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Encyclopedia Samlandica - Big Thunder Rocks, Disneyland Pow Wow, Favorite Bathroom

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by , 12-14-2011 at 05:55 PM

Every now and again I find a bunch of stories that are fun to retell yet don’t really add up to a full column on their own. The brilliant minds that run this site came up with a clever solution they call the Encyclopedia Samlandica. Today I present the third installment of this endless series of random thoughts. As always, I enjoy hearing what you think.

Sometimes the artifacts of Disneyland’s past are hidden right there in front of our face. One good example are the rocks out back behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Thousands of guests pass by these everyday without giving them much thought. What they don’t know is that they are walking through one of the oldest sections in the entire park.

Sandwiched between the petting farm and the BBQ place are some non-descript rocks. The rocks were most recently home to the nation's pardoned turkeys (They were billed as the Happiest Turkeys on Earth by Tim O'Day). But once upon a time, they were part of Nature's Wonderland.

I had been looking for a photo, and it is darn near impossible. Fortunately I found a map in an old copy of E-Ticket magazine and that lead to the photograph you see above. Yes that is Walt wandering around his desert. The arch on the left is gone and was known as the Natural Bridge. On top of both rocks were little tiny pueblos that seemed to work in a forced perspective sort of way from the Disneyland Railroad. The arch is most notable thing. The texture of the concrete stone has become more realistic over time.


Sometimes there is nothing more fun than digging into the boxes of stuff that I have managed to collect over the years. Such inspiration. For example, somebody asked me once what was the most unusual event I ever attended at Disneyland. For me it had to be the 2007 International Pow Wow.

The International Pow Wow is a huge event put on the U.S. Travel Association. This event is described as the “premier international marketplace and the largest generator of "Visit USA travel.”

Representatives from more than 1,000 U.S. travel organizations meet with more than 1,500 buyers from more than 70 countries. The Pow Wows have been taking place since 1969, but this was the first time it was held in Anaheim. That is because it was Disney executive Jay Rasulo was President of the organization that year and he wanted to show off the resort.

The conference took place at the Anaheim Convention Center and the opening night event took over the entire west side of Disneyland. It was a cold and drizzly night on April 22, 2007. According to Jason’s Disneyland Almanac, Disneyland closed at 4:00 pm in order for them to prepare for the event. The attendance was limited to less then 4,000 people. I can’t imagine what the food and beverage bill was but it must have been huge.

Disneyland put on quite a show for the opening night party. We had access to an exclusive party in three lands: Frontierland, Adventureland, and New Orleans Square. All of the attractions were opened and plussed just for the event. For example, when I went to the Haunted Mansion I was the only guest in the stretching room and throughout the attraction, ghostly butlers silently moved along the edges. It was very surreal and still haunts me to this day.

Guests walked down a deserted Main Street toward the Frontierland arcade. Once through the gates we were greeted by dozens of servers handing us glowing drinks, those obnoxious lighted necklaces, and a small treat. Billy Hill and the Hillbillies were kicked out of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon to a stage out front. Not a big crowd. It was drizzling. There was myself plus a couple of travel agents from Japan in the audience. The band kept commenting about the real alcohol that was being served in the Saloon. It was sort of the adult version of a Billy’s show and that is something quite special.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was open and the banks of the Rivers of America were lined with tents that featured an unlimited quantity of food and drink. The menu for each of the lands was chosen to reflect the theme of that area. Frontierland featured Grilled Beef Short Ribs with Smoked Chipotle BBQ Glaze, Thunder Ranch Prime Rib Chili and Miniature Corn Muffins, and Mini-Blue Corn Chicken Tamales with Mole Sauce. Dessert consisted of a selection of Fruit Empanadas, Tia Maria Shooters and Miniature S’Mores Pies.

Over in Adventureland they turned Aladdin’s Oasis into a very comfortable club and café. A wandering band provided the area entertainment. The Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure were open. Only the best skippers were allowed, so it was like a floating comedy club. As you would imagine, the food was a bit more exotic with Pankot Palace Lamb & Beef Souvlaki Served Rotisserie Style with Fresh Naan Bread and Tzatziki Sauce, Shankara Ostrich Spear Grilled on a Sugar Cane Skewer with Chili Anise Glaze, and Mola Rama Grilled Lobster Tail Served with Thai Tamarind Sauce. One had to try the Chocolate Fountain with Exotic Fruits, Macaroons and Hand-Dipped Berries.

