Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Ken Storey (Part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of Ken’s interview, Ken’s knowledge of Orlando runs quite deep. In this part of the interview, Ken shows off that knowledge by delving into the “Orlando decade” of the 1990s. Let’s get right to it:

You talk about the 1990’s as not just the “Disney Decade” but as the “Orlando Decade”. Have you observed similar, wide spread growth over the past 10–15 years?

The 1990s were a very special time for Orlando. It wasn’t just the growth but the evolution of a small town into a global epicenter of entertainment. The 1990s growth slowed down dramatically post–9/11 and then all but stopped during the Great Recession. The 2000s growth was crazy but, unlike the 1990s growth, many of the plans never saw the light of day. I honestly felt very uncomfortable during the Recession, it was scary not seeing cranes in the skyline. It was odd passing empty fields that remained that way for seemingly years. It was very different.

Dazzling (Photo by Ken)
Dazzling (Photo by Ken)

I would actually say the growth we see now is more off property than on it. The 1990s (well 1989–1998) saw Disney World open 2 theme parks, 2 water parks, 11 resorts and major expansions to retail throughout the resort. Universal opened in 1989 causing major investments in that area of town. A lot of the focus during the 1990s was on the Big Three. We saw I-Drive and 192 open many hotels during that same time period but most of the focus was on Orlando coming to grips with it being a major global player. Most of the other growth in the region was new residents. By some estimates I’ve heard pre-recession Orange County saw 1,000 new residents per week move in.

The growth we see now is different because we now understand that this is a ‘big city’ and we will need to address the issues that arise (like homelessness, traffic, sustained growth, etc) in ways that big cities address them. Right now we currently have a metro population that’s comparable to Cincinnati or San Antonio but on top of the regular population we now have over a million tourists a week visit. The leaders (and residents) seemed easier to amaze in the 1990s with promises of cool buildings, new homes and increased tax bases. Now we’ve all grown up some, now we know what questions to ask and understand that not all development is good development.

I think that places like Gatorland do find it harder to exist in today’s ‘big city’ Orlando. Partly due to the increase in on-site offerings and due in part to the sophisticated tourist Orlando now attracts. The mom and pop tourist who drive in from the mid-Atlantic have given way to international tourist, tour groups and others who expect something more. When you pay thousands of dollars to fly here and stay here you expect more. That shift to flying also means a smaller percent of tourists have their own vehicles which make things like Gatorland harder to access. MCO is still the #1 car rental location in the world but even so many tourists are afraid to tackle the large, always crowded road network that has emerged around Orlando over the past 20 years.

I’m hopeful the shift to mass transit in the region will help tourist rediscover places like Park Ave, Mt Dora and downtown Kissimmee. I’m less hopeful places like Jungle Adventure can survive the shifts in demographics and travel patterns of the modern Orlando tourist. Gatorland is lucky as it sits next door to property being developed for a Phase 2 SunRail station (the Tupperware station), so while it would be a bit of a hike it will be accessible from rail transit.

Overall the growth we see now seems less magical, less over the top. Its more of in-fill, more of growth for things that are needed. I mean the Planet Hollywood building, the OCCC, the announcement to make Universal into a huge resort complex with 3 hotels and a 2nd theme park- we don’t see that type of growth today. What we see now is enhancements to the existing structures of the city. The exception to that might be Lake Nona but even that isn’t that odd when compared to things like Celebration. It’s not as ground breaking. Even UCF’s growth has become a bit common place at this point. That’s not to say any of this growth isn’t great, it’s just not a shocking as it was when it first really started to crank up. I honestly don’t know what could be announced for the area that would be as large as the developments in the 1990s. Luckily though we now know how to better sustain the growth and not completely pave over the natural environment that we were so quick to dismiss during that 1990’s growth.

Thanks again to Ken for taking time to put together such a comprehensive breakdown of Orlando’s “present.” We’ll be taking a look at Orlando’s future, tomorrow.

