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Sunset Over the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

‘America’s Funniest Home Videos Christmas Spectacular’ Celebrates Tonight From the Disneyland Resort

posted on December 8th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

Welcome the holidays with a night of laughter and merriment as “America’s Funniest Home Videos” celebrates from the Disneyland Resort with host Tom Bergeron.

Host Tom Bergeron with Pluto, Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy at Disneyland Resort

Highlighting the best Christmas videos in “AFHV” history, along with all-new clips, the exciting episode includes videos featuring the hazards of decorating, of kids causing mayhem during recitals and the hilarious things they say while sitting on Santa’s lap. Tune in for the fun with “America’s Funniest Home Videos Christmas Spectacular” airing tonight, 9:00-10:00* p.m., on the ABC Television Network.

*Check local listings for time and channel in your area.

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Finding Your Zen: Favorite Quiet Spots at the Disneyland Resort

posted on October 25th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

As a long time cast member of the Disneyland Resort, I have had the opportunity to experience our parks and resorts countless times. Whether visiting with family or friends, the energy and excitement of a day in the parks is all part of the fun. But if I need a breather during the day, one of my favorite ways to recharge is to find a quiet location and just relax.

Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks provide beautiful areas to sit and watch the day unfold. Here are a few of my favorites.

Silly Symphony Swings at Disney California Adventure Park

Silly Symphony Swings at Disney California Adventure park has a beautiful covered promenade. While guests are swinging high above, you can take in the stunning views of Paradise Pier, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and The Golden Vine Winery across Paradise Bay.

Also at Disney California Adventure park, Grizzly Trail provides a serene nature walk past Grizzly Falls on the way to Paradise Pier or Pacific Wharf.

At Disneyland park, the Court des Anges in New Orleans Square not only provides a quiet respite, but instantly transports me to another time and place. Even if I’m doing some holiday shopping the beauty of the courtyard inspires.

Fowler’s Inn at Disneyland Park Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland Park

But my two favorite spots at Disneyland park both provide a different way to experience the scenery. The area by Harbour Galley and Fowler’s Inn offers a riverfront landscape with the gentle sound of lapping water. But for me, nothing beats sitting on the bow of the Mark Twain Riverboat for a picturesque journey on the Rivers of America.

What is your favorite quiet spot at the Disneyland Resort?

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Today in Disneyland History: Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant

posted on August 29th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant

One of the best things about growing up in Southern California were the visits my family took to Disneyland park each year. The park was my Never Land, full of wonder and excitement that fueled my young imagination. To this day one of my favorite memories is of Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Skull Rock in Fantasyland.

Opening August 29, 1955, as the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant (later named Captain Hook’s Galley), the ship was home to a small quick-service location serving all things tuna. I remember eating my tuna burger as quickly as I could so I would have time to explore the area. I imagined I WAS Peter Pan as I navigated the waterfalls of Skull Rock, dueled with my sibling pirates on the deck and wondered how something so impossibly large as a ship could actually fly (pixie dust, of course!). Only at Disneyland could a restaurant inspire such imagination!

Closed to make way for the new Fantasyland, Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Skull Rock are no longer part of Disneyland park. However, they are more than just a memory as Imagineers created a fantastic version in Disneyland Paris.

EXTRA CREDIT if you can name the two other Disneyland park restaurants that opened in August 1955.

What is your fondest memory of this classic Disneyland location?

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Celebrating 45 Years of Laughter and Hope at Disneyland Park

posted on May 27th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

Saturday, May 28, marks the anniversary of one of the most endearing attractions to ever open at a Disney park when “it’s a small world” celebrates 45 happy years at Disneyland park.

Celebrating 45 Years of Laughter and Hope at Disneyland Park

When he originally imagined this attraction for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney tasked a talented team of Imagineers, including artist and Disney Legend Mary Blair, to bring his vision of brotherhood and friendship to life. Mary’s concept was that of a “pop-up book” that looked like the children within the story had designed their worlds themselves.

Celebrating 45 Years of Laughter and Hope at Disneyland Park

Mary Blair also designed the iconic facade when the attraction was moved to its new home at Disneyland park. With whimsical representations of the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben and the Taj Mahal, the exterior is no less impressive than the ride itself.

Of course it is the playful music, by legendary songwriting team Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman that keeps us humming long after we have exited the attraction. Walt asked the duo to write a simple piece that could be repeated and sung in different languages. The Sherman Brothers succeeded creating quite possibly the catchiest Disney attraction theme song of all time.

