By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Electrical Water Pageant

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE ELECTRICAL WATER PAGEANT

By Jim Korkis

The Electrical Water Pageant first premiered in the Seven Seas Lagoon in October 1971.

Weather permitting, it is performed every night. The pageant barges are stored in the canal behind the Production Center building at Magic Kingdom located behind Splash Mountain.

The pageant includes two “strings” of seven barges each. Each string extends approximately 456 feet in length. The two together are barely one hundred feet shorter than the length of an aircraft carrier.

Each of the 14 barges features a twenty-five foot high, thirty-six foot long wire screen decorated with lights.

Five people are required to operate the fleet: two pilots, two co-pilots and one safety-boat operator. The job of the safety-boat operator is to handle any problems once the barges are underway as well as assisting in pushing the barges around corners since the turning radius is literally a quarter of a mile unassisted.

The crew reports to the Production Center at 8:30pm each night where they don headsets, radios and appropriate clothing in case of cold or foul weather. They head out to the barges roughly ten minutes later.

A pilot sits in a booth on the first barge and the co-pilot sits in a booth on the last barge of the string. Both are connected with the audio headsets. They untie the barges and take off to head for their first show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort at approximately nine o’clock.

The loop continues with shows roughly fifteen minutes apart at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and finally outside the entrance of the Magic Kingdom park.

The barges arrive just a few moments before each show primarily because of the wind. They can not simply sit in one spot because the screens act as sails so any wind can play havoc even though the pilots try to form a sort of rainbow arc. Basically, there are just platforms on pontoons so are more fragile than most guests suspect.

The show begins immediately everyone is in position. The first string will signal the second string by light, letting them know that the show is ready to go. The co-pilot on barge 14, the last barge on the second string, has master audio control.

He flips a switch and it pumps music through a transmitter from his string to the first string’s receiver so everything is in sync. The co-pilots on each string flip switches to activate the lights on each screen when he or she hears the music cues.

The Paul Beaver version of Gershon Kingsley & Jean Jeaque Perrey’s “Baroque Hoedown”, created specially for the Electrical Water Pageant, was used from 1971 until 1977. The very same soundtrack was later used by Disneyland’s original Main Street Electrical Parade from 1972 until 1974 when it was re-recorded and updated by Don Dorsey.

The Electrical Water Pageant that guests see today consists of much the same floats in the same formation dating back to 1977. The only difference is in 1996 a new musical score was created for both the opening and closing of the Electrical Water Pageant as well as each creature depicted in the pageant.

Going over the water bridge between Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake is “like dragging a garden hose through your house without touching anything” said coordinator David Kaumeier who operated the show for three decades.

“We can hear guests hooting and clapping 100 yards away and we get a great satisfaction from that. We’re the only crew that does this type of work in the world.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 26, 2017   1 Comment

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Western River Expedition

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITION AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

Western River Expedition was an attraction that would have been built in the area of Magic Kingdom that Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain now occupy.

It was jokingly referred to by Imagineers as “Cowboys of the Caribbean” because of its superficial similarities to the format and layout of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland.

“For some reason, it was thought that because of Florida’s close proximity to the Caribbean, a ride dealing with pirates wouldn’t be as popular in Walt Disney World as it was in Disneyland,” Imagineer Tony Baxter said.

In addition, the Imagineers wanted some attractions that were unique to Disney World and not just a duplication of Disneyland.

Thunder Mesa Mountain would have featured a variety of attractions in addition to Western River Expedition, including a runaway mine train ride, hiking trails, a canoe flume ride, a Pueblo Native American village and more.

To accommodate all of this, a four story show building would have been decorated to look like the orange mesas of the American desert and Monument Valley. The WDW railroad would have gone through the building to offer guests a glimpse.

Imagineer Marc Davis spent five years creating a humorous ten to twelve minute boat trip through a variety of Wild West scenes. It was based on a concept he had developed as early as 1963 about a Lewis and Clark River Expedition for the never built St. Louis indoor theme park Walt Disney was considering.

Guests would have entered through a cave tunnel into the mountain and boarded boats that took them up a waterfall and then onto the winding river. Scenes would have featured comic Native American figures (including a rain dance with disastrous results), stagecoach robbers (where even their horses wore bandana masks), prairie dogs, antelopes, buffaloes, singing cowboys, and can-can dancing saloon girls.

It would have contained over one hundred audio-animatronics figures. A buffalo and prairie dogs were actually built for the attraction and later incorporated into the ranch house scene in the Living with the Land attraction at Epcot.

