestyle competition. One of the many highlights of this year’s event is the return of fan favorite Dennis Anderson (originator and driver of GRAVE DIGGER) to the city and stadium he calls his favorite. The annual motor sports spectacle is the final event before demolition begins on the Florida Citrus Bowl.
One show only: Saturday, January 25th
Gates Open at 5 pm. Opening Ceremonies at 6:30 pm. Racing Starts at 7 pm.
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, 1610 W. Church Street, Orlando, FL 32805
Advance purchase SuperValue Tickets are ONLY $15. $35 VIP / $25 Sideline.
& Purchase:             Tickets are on sale now at all Ticketmaster outlets, the Amway Center Box Office, or charge by phone at 800-745-3000 or Tickets will also be available day of show at the Citrus Bowl.  All seats reserved. Subject to facility fee, plus convenience and handling charges. Don’t wait – buy tickets in advance as prices go up $5 more the week of show. Get more show information at (click on “Tickets” and search for Orlando January 25th).

  • Discounts:                       Fans can save $15 with a Buy 3 Get 1 FREE 4-pak ticket voucher deal at area Metro PCS locations while supplies last.    
  •                                     Fans can save up to $5 on individual tickets with a Coupon available from area McDonald’s restaurants.

Show Details:            Central Florida will heat up this January when 1,500 horsepower, 10,000-pound monster trucks compete in side-by-side racing and the fan-favorite freestyle competition where each monster truck gets up to 120 seconds to “wow” the crowd with huge jumps, wheelies, truck-spinning donuts, flips, and the destruction of cars, vans, buses, motor homes and more.  Four-time World Champion, Dennis Anderson, returns to his favorite city driving the legendary monster truck he created 32 years ago, GRAVE DIGGER.  After his sensational 2013 debut, Ryan Anderson will be joining his father driving SON UVA DIGGER
The event will also feature 11-time and reigning World Champion MAXIMUM DESTRUCTION, plus Latino favorite EL TORO LOCO, MOWAWK WARRIORICE CREAM MANMONSTER MUTT ROTTWEILER, the Orlando debut of Nicole Johnson driving SCOOBY, and more yet-to-be announced motorsports competitors. The official title of the event is Metro PCS, McDonald’s, 1-800-Ask-Gary, Budweiser & Your Southern Ford Dealers present MONSTER JAM®.
Fans can go behind the scenes, meet the drivers for autographs and 
photo ops, and see the monster trucks up close at the World’s Ultimate Pit Party at Tinker Field from 1:30-5pm. Purchase a pit pass for only $10 more when buying tickets at Ticketmaster or the Amway Center Box Office. Or, pick up a free pit pass at participating Orlando area Southern Ford Dealers beginning January 6th (while supplies last).  Pit Passes, along with a valid event ticket, get fans into the Pit Area. Fans can also have the opportunity to ride in a real monster truck before the show between 1-7 pm in the lot across from Gate D.  Monster Truck Rides are $10 per rider. 

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.