Sunday, November 13, 2016

Taking a break

Beyond the general busy-ness I've alluded to the past few posts, I've been feeling pretty down following the results of Tuesday's election. The title of this blog is, "This Makes Me Happy," and right now, I'm not feeling very happy. I'm going to take a break from writing for a few weeks to a month or so, and focus on rediscovering those things that make me happy, without the added pressure of a self-imposed weekly blog deadline. Once I'm feeling more myself, I'll start posting again.

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Haunted Mansion Tsum Tsums

While I had hoped to have a cool Haunted Mansion-related post every Friday in October, real life got in the way in the form of work, sick cats, jury duty, and scorpions in our yard. So the detailed entry about the Haunted Mansion Ghost Post is going to have to wait for another time. However, just in time for Halloween, here is a gallery of Haunted Mansion Tsum Tsums.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Disney Kingdoms Haunted Mansion

Disney Kingdoms: The Haunted Mansion is the fifth series in Marvel's Disney Kingdoms series of comics based on attractions (or ideas for attractions) in the Disney Parks. Previous series featured Seekers of the Weird (based on an early idea for part of the Haunted Mansion), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and two series about Figment the dragon and other characters from Journey into Imagination. Marvel is currently publishing the sixth Disney Kingdoms series, based on the Enchanted Tiki Room, and like all the series before it, it's a lot of fun. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Haunted Mansion Books

A short entry this week, as I am still recovering from a cold, a busy week at work, stress over a sick cat, and a week’s vacation in Walt Disney World. However, I thought it would be fun for the month of October to celebrate Halloween and my love of Disney Parks by focusing on some Haunted Mansion merchandise. This week, I wanted to talk about two recent books focusing on the attraction.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Catching up with The Prisoner and other Big Finish Productions

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about audio dramas from Big Finish Productions. The truth is, it’s because I hadn’t been exercising like I should. I get most of my Big Finishes listened to while walking on the treadmill, and until recently, that hadn’t been happening. But now I am back on the horse (or treadmill) and am listening to stuff again! In fact, just the other day, I finally finished listening to Big Finish’s revival of the classic 1960s existential spy drama, The Prisoner, and it was great.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blue Monday: The Kids are Alright

For a number of reasons, I’ve had the blues lately. Some of it comes from anxieties at home and work, but a lot of it comes from stuff I see on the Internets. Not only is the real-world news crappy, horrible, ugly and depressing, but even the attitudes in fandoms that I once enjoyed being a part of are whiny, bitter, negative, ugly, crappy, horrible and depressing. I find myself feeling more stressed, and not enjoying things as much as I usually do. Then I read something like the new reissue of Chynna Clugston Flores’ Blue Monday, and I remember why I love comics, and how they can make me feel when they are at their best.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Rocketeer at War

At the risk of sounding repetitive or obsessed, this week’s entry is once again about the Rocketeer. I had intended on writing a series of posts as I worked my way through the various IDW comics series reviving the character after Dave Stevens’ tragic passing. However, this week, I’m going to skip ahead to the most recent entry, The Rocketeer at War, because the collected edition has just come out, and I just read it the other night.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Fannish Speculation: The Rocketeer and the Shadow

This week, instead of enthusing about something I love, I'm going to dive even deeper into the geek pool. I don't usually indulge in fannish what-iffing and speculation, but I got a thought in my head the other night, and it won't shake loose. I've been rereading my Rocketeer comics lately, and I've also been trying to get caught up on the reprints of the classic pulp adventures of the Shadow we've got in the house. So I started to realize how badly I would love to see a Rocketeer/Shadow team-up story.

(Spoilers after the jump for Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer stories.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What's In the Box?!? Subscription Box Round-Up: August Gentleman's Box, Marvel Collector Corps, and Nerd Block

Time once again for Subscription Box Round-Up, featuring the subscription boxes I’ve received since my last subscription box blog. 

First up: the August Gentleman’s Box, featuring exactly the same box as every month (so no photo of it this month).