Once again, a "typical gator portrait" (Photo courtesy of Ken, Caption by @JoshGonz)
Once again, a “typical gator portrait” (Photo courtesy of Ken, Caption by @JoshGonz)

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Ken Storey (Part 1)

This next entry in the Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview Series will be slightly different from what we’ve done on the site before. Ken Storey (who you may know from Twitter, the Orlando Tourism Report, his Orlando Weekly columns, or various other places on the internet) graciously agreed to be interviewed for the site, but, as the interview evolved, we realized that there would be too much content to include in just one post. So, today we are starting a 3-part series on Orlando’s Past, Present and Future. The first entry (Past) is included below (and features some background on Ken’s past as well), and the additional entries (Present and Future) will come Monday, November 30, 2015 and Wednesday, December 2, 2015, respectively. I hope you enjoy it.

Ken...Preparing for a "typical" gator wrestling show?
Ken…Preparing for a “typical” gator wrestling show?

Orlando (and Ken’s) Past

Many people who know you online think of you as someone with a great deal of knowledge of all aspects of Orlando, not just Disney and Universal. How did you develop such a wide range of knowledge?

It’s a bit of a long story. When I was in 6th Grade for Social Studies I was required to make a portfolio on the state that included things like the history, main economic drivers, etc. Well back in 1996 there wasn’t a lot of ‘internet’ and ‘smart phones’ to help me with the project so my mother took me to the Visitors Welcome Center just north of Leesburg on 441. It was a small wooden building with a tall roof that stuck out even then so I had always wondered what was inside. I met the most knowledgeable people there, got cool brochures on amazing places all around the state and left with a new fascination with the state. That was the final click broke me and created my obsession.

Looking back there have always been hints of it. Growing up I had always been told the stories of life in Florida. My mother, raised here from the age 1, grew up in Venice and was friends with numerous Ringling Circus families. Then as a teenager she moved to Central Florida and lived on what is now the Sanford Airport, for a time they even kept pigs on what is now the runway. These stories of her babysitting for E-Tickets, mixed with the magic of growing up in later 1980s/early 1990s Florida have always been my inspiration to keep going.

I was still in the womb the first time I visited Magic Kingdom (an awful July 4th, 1984 in which the transit system couldn’t hold the crowds forcing many, including my mother who was very pregnant with me, to walk from the front gates to the parking lot).

Ken has also always been into construction
Ken has also always been into construction

My father has always been in construction. He taught me how to read blueprints with a job he was bidding. It was an oddly simple blueprint plan, unlike most this one only featured enough details for what he was bidding on (the doors), that plan was for Mission: Space at Epcot. Some of my strongest and fondest memories growing up are memories of Epcot (it was the first place I witnessed webcams and saw a robot that could mow the grass on its own).

My parents, who both had been in Florida a number of years, had many friends working at the mouse and when that ‘new park’ (Universal) opened in town we were some of the first to visit it. Luckily for us that new park had a meltdown on most of their rides and we were given wads of tickets, the last of which I finally used in 2007. All those tickets meant that I was able to not only spend my childhood with the magic of Epcot but in this new park that did things a bit different.

After that initial visit to the Welcome Center I became a regular visitor there and any time I passed a thing of brochures I had to stop to pick a few (a habit I’ve yet to break). Soon my walk-in closet was redone as my very own ‘welcome center’ where I kept rows of brochures. When family would come to visit I’d make sure to advise them on all the cool stuff to do in town. Most other kids in school took up sports, odd collections of meaningless items like rocks or cards with random facts on them or other seemingly (to me at the time) pointless hobbies but I kept my brochures.

