Making Waves With Mickey Mouse

Photo courtesy Bob Owen, flickr

The sorriest sunset I ever saw rose over the hills of San Pedro, California with simmering, El Greco-like streaks of orange, pink and blue and striated white clouds announcing the new dawn.

This was the sorriest sunset because it announced the final morning of our family’s eight-day Mexican Riviera cruise on the Disney Wonder, a 63,000 ton vessel large enough for 2,700 guests and around 1,000 in crew. There may be better ways to spend a family vacation dollar, but I haven’t found them yet.

Disney got into the cruise business in 1998, and they do cruises the way they do everything else—relentlessly, exhaustively, and with their usual impeccably high standards. You might think there’s something Mickey Mouse about a Disney cruise, but you would be wrong. The ships are super elegant, the food is phenomenal, the quality of service unbeatable, and the opportunities for children to enjoy themselves are nonstop. As a telephone operator at the cruise line told me the day before the trip, “Until they get on the ship, they’re your children. Once they get on board, they’re ours.”

What makes a Disney cruise so special?

In three words, attention to detail. Let’s talk about the food. If you travel on any cruise ship, you’ll have the same wait staff team—head waiter, waiter, and assistant waiter—every night of your voyage. What Disney does differently is rotate you and your wait staff among three different restaurants, each with a different theme, and with a different menu every night. It’s tough to get bored when your wait staff team is essentially putting on a different show for you every night, in three different and astoundingly beautiful restaurants.

One of them, Animator’s Palate, pays homage to the art of animation, which is, of course, what put Walt Disney on the map in the first place. The restaurant, which seats 500, is done in black and white, with cartoons showing on screens on the wall. The pillars are massive paintbrushes which lead to artists’ palettes; hence the name, which is a play on words, whence the palate governing our ability to enjoy food.

The Animator’s Palate restaurant on the Disney Wonder cost approximately $6 million to design and build. That’s a lot for one room, and they certainly got their money’s worth. One of the highlights of the trip is when the wait team switches mid-meal from black and white vests decorated in an animator’s theme to color, and the restaurant itself is transformed from black and white to color as well, paying homage to the craft.

I had the pleasure of meeting Corey—Disney is a first-name company—the executive chef of Animator’s. He gave my family a tour of the galley, a very small kitchen indeed where 500 meals are prepped and prepared for each of the two dinner seatings…by a crew of fourteen. The Animator’s Palate galley is about the size of the average American living room, and how that many meals can be prepared without kitchen knives shaken in anger is hard to imagine. But they get it done.

Cruising is all about eating, and the food, at French-inspired Triton’s, Cast Away Key, and Animator’s is everything one might hope for. Another highlight of the dining experience is pirate night, when all guests are issued red bandanas, which are tied around your head via your waiter and assistant waiter, in preparation for an after-dinner pirate show on the top deck of the ship, culminating in, as Disney proudly tells you repeatedly, the only fireworks display launched from a cruise ship anywhere on the planet.

Since it’s Disney, all the characters abound and are available for photographs at set times throughout the voyage. Adults on the Disney Wonder display an endless capacity to line up for things. Rare is the moment when you don’t see a long line of adults, sometimes with children in tow and sometimes not, queuing up for something. The Disney cast members will take pictures of you or your children with the various Disney characters, either with your camera or theirs. Conveniently, you can view photos of your family in pirate costume, alongside the captain of the ship, or in more formal groupings, and you can buy them and bring them home.

Cash doesn’t work on a Disney cruise. Instead, your door key is linked to your credit card for your convenience, and Disney’s, allowing you to buy alcohol for yourself, shakes for your kids, and a wide variety of souvenirs, spa services, and whatnot, all for a reasonable fee. It’s easy to spend real money, especially if you are busy sampling the 28,000 bottles of wine and champagne forklifted onto each week-long cruise.

The crew members deserve special attention as well. Disney is fanatical about finding people whose attitudes are as positive as their work habits, and they scour the globe for individuals to work on their ships, usually for four-month renewable contracts. Indeed, 62 different nationalities were represented among the staff on our cruise. You had the sense that all the little children depicted in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland or Disneyworld grew up and got jobs waiting tables or folding laundry on Disney cruises.

