Downtown Disney District to debut Ballast Point brewery

Heading to Anaheim, Calif.? Grab your beer goggles; San Diego’s Ballast Point will open Downtown Disney District’s first brewery later this year.

Alcohol just outside Anaheim’s Disneyland Park — The (booze-less) Happiest Place on Earth — is nothing new, considering that the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney District (the latter is open to the public without a ticket) have both served alcohol since opening in 2001. Disneyland Park, however, remains so dry that it’s a miracle Mickey ever whistled. Walt Disney, eternally PG-13, was a known teetotaler —the park still bans alcohol to keep in line with its founder’s vision.

With Downtown Disney District just outside, beer is knocking on its door like never before — it’s what the people want, Walt.

“Disney approached us with this opportunity,” says Marty Birkel, president of Ballast Point, which sells beer at several of Disney’s local venues. “There are so many incredible breweries in the SoCal area, so we were really honored to be tapped by Disney.”

Ballast Point’s new space, planned to open late this year, will include an outdoor beer garden with cabana-style seats as part of the 7,300-square-foot brewery, tasting room and kitchen. It will follow the opening of another beverage shake-up: NYC’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, too, will open a location in Downtown Disney District this year. In what Ballast Point is calling a “three-barrel research and development brewery,” of-age patrons will find the San Diego-based brewery’s signature lineup (including its flagship Sculpin IPA) as well as limited-edition beers only available at its Downtown Disney location.

An expected seating capacity will be around 225, and there will be approximately 100 draft handles for pouring beer — almost one handle for every two guests.

The restaurant’s menu, similar to Ballast Point’s other brewpubs, subscribes to casual San Diego vibes with items like Baja-style, line-caught fish tacos and house-made pretzels served with beer-infused mustard and cheese. In addition to a kid’s menu (it’s still family-friendly, folks), the kitchen will serve vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

“Our guests are constantly asking for new and innovative dining experiences, and Ballast Point’s selection of award-winning beers, locally inspired cuisine and friendly atmosphere make them a perfect fit,” says Patrick Finnegan, vice president of Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney, in a press release.

In the past, Disney’s shifting tolerance has had the tendency to pique interest. In 2012, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, the most visited theme park in the world, stirred excitement when it began to sell wine and beer at the French-leaning Be Our Guest restaurant, breaking the Florida park’s 41-year ban (alcohol was already sold nearby, like at EPCOT’s Biergarten, but never inside the Magic Kingdom park). It remained the park’s only alcohol-friendly venue until 2017, when Magic Kingdom started selling beer and wine at four more of its restaurants.

The opening is just one of many for Ballast Point, adding to its six tasting rooms in California, a brewery and tasting room in Daleville, Va., and an upcoming Midwest outpost, a brewery and restaurant, which will open in Chicago. The Downtown Disney District location won’t only be a first for Disney, but the brewery’s first in Orange County.

“Being Disney, it was important for us to create an experience the whole family can enjoy,” says Birkel. And at least for some visitors, a little extra beer might just make that “whole family” experience a little more, well, cheery.

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Paul Candland Exits as CEO of Walt Disney Japan

Paul Candland has retired as CEO of Walt Disney Japan and president of Walt Disney Company Asia. Candland, who stepped down at the end of last month, had served Disney Japan for more than 20 years.

Candland’s team contributed to the launch of Disney’s TV channel and Dlife, as well as strengthened production of Japanese domestic content. Candland’s team also created the mobile game “Tsum Tsum,” which became a global franchise and is one of Disney’s most successful games.

Candland joined Walt Disney Japan in 1998 as representative director and general manager of Disney Store Japan, overseeing operations at about 80 locations. After that, he began targeting the adult market and focusing on domestic creativity in Japan, particularly in the digital sphere. Candland expanded the strategy to all of Disney’s Asian offices in 2014.

Andy Bird, the chairman of Walt Disney International, said in a statement that Candland had successfully expanded into new markets for Disney and strengthened the organization.

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The Most Fascinating Attraction at Disney World You Aren’t Allowed to Visit

disney flavor lab
Courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Before launching a new restaurant, a team of food geniuses labors in a hidden laboratory on a Walt Disney World back lot—we managed to sneak inside. 