The 1990s were a very odd time for Central Florida. 4 major theme parks opened in the course of 9 years, it wasn’t just the Disney Decade- it was the Orlando Decade. And here I was growing up right in the middle of it. My father went from working at a local lumberyard to helping build entire new towns. Places like The Villages and Celebration appeared almost overnight. My father, knowing what was taking place, was smart in showing me the construction. I saw the cow fields that became Celebration and drove the endless roads filled with houses still under construction in The Villages and west Orange County. All of this inspired me, all this change happening more or less because of one person. We’re taught as children that we can change the world but here I was truly witnessing it, the entire reality of Central Florida rapidly changing and all thanks in large part to one guy.

So throw all of that in a blender and I think it’s pretty easy to see why I’m the completely obsessed with this ever changing region.

That’s it for Part 1. I hope you enjoyed getting a little more background on Ken and some early Orlando. The next installment will be up on Monday, November 30.

Items We Tried at the 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Following the trend established by the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, I figured now (when the festival has ended?) is the perfect time to recap some of the items Elyssa and I had at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

As I have mentioned before, I made my list of “to try” items based on Josh’s reviews over at easyWDW. If you want a more comprehensive list of all the items that were available at this year’s festival (or a more detailed review of flavor profile of each individual item), I suggest giving that a shot.

With that out of the way, here’s what I tried:

Farm Fresh

Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions
Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions

Loaded Mac n’ Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions: Elyssa got a serving of this, and I had a bite. I found it to be okay in its overall flavor (but I’m not the big macaroni and cheese fan that Elyssa is.) I think I agree with Josh’s take that there were way too many onions for a portion this size.

Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens and house-made habanero sauce
Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens
and house-made habanero sauce

Griddled “yard bird” with braised greens and house-made habanero sauce: While Elyssa went with the above listed macaroni and cheese, I chose the griddled “yard bird.” The habanero sauce did end up giving the chicken a nice bit of spice (standard disclaimer that I’m the type to order “medium” hot wings instead of “atomic”), and that size of the portion was okay. I assume the braised greens were intended to be a garnish, so I didn’t eat them.

New Zealand

Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney
Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney

Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney: This was a pretty straightforward dish: a big meatball in a bread bowl. It was right up my alley and it was quite good (even if I ended up spilling some of it on myself.) I’m not sure I noticed anything particularly “spicy”, but that didn’t really impact my enjoyment of this.

Africa

Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit
Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit

Beef tenderloin tips berbere-style with okra, jalapeños, tomato and papit: As Josh noted, you can smell the spices for this one as you walk by. Though it was a little more spicy than I would normally like, both Elyssa and her sister (who both would order the “atomic” wings in a heart beat) really enjoyed it.

Morocco

Baklava (Oops, I got to excited and forgot to take a picture of the one I ordered.)
Baklava (Oops, I got to excited and forgot to take a picture of the one I ordered.)

Baklava: I decided to use this year’s Food & Wine Festival as a chance to try baklava (for the first time in my life.) For a first taste (ever) of this pastry, it was pretty good. (Since then, I’ve gotten the frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s. The Food & Wine stuff was better than that.) I’m still far from a baklava connoisseur, so feel free to take that into consideration.

Belgium

Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef
Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef

Potato and leek waffle with beer-braised beef: Though this booth was stocked with items I wanted to try, I ended up choosing this waffle with beef. The beef was tender and the waffle was quite good. I really liked this.

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream
Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream: Elyssa, on the other hand, went with this waffle with chocolate. I’m not sure how to review a fresh waffle with chocolate, other than to say “It’s as good as you’d expect it to be” (i.e., pretty good.)

Ireland

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie
Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie: This was really, really good. Potatoes, lobster, cheese. How can you go wrong with an item that sounds so delicious? (Actually, don’t answer that.) The only negative thing I have to say about this item is that having it almost immediately after entering the festival set my expectations a little too high for the rest of the available items.

Chew Lab

Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel
Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel

Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel These things were amazing. They had a texture and taste almost like ice cream (but with more of a mousse-like consistency) and the caramel on top added just the right complementary flavor. Elyssa and I had five of these (each) while we were there, and would probably have them all the time if they there were available somewhere near us.

News Nuggets (Special, Double-Sized Edition!)

Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.
Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.

While we were away on an actual visit to Disney World, we fell a little behind on the various bits of news that came out over the past couple of weeks. We intend to rectify that situation with today’s special, double sized, edition of Rope Drop [dot] Net’s News Nuggets:

NOTE: While I was preparing this News Nuggets update, Disney released additional details about the nighttime “Rivers of Light” show coming to the Animal Kingdom. I couldn’t wait to share that news, and already posted about it here.

Lastly (and of particular interest to Elyssa), next year’s Dapper Days have been announced: * April 16 – Magic Kingdom * November 12 – EPCOT

I think we already have a Kivus & Camera wedding booked for April 16, so I guess we’ll see how badly Elyssa wants to go down for the one in November.

The Upcoming Star Wars Invasion at The Studios

Whether Disney calls it Season of the Force or not, there is going to be a lot of new Star Wars-related entertainment, attractions, and food coming to The Studios over the next couple of months.

First, Star Yours – The Adventure Continues has already received a new sequence based on Star Wars – The Force Awakens. Disney released a teaser of the new sequence (which I refuse to watch since I’m trying to go into the new Star Wars movie as “blind” as possible to what might happen):

(If you really want spoilers about the new sequence, WDW News Today has a write-up (which I have not read)).

Opening next (perhaps as early as November 27, 2015) will be the Star Wars Launch Bay. Disney has described the Launch Bay as:

tak[ing] guests into the Star Wars saga and the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with special exhibits and peeks behind-the-scenes, special merchandise and opportunities to encounter Chewbacca and Darth Vader.

Also opening in December, will be the new Jedi Training – Trials of the Temple, which Disney describes as:

This reimagined Jedi Training experience will take younglings to the secret site of an ancient Jedi temple where they will face Darth Vader along with the Seventh Sister – a new villain from the Disney XD series “Star Wars Rebels.

WDW News Today also recently broke the news that the Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show will run nightly starting on January 5, 2016, as well as describing the new dessert party and First Order Stormtrooper patrols that will be part of the new Star Wars-related entertainment.

Of course, all of this new Star Wars entertainment comes at a price, as Disney officially announced the end of Star Wars Weekends. It’s a bummer that we are seeing the end of another yearly event at The Studios (I already miss you Osborne Lights), but, hopefully, the new Star Wars land will fill some of that void before too long.

Approaching AT-AT
Approaching AT-AT

The Dolphin (Soon to Be) by Marriott

Marriott announced yesterday that it will be acquiring Starwood Hotels & Resorts. From a Disney World perspective, this most directly impacts the Dolphin, which is currently owned and operated by Starwood.

At this early stage of the merger, it’s hard to know exactly what Marriott will do with a hotel that is actually on Disney property. One would hope that–at a minimum–it could reach an agreement with Disney that would allow guests at the Dolphin to continue to the receive certain benefits (e.g., extra magic hours, the 60-days Fastpass+ booking window) that aren’t available to other non-Disney owned hotels.

On the Marriott side, I wonder if Marriott would be tempted to re-do some of the rooms in the Dolphin to be part of its Marriott Vacation Club (i.e., timeshare) program (they recently did such a makeover at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C.). Having a Marriott timeshare presence right on Disney property might be a good way for Marriott to position itself as a strong Disney Vacation Club (“DVC”) alternative for frequent Disney travelers.

It will be interesting to see how this whole deal plays out.

Disney to Live Stream the Osborne Lights at 10:30PM Eastern, Wednesday, November 18, 2015

NOTE: The title of this post originally said the stream was on Thursday (since I can’t read a calendar).

Disney has announced that it will be live streaming the Osborne Lights at 10:30pm on Thursday, November 18, 2015 at 10:30pm. For people who won’t have a chance to get down to Disney World in next few weeks to see the last performance of the Osborne Lights, this stream is almost a can’t miss opportunity (though I hope Disney is going to do it at least 1 more time before the lights go away.)