Davis spent many long months working on the attraction and had the enthusiastic support of both Roy O. Disney and President of Imagineering Dick Irvine.

Detailed sketches were made and models were created. Imagineer Mitsou Natsume even built a detailed model of Thunder Mesa and the exterior of the Western River Shipping & Navigation Company that was displayed for many years in the pre-show area of The Walt Disney Story on Main Street USA.

At one point, color stylist Mary Blair, a good friend of Davis and his wife, was brought in to consult with the color choices including a Painted Desert backdrop. Composer Buddy Baker had the beginnings of a theme song that would repeat throughout the ride.

The attraction was publicized with concept art in the Magic Kingdom guidebooks for 1971 and 1972 since the project was supposed to open with the park, but because of time and budget factors was relegated to the planned Phase 2 that would be completed by 1975.

The project was eventually cancelled because of prohibitive costs (estimated at over a hundred and twenty million dollars at the time), the decrease in popularity in Western movies and TV shows, and other factors including guests demanding the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Davis still believed strongly in the Western River Expedition and offered a scaled-down version (removing the potentially offensive stereotypically comic Native Americans) with just a boat ride to be placed side-by-side with Big Thunder Mountain that had borrowed his idea of a runaway mine train for Thunder Mesa. Davis’ official retirement in 1978 meant the loss of the attraction’s biggest advocate.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 19, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Swans and Dolphins of the Swan and Dolphin

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE SWANS AND DOLPHINS OF THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN

CEO Michael Eisner felt that the two legacies he would leave at Disney were an improvement in culinary offerings and the development of what he termed “entertainment architecture” that referred to telling stories architecturally in buildings on Disney property that were not in the theme parks.

Eisner brought in renowned architect Michael Graves to design the Team Disney corporate building in Burbank, California. Graves said when he was in meetings with Michael Eisner, Eisner told him: “Look, everyone here will have some design priorities for you, but I only have one priority. When I come in to work each morning and go up to my office, I’ll probably have very little to smile about. So do something that will make me smile when I arrive.”

When his first designs for the Team Disney building were rejected, Graves came up with the concept of having the Seven Dwarfs as caryatids. A caryatid is a sculpted figure serving as an architectural support, taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting horizontal bands. “Because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was truly the foundation of the Disney Studios and supported the growth of the company, just as the dwarfs are supporting the building,” claimed Graves.

Eisner was so pleased with the final result that he had Graves come up with designs for the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

Designed by Graves, the swan statues (like the dolphin statues) were created from steel, wood and fiberglass, and were believed to be the largest structures of their kind in the world at the time. Since there were no existing samples to work from, Disney artist Gary Graham, following Graves’ design, sculpted the swan models out of Styrofoam. These were then computer-photographed (photogrammetry) in a process that turns the shapes into a digitized database.

The photogrammetric information was then sent on to a shipbuilding company in Wisconsin. There it was put into a computer that automatically cut the wooden ribs to exact specifications and imprinted the ribs with numbers and location directions. The ribs were then delivered to the statue site, where they were fitted to a steel frame. Once assembled, a fiberglass covering was carefully brushed on and then covered with five layers of laminate. The swan statues were then sanded, painted and ultimately lifted into place in May 1989.

Completed, the swan statues, referred to as “heroic” statues, are each 47 feet high. And at a combined weight of 56,000 pounds, they required a multi-ton, 70-foot crane to lift them and place them atop the hotel. They were placed on specially constructed pedestals at either end of the hotel’s roof, which support and display them.

The dolphin statues are each 63 feet high. All the roof sculptures are hollow inside, except for the structural beaming, and they have internal staircases and trapdoors for maintenance purposes.

At the Walt Disney World Dolphin, the sculptures were three-dimensional where guests can’t touch them and two-dimensional, like in the indoor fountain, where they can be touched.

At the Walt Disney World Swan, it is reversed and the sculptures are generally three-dimensional where they can be touched by guests (like the interior fountain), but two-dimensional (like the monkeys and parrots in the trees) where they can’t be touched.

The dolphins in the fountain facing the Walt Disney World Swan were supposed to be three-dimensional, but Graves was told to space them out wider because they obstructed the view. Instead, Graves simply sliced the dolphins, making what he called “dolphin filets,” and keeping them exactly where they were but opening up the space. He also made the fountain smaller since the dolphins became two-dimensional and needed to be able to be touched.

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Thanks, Jim!

