Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is this the real story behind the NASA scene in Epcot's Spaceship Earth?

Because I'm a hard-cord Disnerd, the first thing I thought of when I saw the trailer for "Hidden Figures" was: "Is that the woman in the NASA scene in Spaceship Earth?"

I have long wondered whether the African-American woman in go-go boots, miniskirt and a white lab coat was based on a historical figure. "Hidden Figures" answers that question for me, at least unofficially.

The 20th Century Fox movie, which is due in theaters in January, tells the story of the African mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) and two of her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monåe, in her debut role). It is based on a non-fiction book of the same name, which will be published Sept. 6.

"To send a man to the moon," Dame Judy Densch narrates as Disney guests pass by the woman in the miniskirt and lab coat, "we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers."

But Johnson and her colleagues were known as "human computers." Johnson, who was a physicist and a space scientist as well as a mathematician, calculated the trajectories for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. And when Apollo 13 was aborted, her work helped return the crew safely to earth.

Johnson, now 97, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. And this year, NASA dedicated the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

I'm sorry I didn't know the story of Johnson and the army of "human computers" who blazed a trail for black female scientists. But I'm glad I know it now and can help spread the word.

I don't know if Katherine Johnson really was the inspiration for the Spaceship Earth figure or not, but from now on, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

If you haven't seen it, here's the official trailer for "Hidden Figures":

What's new at this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Walt Disney World photo
The end of August has us turning our minds toward fall at Walt Disney World, and that includes the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which runs from Sept. 14-Nov. 14 this year.

Every year also brings new additions to the menu and new experiences. This year, Disney says almost half the dishes that will be served at the festival's 30 marketplaces are "new or reimagined," but there also are all-new marketplaces to try.

In addition, Disney is hosting several special events outside of Epcot for the first time.

Here's an overview of what's new for this year's Food & Wine Festival:

1. New food kiosks

Five new marketplaces will join the festival's lineup this year:

  • Chocolate Studio: Truffles and tortes with wines to match
  • Islands of the Caribbean: Start with the Jamaican beef patty
  • Greenhouse Guru hosted by Village Farms: Tomatoes are the centerpiece at this marketplace, which will be the first located in Future World
  • The CHEW Collective: Festival wines and "high tech" food pairings (whatever that means) 
  • Wine & Dine Studio: Focusing on California wines, paired with Golden State cheese and more

2. New acts for Eat to the Beat

Eight new musical acts join the Eat to the Beat concert series this year:
  • Wang Chung, Sept. 14-15
  • The BoDeans, Sept. 21-23
  • Plain White T’s, Oct. 7-9
  • Jeffrey Osborne, Oct. 12-13
  • Toad The Wet Sprocket, Oct. 22-23 
  • Living Colour (pictured), Oct. 28-29 
  • Soul Asylum, Nov. 2-3
  • Delta Rae, Nov. 4-6
The Eat to the Beat concert series runs nightly from Sept. 14-Nov. 14 with shows at 5:30, 6:45 and 8 p.m. nightly. The concerts are free with admission to Epcot.

3. Grown-up ice cream sodas 

There is one addition to the menu this year that we think deserves its own spotlight. At the Desserts & Champagne booth, hard soda floats pair vanilla soft-serve ice cream with alcoholic soda. Choose from the Best Damn Hard Root Beer Float, Sprecher Hard Cherry Cola Float or the Sprecher Hard Orange Cream Soda Float. Or try all three! (There are also non-alcoholic versions available.)