Disney identifies all of its employees, from CEO to deckhand, with the oval badge familiar to Disneyland and Disneyworld visitors. The badge provides the first name and country of origin of each employee, or cast member, since Disney recognizes that it is putting on a show, whether in theme parks or on the high seas. I encountered the head of security for the ship in an elevator during the cruise and asked him whether there were any ethnic or religious tensions among the crew, many of whom came from India, Pakistan, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. His response, which was echoed by the ship’s captain, was that people pretty much checked their ethnic, religious, or political rivalries at the gangway, and for the most part, the crew members tended to get along. As far as the nations of the former Yugoslavia, their position tended to be that the issues affecting their homelands had little to do with them personally and were isolated to a few flashpoint regions, but they didn’t really have a dog in those hunts. If people from 62 different countries can get along in the relatively cramped confines of the underbelly of a Disney cruise ship, what excuse do the rest of us have?

But enough about politics; you want to hear more about Disney hijacking your kids. The ship offers gated, secure play areas for every age group, from a nursery to teens and tweens. The youngest children can only be checked in or out by their parents. Children the age of our twin sons—nine-year-olds—can check themselves in and out of their club, or parents can set a security level by which only they can sign the kids out. The children have “Mickey bands” not unlike those received when checking into a hospital, on their wrists, which identifies them. At the gate of each of the kids’ clubs are Disney crew members who check adults and their children off by photo, identifying information, and a password the parents select. Young children can enjoy a fairly high degree of autonomy on the ship, given that many of the 1,000 Disney crew members, including the top brass, are wandering the halls at all times. My wife and I felt a little uneasy that our sons were out playing shuffleboard one night at 11:30, but they returned to the cabin none the worse for their adventure.

In addition to the clubs, Disney puts on really fantastic shows for children (and their parents). Most of the shows involve mash-ups of various Disney songs and stories. All of them emphasize the Disney values of faith, trust, and fairy dust—believing in oneself and making one’s dreams come true. The singing, dancing, and staging are everything you could hope for. Our three-year-old enjoyed the shows as much as my 75-year-old mom, who we brought along for the cruise. If you can do a show that entrances people who are 72 years apart in age, you must be doing something right.

The Disney cruise also serves up comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, and other acts which perform kid-friendly versions of their craft at the pre-dinner shows and slightly more adult versions in the lounges after dinner. Nothing risqué, though; it’s still Disney. But it’s entirely possible to slide from Disney show to nightclub comedy or magic act to dinner to after-dinner comedy or magic show and dancing without missing a beat.

During the day, activities for children and parents are so plentiful that it takes a four-page daily planner to keep track of them all. Parents and children can sample the arts of animal towel making, origami, animation, and a host of other creative acts. Disney movies—classics and new releases—screen in the opulent Walt Disney theatre on board. There is also a well-appointed gym on the ninth floor with a fantastic view of the ocean from the Stairmasters and treadmills, alongside a spa where I got a really outstanding haircut for a mere $30. There’s no sense of being gouged, which makes the experience friendlier.

To come back to dining—how can you not, on a cruise—Disney offers a high-end Italian restaurant called Palo on the top deck—a five course meal in an intimate, elegant setting, for a mere $20 per person. And if you really brought your eating pants to the cruise ship, you can have your high-end meal before or after your normal dinner. Take that, Weight Watchers!

The fanatical attention to detail was driven home to me one evening when I found a gentleman named Edward, whom I discovered to be the executive chef of the entire ship, down in the stateroom area around 10:30 one evening. I asked him what brought him to that part of the ship and he explained, with great unhappiness, that a guest in my vicinity had ordered chocolate-covered strawberries and called to complain that one of the strawberries had mold on it. He had come down to the servers’ area by the stateroom so that he could root through the trash and find the strawberry. He told me that he wouldn’t know what to tell the guest unless he had seen the allegedly moldy strawberry with his own eyes. He oversees the serving of 11,500 meals a day to guests and crew members, and yet he was not about to ignore, or even deputize the rooting through of trash, a single strawberry gone bad.