DAVID LANDSEL

January 23, 2018

I first meet Lenny DeGeorge at breakfast, at Walt Disney World’s Yacht Club Resort. A bear of a man with a pronounced New England accent, he’s got that look, like he’s up to something—it happens that DeGeorge, as executive chef of culinary concept development for Disney Parks & Resorts, is up to quite a lot. We’re meeting at the Yacht Club’s Ale & Compass restaurant to illustrate a point, which is just how much time and effort go into the creation of a new venue, inside the Disney universe.

For sure, the space seems like a massive departure from its former life as the serviceable but ultimately unexciting Captain’s Grille—officially described as an homage to New England with a gastropub approach, Ale & Compass is breezy, modern, almost cool, with a menu to match. There’s avocado toast, there is house made bacon (on a charcoal smoker, shipped down from Maine), delectable smoked trout, a breakfast pizza, spectacular Parker rolls. For a lot of restaurants, a renovation and a menu re-do can be done in a matter of weeks. In this case, it took eighteen months.

DeGeorge is part of a highly creative team that spends much of their days working inside Disney’s Flavor Lab, a relatively secret, hard-to-access space, hidden away somewhere on Walt Disney World property. Their mission? To dream up, create and then help execute every single new food and beverage concept not only here in Orlando, but at the growing number of parks and resorts around the world. What you called lunch on your last Disney visit, might have been the product of years of research and development at the Flavor Lab.

“We’re like Imagineering, but for food,” says DeGeorge, pointing to the Bloody Mary that has arrived at the table as a perfect example of the kind of effort that goes into everything placed on every menu. “It’s great that someone can pull off a Bloody Mary with a lobster claw and a strip of bacon a few times a month, but what if you have to do a hundred of them, every morning?”

Ale & Compass is just one of their recent successes—the popular Satu’li Canteen inside the newly-added World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is another; there, the relatively healthy, bowl focused menu seems simple enough to navigate—in reality, there are fifty combinations you can create. (That, says DeGeorge, meant a heck of a lot of research.)

Then there’s the new D-Luxe Burger, one of a staggering number of recent additions to the completely reinvented Downtown Disney, rebranded a few years back as Disney Springs. There, the french fries took two years to get right. Then there were the sauces—they created twelve, before narrowing it down to six. (Garlic ranch is the most popular.) The rolls for the burger, baked fresh each morning? That was another whole thing. The average visitor to De-Luxe will see it as a place for an easy, grab-and-go meal. To the Flavor Lab team, it’s like a child that’s now all grown up, and moved away from home.

Finally, there it was, behind a pair of tinted glass doors—doors that I’m told very few Disney cast members are even allowed to enter through. On the day of my visit, the drinks team is just wrapping up a tasting of very good Oregon wines in the presentation area; this is a typical sighting in the Lab, where on any given day, you might find chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and assorted food & beverage honchos mixing, mingling and creating.

Besides DeGeorge, who that afternoon was busy in his office, you will also likely come across Ed Wronski, a native Detroiter and Culinary Institute of America grad who’s been on Team Disney since the 1970’s; Wronski is the director of culinary development for the parks. If you’re lucky, you might also might bump into Stefan Riemer, an infectiously enthusiastic master pastry chef. Originally from Germany, Reimer recently spearheaded the creation of two of the most ambitious projects to open up at Disney Springs, a proper patisserie and a chocolate-making venture. That’s in between, of course, the dozens of other things that he and the rest of the team appear to typically have going on, all at once.

“It’s like all of a sudden we woke up one morning, and we realized we’d gone from a few projects to hundreds, all over the planet,” laughs Wronski.

The Lab feels like it might double as a cooking school, a very expensive one—at the center of the facility, you’ll find a stunning show kitchen and bar area, which could easily double as the set of a cooking show. (In reality, it’s used to do video demonstrations for operators in, say, Shanghai, which saves the team a lot of time on airplanes.) The Lab seems like a place that might be a lot of fun to work—that is, if you find obsessing over table heights and chair heights and overhead lighting in a restaurant that has yet to be created to be fun. None of that happens, however, until they talk about the food.