This month’s box honors “Our Favorite Artist Formerly Known As,” aka Prince. So I expected a lot of purple this month, and I was not disappointed.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rocketeer Adventures Volume 1

When IDW originally published their first Rocketeer Adventures series, featuring new stories based on the late Dave Stevens’ creation, I was pretty excited. While in a perfect world, we would have seen new stories by Stevens himself, this was an acceptable substitute, for two reasons. First, obviously, Stevens’ passing at a far too young age precludes any new material from him at all. Second, I was well aware how much of the second volume of the Rocketeer was actually created by other people, although very much in line with Stevens’ vision and sensibilities. Regardless, I had been waiting most of my comics-reading life for new Rocketeer stories, so there was no way I was not going to be excited about their imminent arrival.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert

A few weeks ago, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Alan Brennert. Today, he is probably best known for his historical novels focusing on Hawaii (although I also love Palisades Park, his novel detailing the history of the popular New Jersey amusement park and the people whose lives it affected). The bulk of his career is in television, and that may be the first place I encountered his work; he was a script editor for part of the first season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Other shows he worked on that I watched: Twilight Zone (the 80s revival), China Beach, Simon & Simon, Star Trek: Enterprise, LA Law, and many others. But in the 80s, and very occasionally since then, he's written comic books.

[Spoilers for Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert after the jump.]

Saturday, August 6, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: Subscription Box Round-Up: July Nerd Block and Firefly Cargo Crate

Just a couple of weeks after I republished my “I Love the Rocketeer” blog, this news of a new movie came out. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited by the prospect of a new Rocketeer movie. And I am fine with it being a reboot/sequel, with a new person wearing the helmet and rocket pack. I feel like that may be the best way to honor the original movie, rather than redo/recast the original characters. I also think that if Dave Stevens is no longer around to chart the course of the characters he created, maybe the best way to respect his memory is to move the series on with new characters, while still being faithful to the spirit of the original. (How do I square this attitude with the Rocketeer comics created after Stevens’ death, featuring Cliff Secord, Peevy and Betty? Stay tuned to a future blog to find out.)

Oh, and I am fine with the new Rocketeer being a black woman. I haven’t looked at any comments on any of the news articles about this new movie, and the idea that the new Rocketeer is neither white nor male, but I am sure that fandom is being completely reasonable, adult, and respectful of this, and not acting like a bunch of racist, sexist whiny boys. What other reasonable response could there possibly be?

On to July’s Nerd Block. Once again, the outside of the box is exactly the same as it is every month. Feel free to refer back to earlier Nerd Block blogs to see what that looks like.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis

Still feeling worn out from the past couple of weeks, so this is another rerun from an earlier blog of mine.

Batman, as a fictional character, has been around since 1939. As with any long-lived character in popular culture, he has changed and evolved to reflect changes in the culture. Over 75 years, that’s a lot of change, and while it’s easy to be a fan of Batman, the question becomes of which version of the character is one a fan? Is it the dark, gritty loner of the first year of the series? The campy version from the 60s TV series? The version from the 70s, returning to the dark, serious tone but still feeling human? The obsessed, emotionless douchebag of the current series? One of the things I loved about the short run by Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis in Detective 569-575 was that it showed that a Batman story doesn’t have to be exclusively either dark and humorless or light and silly. It’s one of the most successful merging of the darker, more realistic tone of the 70s and 80s with the lighter, more fun stories of the late 40s and 50s, and that’s why it’s perhaps my favorite period of Batman comics of all time.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: July Gentleman's Box, Star Wars Smuggler's Bounty, and Marvel Collector Corps Year One Special

First, apologies for not having a blog last week. We were traveling, and dealing with some stresses at work and at home, and I just wasn’t able to get anything done early enough.

This week, we’ll be talking about this month’s subscription boxes!

First up is the Gentleman’s Box, which was waiting for me when we got home on Monday. Since the packaging is the same every month, I didn’t bother to take a photo this time. 

This month’s box honors “Our Favorite Fashion Mogul.” Reading the description, that is apparently Tommy Hilfiger, but I had to do a little research to confirm that.