Pirates of the Caribbean was open as well as The Disney Gallery (which was still upstairs where the Dream Suite is today). What a view from the Gallery balcony. Am I the only one who really misses this space? Raise your hand if you do as well. The Dixieland band sounded sweet, which helped to balance the bitter that came with the “Blue Bayou Karaoke.” Think drunk international guests entertaining each other with the Disney hits. The food, however, made all that bad singing tolerable. They served Crayfish Fritters with Cajun Remoulade, Louisiana Blue Crab Cakes with Fire Roasted Garlic Aioli, and Po’ Boy Shrimp with Spiced Bourbon Barbeque Sauce. You finished this off with Bananas Foster Flambe on Pound Cake, Southern Peach Crisp, and miniature Key Lime, Pecan & Sweet Potato Pies.

At 9:30 pm, guests were invited to stand in the hub for a private fireworks show. Of course, we were loaded down with drinks and food. There have been many special private events at Disneyland over the years. What was one of your favorites? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Whenever I am at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I always like to take a peek inside of the Brown Derby. If nothing else, the restaurant has great bathrooms. But I like the dining room and the food is top drawer.

Like any Hollywood diva (well Pasadena but it is close), I have my traditions and want just what I want, the way I want it. This is Hollywood, right? I insist on sitting in a booth, preferably one of those in a corner. Since my chauffeur is driving (the bus) I feel comfortable cruising through the wine list. And I must finish off the meal with that healthy California treat – a slice of Grapefruit Cake. It can’t be fattening because it is made with Grapefruit, right? Must remember the camera adds 10 pounds.

When most people think of the Brown Derby in Hollywood they think of a building that was shaped like a, well, big brown derby hat. That restaurant opened in 1926 and was located on Wilshire Boulevard. The one inside of the park is modeled after a second restaurant that opened in 1929 and was near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Avenue.

Covering virtually all of the walls of the dining room are portraits of famous Hollywood celebrities. The portraits were part of a grand bargain between an artist named Vitch and owner Rob Cobb. When Cobb wanted to add somebody to his “Wall of Fame” he would commission Vitch to draw a caricature and trade him for a meal. The tradition continued with other noted artists such as Zel, Pancho, and Jack Lane.

Along with everything else, there is one cool little fantasy I like to play when I dine at the Derby. Just like today, there are times when somebody that is as important as I am is desperately wanted on the telephone. Since cellphones did not exist back in the day, it would be inconsistent to pull the phone out of my pocket. The Brown Derby has a solution. If you are sitting at a booth notice the little telephone jacks. Your server can bring you a rotary telephone. This meant it had a dial where you stuck one finger inside of the dial and turned it all the way to the stopper. If the number had a lot of zeros you just grinned and bared it. Like today, time is money and if you can combine a bit of business with your meal, all the better. More importantly, in those days, talking on the phone while eating was very rare and meant you must be doing something very, very important for the server to walk all that way and plug in the phone. Just ask your server and you may get to talk with a celebrity. Of course, I was talking with my agent at the time…

Sometimes it is the little things that you remember most while touring the parks. For example, every time I visit the Magic Kingdom I make it a point to stop by the Randy Pausch tribute. You don’t know about the Randy Pausch tribute?

As you walk by the Mad Tea Party look closely and you will find a plaque that is shaped like a leaf. It says:

“Be good at something, it makes you valuable…Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”

Randy Pausch (1960-2008) is best known for co-writing a book called The Last Lecture. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006, Randy put together a lecture called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. He gave the lecture on September 18, 2007 and it became an instant hit on YouTube, which lead to other media appearances. Hyperion, a publishing company owned by Disney, paid Pausch $6.7 million for the rights to publish a book based on the lecture. The book went on to 400,000 copies in its first printing and has been translated into 46 languages. It spent more than 85 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. To date, the book has sold more than 4.5 million copies. Pausch was a professor of computer sciences and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, PA.