In 1966, Walt Disney presided over the opening ceremonies of the attraction in its new home at Disneyland park. Children representing countries from around the world came together to pour water from all seven continents into the “Rivers of the World.”

Since that moment, more than 233 million Disneyland park guests have joined “the happiest cruise that ever sailed” – enough to circumnavigate the Earth more than 190 times. “it’s a small world” has opened in the Magic Kingdom park at Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disneyland park, Disneyland Resort Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, proving that “though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”

Celebrating 45 Years of Laughter and Hope at Disneyland Park

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This Day in History: Dinner on the Bayou at Disneyland Park

posted on March 18th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

A moonlit night, dancing fireflies, the soulful sound of a banjo playing in the distance, dining under colorful lanterns amidst ancient cypress. Of course, I am referring to the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland park, which opened 44 years ago today.

This iconic location in New Orleans Square has always been one of my favorite places to dine. I can still remember coming to Disneyland park as a child and tasting my first Monte Cristo sandwich. The unbelievably tasty combination of ham, turkey, cheese, powdered sugar and jam is something I still enjoy to this day.

Monte Cristo Sandwich from the Blue Bayou at Disneyland Park

Over the years, there have been many delicious choices. A menu from the early days of the restaurant highlights specialties that include Ragout de Boeuf en Casserole, Grenadine of Boeuf Maximilian and Salade Rothschild. Happily, today’s menu is just a bit easier to pronounce with Tesoro Island chicken, Royal Street seafood jambalaya and the Bayou Surf & Turf amongst the favorites.

Blue Bayou has been a favorite of Disneyland park guests since 1967.

But what makes the Blue Bayou so unique and special is the atmosphere; the perpetual twilight, the gentle serenade of crickets and bullfrogs as you dine on the patio of a graceful New Orleans mansion, all while boats glide through the bayou to discover treasure beyond. I have found nowhere else that so completely immerses me in the environment or makes me feel so much at home.

What is your fondest memory of this favorite restaurant?

Blue Bayou at Disneyland Park

Reservations for Blue Bayou may be made by calling 714-781-DINE (3463).

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Meet Joy Cushing, Disneyland Resort Sommelier and Wine Educator

posted on March 10th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

My appreciation for the artistry and craft of wine-making began when I was working on the first Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival, and was invited to participate in sommelier education at the Disneyland Resort. What I thought would be a course to add knowledge and help me in my role turned into a passion that I could not have imagined. More than 500 cast members have been given the opportunity to begin this journey, and I am pleased to introduce you to the person who currently leads the wine education for our cast.

You may know Joy Cushing as one of the managers who oversees the dining room of the outstanding Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. But in addition to her daily duties, she also manages the extensive Disneyland Resort wine list and conducts the sommelier education program. I sat down with her to talk about her role.

Joy Cushing, Sommelier Educator

Jim: How did you begin your personal education to become a sommelier?

Joy: One night I had a bottle of wine with a friend, and for the first time the wine spoke to me. The timing was great as Michael Jordan had just begun the sommelier education program. I was eager to learn more and and just dove in.

Jim: How has the wine education program evolved over the years?

Joy: There is such a great respect for the wine program here at the Disneyland Resort and the knowledge that our cast possesses. The program has grown so much. We have over 200 sommeliers currently working at the Resort. We have more advanced sommeliers than anywhere else. The training has grown from “introductory” to really embracing the advanced education needed to progress through the various sommelier levels – Introductory, Certified, Advanced and Master. We work with the Court of Master Sommeliers to hold exams here at the Disneyland Resort.

Jim: You are taking your Master Sommelier exams soon. How does the educator prepare as the student?

Joy: I am currently studying to take my Master Sommelier exams in February 2012. It is crazy the amount of knowledge you need to have – from regions, sub-regions and vineyards to soil types and the history of grape varietals – and how they all relate. I study constantly. I love to learn, but with wine, you never stop studying. I jokingly refer to myself as a “wine nerd” at this point because I found an industry that allows me to be constantly studying.

Jim: What is your best memory as the wine educator for the Disneyland Resort?

Joy: When you see a class of students pass their introductory exams – that relief and excitement. When I see someone who has that spark, that passion for wine and service, and the drive to learn all that they can. Those are the best memories.

Jim: What bit of advice would you provide to someone who is just beginning to discover the world of wine?