This month’s box isn’t jam-packed with little items, but what is there is definitely quality. $101 worth of quality, retail, according to the booklet.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: July Nerd Block, Gentleman's Box, and Marvel Collector Corps

Welcome back! First, some housekeeping: I think I’m going to change my posting day from Friday mornings to Saturdays. it’s a little easier for me to try to get something written for Saturday, rather than Friday. So, keep an eye out for new stuff on Saturday mornings for the foreseeable future.

Now: onto this month’s subscription boxes!

First up is the June Nerd Block. I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the outside of the box this month, because it is exactly the same as it is every month. Besides, it’s the contents that matter.

I had thought this month’s theme was Ghostbusters, but I can’t find the preview card from last month to confirm that. I’m not sure, because this month is kind of a mixed bag.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens

Since we are just past the 25th anniversary of one of my favorite films, The Rocketeer, I want to revisit the character and the comics and stories about him. Back in 2011, on an older blog of mine, I wrote an entry about the original comics by creator Dave Stevens. I was pretty happy with that blog at the time, and still am. So, rather than reinvent the wheel, I present it here again.

As a kid, I loved the Rocketeer. The creation of taken-too-soon Dave Stevens, the 1930s hero first appeared in comics a few months after I entered comics fandom myself. Only a relatively few stories appeared over the next decade or so, but I eagerly devoured every one. And when the movie came out in 1991, I was in heaven. Last weekend, a number of things led to me wanting to watch the movie again, and that led to me rereading the comics. I’m pleased to say they all held up exactly as I remembered them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I am the Law! Reading Judge Dredd, Part 1

I first read about Judge Dredd in 1981 the pages of Fantasy Empire #1, a semiprozine focused on British science fiction and fantasy. I had bought the magazine for its Doctor Who cover, but it also included articles on Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which I think I was already a fan of), the Prisoner (which, despite this article, I didn’t really discover until years later) and Judge Dredd. For whatever reason—and I can’t recall what those reasons might be, 35(!) years later—the Dredd article really had an impact, and made me want to check out his series.

At the time, exposure to Dredd in the US was limited to a couple of reprint volumes from Titan Books, focused mainly on the work of Brian Bolland. I bought the first Dredd volume, which collected Bolland’s earlier stories, including the first Judge Death tale, and the two-volume collection of the Cursed Earth. If memory serves, my local comic store also got a volume collecting the second Judge Death story (the first appearance of the other Dark Judges) and other stuff. There were also some other collections of 2000 AD material, like Robo-Hunter and Nemesis the Warlock, but I remained focused on Dredd.

I remember being fascinated by the high-energy storytelling and the weirdness of Mega-City 1. And this was probably my first real experience with an anti-hero. I understood that Dredd was the main character, but not necessarily a hero to admire. I don’t know that I entirely got the satire at that point, but I could see that there was a lot of humor to the series. In short, this series about the adventures of a hard-line fascist cop in a huge post-apocalyptic future in an overpopulated Mega-City covering the entire east coast, was like nothing I’d ever seen, and I loved it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Adventures in Smoking: Makin' Bacon

As my next step in learning how to smoke meat, I decided to make my own bacon. I had read on that she made bacon using Bill Gillespie’s Smoking Bacon and Hog Cookbook. The book sounded like it would be a good resource as I learn how to smoke, so I purchased a copy for myself.

Unlike Grillgirl, I didn’t want to use expensive Kurobuta pork belly for my first attempt. So we purchased about three pounds of regular pork belly at the Butcher Block. (My wife loved watching them use the band saw to cut our portion off.) As a side note, one of our initial concerns about making our own bacon was being able to slice it, since we don’t have a meat slicer. I had the idea to ask the guys at the Butcher Block if they could slice it for us if we brought it in. They said they could, and that was the final obstacle in our way cleared.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: Gentleman's Box, Smuggler's Bounty, Nerd Block, and Firefly Cargo Crate for May 2016

It’s time for another subscription box round-up! Here are the subscription boxes I received since my last round-up post (excluding the second Ghost Post box, because that deserves its own entry).

First up: the May Gentleman’s Box! The inspiration for this month’s box is “Our Favorite Soul King,” or Ray Charles. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

I Hate Fairyland

Warning: The following blog contains images of blood, violence, sexual innuendo, and swearing. Judge your sensitivities and proceed accordingly.