Jim has written multiple articles on this site on the Swan and Dolphin and on Graves. Reviews–including the refurbed rooms–begin here. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 12, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Headdresses of the Wilderness Lodge

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

HEADDRESSES OF THE WILDERNESS LODGE

By Jim Korkis

Some Native Americans believed that by wearing the feathers of the eagle, one of the most respected and revered birds, it was possible to impart the characteristics and power of the eagle to the wearer. It was usually the chief who would wear such a headdress and it was hoped it would provide wisdom and a different perspective.

At the entrance to the Whispering Canyon restaurant at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are two headdresses on display. When the Imagineers had to re-create a headdress, they were not allowed to use eagle feathers because eagles are an endangered species, so they used turkey feathers and enhanced them.

On the left hand side is a Single Trailer Split Horn Headdress that would have been worn by a high-ranking warrior chief circa 1835. A single trailer headdress has a felt trailer hanging from the back of the headdress to the ground. The feathers are displayed on only one side of the trailer, giving it a symmetrical appearance.

This particular headdress was inspired by one belonging to Mato-Tope of the Mandan Tribe.

On the right hand side is a Double Trailer Eagle Feathers Headdress from around 1875. A double trailer headdress is named for the two felt trailers that hang down the back of the headdress to the ground. An elaborate headdress of this style would have been worn by the highest ranking member of the Sioux tribe.

This particular headdress was inspired by one belonging to Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota tribe of the Great Sioux Nation.

Located between two bundles of lodgepoles towards the back of the lobby is the Ermine-Tipped Raven Headdress that resembles a nineteenth century Crow warrior headdress. Inspiration for this headdress is the watercolor painting done by artist Charles Bodmer that is located just off the lobby elevator on the fourth floor. The painting was rendered in the 1830s during an expedition led by Prince Maximillian to the American West.

Just to the right of the elevators is the Feather Duster Rooster Feathers Headdress. It was used by the Crow tribe circa 1890. The red of the feathers indicates war honor.

In addition, there is an authentic display of moccasins made by the Plains Indians. Hard rawhide soles were hand sewed to a soft buckskin upper piece. Often, they would chew on the material to make it softer and more pliable. The footwear was then ornamented with dyes, quills, beads, cloth, buttons, fur and fringe and this work varied greatly among the different tribes.

Using no measuring tools or patterns, moccasins were each one-of-a-kind made to fit a specific foot of a child or adult. Intricate designs existed only the minds of the Native Americans making them and sometimes the design evolved as it was being worked on.

Another display case specifically showcases some actual beadwork for a variety of different articles. The “seed” bead, a small round opaque Venetian glass bead, became available to the Native American cultures around 1840 through the pioneers entering their territories. Because “seed” beads were partly handmade, they were somewhat irregular.

The delicacy of the bead pattern determined the size of the bead chosen. When settlers began to crowd into the Sioux country about 1860, beadwork became a major industry for the Native Americans that was highly popular until around 1900, although examples of this beautiful craft are still produced in smaller quantities today.

Settlers sometimes dictated the style of bead pattern for the garments they were willing to purchase or trade. Later visitors to the area brought imported Czechoslovakian beads, which were somewhat darker than Venetian beads and had a slightly bluish tinge.

The items in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge are a mixture of real and re-created, but the re-creations were done by Native Americans using the same materials and methods as their ancestors. Everything in the lobby from the chandeliers to the displays is meant to honor Native American culture and its significant part in the opening of the west.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim!

Jim has written multiple articles on this site on the Wilderness Lodge–see this and this and this and this! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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May 5, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Amphicars at The BOATHOUSE

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE AMPHICARS AT THE BOATHOUSE

By Jim Korkis

An Amphicar combines the two words “amphibious” (able to operate on both land and water) and “car”. The Amphicar is still the most successfully mass produced amphibious car for the general public and was made from 1961 to the beginning of 1968 when a change in safety and emission standards prevented its continued sale in the United States.

The Amphicar Corporation in Germany produced 3,878 of the amphibious passenger automobiles total and less than 400 still exist today. Advertisements proclaimed, “The car of the future is here today. The sportscar that swims.”

The BOATHOUSE at Disney Springs is the only place in the world that offers people an opportunity to ride in these unique examples from automotive history unless they personally own one.

(c) Disney

The convertibles were offered in only four colors: Beach White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue and Fjord Green (Aqua). Disney Springs has two of each color car that cruise on the lake.

Steven Schussler is the creator of WDW restaurants Rainforest Café, T-Rex, and DAK’s Yak and Yeti. He is also responsible for The BOATHOUSE as well that opened April 13, 2015. Schussler has owned three Amphicars since 2005.