Hidden from the public, and time, is my favorite restroom. It is located inside the abandoned Odyssey restaurant in Epcot. Do you have a favorite theme park restroom? If so, where is it and why do you like it? Is this an odd topic? If not, I’ve got more.
Another Samlandica will be on the MiceChat shelves soon.

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Updated 12-16-2011 at 06:30 PM by SAMLAND (Thank you Borntothebred and Cousin Orville - Not my best week)



  1. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Just like our favorite attractions, the Odyssey bathrooms are a "must see" every time I am at WDW. They're awesome! They look cool, are almost always super clean, and not a lot of folks use it!
  2. Brandis's Avatar
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    Discovered the Odyssey restroom on my last visit, about 30 min. before Illuminations started. I had the place almost to myself, a custodial CM was cleaning in there and it was spotless. Loved it.
  3. RSoxNo1's Avatar
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    I was told that the rounded tile in the Brown Derby restrooms, are not technically period specific. I guess proper period specific tile for that era would have had sharper edges.
  4. DOMINGUESS's Avatar
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    Thanks for the pointing out these great details. I love it! I like that little tribute to Randy Pausch. I remember hearing about his passing years back, but I never read/seen his Last Lecture. I found it on youtube and it's so impressive, a real eye-opener.

    Thanks Sam for taking the time to do these fun reads, I look forward to them every week.
  5. mottmike's Avatar
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    The best bathrooms at Disneyland are in the queue to the Tiki Room. Unknown to most, virtually unused and very well themed.
  6. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    Perhaps one day the Natures Wonderland that was planned for Euro Disneyland about 1993 for the second phase may get built in Thunder Mesa??? Disney Legend Fred Joerger did the Natures Wonderland Rockwork at Disneyland that you showed as well as working on Big Thunder while updating his Matterhorn back in 1977-78. " To create a rock, you have to think like a rock!" Fred Joerger quote PD
  7. waltopia's Avatar
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    Wonderful work Sam! I've always wanted to know more about exactly which of those Big Thunder rocks had survived from the Walt era. (isn't that his daughter Sharon with him in that curious old photo?) I'd never heard of the Randy leaf; nice touch....and so true.
  8. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Sam, I absolutely LOVE your SAMLANDICA editions. Thank you for a very entertaining read.

    As far as theme park bathrooms go, my favorites are Club 33 with its elegance (martini glass wallpaper motif) and the Moaning Myrtle bathrooms at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
  9. DisneyResort's Avatar
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    I'm with you...I miss the Disney Gallery when it was open to the public because you could pull up a chair on the balcony and look out over the Rivers of America. Or kick back in the private patio in the back and relax. For some strange reason, no one ever went up there. So it felt like it was all mine.
    The Disney Dream Suite is amazing, don't get me wrong. And I'm glad Walt's dream of an apartment above Pirates of The Caribbean came true a few years ago. But I always enjoyed hanging out up there too when it was The Disney Gallery.
  10. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Hello Everyone. Nothing like a photo of a bathroom to get people talking.

    RSoxNo1 - I would think you are correct. Other compromises include the phone jack and the phone. And the prices.

    Waltopia - Yes, that is Sharon.

    Dustysage - I did not go into the bathrooms at Universal. Next time. I will need somebody to take me to Club 33 again (hint, hint) and then I will be sure to check out the bathrooms.

    DisneyResort - You make me weepy.
    Updated 12-17-2011 at 10:01 AM by Dustysage
  11. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SAMLAND
    Dustysage - I did not go into the bathrooms at Universal. Next time. I will need somebody to take me to Club 33 again (hint, hint) and then I will be sure to check out the bathrooms.
    Hold up...if you're going to Club 33, I need to get out there first, thank you very much :P
  12. Cousin Orville's Avatar
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    Fact check.
    I believe the DHS Brown Derby interior most closely mimics the 1929 Hollywood and Vine Street location (there never was one at Highland).
    Updated 12-16-2011 at 06:16 PM by Cousin Orville
  13. Cousin Orville's Avatar
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    There were two on Wilshire Blvd. One of which was the Hat shaped building.
    Updated 12-16-2011 at 06:41 PM by Cousin Orville
  14. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Thanks Cousin Orville. Not my best week. Changes made.

  15. Concieved@DL's Avatar
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    Thank you for Trivia. I know where to go to get my fix.