The premise behind Skottie Young’s comic, I Hate Fairyland, is pretty straightforward. When Gert was 10, she fell through a hole into Fairyland. All she had to do to get home, she was told, was find a magical key. However, 27 years later, she still hasn’t found it, and in all that time, her body hasn’t aged. a day. Frustrated and bitter, Gert has given up on magical quests and enigmatic riddles, and now shoots, smashes and demolishes her way through Fairyland.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Future Quest #1

As with any form of popular entertainment, the Golden Age of television cartoons is about 7. When I was a kid, watching Saturday morning cartoons was a weekly ritual that was never skipped. And I loved them all. (If you were under the age of 10 in the 70s and didn’t love Saturday morning cartoons, then I don’t want to hear about it, Poindexter.) I loved all the Hanna-Barbera variations on Scooby-Doo; I particularly remember Clue Club and Jabberjaws. I loved the Filmation Tarzan cartoons. And I loved the reruns of shows like Space Ghost and the Herculoids. So DC Comics’ new series Future Quest is right up my alley.

(Spoilers ahead; proceed at your own risk)

This new series, written by Jeff Paker, drawn by Evan “Doc” Shaner and—in the first issue, at least—Steve Rude, promises to bring together all those great Hanna-Barbera adventure and science-fiction characters into one big epic series. Kind of like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for nerds like me. One issue in, we’ve seen characters from Jonny Quest, Birdman, Space Ghost, and at least nods to a bunch of other series, including the Herculoids. But it doesn’t just bring the characters together to elicit a giant nerdgasm from 40-plus year old readers like myself; there’s a genuinely interesting adventure story going on as well, one that truly understands its roots in classic adventure animation of the 60s and 70s without slavishly adhering to it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Subscription Box Round-Up: April (and early May)

While I’ve been focusing on our recent Disneyland trip the last few weeks, subscription boxes have been piling up around the house. (Well, not so much piling up; we have been opening them.) So this week’s post is a marathon subscription box round-up.

First up: the latest Marvel Collector Corps box, featuring items from the recently-released film, Captain America: Civil War.

This may be one of the largest boxes from this subscription to date, easily rivaling, if not exceeding, the Guardians of the Galaxy box in size. I photographed it next to a bottle of Angry Orchard apple cider to give some sense of the scale.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Club 33

My wife and I have done a lot of things at Disneyland. We’ve ridden in the Lilly Belle railcar. We’ve ridden in the wheelhouse of the Mark Twain river boat. We’ve ridden in the tender of one of the train locomotives. We always make a point of listening to the Dapper Dans. However, one exclusive experience we never thought we’d have a chance to do is eat dinner at Club 33.

If you don't take time to listen to the Dapper Dans, you have no soul.
Club 33 is a very exclusive club for Disney fans. It costs something like $25,000 to join, and then $10,000 a year after that. (Possibly even more now.) Even at those rates, the waiting list is years long, so even if we had the cash to join, we still wouldn’t be able to. Among their other perks, Club 33 members can eat and drink in the exclusive members-and-guests-only restaurant and lounge located above New Orleans Square in Disneyland. We had heard the meal was fantastic, but an even greater part of the appeal was that it was something that we would only ever hear about. Until a few years ago, when we ended up learning that we literally knew a guy who knew a guy. Someone we know knows a Club 33 member, and for the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to work it out to get a reservation for Club 33. On our last trip to Disneyland, it finally worked out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ghost Post Follow-Up and Tea at Disneyland Hotel's Steakhouse 55

This week is a bit of a follow-up to a couple of earlier blogs. Not only will you hear more about our recent dining-focused trip to the Disneyland Resort, but I’ve also got some more information about the Haunted Mansion Ghost Relations Department Ghost Post.

In my post about the Ghost Post, I noted that there was apparently content that could be unlocked in the Disneyland park. So, on a recent trip, we fired up the Phantom Radio app, which led us to Esmerelda, the fortune-telling machine on Main Street. (The app both told us to visit Esmerelda, and showed us her location on the GPS locator map part of the app.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival 2016 and River Belle Terrace at Disneyland

Before I get into the meat of this week’s blog, I want to mention Syfy’s Wynonna Earp TV series. Some time ago, I blogged about my enthusiasm for the 21st century version of the comic, and how much I was looking forward to the show. Well, it has not disappointed at all. It’s funny, fast-paced, charming and exciting. It’s very much an origin story for the character, and should appeal to fans of shows like Buffy and Supernatural. It has become a favorite in our household after only two episodes, and seems to be getting a lot of positive reviews online. I highly recommend checking it out.