4. Special events outside of Epcot

Looking for a high-end respite to the Food & Wine grind? This year Disney is hosting several events at its resorts:
Walt Disney World photo
  • Brunch with a Twist: A 5-course meal prepared by chefs from the Grand Floridian's acclaimed restaurants, including Victoria & Alberts, Citrico's and Narcoosee's. 
  • The Secrets of Flavor: Engage your mind and your palate with a three-course lunch at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort.
  • Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef (pictured): Cook alongside master chefs at at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, then enjoy the results of your work. 
  • Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto: A tour of the popular Trader Sam’s lounge at the Polynesian Resort, followed by lunch and a special mixology session.
Prices and dates vary. Call (407) 939-3378 for information or reservations

5. Festival merchandise 

Every year there is an array of festival merchandise to take home with you, from t-shirts and pins to glassware and kitchenware. You can also expect a collection from handbag designer Dooney & Bourke, and those always go fast. 

Disney hasn't lifted the veil on this year's merchandise just yet, but the passholder t-shirt did pop up on the Shop Disney Parks app recently. It hints at a strong Figment presence this year. 

Roundup: All the new places to eat at Disney Springs

Disney Springs
A bite from the new Mexican restaurant, Frontera Cocina.
Disney World hardly needs the Food & Wine Festival this year — after all, it has a veritable festival of new dining and drinking establishments at Disney Springs.

Although the first new restaurants opened more than a year ago, the additions have come fast and furious in recent months, so this seemed like a good time to revisit all the new offerings that have opened recently.

The expansion isn't quite done yet. Still to come: The 1920s-themed Edison and the reimagined Planet Hollywood Observatory, both of which are expected to open next spring.

Here's what you'll find in the meantime:


If you like to eat and run, stop by a kiosk between stops on your shopping tour. The downside: Not all the food is really made for eating while you walk, and you may find it hard to find a place to stand out of the way of the crowds.

Aristocrepes: Sweet and savory crepes, served in cones that make them easy to eat while you wander around Disney Springs. Options include s’mores and key lime cheesecake on the sweet end of the spectrum and beef with horseradish cream and turkey with brie on the savory end.

Disney Springs
B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Co.: Poor little piggies. Apparently even the brick house wasn't safe. This kiosk serves up artisan sausages. Its signature dish (pictured, right) seems to be the trio of tiny sausages served three ways: Reuben, Bacon-wrapped with Black Bean Salsa, and Chili Cheese. Never fear, pig fans: There are also vegetarian options.

The Daily Poutine: Anyone who has visited Canada knows about poutine — French fries topped with cheddar cheese curds and beef gravy. You can find that variety here, but you'll also find Latin, Italian and French variations. 

Food trucks: Four food trucks bring the tastes of each of the four theme parks to Disney Springs: Fantasy Fare (corn dogs, buffalo chicken and waffles), Namaste Cafe (Indian flavors such as butter chicken and tandoori shrimp), Superstar Catering (flatbreads, shrimp and lobster mac and cheese) and World Showcase of Flavors (bites from the Food & Wine Festival).

Morimoto Asia Street Food: Outside the Morimoto Asia restaurant is a walk-up window where you can order basic sushi, a chilled noodle dish, bao tacos and other snacks that will give you a taste of the mother restaurant. Here you may even find a tables ... if you're lucky.

YeSake: The name sounds Japanese — as does the liquor menu — but the food menu here is more globally inspired, with tastes of Japan, Mexico and India, among others. Like Aristocrepes, the food is designed for walking-around.

Sit-down restaurants

There are so many sit-down restaurants now at Disney Springs, it should no longer be difficult to find table without a reservation. On the other hand, it will be very difficult to pick just one for dinner.

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza: Blaze is a counter-service restaurant where guests design their own pizza pie and then have it "fast-fire'd" for their enjoyment. Pick from among 40 toppings. It's a good budget option, and no reservations are necessary. 

The Boathouse: By now The Boathouse is a grizzled veteran of Disney Springs. The first of the new restaurants to open its doors more than a year ago, it is an upscale waterfront destination that specializes in seafood and steak. It also has two beautiful bars — one perched over the water.

Disney Springs
Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Part farm-to-table, part comfort food, Chef Art Smith's menu includes deviled eggs, fried chicken and pork barbecue. Plus: the restaurant’s signature Shine Cake (pictured, right) — so called because it is soaked in Florida moonshine. The restaurant also offers a few grab-and-go sandwiches.

