Saturday, December 22, 2012

Disneyworld's New Fantasyland for Levelers

Ribbon-cutting rehearsal. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The good news about Disneyworld's New Fantasyland: it's flat.
The bad news about Disneyworld's New Fantasyland: you will walk and stand a lot.

To be fair, most of the walking will be done getting to and from parking lots. The New Fantasyland is nicely compact.

Tip: There are a few stairs but in every case there are ramps as well although that adds to the walking.

What to see
New Fantasyland is divided into three areas, Beauty and the Beast, Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid and Storybook Circus.
Maurice's Cottage. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Beauty and the Beast is the most impressive section, containing the Beast's Castle with its Be Our Guest Restaurant, Maurice and Belle's Cottage, Belle's Village, Gaston's Tavern, Bonjour! Village Gifts and the Enchanted Forrest.
Lumiere and Belle. Photo © by Judy Wells.

The "attraction" here is Enchanted Tales with Belle in Maurice's Cottage. Visitors assemble into groups of about 25 to be welcomed and to enter through the enchanted mirror into a dressing room where Madame Wardrobe (voiced with gusto by the wonderful Jo Anne Worley) provides the props for the characters - selected from the crowd - in Belle's tale of meeting the Beast. Next it's off to the library where, aided by the volunteer cast, Lumiere and Belle tell her story. It's a fun bit, thanks to the audience participation.

Tip: You'll stand during the assembling and introduction to the enchanted mirror then sit on benches for the casting and storytelling. If accompanied by children, try to get a seat in the front where you and they have a better chance of being volunteered. Volunteers get a kiss from Belle and a book mark.

Detail of a "beast" in Beast's Castle. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Even if you don't plan to eat there, go through the gates and across the stone bridge to see the inside of the Beast's Castle. Carefully plotted and executed details begin with the Armor Hallway, where the six suits of armor whisper occasionally. The ballroom is is grand, the Rose Gallery is pretty and the forbidden West Wing is dramatic with its ripped portrait and belled-jar covered rose. Altogether impressive.

Entrance to Under the Sea. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid, situated just below the approach to the Beast's Castle, is one of the cleverest of Disney's new creations. You wind through a coral-banked walkway into a sea cave with its wrecked galleon and pirate treasure. Myriad details, including a tribute to the first under the sea ride, the Nautilus of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, lessen the wait so pay attention. Finally you reach a moving line of clam shells which take you through a dark ride that retells Ariel's story. Delightful from start to finish. You can meet Ariel herself in Ariel's Grotto.
The clam shells don't stop so you'll need to move. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: The only problem here is getting into those moving clam shells but staff is there to help.

Continue walking away from the castle and you'll be in Storybook Circus which recreates in great detail the heyday of the big tops.

Now there are two Dumbo rides. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Flying with Dumbo, always a popular if too short ride, has doubled its capacity. Now you can choose between a Dumbo flying clockwise or one going counterclockwise. Best of all, there's no waiting in the usual sense. Get a pager upon entering then play in the circus area until it buzzes for your ride time. Clever, those Imagineers.

Here comes the coaster. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Barnstormer, a relatively gentle coaster, is now the Great Goofini and Disney characters are met at Pete's Silly sideshow.

Get sprayed by an elephant. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 Centering the circus is Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station where cartoonish elephants spew water from their trunks which the kids will love, especially in summer.
Ride the train, save steps. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: Cut out a lot of steps by catching a nostalgic train at the Fantasyland Train Station here to head to another part of the park.

Where to eat

Beast's Ballroom. Photo © by Judy Wells.
By day, Be Our Guest Restaurant inside the Beast's Castle is a rather elegant, French-themed version of Disney's standard quick order and eat stops. By night, however, it becomes a finer dining establishment with table service and, a first for this Fantasyland, wine and beer to accompany the French-inspired cuisine.

Gaston's for pork shanks and LeFou's brew. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Gaston's Tavern, the village version of an order and eat, is a bit disappointing. The huge cinnamon rolls are popular but the enormous pork shanks are rather off-putting. That and a few snack choices are it other than the "signature" drink (shades of butterbeer), LeFou's Brew, $9.99. Actually, the drink's not bad, but a brew and a pork shank as lunch fare may soon have dietitians signing petitions of disapproval.

Coming next... Photo © by Judy Wells.
Still to come between now and the end of 2015, Princess Fairytale Hall and The Seven Dwarf's Mine Train.


Leia Mais…
Monday, December 3, 2012

Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse for Levelers

Mount Rushmore.© by Judy Wells.
People from all over the world visit South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, monumental carvings honoring men who were important to our nation's residents. 
Chief Crazy Horse Memorial. © by Judy Wells.

Both are carved or being carved into mountains which often makes access difficult. Not in this case though.

En route to Mount Rushmore via Iron Mountain Highway. © Photo by Judy Wells.

Mount Rushmore
Tip: There are more direct routes but I highly recommend approaching Mount Rushmore via the 14-mile-long Iron Mountain Highway. The scenery is spectacular, especially that first glimpse of Rushmore when the light gray spot on the mountain becomes the distinctive faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln - just like in all the photographs you've ever seen.  The road isn't for the faint of heart, as it and even bridges coil steeply around - pig tail curves they call them - with one-lane-wide tunnels cut through the rock.  An unforgettable experience.

