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Disney's Animal Kingdom
News Clips 6 - 2001
April 16, 2001
Animal Kingdom Lodge debuts
Disney is bringing an African wildlife reserve to Orlando with the opening of Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The 1,293-room resort on 74 acres captures the marvel and attraction of Africa. The deluxe resort showcases one- and two-bedroom suites decorated with hand-crafted Zimbabwe furnishings and art and three gourmet restaurants surrounded by a 33-acre, animal-filled savanna.
Norm Noble, general manager of the lodge, says, "What we want to do is immerse them in the essence of Africa and allow them to discover the sights, sounds and smells of what makes Africa truly a unique place to explore."
Disney Imagineers researched more than 20 African lodges before coming up with the resort's detailed architecture.
Peter Dominick, who designed Disney's Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World Resort and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel at the Disneyland Resort, conveys Africa's ambience in the six-story resort with thatched roofs, and a mud fireplace and large dormer windows in the lobby overlooking the savanna.
Meanwhile, the resort's gourmet restaurants transport the flavors of Africa to Orlando.
Signature restaurant Jiko-The Cooking Place blends world cuisines with European, Indian and Asian influences on the menu. In addition, it features South African wines and an interior inspired by Disney's "The Lion King." Near Jiko is the Cape Town Wine Room and Lounge.
The resort also offers Boma-Flavors of Africa, a family restaurant with an exhibition kitchen, wood-burning grill and rotisserie; the Mara, a quick-service eatery named for the Mara River; and Victoria Falls, a mezzanine lounge serving gourmet coffee and tea and alcoholic beverages.
Other amenities include a 9,000-square-foot pool with a view of the savanna and two spas. For children, there is an activity center, pool and play area.
Orlando Business Journal
A chance to feast with the beasts
By Scott Joseph
SENTINEL DINING CRITIC
May 27, 2001
The Disney Culinears must have had a great time researching the cuisines of Africa for their restaurants at the new Animal Kingdom Lodge. They had the whole dark continent to explore, each region with its own distinctive cuisine, from Morocco to Ethiopia to South Africa. That they chose none of those cuisines as the basis of their headliner restaurant, Jiko, is beside the point.
Instead, the menu, as executed by chef Serge Burckel, is a fusion of cuisines from Europe, India and Asia, with a nod to African cooking styles and seasonings, enough to satisfy the theme.
The results are good, though, to put it in context, the dining experience doesn't quite come up to the level of California Grill or Flying Fish Cafe, other Disney restaurants of a level to which Jiko would aspire.
Jiko's sub-moniker is The Cooking Place, a translation of the Swahili word. Jiko's cooking place is represented in an open kitchen area that features two large cylindrical woodburning ovens (here's a hint to those of you who thrill at being able to spot hidden mouse ears: look at the ceiling where the chimneys meet).
From the cooking place comes an array of bread-based dishes, appetizers of a sort. I enjoyed the lentil pastilla ($6.75), a variation of a Morrocan dish called b'steeya, which featured phyllo dough pockets filled with a puree of lentils, served with a sweet and sour sauce. Subtle yet certain seasoning matched with the sweetness of the sauce and the delicate crackling texture of the phyllo made this a tasty treat.
Duck firecracker ($8.75) also came from the cooking place. This was a meagerly meted morsel of both deep fried and unfried spring rolls filled (as much as something so small can be filled) with shredded duck meat. It was served with a stack of lettuce leaves that were meant to be used as wrappers for the spring rolls. As far as bang for your buck is concerned, this firecracker was a fizzle.
Better you should try the maize tamale ($5.50), one of the more authentic appetizers save for the inclusion of truffle oil. The tamale came wrapped in a husk but instead of a molded cornmeal mash there were small cubes of white maize inside. Myriad herbs and spices -- and that effusive truffle oil -- made this little tamale taste much larger than it was.
Nothing could make Jiko's dumpling ($10.25) look or taste bigger. This tiny lump, which resembled a Japanese gyoza, was served in an empty bowl. A server then ceremoniously poured a lentil broth over it. I figure this one is about 10 bucks overpriced.