“We work the opposite of typical here, creating the guiding principle, the menu—then we design the restaurant, then we design the kitchen,” says Reimer. The same goes for a bar, too. “First comes the drinks, then the bar—in a lot of bars, there’s so much running around. We don’t want a drink taking twelve minutes to make.”

Besides the demonstration spaces, the chefs have at their disposal a dream kitchen of sorts—it seems a little small, but that’s likely because its packed so full of top-of-the-line equipment. There’s a pressurized fryer that was a huge success at one of the more popular restaurants opened in Shanghai; that same frier will be pressed into service in the new Star Wars lands, coming soon to Orlando and Anaheim. (What will they be frying? I guess we’ll find out soon—nobody would spill the beans.)

There’s the Crisp N Hold, which has helped the team reach their ideal of European-style frites in a humid Central Florida climate, there is a combination oven which can smoke and dehydrate, as well as all of the other things combination ovens do. The oven has a USB port—insert the standard program they’ve perfected here at the Lab, and any restaurant, anywhere, can fire the thing up and go to town, without worries of quality control. (Lately, they’ve been experimenting with ribs.) In the dedicated pastry corner, Stefan has his own playthings, for instance an industrial-sized whipped cream machine, which sounds like an awful lot of fun. Basically, this is a toy store, but for chefs.

Besides the regularly scheduled training sessions, presentations and occasional meetings, it’s surprisingly difficult to gain access to the Lab, and that’s for good reason—it’s not uncommon for a dish to undergo everywhere from twelve to twenty different revisions; premature leaking makes the process more difficult and interrupts the workflow.

“We used to have a tiny facility that we shared with another team,” says Reimer. “We ended up dropping a lot of ideas because we’d see them on social media, before they were even launched!”

With that, Reimer opens up a stainless steel cooler, grabbing a plate with a completed, Instagram-ready dessert, a wondrous and strange creation that looks like no dessert I’ve ever seen at Disney World. Flashing a smile, he quickly returns the plate to the cooler, closing the door tight before I’m able to compose a complete mental picture, which is the best I could have done, seeing as how photography is completely against the rules.

Wait, what just happened? Star Wars, everybody whispers. And with that, I’m ushered toward the door.

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125,000 Disney employees to receive $1,000 cash bonus due to tax reform

Chief executive officer and chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse look on before ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), November 27, 2017 in New York City.

Disney giving 125,000 employees $1,000 cash bonuses  

Disney announced Tuesday it will pay over 125,000 employees a one-time cash bonus of $1,000, as well as make a new $50 million investment into education program for employees.

“We are directing approximately $125 million to our cast members and employees across the country and making higher education more accessible with the launch of this new program,” CEO Bob Iger said in a statement.

Disney says both initiatives are due to recent tax reform. Some of the biggest companies in the United States have been giving out bonuses to employees, often citing the recently-passed tax bill as the motive. BoeingAT&TWells FargoComcastBank of America and Walmart are just a few of those distributing new tax benefits to workers.

The bonus applies any full-time and part-time employees who have been working for Disney since before January 1. Those eligible will receive the bonus in two parts, with one in March and the other in September. Executive level employees are exempt.

Disney’s education initiative will be available to nearly 88,000 hourly employees in the U.S.

“Participants can pursue qualifying higher education or vocational training, including courses unrelated to their current responsibilities at Disney,” the company said in a statement.

It will not affect Disney’s ongoing education reimbursement program, the company noted, which will continue to be open to all full-time employees.

Disney says the two initiatives will cost $175 million in the current fiscal year.

Disney is alsoset to buy many parts of Twenty-First Century Fox for $52.4 billion in stock. The company will get Fox’s movie studios, networks Nat Geo and FX, Asian pay-TV operator Star TV, and stakes in Sky, Endemol Shine Group and Hulu, as well as regional sports networks.

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Dad’s plea for kidney during Disney World trip results in kidney transplant

THE single father-of-five who wore an “In Need of Kidney” T-shirt to Disney World over the summer underwent a kidney transplant last week in New York.

Robert Leibowitz, 60, of New Jersey, never imagined how magical his family’s vacation trip to the Magic Kingdom would be after securing a kidney from a stranger — thanks to another stranger’s viral Facebook post about his special handmade T-shirt.

"In Need of Kidney, O Positive".