The U. S. Park Service does an excellent job of making the difficult accessible with ramps and elevators and we Levelers benefit.

Tip: There's an elevator in the multi-level parking garage.

Avenue of Flags. © by Judy Wells.
The entrance through the avenue of flags is impressive as are the exhibits and film on the lower level. Tip: Use the elevator.

You will have to do some walking to approach as close as you can to the carvings.

President's Trail has more steps than you want. © by Judy Wells.
Tip: The President's Trail will take you to a number of different angles for photographing but the difference isn't worth the more than 100 steps up and then down. I know because I walked it.

© by Judy Wells. © by Judy Wells.
Sculptor Gutzum Borland's studio is interesting but you'll have about 15 steps down then back up to get to and from it.

The bison burgers in the cafeteria are good as is the ice cream (Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing it to America). The best part of Moose Drool brown ale is its name.

Chief Crazy Horse Monument. ©by Judy Wells.
 Crazy Horse
The insensitivity of carving enormous faces of presidents responsible for usurping their lands into a mountain sacred to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota peoples was ignored by most Americans but not the native peoples. They responded by commissioning an even larger sculpture of their beloved Chief Crazy Horse.

So much larger that the four presidents' heads of Mount Rushmore easily fit atop the head of Crazy Horse.

Korcsak's drawing overlays the mountainside. © by Judy Wells.
It is a work in progress and, like most of the world's cathedrals, will continue over several generations. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski knew this, providing detailed plans for his family. His widow Ruth and seven of their children carry on the work today.

Korczak's maquette with the unfinished Chief Crazy Horse in the background. © by Judy Wells.
All is funded by private donations but there is no overt begging at the facility below which includes the still developing Museum of the American Indian, an excellent film, Korczak's workshop and models and demonstrations by area Plains people.
Dance demonstration. © by Judy Wells.

Tip: There are very few steps here and a bus will take you as close as it is possible to get to the base. It is well worth the nominal charge.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Freeman,S. D. - The little town that could

Freeman, S. D. © Judy Wells
They may not look like much driving through but small towns in the Sioux Falls, SD, area have surprises and charm galore. The best part for Levelers is that steep hills are few and stairs are limited to a few steps. Freeman was my favorite.

Freeman is a community of German Mennonites, Hutterites and a Scandinavian or three amid gently rolling prairies. Lots of farming here but that's not what impresses.

A happy Schmeckfest consumer. From the Schmeckfest website.
First, for 53 years, this town of 1,200 or so has been feeding 1,000 visitors a night for four nights at its annual spring Schmeckfest, a tasting of Russian German foods and demonstrations of how they are made. From the first year, interest and demand for tickets have stunned residents until the point they limited tickets and extended the number of nights. A ticket to a Freeman Schmeckfest is as hard to find as one to a Green Bay Packers home game.

As if that weren't enough, it is accompanied by a full-scale musical. Past efforts have ranged from the Mikado to The Sound of Music

In 2013, Schmeckfest is scheduled for March 15, 16, 22 and 23 with tickets going on sale this month (November). Fiddler on the Roof is the musical production.

Entering the Prairie Arboretum. © by Judy Wells.
Then a few visionaries decided what their town needed was an arboretum and outdoor amphitheater for concerts. So they built one.

Gazebo. © by Judy Wells
The Prairie Arboretum is an idyllic 40-acre spot with original sculpture and gazebo, surrounded by a stream that connects a pair of stocked lakes.

First look inside Heritage Hall. © by Judy Wells
That blended nicely with the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives, a cavernous - 24,000-square-foot facility filled with more than 20,000 examples of pioneer life from tools and farm equipment to native wildlife displays and household items.
A few of the cars inside. © by Judy Wells

A few farm vehicles. © by Judy Wells

Diamond Valley School. © by Judy Wells
Surrounding it are restored buildings - pioneer homes, a schoolhouse and churches.

Looking over the Archives room. © by Judy Wells
The Archives is a researcher's dream with more than 10,000 books, periodicals, documents and photos on and of the area's immigrant families. Also on hand, two 17th century Luther translations of the Bible.

Sioux saddle used in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. © by Judy Wells
The gems of the museum are the 450-plus rare items on display in the Plains Indian Artifacts Exhibit. During the two-week Good Girls in the Badlands road trip fellow travel writer/photographer Debi Lander and I took through the Dakotas this summer, we saw just about every Plains Indian collection on display, and this was the best, easily beating out those in universities and state museums. That a town the size of Freeman has this is remarkable.
Ghost Dance shirt. © by Judy Wells

We could have spent hours here. You may want to do the same, so save time for a bit of whimsy.
Picture yourself as Grant Wood might have. © by Judy Wells

What else is in Freeman? A golf course with a popular restaurant, Dave's Grille, and the annual QuiltFest, a two-day show with demonstrations and food on the Freeman Academy Campus.