Recently, we visited the Disneyland Resort. We bought annual passes last fall, so have been visiting Disneyland more frequently than in recent years. This time, our primary focus was on eating, for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons was that through the entire month of April, Disney California Adventure is hosting the Food and Wine Festival, returning after an absence of several years. While we didn’t try everything on offer, we did try quite a few items, and here’s what we thought:

After looking at the brochure, we decided the first booth we wanted to try was the Gold Rush booth, for the Triple Cheese Mac with Smoked Chicken and the Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take photos of these items, but there are ample photos available online. (Like here.)

The mac and cheese was really good. The three cheeses combined nicely, and the smoked chicken had a distinct flavor that was not overwhelming. Similarly, the whoopie pie had a nice delicacy of flavor. I've had maple bacon pastries in the past that were way too sweet; this had a more subtle balance. Less subtle was the Flower Field Lemonade, which was really tasty, but really, really sweet. Overall, the Gold Rush booth set the tone for what we hoped would be a pleasant Food & Wine Festival experience.

Our next target was the By the Bay booth. I'd read good things about the White Cheddar and Ale Bacon Soup, served in a sourdough boule. My wife and I are both suckers for soup in a bread bowl, so there you go. While my wife isn't particularly interested in seafood, I also wanted to try the Chilled Shrimp & Snow Crab Cocktail. And, of course, we couldn't pass up the coconut tapioca layered with fresh mango, lychee boba, and mango coulis.

While we love cheese, soup, beer, bacon, and bacon ale cheese soup, we felt this iteration tasted a little bland. Cheddar is not the mildest of cheeses, but there wasn't a lot of flavor to this soup. We also didn't get very much in our little mini boule, which sounds like the old joke ("The food here is awful!" "Yes, and such small portions!") but there you go.

The shrimp and crab cocktail was more successful, I felt. It had a light, refreshing flavor that was perfect on a hot Saturday. My only complaint was that it was a bit tough cracking the crab claw to get to the meat. My wife didn't try the shrimp or crab meat, but she sampled the sauce and thought it tasted great.

The coconut tapioca was a definite winner. I'm not a particularly big fan of mango on its own--I find it a bit bitter--but paired with the boba bubbles and the coconut tapioca, the sweetness took the edge off of it. 

Our final lunch booth of the day was Wine Country. I am the complete sucker for braised beef. Braise it with wine? How can I pass that up? We also had to try the blackberry tart. While we were there, my wife impulsively decided to also try the beet salad, despite the fact that a really bad beet salad at a restaurant years ago had made us wary of that dish. This time, her love of goat cheese won out over the fear of beets.

The Zinfandel-braised Wagyu beef with creamy polenta and spring pea purée was delicious. The beef was extremely tender and rich, and both the polenta and pea purée complimented it nicely. It was so good, I was reluctant to share it with my wife. (But I did.) The beet salad was nicely dressed, with a good balance of ingredients. And the blackberry tart was nice. We especially liked the flavor of the rosemary vanilla bean creme fraiche, although the texture of both the creme and the crust were industrial strength.

We took a break, went on some attractions, went back to the room for a nap, and then returned to the festival for dinner. We decided to try a couple of specific items as “appetizers,” with our main dinner at the Cocina Cucamonga restaurant in Disney’s California Adventure.

Based on what I had read beforehand, I really wanted to try the Pork Belly Bao Taco at the LAstyle booth. We each got one of those, and split the Milk Chocolate Caramel tart.

The flavors of the pork belly bao taco were excellent. For starters, what’s better than a nicely-cooked piece of pig fat? The sauce was rich but not overpowering, the vegetables were crisp and refreshing, and the bao bun taco shell was soft and fluffy. This may have been my favorite item from the festival, although the chocolate tart from the same booth ran a close second. Rich and creamy, it was a fantastic dessert. Even though we were having it as an appetizer.

