Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My Star Wars Story or How I Came to Have a Rental in Black Spire Outpost

Like many other Star Wars fans, I was thrilled when The Walt Disney Company announced that they would be building a new land in both Anaheim and Orlando themed to Star Wars.  When more information was released that the setting would be a new planet we had previously not been acquainted with, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  They didn't want people going in with preconceived notions and pre-set expectations, as would happen if they were to build Tattooine or Bespin or Endor or Coruscant or Naboo or Mustafar or Jakku or Crait.  Instead, we were going to be introduced to the planet of Batuu, which once was a busy hub but is now a quieter outer rim planet.  Black Spire Outpost has a contingent of First Order troopers as well as Kylo Ren himself, but there's a resistance camp in the nearby forest that includes Rey and Chewie.  They wanted us to be able to step in and create our own stories in this world.

OK, I like new planets.  We've been introduced to at least one in each new film, so I guess why not as a land as well.  I wasn't sure about the "create your own story" part.  To me, that was aimed at the cosplayers, which hasn't ever been my thing for any of the interests I have.  But ok, I'm willing to see how that works.

Galaxy's Edge (the Disney theme park term for the land) aka Black Spire Outpost on Batuu opened at Disneyland on May 31, 2019.  For the first three weeks after opening, reservations to enter the land were required and would give visitors a set block of time in which to explore and enjoy the land.  I am blessed with many friends who also like Star Wars, and many were kind enough to include me on their reservations into Black Spire Outpost, so for those three weeks, I got to spend quite a bit of time on Batuu.

And from the first, I loved it.  Sure, I mean, everyone's WOW moment is probably seeing the Millenium Falcon in person for the first time.  I could stare at that thing for hours, imagining walking up the gangway, sitting in the cockpit, wandering around the ship.

But it's not just the Falcon.  I love wandering around the marketplace, looking at all the decor and the different merchandise that's available. 

I like visiting the sleeping loth cat, whose snores are quite loud during quieter times.  I love looking up at the sky and stars through the latticework of the ceiling.



I love going to the Droid Depot and visiting the pit droids and K-2SO.

I've loved my visits to Oga's Cantina with different friends and even just strolling past and when the door is open, you can get a quick glimpse of DJ R3X inside and hear the sounds of people enjoying themselves. 


I've loved wandering to the resistance camp, and I've even spent an hour late in the evening, standing outside the queue for Rise of the Resistance, listening to the radio transmissions of the resistance and hearing the sounds of the roaring creature (rancor?) in the cave as well as those rustling and stomping to the left of and behind the queue area.  I've loved trying out all the new dishes at Docking Bay 7, and I love listening to the sounds while I'm sitting inside.  There's something very soothing about it.

I love sitting at the tables by Ronto Roasters (sometimes enjoying a tasty ronto wrap), and on one side, you can hear the radio broadcast that also plays inside the restroom near the milk stand.  I enjoy Smugglers Run but I don't always ride it when I'm in Black Spire Outpost.  I've spent quite a bit of time in BSO by myself, and there's just something about being there, hearing the sounds, looking at the beautiful buildings and the small details.  I've spent time there just reading, I've spent time there laughing and joking around with friends, and I've spent time there having fairly serious conversations with friends.  It's home.



And as I spent quite a bit of time in BSO during its first few weeks, and having interacted with some of the Batuuans (and learning the local phrases and terms for things), I started wondering where they lived.  Some commute in to work from outside BSO.  I figured that like many other cities where the businesses are on the ground level and the dwellings are on the upper levels, I figured some must live on the second floor or higher in places like the marketplace.  And with as much time as I was spending there, I started thinking it would be nice for me to have somewhere local to stay.  And that idea took hold.  I need an apartment on BSO.  So, I started looking.  I looked around the marketplace and by the speeders and by Savi's and in the First Order section, noting positives and negatives about each potential location.

This is next to where the speeders are parked, so this might be where some of the mechanics live. I could maybe rent just a room. It's a little bit away from the main part of town so it's a little quieter. And there's even a bridge that takes you directly to the main marketplace.


There's lodging above Savi's so that might work out to rent a room as well. It looks like nicer digs though, so it might be too expensive.

These apartments could be ok but they're really close to the cantina so it could be a bit loud. And it's close to the First Order square. I had been concerned about the blaster fire, but I'm learning there's remnants of blaster fire *everywhere*.

I'd been looking at this next to the milk stand. I'm thinking it might be the dwelling for the family that runs the stand so I could maybe rent a room. But a friend says it looks more like a religious building so I need to investigate further.


After a while, I decided that I didn't need an entire apartment.  Just renting a room would be fine, just somewhere I could rest and spend the night.  And I came upon the perfect idea.  I've been quite fascinated with the milk stand, which is run by Bubo Wamba Family Farms.  I love the decor, and I do like both the blue and green milk there.