There is one soup on the menu and it is called One soup ($6.50), more likely because Burckel brought it from his California restaurant, which was named One, than for its solitude. It was a delicious broth of pureed black beans topped with an egg white foam that forms a delicate omelet. It was garnished with apples and celery.
From among the entrees the banana leaf steamed sea bass ($22.50) was impressive for its presentation if not for the overall effect. It was delivered to the table still wrapped, the large green leaves folded up and bundled together with wooden skewers. The waiter instructed me to remove the skewers and the leaves unfolded, releasing a gush of steam. Inside was a white fillet of sea bass sitting on an asparagus puree that was bilious in color. The fish, though a good quality and fresh-tasting fillet, had little flavor, and the puree didn't add much despite also offering bits of mushrooms and apples.
I thought the roasted whole papaya ($16.50) was a lot of fun, just the sort of adventurous dish you want to order in unfamiliar territory. The fruit was filled with a mixture of minced beef and seasoned with a five-spice jus. It was accompanied by pureed potatoes under a thatch of green herbs.
The breading on the pan-roasted monkfish ($17.75) was only slightly soggy, but not so much as to ruin a good piece of fish. The tomato butter sauce was a perfect partner, and the flash-fried parsnips that decorated the fish were a nice touch.
The sauce that came with the oak-grilled beef tenderloin ($27.50) was the most impressive part of that dish. It was a reduction made with Indaba red wine and was black at first sight but a deep magenta when swirled with a forkful of meat. The beef was topped with an herb rub, grilled to a perfect medium rare, was tender and tasty. The filet sat atop macaroni and cheese, which seemed an odd accompaniment and wasn't served well by the sauce or the beef -- an out-of-place component.
For dessert the mango turnover ($5.50) was the clear winner at my table. It was fruity with just a slight citrus kick, and the apricot seeds that dotted the plate gave an added textural experience. Cardamom-flavored candies ($5.25) and African champagne noodles ($6) were less of a thrill. The candies, served with a vanilla sauce and raspberry coulis, were plain, and the noodles, a small pile of Asian clear noodles steeped in Moroccan ice tea, sounded better on paper.
Jiko serves only South African wines and claims the largest collection in North America. If you're unfamiliar with SA wines there are several sommeliers on staff who can help steer you toward a wine similar to a California favorite as well as make qualified recommendations to accompany the food.
Wine and menu knowledge are exceptional, I just wish the waiters wouldn't be so eager to share it. It's one thing to have one's questions answered with authority, it's another to have the menu items, their individual ingredients and cooking styles recited without prompting.
The dining room, which was designed by acclaimed restaurant designer Jeffery Beers, sweeps around a large area, followed overhead by a flock of white birds with halogen lights attached to their feet. The birds diminish in size as they "fly" through the room toward a bright yellow wall. The hostess said it was supposed to represent the sunrise in the opening scene of Out of Africa, though I think she meant The Lion King. Columns throughout the restaurant sport gold rings, reminiscent of the type Zimbabwean women wear to elongate their necks. A glass wall looks out over a gentle pool. Sorry, there are no sight lines to the "savannah" where the animals roam.
There are animals roaming about the property, and that is the reason for the increased security. If you want to dine at Jiko you must have reservations. You must give a credit card number when you make the reservation (or preferred seating assignment). If you fail to show up for the reservation your credit card will be assessed a $10 fee for each person in the party. Be sure to have the name the reservation is under when you approach the security guard gate or you may not make it in. The FBI should be so secure.
It's worth the trouble. The entire experience may not be quite up to the level it should, but Jiko is still in a developing stage.
It's new, it's different, the food quality is certainly above average and its setting is unique to Central Florida. That's more than enough to recommend it.
Copyright (c) 2001, Orlando Sentinel
Out of Africa -- a lion's roar
By Scott Joseph
Sentinel Dining Critic
June 8, 2001
Now this is the way a buffet should be run. You've heard me disparage the quality of buffet restaurants recently. Most of them feature bland, soggy food served on steam tables and should be called all-you-can-stomach instead of all-you-can-eat.
