Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Very Trailer Camp Christmas - Disney's Fort Wilderness

In Australia, the caravan park traditionally scored the best piece of holiday real estate. Usually absolute beach front, with a large grassy park adjacent and just a skip from the wharf where the freshest prawns were offered, to be eaten whilst dodging pelicans and seagulls.

Parks Beach, Coffs Harbour: I can smell the fish and chips of my childhood
But in more recent times when discussing holidays in my household, mention anything to do with caravans, campervans, Britzvans or motor homes and I usually get a response somewhat like Niles Crane:

Niles: "I'm sorry, Frasier. I am not a Winnebago person. Whenever I see one on the highway, I look into the driver's eyes, hoping to see something that would explain why in God's name they would ever want to do something like this. All I see is a death stare under the brim of a hat made out of Miller Lite cans."
And perhaps in my own dotage I am tending to view campervans in rather the same light as this chap (NSFW):

Yet, some people in this world are still enamoured with the dream of the open road and the freedom to call anywhere home ..... until they drive that behemeth to WDW.

Like snowbirds escaping the northern winter, Winnebagos flockulate in Central Florida around the prime territory that is Disney's Fort Wilderness  and there the Winnebago will be stationary for several months over the holiday season. Like all Disney resorts Fort Wilderness is kept in great condition and there are plenty of diversions for all the family. swimming pools, bikes, kayaks, playgrounds, campfires with toasty marshmellows and chipmonk singalongs, boats, horses, restaurants and shops all with that rustic, wooden, campground setting.

In many ways it is a half decent lifestyle: pleasant weather, happy friendly surrounds, plenty of entertainment to access  .....or even become the entertainment.

Over the holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year) Disney decorates all the resorts in traditional decorations, but at Fort Wilderness Disney cannot compete with the motorhome occupants in decorating the camp. So being inventive they sell viewing "sleigh" rides instead!

This photo does not show the wheels
When I visited Fort Wilderness all the guests/residents were still transitioning out of Halloween and setting up for Christmas. So in order for you to see the full glory of an FW Christmas, I'll let you have a look at a couple of other websites with more thorough coverage.

First up, FW devotees run their own discussion board: Fort Fiends. Here you can see their own photos of their holiday displays.
Yes - that's a motor home - not a tour bus
And Jeff Lange has some beautiful shots on his website including 2 nice day and night videos of displays

Merry Inflatable Christmas!

If you are tempted to stay at Fort Wilderness but are not the proud owner of a Winnebago, you can stay in one of their "rustic" cabins. These standalone cabins can sleep up to 6, are self-contained - including a little BBQ and outdoor picnic table. gives all the details

Friday, 30 December 2011

A Very Zonta Christmas - 2011 Footprint of Service

As is the custom for this time of year, we look back and celebrate the successes of the year, and at the Canberra Breakfast Club we had plenty to work on.

In 2011, we:

made over 250 breast cancer care cushions

Raised about $11,000 at our Pre-Loved Fashion Sale in March

Racks and racks of wonderful donated clothes
And another $800 buying Blue Illusion fashion
Still wearing that club shirt and name badge!
 Supported a female PhD astrology student at Mt Stromlo with a $5,000 top up to her scholarship

Would you be able to complete your PhD on just $20,000p.a.?

Donated kitchen starter packs for 5 women leaving refuges to start a new life in a place of their own
What if you had no possessions? How would you cook a meal for the kids?
Packed and donated 333 emergency toiletry packs for women's refuges
Held a community day and packed 4000 birthing kits that went to Ethiopia.

Awarded $500 to our Young Women in Public Affairs award winner

See Samantha at the top? She's our Club's 2009 nomination who went on to win at Zonta International level

Hosted a Zonta Information stall at the Rotary Conference

We were the only non-Rotary stall there!

We also loaded up carloads of new and seondhand linen and towels for the refuges, enjoyed a range of guest speakers, attended Area Meeting and District Conference.

We don't do all this alone. We enjoyed working with an incredible range of people from multiple Canberra Rotary Clubs, students from Dickson College, Australian National University, Karinya House, Bega Women's Refuge, Oasis Refuge, St Vincent's, ATSI Cultural Centre, Lyneham Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the family, friends and work colleagues of our workplaces.

Success in Zonta is a conundrum - we are deeply grateful to every person assisting us to achieve our goals - and we believe that the work on which we focus makes a difference to the status of women in the Canberra region. Hopefully - one day - some of our work won't be needed anymore.