Elyssa and I were recently at Disney World and went to the Osborne Lights a couple of times (including running through them during our “quarter” marathon.) I didn’t get the best pictures of them, however, since I intentionally didn’t bring my camera the last time we visited. I wanted to just take in a really special experience, that, sadly, we won’t have the opportunity to enjoy again.

Snow Falls on the Streets of America
Snow Falls on the Streets of America

Morimoto Asia – Review

On our recent trip to Disney World, Elyssa and I stopped by the new-ish-ly opened Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs for dinner.

Morimoto Asia
Morimoto Asia

Context

Neither Elyssa nor I would ever claim to be sophisticated connoisseurs of Asian cuisine. (Elyssa would probably be classified as “not a fan”, which means I might end up getting pad thai from a local place once or twice a year or I might occasionally stop by a certain well-known franchise.) That said, we were looking for a place to have dinner with Elyssa’s father (who did not have any park admission) and we’d already eaten at The BOATHOUSE, so we figured we’d give it a shot.

Ambiance

View from 2nd Floor
View from 2nd Floor

As you’ve probably read 15 times by now, Morimoto Asia is housed inside the same building as the former Mannequins Dance Palace (one of Pleasure Island’s dance clubs.) This means, if though the restaurant is nicely laid out, that it can feel a bit like (as Elyssa’s father pointed out) you’re eating in a warehouse.

We were seated upstairs in a section of reconfigurable, glassed-in hallways and mini-rooms. It’s kind of an interesting layout (it allows them to re-arrange the way doors are opened or closed to allow for some level of privacy between certain tables or groups), but I wonder if having nearly the entire “second floor” limited to an extra-wide walkway around the perimeter might have created an unnecessary limit on the restaurant’s capacity.

Personally, I enjoyed the privacy provided by restaurant layout. It is a welcome change from those places at Disney World where you are seated so close to the party next to you that you feel like you could reach over and grab an item off one of their plates. (NOTE: Josh from easyWDW did find the downstairs a little more chaotic.)

Meal

Being non-adventurous eaters, Elyssa and I wound up sticking with some fairly basic items from Morimoto’s expansive menu (which we’ll get to them in a second.) To start of things, Elyssa’s father ordered a cup of miso soup and an order of the pork dumplings. He said they were quite good, but, though I tried one of the dumplings and enjoyed it, I have no particular comparison with which to make.

For dinner itself, we decided to share the black pepper steak, the kung pao chicken, and the spicy thai basil fried rice. (Since Elyssa is not a fan of mushrooms, we told the waiter “just treat our entire order as if it’s for someone who’s allergic to mushrooms.”) On a whim, Elyssa also added the spicy king crab to the order at the last minute.

Black Pepper Steak
Black Pepper Steak

The black pepper steak consisted of a nice, tender meat that came with a flavorful sauce that added just a bit of spice. The kung pao chicken (not pictured, unfortunately) was our favorite item, and again had nice bit of spicy kick to complement the flavor from the cashews. Finally, the spicy thai basil rice actually had a pleasant, almost sweet flavor to it that paired well with the other dishes. I could see us ordering all 3 of these dishes again.

Spicy Thai Basil Fried Rice
Spicy Thai Basil Fried Rice

(NOTE: My tolerance / preference for spicy food is not particularly high. If I thought the food had a nice kick, I would assume some people would think it was not spicy enough. )

After sampling the above listed items, the spicy king crab was a disappointment. The sauce was more tangy than spicy and it overpowered any meat we were able to extract from the crab legs (this was exacerbated by the large amount of sauce they added). I doubt we would ever order this again.

Spicy King Crab
Spicy King Crab

Conclusion

Morimoto Asia continues the trend of solid, new dining experiences at Disney Springs that was started by The BOATHOUSE. I would recommend again giving it a shot, even if you’re not particularly a fan of Asian cuisine.

You can make reservations via Disney’s ADR system or OpenTable (though the OpenTable method allows for easier cancellations and no $10-per-person cancellation fee.)