Our final booth selection was the tenderloin slider from the Farm booth. I am a sucker for sliders, and beef tenderloin, plus I had read good things about this item online. Be warned: the brochure for the festival says it is served with a smoked BBQ sauce and Bleu cheese. On the menu at the booth, it says it comes with a chimichurri sauce (which indeed it does).

Honestly, this was a bit of a disappointment. The tenderloin is not cooked to order, so it should come as no surprise that it is fairly well done, in terms of temperature. In fact, what comes as a surprise is that, as thoroughly cooked as it was, it was still fairly tender and edible. It was nicely seasoned, which is more than I can say for the chimichurri sauce. I’ve had many chimichurri sauces in the past, and this was easily the blandest, least flavorful I’ve ever tasted. (In fact, I’m not really sure I actually did taste it; it may have actually subtracted flavor from the slider.)

For our actual dinner, we decided to try Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, a restaurant in DCA that neither of us had ever eaten at before. They had a special item on the menu for the Food & Wine Festival, a shredded pork tostada with grilled pineapple slaw and chipotle crema.

This dish was actually very tasty. I don’t always enjoy pineapple, but the sweetness of the fruit was offset enough by the chipotle, and together, they made a really nice combination. I was particularly surprised by the rice. Generally, I’ve found so-called Spanish rice to be a little bland, particularly at places like a counter-service restaurant in a theme park. However, this was much better seasoned than expected. Overall, this dish makes me willing to come back to this restaurant again in the future.

Separate from the Food & Wine Festival, we also tried the new BBQ menu at the River Belle Terrace on this trip. Previously, I had enjoyed breakfasts and lunches at the River Belle Terrace. We had also enjoyed the all-you-can-eat BBQ at Big Thunder Ranch, but, sadly, that restaurant has been closed for good. River Belle Terrace just launched their new menu a few months ago. I’d seen good reviews online, we like BBQ, and it’s a Disneyland restaurant we hadn’t eaten at yet, so of course we went.

We started with the creamy cheese dip, which was served with toasted bread and celery. It was a little spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. The toasted bread it came with made for a nice combination with the cheese. It was almost like eating a little tiny pot of fondue.

For our meals, my wife and I each chose sandwiches. All entrees come with baked beans and an additional side; my wife and I both opted for the potato salad. I considered the tater tots, but we had been driving all day, and I wanted something a little less greasy.

I ordered the beef brisket sandwich, which has smoked provolone cheese and fried onions with steak sauce mayo. I’ve had good brisket sandwiches and bad brisket sandwiches, and even smoked my own brisket. This was one of the better ones. The meat was moist and tender without tasting greasy or overly fatty. I could definitely taste the smoke in the cheese. The steak sauce mayo was a nice accent without being overwhelming. Most importantly for me, the fried onions were pretty unobtrusive. I’ve had sandwiches with so many fried onions that’s all I can taste; that was definitely not the case here. They added a nice touch, but didn’t turn it into an onion sandwich.

My wife ordered the pulled pork sandwich. She also appreciated the relative lack of grease, and commented that she enjoyed the cole slaw on it. I mention that because she normally does not enjoy cole slaw.

The baked beans were a nice combination of several types of beans, and the potato salad was well-made and seasoned. However, we both agreed that there was nothing particularly remarkable about any of it. They were perfectly serviceable sandwiches and sides, but didn’t really justify the price the restaurant charges. 

My wife had made a point of saving room for dessert. I hadn’t saved room, but ordered dessert anyway. As it turns out, that wasn’t an issue as, unlike the sandwiches, the desserts were not particularly big. In fact, they were kind of on the small side.

My wife ordered the maple, apple & bacon bundt cake, and she let me have a bite. It was moist and delicious, but the restaurant changes $8 for what is probably a $5 portion. She was particularly disappointed because she hadn’t had as much of the cheese dip or beans or potato salad as she had wanted, because she had expected a much larger dessert.