“In Need of Kidney, O Positive”.Source:Supplied

Mr Leibowitz suffered from chronic kidney disease and was going to dialysis three days a week. He had been in need of a kidney for three years, Inside Edition reported.

“I thought: ‘You know, if I can get one person who’s my blood type to just respond and maybe that’s my match, you know, it’s worth the $35 investment for the shirt,’” Leibowitz told CBS News.

“This amazing couple, Rocio and Juan Sandoval, took a picture of it and said do you mind if I post it? Within the first week — 90,000 Facebook shares. Three days walking around the park … my phone wouldn’t stop ringing.”

Ms Sandoval posted the photo of Leibowitz’s T-shirt on her Facebook page.

Richie Sully, 39, a father-of-two from Fort Wayne, Indiana, was one of those who saw the post. “I have an extra kidney, it’s not like I need them both,” he told CBS.

He and Mr Leibowitz were reported doing well after the surgery last Thursday at New York-Presbyterian Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.

“There are no words — no matter how much I say, how much I appreciate,” Mr Leibowitz told NBC4 New York days before the surgery.

The station reported that Mr Leibowitz planned to take his donor and Mr Sandoval to Disney World to celebrate his fairytale ending.

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Netflix Execs Say They’re Not Afraid of Disney’s Streaming Service

Netflix isn’t afraid of competition from Disney’s upcoming direct-to-consumer offering, executives told investors Monday. “We don’t see it as a threat to us any more than Hulu has been,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings during the company’s Q4 2017 earnings call. He added that he’d expect Disney’s service to be “very successful” because of the company’s brands and content.

“I know I’ll be a subscriber of it,” Hastings admitted.

Disney announced last summer that it plans to launch a Disney-branded video subscription service in 2019. As part of that effort, Disney chose not to renew its distribution agreement with Netflix, which means that theatrical releases from 2019 on will stream on Disney’s own service instead. And in December, Disney announced the planned $52.4 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox, which could ultimately further bolster Disney’s service.

Hastings also argued that Netflix won’t feel much of an impact of Disney movies disappearing from the service. “It’s great content, but we are able to grow without it just fine,” he said, adding that the current output deal had been limited to the United States.

Asked whether further media mergers could eventually cut off the supply of new titles to Netflix, Hastings responded: “If we can monetize content really well, then people will sell to us because we can pay them.” He added that this was one reason for Netflix to increasingly strike direct deals with directors and producers, as opposed to studios: “Our exposure is significantly less than it used to be.”

Hastings made these remarks as his company announced that it added 8.3 million new streaming subscribers in Q4.

Netflix’s Q4 2017 letter to investors also called out Amazon and Apple as competitors in the market for ad-free premium streaming content: “Amazon Studios is likely to bring in a strong new leader given their large content budgets, and Apple is growing its programming, which we presume will either be bundled with Apple Music or with iOS.”

The letter also made note of ad-supported video services, including Facebook’s growing investments in video — but argued that these could actually help Netflix grow its audience: “With their multi-billion global audiences, free ad-supported internet video is a big force in the market for entertainment time, as well as a great advertising vehicle for Netflix.”

During the earnings call, Hastings argued that Netflix had a significant first-mover advantage over its competition.  “We’ve got a path ahead, everyone else in streaming is trying to find one.” He added that ultimately, the streaming market wasn’t a zero-sum game. “We’ll all learn from each other and total streaming will grow faster because of the competition.”

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Disney’s Sword In The Stone Remake Has Found Its Director

Disney's Sword in the Stone

Disney has so many remakes planned that a few of them have become lost in the shuffle. However, one of the remakes we haven’t heard from in a while is back in the news, indicating a strong move forward. It’s been years since it was announced that Disney’s Sword in the Stone would receive a live-action remake, but now the project may be very close to locking in a director, specifically Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, director of the zombie thriller 28 Weeks Later.

Disney’s original Sword in the Stone was released in 1963 and followed Arthur as a boy who becomes a pupil to Merlin and is taken on unusual adventures thanks to Merlin’s magic. It was July of 2015 when it was first announced that Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman was working on a script, but we’ve heard essentially nothing since then, leading us to wonder whether or not this project was still an active concern. We now know that it is, as The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is close to signing a deal to direct the movie based on Cogman’s script. 