But Boma The Flavors of Africa, one of two restaurants at Disney's new Animal Kingdom Lodge, offers a new concept in buffet dining. The food, which features a variety of meats, fish and vegetarian items based on African dishes, is adventurous in scope with brilliant flavors. And instead of steam tables, most of the food is served on state-of-the-art (if all-you-can-eat technology can be called art) surfaces that allow the foods to be served in pots, pans and other vessels while still keeping them hot.
There is no buffet line per se; you're free to just wander aimlessly from one station to another. Actually, the crew members here -- under executive chef Jay Smith -- don't like the word buffet. Instead, they use the word pod to refer to each serving station. I'm not sure "serving pod" is much of an improvement in semantics, but I like the concept of being able to roam and forage. How many times have you been in a food line behind some really slow people who have to analyze all the food before they commit to taking any? I was once behind a guy in a buffet line who had to ask his wife at each tray whether the food was something he liked.
That man would not like Boma because chances are his wife would have no idea what the food is. But that's just the sort of restaurant you should have in an exotic lodge like this one. Be daring, sample foods whose ingredients you can't pronounce. Taste something just because you've never tasted it before.
There are way too many items to list them all, but some of my favorites were the smoked tomato soup (that one is on the vegetarian pod), the seafood gumbo (we forget that some of the foods we associate with Louisiana Creoles have roots in Africa), couscous Marrakesh, sweet-potato pancakes and a flank steak that was rubbed with sugar, onion, garlic, coriander and cumin. The watermelon rind salad was interesting, one of those things you try just to say you tried it, and there are nearly 20 pastries to try every night. The one called zebra dome is amazing. You have to have that one.
All of this is priced at a very affordable $19.95; $8.95 ages 3-11. Yes, you can find cheaper buffets, but when you consider the quality of the food and the excellence of the attendant staff, Boma's a bargain.
Now before you jump in the car and head out Disney way, there's something you should know. Reservations are mandatory at Boma and Jiko, the Lodge's other restaurant, and when you make your "priority seating" reservation, you'll have to leave a credit card number. If you don't show up, your card will be charged a $10 per person fee. This is to keep the lodge from being overrun by people who just want to gawk at the place and get a free look at the animals that roam around the hotel.
The first time I visited I did not have a reservation and the guard at the front gate turned me away after reviewing his list of names. I insisted that I was meeting a party and didn't know what name the reservation was under. He told me it was the resort's policy that all visitors must have a reservation.
So just be sure to call ahead. The number for all Disney dining venues is 407-939-3463. Besides dinner, Boma is also open for breakfast. The fare is a little tamer, with mostly American breakfast items. About the most exotic thing on the menu would be a boboti, sort of an Afrian version of quiche. Boma is open daily from 7 to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast and 5 to 10 p.m for dinner.
Copyright (c) 2001, Orlando Sentinel
Beastly rumors, flying roller coasters
August 20, 2001
Once again, there are hints that Walt Disney World might be ready to
begin work on Beastly Kingdom -- a planned, but never built, section of
For those who don't remember, Beastly Kingdom would explore mythological
animals, such as dragons and unicorns. Plans called for a large roller
coaster, as opposed to the tamer, family-friendly coasters slated for
Three years after Animal Kingdom opened -- and not a unicorn in sight --
you could hardly blame some for believing that the real myth was Beastly
Kingdom, as speculation bounced it back on the drawing boards, then off
the drawing boards, then on again.
That's why word that something big is planned in 2004 for Animal Kingdom
has brought back beastly rumors.
Walt Disney World's president, Al Weiss, told cast members the Disney
team is designing an "E-ticket" attraction and a new "land" -- similar
to the Asia and Africa continents already represented -- for Animal
Kingdom that would open in three years.
The comments were confirmed by Paul Pressler, chairman of Walt Disney
Parks and Resorts, in an interview with Laughingplace.com.