Best wishes to all Zontians and our friends (Hon Zons) for a successful 2012.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Mrs Banks!

Here at Mrs Banks we are doing the same as you - visiting family and friends, eating wonderful christmassy foods, sharing gifts and enjoyng the summer holidays.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday period

And like Disney, my coverage of Christmas will go on into January

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Platnium Plan: Extreme Touring - Backstage Magic

"Theme park holidays?! eerrgghh! I'd rather stick pins in my eyes"

The person who said that to me could've worn this to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. If only, she was more open minded!
You don't have to wander around the parks doing park things. For a more interesting angle on WDW you can go on backstage tours and see what it takes to produce the magic on stage. Back here I promised you that I was up for the Extreme Touring Challenge - how much high priced stuff can I jam into my Platnium Plan 41 hours?

And the answer?

Not as much as I wanted. But it wan't my fault!! Disney wouldn't let me!!

So let's see what they did let me do.

First up I promised you all that I was going swimming with the dolphins.

Santa, please bring good photo editing software
It didn't happen. Disney cancelled on me. They closed the tank to all tours due to unexpected repairs needed to the filtration system. So no fake coral for me.

Instead I went on the 7 hour Backstage Magic tour. This was a coach tour that took our group (about 16) to some backstage areas of the theme parks, and some of the operational areas.

Disney ban photography in the backstage areas so there are limited photos in this trip report - and mostly what I have scrounged from other sources.

The tour started in Epcot in the Amercian Adventure Pavillion. The tour guide discussed the architecture of the building, how they use big tree plantings to block the views of other things to not jar the fantasy, how they sourced original style bricks etc.
The American Adventure theatre contains an audio animatronic show of the history of America. The way it works is that there a bunch of little set stages and these stages are on tracks and they roll on and off stage. The tour goes back stage to show the mechanism - a very traditional mechanical track system driven by a high tech computer program. This was big grindy cogs and mechanics and stuff - and was really interesting.

Back on the bus and over to the Magic Kingdom where we were taken down into the famous "utilidors". These are the utility corridor tunnels that run underneath the park to allow for invisible servicing of the park. I'll let Oprah be your guide. Everything she saw 20 years ago (and as many dress sizes ago) is still the same today - including the appearance standards. I reckon I saw the same shoes display.

Back on the bus and staying backstage we visited the maintenance workshops. These are big functional workshops - like you'd see anywhere - where they do repairs, mechanics, signwriting, painting etc. Here we saw the cast members fixing a viking ship carriage from Epcot's Maelstrom ride, working on a car from Hollywood Studio's stunt car show and they gave us a short demo on how the animatronics work using that one dog that appears in Pirates of the Caribbean, Carosel of Progress and Spaceship Earth.

Back on the bus and off to lunch at Wilderness (Squirrel Lodge). Yes it's mini food porn time!

Whispering Canyon cafe does a "skillet family style all you can eat" lunch - a buffet laid out on the table: corn cobs, pork ribs, pork sausage, chicken, potato mash, coleslaw, cowboy beans, and cornbread. Dessert was fruit cobbler with ice cream.

I never knew the old American wild west was this bountiful! (
The Cast Members all get into the old wild west act and even though we were a very quiet audience our server worked hard with her banter and jokes. A couple of things they do are fun and silly. Drinks are served in jam jars and if you keep asking for refills she'll just bring out the large size - much to everyone's amusement.

Can you show me the way to the bathroom?
Sometimes if you are after the ketchup you might score more than you were hoping for.

If kids are in the restaurant they'll have wooden horse racing and lots of singing etc. Whilst loud and enthusiastic it is all done gently and no-one is too embarrassed.

Fruit cobbler with ice cream (source:
Yee Haa!! (

I'll give it 2 spoons cause I kinda like bbq and there was plenty for everyone and I could avoid the beans.

and 3 Mr Creasotes - it is too hard to restrain oneself and it is all protein and carbs!