Between the screenwriter’s Game of Thrones pedigree and the director’s tendency to work on horror or other darkly dramatic material, one gets the impression that the live-action Sword in the Stone will be very different from its animated predecessor. The original film was more a loose collection of shorts than it was a cohesive story, as Merlin would transform himself and Arthur into different animals, and they’d go a brief adventure as a fish or squirrel, before changing back. The titular sword in the stone was a near afterthought, being introduced at the beginning of the story, showing up again at the end, and being completely ignored in between. This sounds like the plan is to make the live-action Sword in the Stone a bit more of a traditional sword and sorcery sort of movie.

Disney’s current live-action remake slate consists of the Winnie the Pooh movie with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Robin, set for later this year, with DumboAladdin, and The Lion King all set for 2019. After that, however, things get murky. Mulan was originally set to be released later this year but the film has been pushed back to an unspecified date. Numerous other live-action adaptations have been announced but have been keeping silent in much the same way Sword in the Stone was previously.

Following the massive success of Beauty and the Beast as well as the other adaptations that came before it, Disney is clearly going to want to keep this franchise going. Finding a director could mean that Sword in the Stone is about to get more active. It, along with possibly Maleficient 2, could be the films keeping this train rolling into 2020 and beyond.

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Lewisburg mom is a teacher and now a Disney Parks planning specialist

Lewisburg mom is a teacher and now a Disney Parks planning director
Ashley Papson, of Lewisburg, is one of the 2018 members of the Disney Parks Moms Panel.

LEWISBURG — Ashley Papson, after several years of trying, finally feels like she has found her people.

A Disney fanatic for as long as she can remember, the Lewisburg mom and second-grade teacher at Kelly Elementary was recently named to the 2018 Disney Parks Moms Panel, one of just 40 people who offer planning advice for anything Disney.

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Lewisburg mom is a teacher and now a Disney Parks planning director
Ashley Papson, of Lewisburg, talks about being on the Disney Parks Moms Panel.

“I’ve been going to Walt Disney World at every phase of my life. Some of my fondest memories are at Disney World Resort with my mother and brothers,” Papson said. “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be part of the Disney family.”

Papson’s dream became a reality at the beginning of the year when her one-year term on the Moms Panel started. It was the culmination of a three-year process.

Disney annually receives thousands of applicants to join the panel. They are whittled down through a three-phase process. Two years ago, Papson, who lives in Lewisburg with her husband, Brent, sons Caden, age 7, Colin, 5, and newborn daughter Emersyn, 5 months, made it to the second phase. Last year she reached the third phase and this year made it all the way to the panel.

The Disney Parks Moms Panel is an online resource to help families or individuals plan a Disney vacation, whether it’s at Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California, a cruise or with its vacation club. The panel has 40 members this year and Papson was one of just 11 new members selected for 2018. To apply, Papson said you must be 18 years old and have visited the park you want to be an expert in over the past 12 months.

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Lewisburg mom is a teacher and now a Disney Parks planning director
Ashley Papson, of Lewisburg, is one of the 2018 members of the Disney Parks Moms Panel.

“It’s really an awesome process and you put your heart into it,” she said.

“Papson was carefully selected from thousands of applicants to provide honest and relatable vacation tips,” Disney wrote in a release announcing her selection. “She, along with her fellow panelists are committed to making the planning process easier by offering personalized guidance to help turn dream Disney vacations into a reality.”

Papson estimates she’s been to Disney World 18 times, most recently over Thanksgiving. As a mother of three, she said her entire family has similar feelings about the Orlando-based theme park.

Additionally, she now understands the emotions her own mother, a single mom of three, felt during their trips.

“My mom was a big parade fanatic, so we’d be the family on the curb two hours before a parade. If we were lucky we’d sneak across the street to Casey’s Corner for a hot dog,” she said. “The lights would dim and the parade would start and she’d be crying. I’d look at her as a kid and wonder what’s wrong with her? Now, we took our sons for the first time, we got hot dogs at Casey’s Corner and the same thing happened. I’m sitting there bawling. My sons’ faces were lit up.”