Currently, Animal Kingdom is adding a new section to Dinoland with the
new family roller coasters and a carnival area, but that's scheduled to
open in 2003. Besides, they don't include an E-ticket attraction. For
those who don't remember, E-tickets were used for only Disney's best
Of course, Pressler wouldn't elaborate. Neither will Disney officials.
Orlando Business Journal
As more kids cruise, ships don't snooze
By Arline Bleecker
Sentinel Cruise Correspondent
September 23, 2001
Virtually every major cruise line caters to kids. Typically, ships of Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Disney dedicate entire facilities such as playrooms and discos to youngsters. They also devise agendas crammed with arts and crafts and fun and games as well as parties of the pizza and slumber type.
- The latest innovation at Disney Cruise Line lets passengers who book a seven-day land/sea package aboard the Disney Wonder spend their embarkation morning at Animal Kingdom in Disney World. Disney takes care of all transfer details and provides a place at Animal Kingdom where you can store day bags on embarkation morning.
Because Animal Kingdom opens an hour earlier than the other theme parks, you have the morning to enjoy the attraction before boarding a bus at 12:45 p.m. for the ride to Port Canaveral. As in the past, Disney picks up your luggage at your hotel the night before your cruise and delivers it to your cabin.
Arline Bleecker is a free-lance writer who lives in New Jersey. Write her in care of the Orlando Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801. E-mail AJBleecker@aol.com.
Parades mark Walt's magical legacy
By Tyler Gray
Sentinel Staff Writer
September 28, 2001
Over decades of talk about magic and pixie dust, folks at Walt Disney World think park patrons might have forgotten that Walt Disney was a real man.
Beginning Monday, almost 100 years after Disney was born, and ending Dec. 31, 2002, the custodians of his dream hope to teach guests about the man behind the Mouse.
Far from a lecture, "100 Years of Magic" is education wrapped in Disney regalia. "Walt was quoted as saying, 'Give them what they want, but surprise them on how you present it,' " says Rich Taylor, vice president of Walt Disney entertainment and costuming at the Orlando resort.
The central theme, Disney the man and his vision, plays out in all four theme parks -- Disney-MGM Studios, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Each hosts new parades that also officially begin Monday.
"No one in Disney history has launched four parades at a time," Taylor says.
About a week ago, construction walls came down around the centerpieces of the celebration. At Disney-MGM Studios, the focal point is a 12-story, 150-ton sorcerer's cap from Disney's Fantasia. Inside are computer kiosks with quizzes and stories about Walt Disney history. At night, the icon fires up with a state-of-the-art light show and an original new musical score.
New wearable "Disney's Magical Moments" pins light up at various spots in all of the parks. They might pulse like heartbeats at the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom or flicker in celebration when guests respond correctly to quiz questions at kiosks. At all four parks at night, guests and their pins become part of the light show, says Roger Holzberg, senior show producer-director at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Tucked behind Mickey's cap at the Studios is the real tribute to the life of Disney. In "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream," spectators stroll through scenes from Disney's life. His own voice narrates.
There you'll see Disney's Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and his homemade animation table and chair. Disney was the kind of guy who never envisioned sitting down on the job, Holzberg says. His table was built for standing work, but his chair wasn't. So he added a wooden attachment to the legs that viewers can still see.
Some of the pieces of history push the edge of the squeaky-clean Disney envelope. In a display containing a historic letter from Disney to a colleague, Disney is pitching his park. In his pen, the note reads, "I must say it's going to be one Hell of a show."
Those carrying on his dream at Walt Disney World hope for nothing less, with almost 400 performers putting on the parks' new daily parades.
These parades feature more characters than ever, Disney's Taylor says. And for the first time, Animal Kingdom gets a daily character parade, "Mickey's Jammin' Jungle," in which the Disney gang heads out on safari.
In Epcot, the "Tapestry of Nations" parade has been retooled and renamed "Tapestry of Dreams." It's the most artistic of the parades, with few recognizable characters. Children around Epcot write down their dreams on handheld trinkets and place tiny wish coins into nets held by characters called "Dream Seekers" as the parade goes by.