I noticed an entrance on the back side of the milk stand and decided I could rent a room in the back part.  I liked the idea of the family farm and started to see what information I could find out about them to incorporate into my story but turns out, there was nothing.  There are a few books due out in the next few months about BSO, which may or may not include any info about Bubo Wamba, but for the moment, it's a blank canvas that I can work with.  Cool.

I decided that what made the most sense would be that I'd meet a member of the family who would facilitate my renting the room.  And then I realized THAT was my Star Wars story.  It wasn't about cosplay or creating another character for myself, but rather, about incorporating my time in BSO into my normal life.  And, if I was going to have a Star Wars story, Robert definitely had to be part of it.

We lost Robert to lymphoma five years ago today.  Robert was one of my best friends, and Disneyland and Star Wars were some of the interests that we shared.  He was supposed to have gone to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim in 2015 where they ended up announcing Star Wars land, but that didn't happen.  Robert would have loved Black Spire Outpost and to be surrounded by so much Star Wars.  He would have definitely built at least one droid in the Droid Depot.

So in working out the story of how I was able to rent a room at the milk stand, it made sense that I would have become friends with one of the members of the Wamba family.  So Robert was the inspiration to create that character, in name and in some details and in backstory.

This is my Star Wars story:

I was sitting and reading a history book on Batuu one night, and one of the locals stopped to chat. Rojuin Wamba is the third offspring of the family that runs the milk stand in Black Spire Outpost. We've gotten to chatting a few times and have become friends. I happened to mention to Rojuin that I was looking for a place, and Rojuin said that they have a private room in the back of the milk stand. Rojuin checked with their family, and it's all set. There's an entrance into the building behind the milk stand, and my room is to the left of the door. You might see some of their employees using that door from time to time to bring supplies and such into the building. You'd think it might be a bit loud with all that machinery going, but it actually has a hypnotic rhythm and hum that's very soothing. And I might get a chance to learn about how they process the blue and green milk, so I'm excited!

I would have spent a lot of time with Robert in Black Spire Outpost, and sometimes when I'm there, I'm sad that we never got that chance.  So I'll just have to create adventures with Rojuin instead.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lamplight Lounge - dinner - June 25, 2018

While we didn't go very often, we were fans of Ariel's Grotto restaurant.  So we were intrigued when Disney announced that they were re-theming the restaurant to Pixar.  Lamplight Lounge - oh, how cute.  I'll admit I was baffled when I heard some people say they didn't understand why it was called that.  Ummm, hello, what's one of the iconic symbols of Pixar?  The lamp!

We were lucky enough to get a reservation for the downstairs dining area the Monday after opening weekend.  We know that normally, there are some growing pains when a new restaurant opens, but we were excited to try it.

The outside marquee for Lamplight Lounge, which is still unfinished. 

This is my favorite picture, on the side of the restaurant.  Gorgeous.

This is the logo on the floor after you walk in to check in.

We checked in and then waited for our name to be called to be shown to our table.  The waiting area has beautiful concept drawings from various Pixar films.

Slinky Dog from Toy Story.

Merida from Brave.

Wall-E and Eve.

Hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the circular staircase is a gorgeous paper chandelier with lots of cool drawings.

Even the normal restaurant signs had a Pixar touch.

The exit sign includes a reference to Up.

The maximum occupancy sign is watched over by Wall-E and Eve.

After a while, we were called to our table and descended the stairs to the downstairs dining room.  It was fun to see the ball wall.  We'd seen a version of it at the D23 Expo but I don't think that version was illuminated.

After we were seated, we perused the menu.  One section had "bites", smaller items, and the other section had more entree-type selections.  There was also a separate extensive list of alcoholic beverages available.

After we ordered, we were brought coasters for our drinks.  They all had the same picture on one side, with the Lamplight Lounge name and logo, but there were different pictures on the other side.

One side of all of the coasters is the same.

One of the coasters we got happened to have Mr. Incredible on the other side.

The husband and I each ordered an entree and we also ordered a smaller plate to share.

For our shared plate, we ordered the crab and tuna roll.  We both enjoyed this, though I mostly avoided the sauce on the bottom since I don't generally care for sauce on my sushi rolls.

Crab and tuna roll.

The husband ordered the salmon plt - a salmon sandwich with pancetta, lettuce and tomato, which comes with a side of fries.  He liked the sandwich.

Salmon plt - salmon with pancetta, lettuce and tomato.

I have in recent years become a huge fan of ratatouille, so I was excited to see it on the menu, so I did not hesitate to order that.  I was a little surprised at the presentation of the dish as I had come to expect ratatouille with sliced vegetables, so clearly, I didn't read the menu well enough to see that it was a ragout, but no matter, the ingredients are the same.  I was not, however, expecting the large hunk of cheese in the dish.  I've only had ratatouille on several occasions, but it's always just been the zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes and maybe a few other vegetables/squash, and after our dinner and I was doing a search for recipes, all the ones I found only included those ingredients and not cheese.  Again, I probably didn't read the menu very closely because I knew I wanted the ratatouille, but even if I'd paid attention that the dish included warm burrata cheese, it would not have occurred to me that it would be such a large portion of it, almost as if you were getting a protein-size portion of cheese.  One of the things I particularly like about ratatouille is that it's generally a very clean and light dish, since it's all vegetables and squash.  The burrata cheese, especially in such a huge portion, made the dish incredibly heavy, and I ended up leaving much of the cheese on the plate and trying to eat the vegetables around it.  I do have to say that I was pretty disappointed with this dish.