Other Resources

If you want to read more about Morimoto Asia, I suggest checking out Josh’s 2 reviews at easyWDW here and here, and this review from Len Testa at TouringPlans.

Probably should have gotten the Peking Duck instead of the crab
Probably should have gotten the Peking Duck instead of the crab

And We’re Back! (from Disney World)

Just before the end of the Wine & Dine
Just before the end of the Wine & Dine

If you follow Elyssa and Me on Instagram, you probably know that we just spent the last week visiting Disney World for the (shortened) Wine & Dine half marathon. This was our first big trip since we started Rope Drop [dot] Net, and, frankly, I anticipated posting a little on the site while we were on vacation. My apologies that didn’t happen, but we’ll try to make up for it over the next few weeks as we talk about some of the things we did on the trip, including:

  • Visiting Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival (Liquid Nitro truffles…mmmm….)
  • Dinner at The BOATHOUSE (including having a Baked Alaska)
  • 8am Breakfast at Be Our Guest (Pre-park-opening Mine Train, baby!)
  • Dinner at Tutto Italia
  • Running the Wine & Dine (our first (half-ish) Half Marathon)
  • Dinner at Morimoto Asia
  • Our last viewing of the Osborne Lights (we’re going to miss those)
  • Attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (It really was beginning to look at a lot like Christmas)

We also stopped by Diagon Alley, and (if you ask her really nicely) there’s a chance that Elyssa might do a write-up about that (after she catches up on Kivus & Camera related photo editing).

We also have some really great interviews coming up (including our first ever 3-part interview with the always great Ken Storey), and some interesting thoughts about some of the “News Nuggets” that happened over the past week (SPOILER ALERT: We are bummed about no more Star Wars Weekends, even though we kind of knew it was going to happen).

If you have any interest in hearing about one of the above items more than others, please feel free to drop us a line or hit us up on Twitter. And, while you’re waiting for more content here, check out friend of the show Howie from Maryland on this week’s Mighty Men of Mouse podcast. They’re talking all about the MMoM Listener Land Ranknings that we posted here a couple of weeks ago.

That’s all for now. See you real soon!

The Baked Alaska!
The Baked Alaska!

News Nuggets (Holiday-ish? Edition)

Crossing my fingers about potential rain this weekend
Crossing my fingers about potential rain this weekend

The holiday season has already started at Disney World, so this week’s News Nuggets are heavy on the “festive cheer” (so to speak.)

Before we get into the nuggets, two items of note: First, the Disney Podcast Directory has been up on the site for about a week now. I haven’t heard anything in the past few days about missing shows, so I think the list is looking pretty solid. Please feel free to check it out if you have an interest in listening to Disney podcasts.

Second, Josh from easyWDW and Dave from yourfirstvisit.net are doing a book signing Sunday evening, starting at 5:30pm at the Tomorrowland Terrace. If you’re a fan of their sites or their book, you might want to check that out.

With that out of the way, here are the nuggets:

Earlier this year, Elyssa and I agreed that we would not visit the Osborne Lights until we ran through them during the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. Since I’ve extended that “moratorium” to also include reading coverage of the event, I can’t point you to the “best” coverage of this year’s spectacle. Instead, I’ll finish this post with all the coverage I have found:   WDW Magic – “What’s new?”; * The Disney Blog – An early preview; * All Ears – 2015 Photos; * The DIS – Why you need to see the Osborne Lights this year; * Inside the Magic – Write-up and videos; and * DaMouse – A 4K video of this year’s spectacle.

Morimoto Asia Reservations Available via Disney Websites and Apps

As I mentioned on Twitter, you can now make reservations for new Disney Springs’ restaurant Morimoto Asia via Disney’s website and apps.

If you have had trouble getting a reservation for an upcoming trip, I’d encourage you to give these new channels a shot, since it appears they have also opened up a bunch more availability for days that previously had none (including this Friday night.)