Joy: Find what you love to do and keep the passion going. It is important to find a rhythm that allows you to succeed. It would be very difficult to continue studying and progressing if I had not found a pace that keeps me motivated and moving forward. For me, nothing is more exciting than helping a guest discover something new. I’ll frequently ask what a guest normally drinks because that will help me know if we are going on adventure. Should we branch out or stay with something comfortable? Nothing feels better than finding the perfect wine for someone.

Jim: Finally, do you have a favorite wine?

Joy: It changes every day! One day I will find the perfect Cabernet Sauvignon, rich and full of tannin and then discover a crisp, refreshing white wine while enjoying lunch on a sunny day. That is the great thing about wine: There is always something you have not yet tried.

Last fall, Level I (introductory) and Certified Sommelier exams were conducted at the Disneyland Resort by an esteemed group of Master Sommeliers. Joy led those students through the often complex material, and 20 cast members became the newest sommeliers of the Disneyland Resort!


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Advanced Sommeliers at Disneyland Resort: Ambassadors to the World of Wine

posted on March 2nd, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

Last time, I had the opportunity to introduce you to three of the more than 200 sommeliers at the Disneyland Resort. Today, there are two more cast members I would like you to meet, both Advanced Sommeliers and both servers at Napa Rose, Kristofer Stewart and Dondi Balisalisa.

In describing his job as a server and sommelier, Kris explained: “I think of my role as an ambassador to the wine world for the guests dining at Napa Rose. I am able to use my experience to help guests enjoy their wine experience.”

Dondi is thankful for the training opportunity: “I started from scratch and I compare it to starting in kindergarten – now I feel like I’m in college. Michael Jordan (Master Sommelier and former manager of Napa Rose who began the sommelier education program in 2001) organized the vast material to help us understand the exams administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Because of that level of training, I have successfully passed my Introductory, Certified and Advanced exams.”

Dondi Balisalisa, Sommelier at Napa Rose

Kris concludes: “You won’t find anything that provides this level of training as part of your job. The education and training give me the tools I can use when serving guests. It allows me to help guests with a wine recommendation and allows me to speak with confidence and authority about the wines I offer. The training helped me learn on my own, to travel and discover. I have tried many wines that I may never have tried before, and I have learned that every bottle has a story to tell that I can share with our guests.”

Kristofer and Dondi have made the commitment to a lifetime of education, and they take pride in the opportunity to help our guests discover the joy that can be found in every glass of wine. We wish them well as they study for their Master Sommelier exams.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to the cast member who leads our wine education, Advanced Sommelier Joy Cushing of Napa Rose.


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‘Family Fun Weekends’ Celebrate Mardi Gras with New Menu Items

posted on February 22nd, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

Hopefully you had the opportunity to join Princess Tiana and all of the gang this past weekend as they kicked off the Mardi Gras celebration at “Family Fun Weekends.” If not, you still have two more weekends to “let the good times roll!” In addition to the celebrations, music and dancing, new menu items were rolled out to help add some N’awlins flavor to the festivities.

The Blue Bayou has done the “Crescent City” right with a traditional bouillabaisse. This French seafood delight is filled with lobster, red snapper, little neck clams and mussels all in a savory broth, topped with dipping bread and saffron spread. You can add the perfect finish to your meal by selecting apple fritters a la mode for dessert! Three fresh apple fritters are served with vanilla bean ice cream, dried cherry gastrique and topped with spiced apple glaze. This is a meal fit for a carnival king or queen!

Muffaletta Sandwich From French Market Restaurant at Disneyland Park

Café Orleans is getting into the spirit of Mardi Gras with their own signature dessert, a Bananas Foster crepe – a handmade crepe filled with sautéed bananas, topped with caramel rum sauce and caramelized bananas. Across Orleans St., French Market will be spicing things up with a shrimp Po-Boy and a Muffaletta sandwich. And don’t miss the Mardi Gras corn chowder at Harbour Galley topped with festive “confetti” corn chip strips, or the Cajun Firefly, Blueberry Blast or Mardi Gras Punch, specialty beverages that contain no added sugar.

There are many culinary delights available for a limited time throughout New Orleans Square, but my favorite is the Mardi Gras “Mickey” Brioche – sweet brioche bread, covered in Mardi Gras-inspired green, gold and purple sugar crystals. This treat, served with a familiar “mouse-ear” twist, is available at Harbour Galley, French Market and Royal Street Veranda.