Hutterite communal kitchen and dining room. © by Judy Wells
There are several Hutterite communities in the Freeman area and tours can be arranged in advance by calling 888-595-9755 or 605-925-4444. The Hutterites, who believe in communal living - "having all things in common," as the passage in Acts goes - are an offshoot like the Mennonites and Amish of the Anabaptist movement of 16th century Radical Reformation.
The residential area of a Hutterite community. © by Judy Wells

Leia Mais…
Monday, November 5, 2012

Sioux Falls, SD.: A lot to see

Sioux Falls were greatly diminished by the drought.
The drought of 2012 may have turned the Big Sioux River Falls that gave South Dakota's largest city its name into a relative dribble, but between downtown Sioux Falls' public sculpture and galleries, the museums and nearby towns there are plenty of other things to make a visit worthwhile.

Tip: Best of all, unless otherwise noted, there are no steep hills or long stairways.

"Daughters of Peace" by Benjamin Victor.
Start with downtown. It's lively, attractive and walking around is a joy thanks to the annual SculptureWalk.

A couple takes a look at Jerry McKellar's "Huckleberry Daze."
Each year 55 or so sculptures by a variety of artists are placed around town in front of sponsors who pay $1,000 for the privilege. During the exhibit, viewers vote on their favorites and the People's Choice is purchased by the city. Companies and individuals may buy or lease works as well, adding to the city's ambiance.

"Generation Slaps" by Matt Miller.
The concept has caught on; the University of Sioux Falls now stages its own annual Sculpture Walk, unveiling 12 works throughout its campus.

Another source of fascinating art is Prairie Star Gallery, an extensive collection of work by Dakota, Nakota and Lakota peoples. Owner Linda Boyd is a font of knowledge as is her staff. Ask them about the Plains culture and prepare to be fascinated.

Linda Boyd at her Prairie Star Gallery.
One piece, a Horse Dance Stick by Gayle Rencountre, spoke to me the moment I walked in and I had to find out more.

According to Linda, horses were vital to the Plains people, partners in buffalo hunts that made it possible to feed, clothe and protect their families. Carved horse sticks were used in the Horse Dance, designed to protect these invaluable four-legged family members.

Horse Dance Stick by Gayle Rencountre.
Here's what Linda wrote about the horse stick that now has pride of place on my living room wall.

A Crow Creek Lakota, Gayle is a large tall stoic Lakota in his late 40's, who is also known as Coyote Creations, when he does silver jewelry. This horse dance stick was done in time of drought so quite a few images of lightening strikes and rain drops and hail are asking for rain so that 4-leggeds (animals, represented by the carving and horse hair) and 2-leggeds (birds, represented by feathers), and people-- all survive.
    The horse is painted red to represent the good red road and good journey in life, as well as later journey to the spirit world, represented by the hand that connects us to past generations and welcomes the future ones, and the circling of the eyes so the horse can see better into the spirit world, when the time comes, to enter that world. There  are also square hoof prints representing horses that have gone already to the spirit world.  Lakota believe that the star world is where spirits reside before birth and where elders live after they leave this earth. Therefore, the star world is most important in our lives to gain full wisdom.
      Note too the horse hooves are painted bright dark with stylistic stars to say that we need to take care of our oceans and Grandfather sky. Stars represent star knowledge and the fact as a middle generation, we need to look to the star world for better understanding. If we respect the 3 generations before and after us, the world is a better place, more in balance, according to Lakota belief.
    The mid body grandma's mix of beads is primarily blue blues, again to represent Father Sky and the Oceans, Green for Mother Earth and red for the good journey.  The brass beads show passage of time. The mini shield is a further prayer & protection  asking for life-giving rain. 

Center for Western Studies.
The Center for Western Studies at Augustana College is another place to learn of the Plains Indian culture as well as that of the Scandinavians who settled here.
Part of the Plains culture exhibits.
Part of the Scandinavian culture exhibit.

What do you do when the battleship USS South Dakota, the most decorated ship of World War II, is decommissioned and you have no body of water large enough to float her in?
Establish the South Dakota Battleship Memorial and build an outline of the ship in concrete around the bridge.
It's quite popular with the youngsters and is a beloved addition to Sherman Park where you also find the Great Plains Zoo and the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, the Amateur  Softball Association of America Hall of Fame, Indian Burial Mounds and nine lighted softball diamonds.
An exhibit in the Delbridge Museum of Natural History which houses 150 animal mounts.

Falls Park has been the focus of the city's recreation from the beginning. Walks, picnic areas and an observation tower have been added as has the Falls Overlook Cafe in a replica of the original hydroelectric plant. Nightly sound and light shows and a holiday lighting display keeps residents coming back.

Tip: There are stairs here and low hills but they aren't too bad.
Falls Park.

If you've always wondered about fishing, hunting, camping, outdoor cooking, canoeing, kayaking or any of the other outdoor activities that Dakotans love, Outdoor Campus is where to head.
Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.

The staff here will show you what it's like and teach you how to do it.

Walk through the big fish to the exhibits beyond and prepare to be educated. Amble through the gardens and be one with nature.

Leia Mais…