Offering the Amphicar tours around the perimeter of the lake was meant to be a way of preserving some of the cars remaining, as well as introducing the quirky creation to a new generation of fans and attracting attention to the restaurant.

Some of the cars were not in great shape and Schussler had modifications done on all of them including positioning the rear seat back further to offer an additional three inches of legroom as well as some mechanical changes to the bilge pump system and all new fuel injection and exhaust systems.

In an interview, Schussler did admit that some 3,200 components (generally unseen by the naked eye) were engineered specifically for the Amphicars in use at The BOATHOUSE to guarantee reliability and safety and that each car required $65,000 to $75,000 worth of upgrades, on top of its purchase price which could run as much as a hundred thousand dollars.

The BOATHOUSE has its own shop dedicated to repairing and maintaining the cars daily. Disney Springs has a small towboat anchored to the shore in case one of the BOATHOUSE Amphicars stalls out and the drivers all have hand held radios to communicate that situation.

The two front doors have a double seal with rubber strips like those used on a refrigerator. The car is not made of fiberglass but steel (which can make it prone to rusting without proper care). The steel is thicker than on a regular car and much better assembled with continuous welds and lead filling around the joints to make it watertight.

The wheels are set low, so that the vehicle stands well above ground level when on dry land. Its water propulsion is provided by twin propellers mounted under the rear bumper. The engine is mounted at the rear of the craft. In water as well as on land, the Amphicar is steered with the front wheels.

The car is driven straight into the water in first gear until it floats off the bottom and the propellers take over. First gear is then disengaged. A special two-part land-and-water transmission built by Hermes (makers of the Porsche transmission) allows the wheels and propellers to be operated either independently or simultaneously.

The car was more of a novelty than anything else and did not revolutionize the automotive industry as predicted. The iconic car still generates smiles, waves from those on the shore, a sense of wonder and more important, a sense of fun.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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April 28, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Missing Mountains of Walt Disney World

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE NEVER-BUILT MOUNTAINS OF DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney World is famous for its many mountains: at Magic Kingdom, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom the Forbidden Mountain.

However, over the decades, other mountains were planned for the WDW parks as well, including having a Matterhorn bobsled ride similar to the one at Disneyland for a proposed Switzerland pavilion at World Showcase near the Italy pavilion. The real Matterhorn is located between Italy and Switzerland.

Another mountain that was proposed was Mount Fuji for the back of the Japan pavilion where a roller coaster would have raced around the outside and inside of the iconic mountain. Fuji film was ready to sponsor the attraction but Disney already had an existing sponsorship agreement with rival film company Kodak.

Fire Mountain was planned for Adventureland in the area between the Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain attractions. Fire Mountain was to be a gigantic, forbidding volcano with guests soaring around and through this erupting menace.

It was originally considered to be built in Fantasyland but was felt that it would blend in more appropriately with the theme of Adventureland and the volcanoes of the Pacific Rim. In fact, there was even discussion to expand the entire area into a subdivision called Volcania.

The twist on being just another roller coaster was to have a unique switch in the middle of the ride. Guests would board the vehicles with the track railing underneath them as in a traditional coaster but as the ride progressed, the track would shift to being above them. This switch would give the guests a more up close experience as they dangled over the bubbling lava that was threatening to erupt. The track would switch back before the end of the attraction.

Disney even floated a balloon high in the air to mark the top of the peak of the mountain to see if it could be seen on Main Street USA. While it was not visible to guests in that location, it was clearly visible to guests at the Polynesian Resort.

Eventually, it was decided that such a massive investment might not translate into the extra attendance needed to compensate for the expenditure.

Bald Mountain (from the Disney animated feature film Fantasia (1940) that was the home of the demon Chernabog) would have been in Fantasyland on the location of the closed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. Plans were even discussed to make this part of the park a section themed to the Disney villains who were not just popular as characters but were generating a new lucrative merchandise franchise for the company.

In ride vehicles modeled after Hades’ River Styx boats from the Disney animated feature film Hercules (1997), guests would take a harrowing water journey where they inadvertently interrupted a meeting. The notorious Disney villain characters were deciding who was the most evil of the group to lead them in taking over the Magic Kingdom.

Once discovered, it was a wild race to escape the villains trying to prevent the guests from revealing their sinister plans and ending with a massive water flume plunge down the side of the mountain.

One of the reasons this particular attraction was never built was that the idea of constructing a fifth WDW theme park based on villains was being considered and so the idea was withdrawn in order to be included in the park proposal that never materialized into actuality.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

April 21, 2017   1 Comment