While we were waiting to be seated, I heard the couple in front of us tell the hostess that they just wanted to try the restaurant’s famous cheesecake. (This was the first time I had heard of their cheesecake, but there you go.) So I ordered the fried cheesecake, to see what the fuss was about. 

It’s for the best that I hadn’t been saving room, since it was even smaller than the bundt cake, The whole thing was maybe the size of a flattened Snickers bar. The breading/coating was pretty thick compared to the amount of cheesecake, so it was very difficult to actually cut through it without melted cheesecake squirting everywhere. It came with some fruit and--once again--some industrial-strength whipped cream. I’m glad I ate all my dinner, otherwise I would have gone away hungry.

I don’t like to complain about prices at Disneyland, because I go in knowing that it’s not a cheap place to be. However, in the past, I have generally felt like I’ve gotten good value for my money. In the case of the new River Belle Terrace, I don’t feel that’s the case. The quality of the food was just fine, but that’s not enough to justify these prices. It’s certainly no substitute for the defunct Big Thunder Ranch.

Overall, we’ve come to the conclusion that when we’re in the parks, we prefer to stick with counter service restaurants. The quality of food and service at the table service restaurants has been on a decline, while prices have increased. We figure that unless you’re getting a special experience, like at the Blue Bayou, the table service restaurants aren’t worth the expense in both money and time spent waiting. So I honestly can’t recommend the River Belle Terrace as a place to eat in Disneyland.

Overall, though, we had a great series of dining experiences on this trip. In addition to the Food & Wine Festival, we had a couple of particularly special meals. So special, in fact, that they deserve their own entries. So in the weeks to come, I will be writing about our afternoon tea at Steakhouse 55, and our dinner at the extremely exclusive Club 33.

Do you have a favorite place to eat at the Disneyland Resort? Have you had better experiences with table service restaurants than we have? If so, please let me know in the comments.

See you next week!

Friday, April 15, 2016

What's In the Box?!?: Kitnip Box and Haunted Mansion Ghost Post

As I write this, the past week has been a bit stressful. Fortunately, some of that stress was relieved by the arrival of a couple of subscription boxes, one of which was particularly exciting. So, let’s dive in!

This month’s Kitnip Box theme is “Royalty.” 

The first item of bling listed on the card is the Royal Ring by the ironically-named Vegan Cat. This is a relatively big toy, but it’s the first one I found any of the cats playing with of their own volition out of this box.

The Safemade Fuzzy Fun Toy rattling balls got the cats’ attention. Gizmo, in particular, likes playing with balls that he can bat around. However, he really likes the ones he can pick up and carry in his mouth, and these may be a bit too big for that.

The handmade crown by LeKiwi didn’t elicit much of a response when we tossed it across the room. However, we’ve found that these sorts of toys do better when the cats stumble across them and start wrestling with them.

Same goes for the catnip Keep Calm pillow from Ocala. Personally, I’ve gotten tired of the “Keep Calm” meme, because it frustrates me that it’s everywhere, and I doubt most people spreading it, wearing it, whatever, have any idea of its origins in wartime Britain. But, you know, a catnip pillow toy is a catnip pillow toy. The cats aren’t going to read it, anyway.

Third in variations on a theme, we have a catnip Queen Bee from Safemade. Again, this has been left out to be discovered and mauled.

Finally, for some variety in the toys, we got a pair of Royal Mouse Slippers from Ocala. They’re at least a different shape and size than the catnip pillows, designed more for chewing. They’re light enough that Gizmo could carry them around, if he so chooses. And the card says that they’re good for cleaning the cats’ teeth, which is something they all need help with.

Finally, while the card said this box contained dental treats—which we are getting our cats used to—we actually got holistic natural feline treats from Bench & Field. While treats are always welcome—in small doses—we are focusing their treat-getting on dental treats right now. And, if these aren’t crunchy, Rumplestilskin probably won’t eat them anyway.

Individually, there are some cute pieces this month, and, as you can see here, Gizmo is definitely interested in the royal ring. (Apologies for the pillarboxed format. I wasn't thinking when I took the video and held my phone the wrong way.)

However, the abundance of catnip pillows, while adorable, isn’t really stirring my creative juices as far as writing about them.