I ran into him again two days later and told him how impressed I was with his attention to detail. That afternoon, a large bowl of fresh fruit was waiting in my stateroom for me, along with a card that read, “Compliments of the executive chef.”

And what of the ship itself? The Disney Wonder is an absolute gem, its Italian craftsmanship revealing itself in the fine moldings of the adults-only lounges, the Nuvo Deco look and feel of the entire ship, and the absolute beauty and elegance throughout. One of Disney’s corporate maxims is that, “You can feel excellence.” They achieve that feeling of excellence by providing touches that they say only one guest in 100 will notice, but the rest of us will feel them. Such is the case on the Disney cruise, whether we are talking about the lighting in Triton’s restaurant, inspired by the Ariel story, which shifts throughout the meal so as to provide a sense of dining under the sea. Or the towel animals that delight children upon their return to their cabins at night. Or the simple fact that the crew members would certainly rather be home with their children instead of at sea for four-month stretches, but treat your children as if they were their own.

Disney pays enormous attention to the customer surveys handed out toward the end of the cruise and even devotes five minutes on the “how to disembark” video, which shows in the stateroom prior to the end of the voyage, to the concept of fairness. Jimmy, the Wonder’s cruise director, in charge of all entertainment and the overall guest experience, ruefully told a story of a guest who marked down his cruise experience because it rained in a notoriously rainy city in Alaska where his cruise had visited. The message of the story: hold us accountable, but only for the things we can actually control—not the weather in Alaska.

Which brings me back to that sunrise on the eighth and final morning of our Mexican Riviera cruise. I’m one of those highly energetic people you see running laps around deck four at sunrise, if you happen to be up that early yourself. As the docks and container towers of Los Angeles harbor hove into view, so did the orange ball of the sun, its arrival announcing the imminent conclusion of eight of the best days I’ve ever spent with my mother, wife, and kids. And I had to look twice, because the first time I saw that sunrise, I thought it had Mickey ears.

(New York Times best selling author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten books.)

Los Angeles Kings Update! Beats Vancouver in First Three Games!


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Our Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club has won the first three Stanley Cup first round games in the best of seven series against the Vancouver Canucks, an unprecedented achievement in team history, and they may be able to make it a clean sweep to the Second Round this Wednesday night the 18th at Staples Center, where they will have home rink advantage for a fourth and clinching win against the Canucks.  The Kings were not expected to survive long in the Playoffs, but they are in the process of making sports history!  Dustin Brown is proving to be one of the playmakers for the Kings in the series, and goalie Jonathan Quick had a shut-out, 1-0 win last night.  This Wednesday night, L.A. Live at Staples Center will be the place to be!

Melville Syrah is a great $20 Red Wine from Santa Barbara

We like to cover all the good things in life California has to offer in CaliCulture, and sometimes that includes a little information and a tip on an interesting wine.  A new vintage to come out not too long ago is Melville Winery’s (www.melvillewinery.com) 2010 Verna’s Estate Syrah, selling at www.klwines.com for less than $20 a bottle — if you can still find it.

California wine snobs have different expectations for their red wines.  Some like a “big finish,” some like “a burgundy style,” or “fruit,” some like “smooth tannins.”  A fair description of this great value of a Syrah from Melville is that it is “California fruit forward,” and is surprisingly good for a Syrah (usually I’m not a fan) and the fruit you taste is unmistakeably like strawberry.  This wine is just really pleasant and drinks well, and if I could have breakfast at 5 pm this wine would be wonderful with evening pancakes.

Melville is one of our exceptional Santa Barbara County wineries and is based in Lompoc.  Syrah is a less expensive red wine grape to grow than Cabernet, but it seems to do well in the Santa Rita Hills and environs of the Santa Maria Valley.  One thing I have not appreciated as much about Melville’s wines is their increasingly high alcohol content, sometimes 14.9%, which I think doesn’t add that much and frankly takes a lot of the fun out of wine drinking.  This nice Syrah, however, is leveraged down to 14% alcohol, still a little high in my book, but much more enjoyable then the “Red Bull” type wines many California producers are shipping.