After lunch, back on the bus and off to Horticulture. Finally a chance to take photos! Here we saw the glass houses where they grow all the plants for display - hundreds ferns and philadendrons and poinsettas. We also saw all the frames for the topiaries used in the annual Garden Festival each May.

now we know what mickey has under those shorts

toparies are made by covering the frame with birdnetting, stuffing the netting with sphagnum moss and planting squillions of small plants all over
Back on the bus ... and off to Hollywood Studios Park.
First we stopped off at costuming. We went into the same room which is visible to the public, through glass, from the Backlot Tour ride in the park. And we saw those trolleys rumbling by every few minutes.
Looking into the costuming room from the trolley. Imagine me standing inside

I cannot tell how many different types of costumes exist at WDW. Every hotel, restaurant, ride, shop, show, parade, meet and greet - all have different costumes. Mickey himself has hundreds. Although Pocahontas has only one. Tough luck sister - no ball gown for you!

In here they are all designing and cutting and sewing and basically looking like a costuming area is supposed to look. After about 15 mins it was .....

Back on the bus and we're going backstage to see the Tower of Terror Ride. On the ride over they talked about the story behind the ride, how terrifying it was, the amazing technology to control the ride, then took note for everyone who wanted to ride and who didn't. We all piled off the bus, they separated us into 2 groups - the riders and the non riders, led us into a garage and showed us a ride vehicle. 5 minutes later, turned around and .....

Back on the bus - yep - nobody got a free ride.

Off to Animal Kingdom Park and here we went into the parade shed to see the floats for the Jungle Jamming 3pm Parade.
official disney photo - my tour group was not this photogenic
We didn't get a reserved spot for the parade - we just mingled in with the existing crowd - well - the existing cluster of people  - park numbers were pretty low.

Minnies float ... competing with Hello Kitty for worst taste.
Back on the bus and back to Epcot. It was here that the tour ended at 4pm - some 7 hours later. Getting off the bus everyone was given a special tour pin.

Hmmm - thanks Disney .... I think

Pros: got a quick coverage of something from all 4 parks including those back areas such as horticulture and maintenance; lunch was great; getting on and off the bus helped break up all the walking and standing on concrete (how do Disney staff stand all day long?), provide little electronic head sets so it is easy to hear the guide, tour guides are great - friendly and plenty of jokes. Good way to learn about what it takes to run the place esp as they stayed mostly out of the parks. If you don't know the trivia, you'll learn things. No kids!

Cons: didn't get to ride anything, a bit staid and plodding at times, the guides have a set routine and it becomes obvious at times - sometimes they won't answer more pointed questions - in fact they never actually asked if people had questions - one had to thrust oneself upon them in the few presenting opportunities, very few photo opportunities; if you do know the trivia - there's nothing new. The tour is limited to 16 years plus - so if you have kids - no can do.

The price seems steep. At over $200/hd and they don't really give you anything but lunch and a pin - that's an expensive bus ride.

So as an experienced park person I would not put this tour above swimming with the fishies. And if you are a 1st timer to WDW it may be way interesting for you - as long as you can afford a whole day out.

Still, I prefer this tour over sticking pins in my eyes.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Food Porn: Platnium Plan - the meal that was last and the least - Chef Mickey (or what was I thinking?)

Let's not waste our time on this one.

" I have to go jetskiing at Sammy Duvall's at the Contemporary Resort at 9am. It would be easiest if I eat at Chef Mickey. It's a buffet. Have what I like, as much as I want. Meet the characters, duck out to Sammy's"

I arrive an hour late but I suppose it's all "what's one more in the crowd", and they seat me almost straight away.



think loud wandering animals and costumed characters.

Can you imagine the back room Mickey Mouse roster allocations every morning?

"MickeyBob - you're on 3pm Celebration Parade"
"MickeySue- you're down at Camp Mickey meet and greet from 1pm - 2pm"
"MickeyJane - you're performance yesterday at Dreams Come True Castle Show was appalling. You obviously didn't believe in the dream. Today you are 7am shift at Chef Mickey and I want to see some enthusiasm for the napkin dance."



sugar + fat

Once again I am too lazy to do my own review: check out the far more generous review from the Disney Food Blog including photos of all the carbohydrates

There is one photo worthy of closer inspection:

The cereal tubes - ummmm ..... what kind of cereal do you think is in each? I think this pretty much sums up the place.
OK OK - so I had a plate of fresh fruit and the french toast with maple syrup.

yummmm.....sugary wheaty goodness
caught up with the Duck:

Just as well ducks don't have big ears in this place*
and then I did a runner.

yep - left without settling the account! **

at $35/hd (plus drinks and gratuity) this is a fairly expensive breakfast. I suppose the price reflects the popularity - you need to book months in advance for this one.

one spoon - not top quality but the buffet means there is something for everyone

PIG OUT potential plus here - knock yourself out on starch, with drizzled sugar and a cherry on top


* cause noddy wouldn't pay the ransom (HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA)

** I did go back to the hotel later in the day. As this was included in the Platnium Plan I just needed a box ticked on my file.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Food Porn: Victoria & Alberts at the Grand Floridian

Victoria & Alberts is the premier restaurant at WDW.  Under the guidance of Scott Hunnel, this restaurant has been awarded the AAA 5 Diamond (the highest rating) for 11 years in a row. It is the only restaurant in Central Florida with this rating.  The meal is a combination a la carte / 6 course desgustation. The whole experience can take a long time. There is a lot to live up to.

