Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Globes for Animated Feature!

So Disney had three nominations, out of five possible, for Best Animated Feature last night:
  • Brave
  • Frankenweenie
  • Wreck-it Ralph
A 60% chance of victory!

And lo and behold, they did take hope the Globe trophy - for Brave, which deserved it, far as I could see.  Wreck-it Ralph seemed pretty good, but didn't quite hit the heights that Pixar regularly hits.   I can't speak to the other nominees; these were the only two I saw.  But the others LOOKED like cartoons, while Brave was something a bit more my opinion!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Disney Guide Books

I was reading over some of the handful of Disney guidebooks that I own.  Admittedly I don't own too many - I'm more interested in the art and mechanics behind the development of Disney theme parks (and theme parks in general) than I am in the comprehensive guides to visiting the parks. 

That said, most of the guidebooks I own or have looked at seem to be all things to everyone.  They try to be so comprehensive - they try to present every single detail that is out there about the parks, resorts, and experiences that are available at a Disney resort.  They almost seem like they'd be most useful to someone who visits often, like, say, an annual passholder who doesn't live too far from the parks.

Most of us probably don't vacation like that, however.  We don't have unlimited time to do everything.  We have 7-10 days (probably more like 7-8 days) to cram in as much as we can do.  Once a year if we're "lucky".  Every other year seems more common, in talking to others who vacation to Florida to visit Disney. 

So a template for a shorter, every-other-year visit would seem to be useful.  I would assume that most visitors want to immerse themselves in Disney as much as they can.  After all, Disney makes it far more cost-effective to spend your entire stay on Disney property.  As you probably know, a single day costs around 90 bucks to just get into a park.  A five day ticket brings the average cost down to something around 55 bucks a day.  Make it seven days for 10 dollars more a day, bringing the average cost down to about 41 bucks a day.  Seven days for a family of four is going to be something around $1150.00.  (A bit less if you have kids under 10, which a lot of Disney visitors do, obviously...but still...) 

So you're spending upwards of a grand for just your park admissions.  Want to add the park hopper option?  It adds almost 60 bucks per ticket and allows you to visit more than one park per day.  Is that something that you would use more than once or twice on your trip?  I know we generally don't.  To me, that park hopper option is nice to have, because there might well be a day we're visiting somewhere other than Epcot but we want to dine at Epcot.  Or maybe you want to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at two parks, one in the morning and one at night. 

We no longer purchase the park hopper option because we feel it is too much money (almost 240 dollars) for the once or twice we might actually use it.  Of course, you have to decide this for yourself, but that's my perspective. 

And that's the sort of perspective that I would like to get out of a guidebook.  Something that might give me a template for a one week visit.  Well, maybe not now - we've been down there something like seven times over the past 8 years, plus a couple of visits to California, and we have our routine down. 

Heck, I think maybe I'll write it! 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Celebrating Creativity

We spent our New Year's Eve weekend in the big city, looking forward to some good meals, some entertainment and even some shopping.  And all of that was accomplished.  From the minute we got there, however, for some reason I started viewing everything through a "creative" lens, from restaurants to shows to shops to art and merchandise. 

And there was a lot of creativity being exhibited.  How many different ways?  Well, let me try to enumerate:

  • Menu selections at several restaurants
  • The restaurants themselves
  • Art Galleries
  • Unusual shops
  • A performance at a theater
  • A film
  • A street musician
We had lunch/brunch at a restaurant called Perennial Virant one day, which featured a small menu of unusual takes on breakfast items.  Unusual herbs and cheeses filled their egg creations and their sausages.  They try to be very organic, and it shows.  The food was quite good; the atmosphere across from Lincoln Park in Chicago was also quite nice.  

We also had meals at several other restaurants, including the New Orleans-inspired Heaven on Seven, chef Jimmy Bannos' main restaurant.  The decor takes you right to the Big Easy, and the food, consisting of Jimmy's takes on New Orleans classic dishes like etoufee, jambalaya, po-boys and barbecued shrimp, keeps you there.  Though I didn't imbibe, they also feature a selection of New Orleans beers like Abita and Dixie, and of course, their own version of the Hurricane.

One restaurant that really interested me was Foodlife at the Water Tower Place.  It is a "Lettuce Entertain You" restaurant which is really a whole bunch of lunch counters.  They give you a swipe card as you enter and you go around to the various stations, selecting the items you want.  I picked Chinese at the Big Bowl station.  Next to it was a stir-fry station.  There was an American "comfort food" station, a Mexican taco station, a salad station, a pizza station, a pasta get the idea.  You have previously been seated at a table, and after you're done, you present your swipe cards to the cashier on your way out, and he/she scans them and gives you your bill. It struck me as a very creative and enjoyable way to provide you with your meal.

There were two gorgeous galleries in the Bloomingdale's Building on Michigan Avenue.  One featured a lot of glass sculpture priced way above my rank, but the pieces were beautiful.  A second featured paintings by several artists, including Dr. Seuss, and also featured some original Renoirs, Rembrandts, Chagalls, and Picassos.  Obviously also this was way out of my price range.  But it celebrated creativity throughout the centuries, and put current creative efforts in proximity to those of the famous and masters. 

A store at Water Tower Place is called Churrascuro, and it features the works of many local artists and artisans.  I remarked to my wife that some of the works seemed so simple (yet attractive and fun), that anyone could have done them.  (She replied that THAT was why THEY were artists and we aren't.)  Creative use of old broken watches, costume jewelry, and other common items comprised the pieces available for purchase, and some of them were actually in my price range!

Another store in Water Tower Place is a candy store on the 7th floor.  In there they have a "Candy Museum" with memorabilia from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, some dresses made of candy, furniture and other items associated with candy, and artworks dealing with candy.  Oh, and you can buy lots of candy there...including old "vintage" candies like Charleston Chews and Oh Henry! bars. 

Walking on Michigan Avenue, we came across a lot of street musicians, of varying interest.  But one in particular, a clarinet player doing jazz and accompanying his recorded background music, was really excellent, and we had to give him a tip.  I hope he was doing really well because he deserved it. 

We went to see Blue Man Group at their Chicago location at the Briar Street Theater.  Now THERE is an exercise in creativity.  From the percussion performances to the skits and sketches to the multimedia to the audience participation, it is a fun, funny, engaging performance that keeps your eyes glued to the stage and the Blue Men, who, as the name indicates, are totally painted in blue greasepaint (as if there was anyone by now who doesn't know who they are and what they look like). 

Last, we saw a showing of Cirque du Soleil:  Worlds Away, a film that brings a couple of characters from a regular circus (one a spectator, one a performer) through several of the worlds of Cirque Du Soleil.  Very fun and interesting film.  It's a visual feast, and very creative in its storytelling and execution.  The performers are often amazing with their almost-not-human abilities and body control.  Who thinks of this stuff?  Quite ingenious.  And incredibly creative.

So there it is - a three day celebration of creativity in the big city.