According to disneyparksmomspanel.com, the 40 members of this year’s panel have combined for 1,250 Disney Vacations – 2,204 rides on “it’s a small world” — and “know how to travel with kids with more than 80 kids between them” and can answer questions in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

“I’ve made a lot of incredible friends that I will have for a lifetime with the panel,” Papson said. “I feel like I have found my people.”

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Lewisburg mom is a teacher and now a Disney Parks planning director
Ashley Papson, of Lewisburg, is one of the 2018 members of the Disney Parks Moms Panel.

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Disney Fans, Rejoice: Minnie Mouse is Getting a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

The iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame is getting a new member, and Disney fans couldn’t be happier.

Minnie Mouse will join her cartoon husband Mickey on the Walk, receiving her very own star, Monday. Katy Perry will present the star along with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

View image on Twitter

Bob Iger and @KatyPerry Are Presenting Minnie Mouse With a Star on the

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced the ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at 6834 Hollywood Blvd. in front of the El Capitán Theater.

After 90 years of serving L👀KS & smiles as the polka dot queen, it’s time she got that recognition 👏🏻! It will be a childhood and grown adult dream come true for me that day! ❤https://twitter.com/disney/status/951578218791915526 

Minnie will be placed in the category of the films, since “she is a woman of all ages and her status is iconic,” said Ana Martinez, Producer of the Walk of Fame ceremonies.

Martinez added that Minnie fans of all ages have been asking to see the star in honor of Minnie for a while. The ceremony marks her 90th anniversary in the entertainment world since she appeared along with Mickey in “Steamboat Willy” all those years ago.

Minnie will join other Disney classmates such as Donald Duck, Tinker Bell, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White, Kermit the Frog, and of course Mickey Mouse, who received his star in 1978, when he celebrated his 50th anniversary.

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Dispatch from a Disney Cruise

Musings on pirate raves, double entrees, and when trying to be cool is very uncool.

I’ve always prided myself on being one of those people who’ll do anything for their family. Last week, when my parents surprised all the Blasbergs with a weeklong Disney cruise in the Caribbean, that adage was put to the test.

Like most snobs, I’ve always said cruises are my worst nightmare: You’re trapped in the same place with the same people, there’s a dearth of culture, and the food can’t be that fresh if it’s been onboard for at least as long as you have. This cruise in particular seemed especially daunting because there’s the added element of exclusively Disney programming, including cartoon character meet and greets, children’s “raves,” and an endless stream of animated kids’ movies. Yet, I have three nephews I adore, who I knew would adore all of that stuff, and who don’t know I’m a snob yet. (They’re William, 5, Ethan, 3, and Maxwell, 1.) Not to mention I’m at an age when I shouldn’t take bonding time with my parents for granted. So, despite my hesitations, I packed a bag of comfy, elasticated clothing and it was anchors away.

I flew from New York to Houston, and then took a taxi from Houston to Galveston, Texas. Technically, I took two taxis because the first one I was in broke down and the driver switched cars at a Texaco somewhere off Interstate 45. I wondered, Is this a bad omen? but kept heading for the big red, white, and blue mega cruiser with the silhouette of Mickey Mouse on its smokestacks. Since cruises have become a big part of Disney’s multi-million-dollar theme park business, check-in was smooth and hyper-organized: Perky, smiling people who are generous with compliments (“I looove your jacket,” “You have sooo many stamps in your passport”) assigned us keycards (“these are your Keys to the World”), ushered us to a waiting area, and then on the boat.

Photo by Derek Blasberg

There were four captains on this boat: the ship’s captain, Captain Mickey, Captain Hook, and Captain Jack Sparrow.

By the numbers: The Disney Wonder is an 83,000-ton, 964-feet-long, 171.5-feet-tall floating city comprised of 11 decks and 877 staterooms, and has a crew of 950. Originally launched in 1999, it got a makeover in the fall of 2016. It’s the only boat on the seven seas to have four captains: the ship’s captain, Captain Mickey, Captain Hook, and Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In the boat’s central lobby, which is outfitted in an Art Deco style, a sculpture of Ariel from The Little Mermaid sits with her hair permanently pointing (floating) into the air. This was especially auspicious since even before we disembarked I overheard no fewer than four different sets of parents call out for their daughter, “Ariel!”