Melville is a few miles off the #101, West, in the direction of Lompoc, and is open on weekends for tastings.  It is very close to nearby Babcock Vineyards, known for their Chardonnays.  If you like a slightly sweet fruity Pinot Noir (that is the “fruit forward”, as in Tantara Vineyards) you will love Melville Syrah, Verna’s Estate, 2010 vintage.

Food Nazis

Chicken Little made a name for himself by proclaiming the sky was falling. Of course this Nostradamus of the barnyard was proven wrong but not until after he had most of the barnyard population believing his false assertion.

This fable is repeated time and again in real life. Some self-proclaimed expert makes a claim that is not supported by facts or science but is so convincing that people swallow the falsehood hook, line and sinker. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the realm of the human diet.

We’ve been scared into believing that we should all be eating bean sprouts and tofu if we don’t want to die young and destroy the planet. In the midst of this Chicken Little diet scenario walks Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University who lost 27 pounds in two months eating Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Doritos, sugary cereals and Oreos. Finally, a diet we all want to be on.

As a class project, Haub set out to prove a theory that has been validated many times by common sense and science. It’s not what you eat but how much. He consumed 1,800 calories a day which is 800 calories less than what it takes to maintain body weight for a man his size.

In addition to losing weight, Haub’s body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 percent, his “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent, his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent and his triglyceride level was reduced by 39 percent.

Before his class project, Haub ate a “healthy” diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas – but he was overweight. “There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy,” is Haub’s assessment. “It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy. I was eating too much.” Therefore he wasn’t really eating healthy, he was eating what we have been sold as eating healthy.

(Jim Whitt is a noted speaker, consultant, author, and unapologetic people provoker.  Visit his blog at Purpose Unlimited.)

Beverly Hills Hotel site of Whitney Houston’s sad passing

Whitney Houston, the great ballad singer of such popular songs as “I Will Always Love You” and “One Moment in Time” passed away last night at the famous Beverly Hilton Hotel at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards in Beverly Hills just short of her planned attendance at the recording industry’s annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night, February 12.  Houston, 48, was found in her hotel room slumped in a bathtub with her face under water.  Press reports state an autopsy will be held in the next few days.  There has been no explanation offered to the public on the causes of Houston’s death.  Houston suffered from drug abuse issues after her initial successes in the music industry.

Houston had been very much in attendance at pre-Grammy parties and was to attend one such party Saturday night organized by her mentor, Clive Davis.  She never made the event.  Tonight songstress Jennifer Hudson will offer a tribute to Houston during the televised Grammys.

The Beverly Hilton is an iconic hotel in southern California.  Opened by Conrad Hilton himself in 1953, the hotel is a fixture of the entertainment industry.  It hosts the annual Golden Globe awards.  The hotel was once owned by television personality and game-show mogul Merv Griffin.  The hotel has housed fine restaurants over the years such as the wonderful “haute cuisine” L’Escoffier, and one of the original Trader Vic’s, a meeting place for people like Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, and David Frost. (I had the opportunity to visit both over the years.)  Both restaurants are now closed, overcome by the Hotel’s response to changing tastes.

A visit to the Beverly Hilton on any given weekend is likely to yield some interesting Hollywood people-watching to this day.  The hotel was also the scene of the video-taped visits of U.S. Presidential candidate and Senator John Edwards for his extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter.

Houston’s death is tragic and a real loss for not only her family but music lovers around the world.

Beverly Hilton Hotel

 

 

A Very Long Final Second Helps L.A. Kings Win Hockey Game!

There is supposed to be a “scientific explanation,” according to Los Angeles Kings Hockey Team General Manager Dean Lombardi, for a “hesitation” in the scoreboard clock that preceded the exciting last-second goal by Drew Doughty on Wednesday night that allowed for the Kings’ 3-2 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.  Whatever the explanation, I was there with my friend Brandon Powers and it was a thrilling moment to see the Kings pull together what can only be called a “last second” victory on the ice at Staples Center at L.A. Live.