Mardi Gras 'Mickey' Brioche From New Orleans Square at Disneyland Park

Take a peek of some of the fun we had this weekend at the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans Square. Then come be a part of the festivities as “Family Fun Weekends” continue Friday through Sunday, February 25 – 27 and March 4 – 6, in New Orleans Square at Disneyland park. Grab your krewe and come be a part of the fun.

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Getting to Know the Disneyland Resort Sommeliers

posted on February 16th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

In my last post, I told you about the education of a Disneyland Resort sommelier. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a few of the more than 200 sommeliers from all across the Resort. While you would expect to find them tableside, you’d be surprised at how many roles involve wine education.

Teri Ross, Guest Service Manager, Wine Country Trattoria, Certified Sommelier

Teri’s wine education has allowed her to expand her role at Disney California Adventure park. “Becoming a sommelier has given me many opportunities,” she said. “I have been able to train cast members, develop wine lists and be a part of the Food and Wine Festival. My knowledge has allowed me to branch out and discover new possibilities.”

Sean Layne, Area Chef, Big Thunder Ranch and Fantasyland/ToonTown Restaurants, Sommelier

Sean Layne, Area Chef, Big Thunder Ranch and Fantasyland/ToonTown Restaurants, Sommelier

Sean’s role as chef does not involve the use or serving of wine, but he uses his knowledge about wine all the time.

As he said: “The title [of sommelier] doesn’t mean very much in my role as a chef, but the education does. Learning about the different aspects of wine and liquor definitely helps me with creating menus and balancing tastes and flavors. When it comes to ‘tasting’ food, I have learned through the sommelier classes to look deeper and pull out flavors and characteristics that may not be easily apparent, but can make a huge difference when trying to balance a dish.”

Jessica Burd, Food Prep, Ariel’s Grotto, Sommelier

Although Jessica’s role at the Disneyland Resort is not related to the service of wine, her sommelier training will help her on her journey to becoming a chef.

“I want to be a chef at the Disneyland Resort,” she said. “Becoming a sommelier helps broaden my pallet and allows me to identify key notes in wines to better help me pair them with food.”

When asked about the training that goes in to becoming a sommelier, Jessica replied: “Most people assume we spend our sessions tasting expensive wines from all over the world. This was not the case. We studied soil types, weather, grape varieties, local laws. In short, much more than I ever expected.”

Regardless of their roles. these cast members represent the high level of service that is expected of a sommelier at the Disneyland Resort. Next time I’ll introduce you to two Advanced Sommeliers currently preparing for their Master Sommelier exams.


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A Sweet Treat for Your Sweetheart at Disneyland Resort

posted on February 10th, 2011 by Jim Ames, Manager, Food and Wine Events, Disneyland Resort

This week we’re highlighting the “romantic” side of the Disneyland Resort, from first dates to Disney weddings. I wanted to share a way to create a sweet ending to a romantic meal by providing a Disneyland Resort signature recipe to make at home.

Although anything with flour, sugar and eggs receives high points in my book, the Tres Leches cake is one of my favorites. Not too rich, perfectly sweet – a fantastic ending to a great meal. This cake is served at Rancho del Zocalo, one of my favorite places to dine in Disneyland park. I love the food and I love the atmosphere, especially in the evening with the stars shining above and the sounds of the Mark Twain Riverboat and Frontierland in the distance.

This recipe for Tres Leches Cake originally appeared in the Delicious Disney Desserts cookbook. It can be made a day in advance.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake
Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante
Disneyland Resort

1 1/4 cups cake or pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum (optional)
4 egg whites

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease 13 X 9 X 2-inch cake pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine oil, 1 cup sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly. Stir in 1/2 cup of milk and gently fold in the flour mixture until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into cake pan and bake for 30 minutes or until it feels firm and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cake cool to room temperature.
  5. Pierce cake with a fork 30 to 40 times. Whisk together remaining 3/4 cup of milk, sweetened condensed milk, 1 cup heavy cream and rum (optional). Slowly pour over cooked cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  6. In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add 1 cup remaining sugar in a steady stream, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread over top of cake. Broil 1 to 2 minutes until meringue is golden brown. (A scant dusting of powdered sugar will help meringue nicely brown and add crunch.)

Cooks’ note: Rancho de Zocalo at Disneyland Park serves a traditional Mexican version of Tres Leches with a whipped cream topping. To make, combine 3/4 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat mixture until peaks form. Spread over top of cake.

What are your favorite sweet treats at the Disneyland Resort?

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