The voice of Julie Andrews introduces "Share a Dream Come True," the parade down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Classic characters wave from inside air-conditioned glass snow globes. Along the way, Mickey's float might stop to include children in a Mousketeer march. On the villains' float, the Evil Queen from Snow White transforms into a hag before onlookers' eyes.
For kids, Cinderella has planned a "Surprise Celebration" in front of her castle in the Magic Kingdom. She invited 18 characters to the party but 24 show up -- villains try to crash the festivities, of course. For the all-new show, children will get closer than ever to the characters, Taylor says.
"Not only will they get to see them in the show, but they'll get to hug them afterward."
The official opening for the celebration is Monday, but the parades are running already. Now might be the rare time to spot tiny goofs while cast members work out the kinks.
During the premiere of the Magic Kingdom parade, Pinocchio got a glittery gold chip of paper -- pixie dust -- stuck between his cartoon teeth. Cast members motioned him to push it aside, but gloved hands could only shove it further into the mouth. Pinocchio spent the rest of the parade sporting a grill full of gold teeth.
Glitches aside, the organizers of the 100-year celebration are sticking to Walt Disney's own love of parades. Never underestimate the power of fluffy characters to bring out the kid in anyone.
Paul Stirling, a Disney-MGM visitor from West Palm Beach, stops a Disney official in a gift shop after the parade rolls through. "Was that the first time they did that parade?" he asks. It was. "I thought so!" says Stirling, who said he was "49, going on 12 today, probably -- everybody here is."
He's a burly guy with a gruff voice, a deep tan, faded blue tattoos on Popeye-sized forearms and a "Capt. Tony's" tank top. He had just watched the "Disney Stars and Motor Cars" parade, character-filled classic cars accompanied by audio from Walt himself.
Stirling's eyes were wetter than Typhoon Lagoon.
Choking back a lump in his throat, he says he loved everything about the new parade and the vision it promotes.
"This is a piece of history we saw today," he says.
You can reach Tyler Gray at 407-420-5164 or email@example.com
On the move...
By Scott Joseph
Sentinel Dining Critic
September 28, 2001
The Hound has been away for a while, so we'd better catch up on local news and goings-on.
New in Jiko kitchen
Word comes from Disney's new Animal Kingdom Lodge -- via e-mail, not jungle drums -- of a change in executive chefs at Jiko - The Cooking Place. The lodge's top dining room opened under the direction of Serge Burckel, a native of France who attempted to create a fusion cuisine of sorts with the African-themed restaurant. (Some of it worked, some of it didn't.)
Then one recent morning, according to a Disney executive, he woke up and discovered his visa had expired. Now you're probably thinking the same thing I thought: Why not just use his MasterCard? But apparently this was the visa that allowed him to work in the United States. Walt Disney Co. will take on many challenges but not any involving the United States' laws on immigration. Burckel is now in another country seeking employment.
And look who has taken his place -- it's Anette Grecchi-Gray. Grecchi-Gray was one of the first women to be named to an executive chef position at Disney when she took over the kitchen of Narcoossee's back in 1997. She moved around a bit within the organization and then left the company last year to head the culinary team at Hard Rock Hotel.
But there's a big difference between operating a restaurant and commanding the entire culinary efforts of an around-the-clock hotel operation. Grecchi-Gray and Hard Rock said good-bye to each other after only a short time.
But Disney was happy to welcome her back, and the atmosphere at Jiko should be just right for her skills. Can't wait to see what she does with the place.
Speaking of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it's no longer required that you have a priority seating (Disneyspeak for reservation) to dine at Jiko or Boma, the wonderful all-you-can-eat adventure in dining next door. When the lodge first opened, there was a concern that a lot of people would storm the hotel just to gawk at the place and to get a peek at the animals that roam about. I tried showing up without a reservation the first time I went there and had to do a lot of fast talking when the guard couldn't find my name on the list.
But gawkers -- as well as walk-in diners -- are now welcome. Just tell the guard at the front gate that you're headed for either Jiko or Boma.
You can reach Scott Joseph at 407-420-5514 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his past reviews at calendar.orlandosentinel.com
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