Nevertheless, the “explanation” about this otherwise very accommodating hometown scoreboard clock “hesitation” is that the clock is a “sophisticated instrument” that measures time through “electrical charges” called “coulombs.”  Any perceived “delay” was simply a “recalibration” for the clock previously moving “too quickly.”  In other words, it calculated and displayed the time correctly, despite any perceived, and welcome for Kings fans, “hesitation.”

A Kings game is a fun night out in downtown Los Angeles, as is all that L.A. Live has to offer by way of great bars and restaurants.  Check out Kings hockey at www.lakings.com.

Photo courtesy supernova3688, Flickr

 

49ers lose tight Championship game in overtime


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The New York Football Giants beat our hometown San Francisco 49ers Sunday night in overtime by making a winning field goal, 20-17.  As a result, the Giants are the National Conference Champions and will advance to the Superbowl to face the New England Patriots in Indianapolis on February 5.  Giants Quarterback Eli Manning predicted a great Superbowl.  Manning was sacked six times and experienced twenty knock-downs during the five quarters of play with a tough San Francisco team, playing in rain at Candlestick Park throughout the game.

49ers Win Football Play-Off Game in Last 9 Seconds!

“This is huge for us” said San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Alex Smith.  “It’s history, legendary, anything you can describe.”  Smith was commenting on his 14-yard touchdown pass in the last 9 seconds of the NFL Division Championship game on Saturday at Candlestick Park in San Francisco that allowed receiver Vernon Davis to score the winning touchdown against a good New Orleans Saints team.  The Associated Press has likened the play to other famous last seconds play-off game winning passes in the same stadium of Quarterbacks Joe Montana in 1982 and Steve Young in 1999.  Now former Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh, famous for building up that football program (and costing some Stanford fans to actually lose bets on winning games on point spreads because of his habit of shaving down scoring opportunities late in college games for the sake of “sportsmanship”) is on the cusp of joining the field of iconic winning 49ers coaches from Buck Shaw to Dick Nolan, Bill Walsh, and George Seifert, all “Coaches of the Year.”

Perhaps a little lost in the commotion was the generally excellent job and season of Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 40 of 63 passes for 462 yards with four touchdowns.  Though intercepted twice, Brees had previously not thrown any interception in five years of post-season play, and the turnovers proved costly.  The lead in the game jerked back and forth and was a thriller till the end.

The win for the 49ers was their first in a playoff in nine years.  They will now face either the New York Giants or the Green Bay Packers in the next playoff game on January 22 leading to the Superbowl on February 5 to be played in Indianapolis.

 

Jerry Brown’s Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions

Now is the time for correcting the errors of the past year and resolving to do better in the next.  Have you made your list of New Year’s resolutions yet?!  Well, maybe you can become inspired by taking a look at California Governor Jerry Brown’s Top Ten New Year’s resolutions:

10.  Meet with State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to get his ideas for new policy initiatives for 2012.

9.  At suggestion of State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, propose an initiative and special election to repeal the right of the people to propose initiatives.

8.  When the above initiative is overwhelmingly defeated at the polls, at suggestion of State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, propose an initiative and another special election to deny registered Republicans the right to propose and vote on any initiative.

7.  When the above initiative is defeated by the largest margin in state initiative history, at the suggestion of State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, propose a special election on an initiative proposal to repeal the power of the people to recall the Governor of California.

6. When the above initiative is completely and abjectly rejected at the polls, and a recall petition against me begins to circulate, resolve to stop asking State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for ideas.

5.  When recalled, resolve to not run for Mayor of Oakland.

4.  Meet with former recalled Governor and former Chief of Staff Gray Davis to get his ideas.

3.  At suggestion of Gray Davis, call State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for his ideas.

2.  Call State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg again for his ideas.

1.  Call Jon Coupal.

Credit jerrybrown.org

 

California Political Review thanks you for your readership during our inaugural year and wishes you a wonderful 2012!


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