Those creative juices were much more stimulated by the arrival of our first Ghost Post box from the Ghost Relations Department of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. This box is limited to three monthly boxes, and the number of subscribers was limited to 999. Reading the description, we were intrigued at the idea this this isn’t a typical subscription box full of collectibles. 

“Each box is a chapter in an unfolding story that connects you directly to the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion. In the boxes, each item will have certain hidden qualities and secrets for you to discover, and each one will become a prop in your experience – revealing a little bit more of the story.” Each of the objects in the box is designed to interact with an iPhone app, and that all becomes part of the story.

It should be obvious from this blog that my wife and I are subscription box addicts, and we are also Disney addicts, particularly the attractions at the Disney Parks. I am really fascinated with the idea of stories based on the attractions, whether it’s the backstory to the Tower of Terror (and its connections to the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe in Disney’s California Adventure) or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, or the Disney Kingdoms comics based on attractions like Figment/Journey Into Imagination or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. So, despite the high price tag, we went ahead and subscribed, in the brief window before they sold out.

The box itself is a beautiful design, very much in keeping with the Haunted Mansion theme.

Upon opening, we found a letter and a manila envelope glued to the inside of the lid, while a couple of objects—a teacup and a small figurine—were nestled in a protective cardboard insert.

Underneath that insert, we found a few more flat objects: 

a cardboard kit that assembled into a housing for your “phantom radio,” which is the iPhone app, 

And a deck of cards featuring characters and images from the Haunted Mansion.

Inside the manila envelope, we found several more artifacts: a copy of the Grim Gazette (a newspaper from the spirit realm),

An instruction card detailing how to get and sign into the phantom radio app (along with some in-story history), 

An invitation to the wedding of Constance Hatchaway Harper Banks—a name familiar to fans of the Haunted Mansion—and the Marquis de Doome, 

And a broom advertisement with some mysterious holes punched and burned into it.

And this is the point at which I have to explain how I have decided to write about this box. So much of the fun comes from discovering how things work and the messages that are revealed, I don’t want to spoil things too much. Maybe in a few months, when we have all the boxes and the story is completed, I’ll post a more detailed description showing all the tricks. For now, I’m going to talk about them in more general terms.

If you look at the letter from the Ghost Relations Department, it says, “Most mortals find spirit writing easiest to read when the paper is dampened with water.” This was one of our first clues that there was more to this box than just scanning the items with our iPhones and listening to audio clips. Sure enough, when we dampened the paper with water, hidden messages appeared directing us to do different things with the objects. 

For example, the wedding invitation played one message when we pointed the Phantom Radio at it. However, a clue about the cold led us to put the invitation in the freezer briefly, and this was the result:

When we scanned the death notice that it had transformed into, we got an entirely different message.

The teacup and figurine were similarly multi-purposed. While they both played audio clips when scanned, the teacup also interacted with another object to reveal another hidden message. The broom ad also paired up with another object to reveal yet another secret. And when both the figurine and iPhone were inserted into the cardboard Phantom Radio, the figurine acted as a tuner.

One final cool wrinkle is that the phantom radio app will apparently play messages or reveal clues or something at specific locations in Disneyland. We will be going to Disneyland soon, so I will report on this feature once we see how it works.

According to the web site, this whole thing isn’t without its bugs. For example, some people have reported having trouble getting the phantom radio to work in the Disneyland park. Others have reported that their phantom radio played clips associated with objects in next month’s box, instead of the correct clips for this month’s objects. (We had one instance of that ourselves.) The Disney Store has promised an update of the app to correct those issues, so hopefully that’ll all be worked out.

Overall, this has already turned out to be a really fun box to play with. We went through everything once, and I already want to go and try to read and listen to everything again to try to put all the clues together. For us, the experience has been well worth the money, and we’re really looking forward to the next two boxes. Knowing that this had such limited availability is a plus, because it makes us feel as if we are part of a special club.

I’ll talk about future installments of the Ghost Post as we receive them. Then, at some future date, when it won’t matter if someone comes across this blog by Googling “Haunted Mansion Ghost Post,” I’ll go into more detail about all the secrets in the box. In the meantime, I hope you understand why I am reluctant to spill the beans.

See you next week!