Ratatouille ragout with warm burrata cheese,

On a completely different note, because of the Pixarfest celebration at the Disneyland Resort this summer, there were many other Pixar-related food items available around the resort.  Cafe Orleans at Disneyland was offering a three-course prix fixe that included a cheese plate, ratatouille with shrimp, and dessert, so we had the chance to try that in July.  The ratatouille was so good in that instance, and even with the added protein of shrimp, it wasn't heavy, which it might have been if they'd added some other protein instead.  I was told that after Pixarfest, the prix fixe menu would be taken off but that the ratatouille would stay on the menu.  I'm really hoping that's true.  Here's a link to my Twitter post with pictures of the ratatouille at Cafe Orleans.

So being less than satisfied with my dinner was not the only negative experience I had at Lamplight Lounge.  When we were taken to our seats, we were actually taken to the extensive bar area that was added to the downstairs dining room.  I often like to sit at the bar in restaurants, and it's not what I had in mind in this case, but ok, no problem.  Except that for the seats they took us to, one of the seats was actually behind a pillar.  Ummm, really?  I told the hostess that those seats weren't going to work for us, and she suggested that we could move over if we wanted to.  It's not like the bar was packed that night - there were plenty of seats, and yet they felt the need to take us to seats where one was behind a pillar?  And really, who designs a bar so that two of the seats are facing a pillar?  I guess I could understand if the bar was totally packed and someone really wanted to eat there and was told that the seat was in front of a pillar and they wanted to sit there anyway, kind of like a "blocked view" seat at a stage show.

They originally told us to sit in the two seats next to where the husband is sitting.  We moved over one so that I wasn't sitting in front of a pillar.  You can clearly see that no one else was seated at the bar on that side at the time.

After we had ordered and were waiting for our food, we were looking around at the restaurant, and really, all of the seating was weird.  This is the outdoor section to the right of where I was sitting.

One of the other problems with the new ginormous bar is that it's open to the outside - one side of patrons at the bar are sitting inside while the other side of patrons (like the husband and me) were sitting outside).  That also means that during a certain portion of the day, the bartender who is serving us and anyone else sitting on that side is staring directly into the blinding sun.  Who thought this was a good idea to do to the bartenders?

The sun had gone down a little at this point but was still blinding for our bartender.

This was the rest of the bar to the left of us, and you can get an idea of how huge the bar area is.  The little outcropping "table" jutting out from the bar is not nearly long enough to make seating comfortable.  Let's say a group of 3 is sitting there, with one on the end and one on each side.  That's great - until you realize that it means the next seat at the bar is unusable because you can't possibly have someone sitting there because there's not enough room.  Again, design considerations that make no sense.

The side chairs on the outcropping block anyone from sitting at the bar at that spot.

I get that with the whole Pixar Pier reboot (which will presumably remain even after the end of the official Pixarfest after Labor Day), it made sense to re-theme the restaurant.  But the concept they came up with completely does not fit the area.  Even with the bar upstairs, the restaurant downstairs has had a family feel to it.  You know what would go with the family-themed Pixar Pier concept?  A hip and trendy gastropub!  Really?  Really.  In other reviews and things I've read, Lamplight Lounge has been referred to as a gastropub, which makes the limited menu and heavy alcoholic offerings and weird seating groupings make much more sense, but it's completely out of place in that setting.  Guests with children aren't going to be able to sit at the bar area, and some adults can't manage to sit at bar seating either.  Many of the tables are set up in a way that limits the amount of seating, which again makes no sense in that environment.  And none of these are a matter of "opening weekend" bugs.  The design of the restaurant isn't going to change.  The ginormous bar isn't going to magically get smaller.  I suppose the menu can change - I haven't paid attention to whether any changes have been made since our visit (as I'm writing this in mid-August).

I can tell you that while I'm very interested in the restaurants and other food offerings at the Disneyland Resort, I was decidedly not happy with our experience at Lamplight Lounge.  It's not a place I'd recommend to my friends or anyone asking for dining advice.  The menu (and the ratatouille) could be fixed, to some degree.  The design and seating issues cannot.

That being said, while there were clearly things I was not happy about, there were some non-design decor elements that I really liked - the whimsy that I'd have expected from a Pixar-themed restaurant.  Let's end on a happy note, shall we?

In the outdoor seating area, I love that the "don't feed the birds" sign is accompanied by a seagull from Finding Nemo.

The walkway area to the restrooms had some great designs and well-known phrases.

Beautiful "chalk" drawing of the restaurant logo.

This was my favorite bit since my favorite Pixar film is Monsters, Inc.

And this was one of the funniest things from Up.