For the first part of the journey I subconsciously reverted to the sorts of things we think “cool people” do in new situations. For example, my sister-in-law Angie had given me a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, which I purposefully wore under a big sweatshirt so I didn’t look too excited or eager to be there. At the first night’s welcome mixer, I declined to dance. I didn’t speak to anyone I wasn’t related to either, and kept a general countenance of contrarianism.

The children, on the other hand, were entranced. They had autograph books and dutifully went up to Mickey, Minnie, Captain Jack Sparrow, and a bunch of other characters I had never heard of (who is ‘Stitch’ and when did he come out?) to ask for their John Hancocks. The pools were heated and peepee-free because they had mandatory bathroom breaks every 30 minutes. The elder of my nephews spent their afternoons in the Oceaneer Club, which had slides, dress-up clothing, and counselors leading group activities. (All the kids were given a bracelet with a homing device, so parents could track them at all times.) Their fun was seemingly infectious and the smiles on their faces were mesmerizing.

Photo by Derek Blasberg

Mickey and Minnie were coveted autographs—but who’s Stitch?

Let’s talk about the food for a moment. It’s either the best worst food or the worst best food I’ve ever seen, depending on how you look at it, and there’s so much of it. For breakfast: waffles, French toast, Danishes, doughnuts, sausages, bacon, and an omelet station. For lunch: anything you want—as long as it’s fried. We had dinner at 5:45 p.m. every night, which included soups, salads, and entrees, and something I’ve never seen before. Couldn’t decide on one thing? No problem, just order more than one appetizer and more than one entree. This was encouraged. On the second day, I complained I hadn’t been hungry at all on the trip. My brother, Chris, said that was a good thing, and explained the goal on a cruise is to never feel the pangs of an empty stomach and to continue to graze, like cattle, throughout all the waking hours. “If you’re hungry you’ve failed,” he announced. There was also complimentary 24-hour room service and a never-ending self-serve soft-serve ice cream station.

On the afternoon of the third day, I snuck away from the family fun and went to the gym, which, unsurprisingly, was the only place on the boat that wasn’t crowded. On the treadmill, I had a hard time reconciling my behavior the last few days: Why was I being so grumpy when I really should have been more Goofy? (Get it?) Sure, in the real world, catering to the world of Disney isn’t rebellious or disruptive in the way modern culture celebrates. But look around—everyone else was loving this place. It was an epiphany: By attempting to be cool I wasn’t being cool. In fact, I was being uncool.

It was an epiphany: By attempting to be cool I wasn’t being cool. In fact, I was being uncool.

ade and went all-in for the rest of the Disney cruise. For dinner, I put on the same Mickey Mouse T-shirt I hid on the first day (my mother did a load of laundry on the boat in one of the laundry rooms that was on every floor) and this time proudly and on the outside of my ensemble. I wore matching red sweatpants, too. I ordered deep-fried brie cheese as an appetizer and both a strip steak and ravioli for my entree(s). That night was pirate-themed, and everyone at the table next to us had brought their own pirate costumes: Fully grown men wearing cheap striped pants and puffy white blouses and headbands and eye patches and clip-on hoop earrings. And they were doing it without a shred of humiliation. Amazing!

The pirate party turned into a rave, and Captain Mickey came down on a zip line over the swimming pool to vanquish an ill-tempered Captain Hook. There was a DJ and I danced with abandon and swung my nephews around so many times I thought we’d all puke. That night, I went to the ice cream station twice. I fell into bed and flicked through the all-Disney stations (from Mickey and Donald Duck cartoons to the Marvel franchise, from a charming Reese Witherspoon in Home Again to a queenly Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul), and drifted off to bed with a Happiest Place on Earth grin on my face.

On our last morning, as I folded my new Pirates of the Caribbean bandana into my luggage, I had learned a lesson that applied beyond Disney cruises. Cool doesn’t have to mean the same thing as contrarian. Yes, it’s easy to be snobby and reject the cheesier things. But life—on a Disney cruise and off it too— is sometimes all about getting out of a safe space, putting on an eyepatch and a fake hoop earring, and making the most of it. The Blasbergs had a marvelous time on this cruise. I bonded with my family and made memories we’ll cherish forever. All because for a few days I let my Disney flag fly. I wouldn’t recommend calling your daughter Ariel, but now I won’t roll my eyes at anyone who does.

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