And the same goes for this post.

Much like the dining experience, this is the Mr Creasote of posts.

If you've only got 30 seconds go read a review on the Disboards, where they have heaps of reviews. If you are willing to go a journey as long as eating the meal, join me after the jump for the full rounds of the restaurant.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Food Porn: Platinum Plan dining - breakfast

After posting a non-TR post and scoring only 1 hit for the day, that was evidence enough that you sick people  come here only for the food porn.

As I am now an attention hound (think more pudgy bulldog than whippet) I shall quickly resort to playing my ace card - Platnium Plan dining - in a desperate attempt to woo you all back.

After checking in at Disney's Polynesian Resort at 7am, it was still breakfast time and I went upstairs to the Kona Cafe. And  I am thankful I made the booking for there - look at the crowd of people waiting to get into the other breakfast restaurant 'Ohana.

7:45 am! Look at them all - swarming like ants, waiting for a table. Why is it so?
The breakfast at Kona Cafe is an a la carte cafe menu that contains vast amounts of sugary, sticky, fruity, gooey, ribsticking pleasure. You try and choose one dish off this menu.

I can hear the almost universal cry: Tonga Toast!
of course, as this was my first visit, I had TT.

I have no idea if any component of this recipe has anything to do with Tonga
Ok - so I eschewed the side of either ham, sausage or the bacon thingy that shall not be named and they let me substitute with a fruit cup. Also the meal came with a jug of strawberry soup ( and I also got some maple syrup) to pour over.

 I really enjoyed this. Esp. with the fresh strawberry sauceyness. It was fruity and sweet and moist all at the same time. My improvements would be to add vanilla extract to the french toast batter in which it is soaked. I love vanilla and really wanted to add that flavour dimension to this dish. And probably like everyone - would increase the banana: bread ratio.

In usual Mrs Banks style, that's a pot Twinings English Breakfast tea in the background. After 4 tea-less days it was highly desirable.

I recommend this restaurant for anyone who is NOT on a gluten free/sugar free diet (they will accommodate all dietary needs - but honestly this place shines in its sugary glow), wanting dishes away from the standard buffet fare, and something more adult and innovative ( and way less crowded and noisy than 'Ohana).

You can find several reviews and lots of photos of the cafe and other dishes at one of my favourite blogs: The Disney Food Blog 

Extreme yumminess factor
Extreme stodginess potential - but picking one dish off a menu limited the all out pig out

Next meal up is Victoria and Alberts - stay tuned

Sunday, 4 December 2011

When Disney came to Australia .... and Liberia

This week Abigail E Disney, (grandaughter of Roy O. Disney - brother of Walt) came to Australia and showcased her work as a philanthropist, filmmaker and Co-President of the Daphne Foundation.

ABC's 7:30 Report did a story. Take a look at this short video

Abigail has used her position and her profession of filmaking to advance social conditions, and highlighted is her multi-award winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the role of women in securing peace during the war in Liberia. This documentary includes Leymah Gbowee who is winner of a joint 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for "... non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

The movie website has many short videos of trailers, short clips and interviews.

Have a look at this short clip from the film about the first steps of their path to peace

And the documentary will be shown on SBS TWO next Saturday night, 10 December at 7:30pm

To me, she makes an obvious key note speaker and guest for the Zonta Convention in 2014.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Survival Food

Sometimes you have to eat.

Sometimes you have to eat what's given to you

Whilst this trip had a rather large gastronomic focus, there was the odd ocassion when I was reliant on whatever was thrust in my general direction.

So for your reading pleasure here are a couple of survival events - and let me promise you these less than satisfying events were, fortunately, extraordinarily limited. Be amazed at my ability to save myself for more extravagent offerings.

Click through the jump to discover the least of the food like substances I experienced.