D-Luxe Burger: You can get some good hamburgers at Disney World, but this is the only place you can find a chorizo-blend patty with a friend banana pepper on top. Whether your taste runs to tradition or more gourmet, D-Luxe Burger is there for you. The menu of artisanal gelato shakes is even longer than the burger menu.

Frontera Cocina: A new Mmmmmexican offering joins the lineup at Disney Springs. The menu, from celebrity chef Rick Bayless, includes bacon guacamole, red chili chicken enchiladas and the coconut lime quattro leches cake.

Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar: It's not exactly a sit-down restaurant, but you can take a seat and order drinks and snacks here. With appetizers like Tanis Tuna Tacos, Rolling Boulder Sliders and Templeton Tenderloin, you could easily make dinner out of the bar bites here. The joint is modeled after a 1940s airplane hangar, the one-time home of Indiana Jones' sidekick and pilot.

Disney Springs
Morimoto Asia: Morimoto is another veteran of Disney Springs by now. Chef Morimoto of Iron Chef America brings a "Pan-Asian" menu, including dim sum, sushi (pictured), noodle dishes, and meats including Peking Duck and three types of ribs. It all comes together in a very chic, modern setting.

STK Orlando: The already-deep lineup of steak restaurant at Disney World gets another member. Part of a chain, STK has a pretty typical steakhouse menu. The prices are not for the faint of heart: Salads are about $15, appetizers closer to $20. And the steaks themselves range from $28 (for an 8-ounce skirt steak) to $92 (for a 32-ounce Porterhouse). One thing STK has that none of the other steakhouses has: a stunning outdoor patio.


Disney Springs
Amorette’s Patisserie: If your taste runs more to sophisticated pastry rather than homey cupcakes, Amorette's may be your jam (although there probably isn't any actual jam here). The menu includes éclairs, New York-style cheesecake, cookies, gluten-free macarons and signature cakes (like the one pictured), which you can watch chefs decorate.

Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC: It's the dessert shop gluten-sensitive people have been waiting for. The founder of renowned bakery BabyCakes NYC brings her award-winning donuts, cupcakes, cookies, bagels and savory specials to Disney Springs.

Disney Springs
Sprinkles: Cupcakes still rule the dessert scene. You can choose from more than a dozen cupcakes here, including some that are gluten-free, or fresh-baked cookies. There are also quite a few ice cream options, from scoops and shakes to ice-cream cookie sandwiches. Another option: You can stop at the pink "Cupcake ATM" outside the store and avoid the line.

Vivoli il Gelato: Vivoli brings a whole new texture to an ice cream scene dominated by Ghirardelli. A family-run gelato shop that dates back 85 years in Florence, Italy, it features Italian gelati, sorbetti, espresso drinks and more.

Disney to live stream the Main Street Electrical Parade on Aug. 28

If you can't make it to Disney World for one of the last shows of the Main Street Electrical Parade before it closes on Oct. 9, don't worry, Disney will live stream the parade Aug. 28, 2016, according to the Disney Parks Blog. 

The nighttime parade premiered at Disney World on June 11, 1977 and has gone through three versions. The first version closed on Sept. 14, 1991. The second version lasted from May 28, 1999 to April 1, 2001 and the latest started on June 6, 2010.

The parade is the next in the Disney Parks Live Stream series, which has included the royal welcome of Elena of Avalor, Star Wars fireworks, Paint the Night Parade at Disneyland , Fourth of July fireworks and Disney World, Illuminations from Epcot, Mickey's Soundsational Parade from Disneyland, Fantasmic!, New Year's Eve fireworks from the Magic Kingdom and others.

The Main Street Electric Parade will be moving to Disneyland, but there have been no official dates announced for when the parade will begin.

The live stream will take place on the Disney Parks Blog, Sunday, Aug. 28, starting at 8:55 p.m. ET.