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: Big Thunder Mountain

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.

BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN IN FRONTIERLAND

By Jim Korkis

The specific details of the back story to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad story varies from Disney park to Disney park–although the basic tale remains the same, of a mountain where gold mining disturbed the spirits who took control of the mine cars.

The California and Paris versions claim the great disaster that happened to the nearby town was the result of an earthquake while the Florida and Tokyo attractions depict massive flooding.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first major attraction designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter in 1973 but despite its approval, its construction was continually delayed.

When the design for Big Thunder Mesa by Imagineer Marc Davis for Walt Disney World was scrapped because it was too costly and time consuming to build, Baxter took elements from it and created a runaway mine train ride with his mentor Imagineer Claude Coats. It was the first ride to be built at Disneyland without direct input from Walt Disney.

The attraction opened at Disneyland in September 1979 followed by versions at Magic Kingdom Park in Florida in 1980, Tokyo Disneyland Park in 1987 and Disneyland Paris in 1992.

The Florida version is twenty-five percent larger than the Disneyland version, and unlike Disneyland’s mountain, the Walt Disney World façade is inspired by Utah and Arizona’s Monument Valley.

In 2012, as part of a Walt Disney World refurbishment and as a tribute to Baxter who was retiring, the attraction was re-themed with the queue featuring a portrait of Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) member Barnabas T. Bullion, “the gold magnate who rules the Big Thunder Mining Company with a golden fist,” holding an elaborate wooden cane topped by a huge gold nugget.

The portrait bears an unmistakable resemblance to the popular Imagineer and the middle initial of “T” according to Imagineering stands for “Tony”.

From the updated Walt Disney Imagineering back story:

“During the height of the gold rush, men in the town of Tumbleweed began looking for gold in the nearby mountain, Big Thunder, which was also an Indian Burial Ground. Though the mountain ‘thundered’ when anyone inspected it, these men took ore trains deep down into the caverns. They removed the gold and celebrated with poker games and parlor girls.

“Acts of God struck back. Mysterious spirits took control of the trains and spun them out of control, a flash flood inundated the town, and an earthquake hit. Everything was lost…

“Barnabas T. Bullion is the founder and president of the Big Thunder Mining Company. The longtime mining magnate comes from a powerful East Coast family and considers gold to be his very birthright by virtue of his oddly appropriate name; in fact, he considers the ultimate gold strike to be his destiny. And that is why he is having so much trouble with Big Thunder Mountain.

“According to superstitious locals, Big Thunder Mountain is very protective of the gold it holds within, and the unfortunate soul who attempts to mine its riches is destined to fail. And so far that prophecy is coming to pass. The mine has been plagued by mysterious forces and natural disasters ever since. And yet the Big Thunder Mining Company is still in operation.

“In fact, Bullion is discovering new veins of gold and digging new shafts every day, offering a closer look at the Big Thunder mining operation than ever before. But a word to the wise for anyone attempting to visit the mountain: watch out for runaway trains.”

A portrait of another S.E.A. member, Harrison Hightower III at Tokyo Disneysea’s Tower of Terror, resembles Baxter’s fellow Imagineer Joe Rohde.

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Thanks, Jim! There’s more on the Society of Explorers and Adventurers here. 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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July 7, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Sunshine Tree Terrace

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 SUNSHINE TREE TERRACE IN ADVENTURELAND

By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney Productions entered into negotiations with the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) for a Florida Citrus Growers sponsored Magic Kingdom attraction in 1967. A contract was signed on Oct. 22, 1969, formalizing the FCC’s underwriting of a “tropical bird show” at a cost of three million dollars. The following year, 1970, WED Enterprises created the Orange Bird character to serve as the FCC’s official mascot in promotional campaigns.

The final design of the character was by C. Robert “Bob” Moore who handled many special projects for the Disney Company, including designing the Walt Disney postage stamp and the eagle mascot for the 1984 Olympic games.

(c) Disney

When the Tropical Serenade show (a duplicate of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room show) finished, guests exited by the Sunshine Tree Terrace for drinks, slushes, Orange sippers and the Citrus Orange Swirl. Strangely, only frozen—not fresh—orange juice was used.

From the back of the Terrace was the Florida Sunshine Tree — a large replica of a citrus tree with artificial fruit, blossoms, and leaves — which was the creation of Disney technicians who studied Florida citrus trees a long time before putting the tree together limb by limb in a combination of reality and fantasy. The tree was the icon for the Florida citrus industry and adorned the costumes worn by the cast members who worked at the location in the early days.

In its branches was the little Orange Bird. Above his head was a small screen upon which was shown happy orange thoughts from a projector in the back wall. Since, according to the song about him, the bird was unable to talk, he communicated through these orange thoughts that would appear over his head.

A fifteen minute loop of tropical music played at the location. In addition to the little figure in the branches of the tree, there was a walk-around costumed character Orange Bird with a big head and a pajama suit type body.

When the contract with the Florida Citrus Commission ran out, the bird was removed in 1986. But in April 17, 2012, the Orange Bird returned to Sunshine Tree Terrace signage and a new line of Orange Bird merchandise appeared on the shelves.

An Orange Bird statue that was on display at Sunshine Tree Terrace in the 1970s was retrieved from the WDI Sculpture Studio in California where it was found untouched and forgotten in a drawer, and after restoration was re-installed.

Over the years there were two distinct orange birds that swung on a little perch at the Terrace. The first one was a static figure on a moving swing and was there when the pavilion first opened in 1971. One of the reasons it still existed and was in good shape was that it was soon replaced at the Terrace with an improved and upgraded version that moved its green leaf wings up and down, as well as its head, as it swung back and forth giving it more of an illusion of life. That particular figure still seems to be unaccounted for at the moment.

On March 15, 2015, the Sunshine Tree Terrace traded locations with Aloha Isle Refreshments but both kept their same menus. The Orange Bird was relocated to the new location on May 29.

The figureheads of water buffalo on top of the original location were chosen because the building was so tall that it could be seen in Frontierland. It was hoped that the long horns on the stylized figures might be mistaken by guests as Wild West long horn cattle when viewed from that other land.

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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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June 30, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Italy Pavilion

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 ITALY PAVILION IN EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE

By Jim Korkis

The Imagineers decided to theme the Italian pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase to the city of Venice, because they felt Venice would be the most readily recognizable location to guests as representing Italy since that city had so many famous architectural icons.

The Isola del Lago on the lagoon side of the pavilion (Isle of the Lake) was to give the opportunity of seeing the pavilion from one of the over 120 islands connected by canals, rather than streets, that make up the city of Venice. It includes several pedestrian bridges, a very common sight in Venice and gives it an aura of authenticity.

The Isola would also offer the opportunity to have gondolas moored at the distinctive poles. Gondolas are the main method of transportation in Venice. Different types of watercraft were originally meant to distinguish the various pavilions for guests viewing the area from across the World Showcase Lagoon or from the Friendship boats.

(c) Disney

Standing 83 feet tall, the campanile, or bell tower, resembles the one in Piazza di San Marco or St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Just like the original on which it is based, it is located adjacent to the Doge’s Palace.

However, to balance the skyline by giving it greater symmetry and not to give the pavilion more acreage than the other pavilions, it is placed on the opposite side. It was built to one-fifth the scale of the original.

On top of the campanile is the Archangel Gabriel. This exact replica of the original was painstakingly covered in gold leaf. That detail was done for practical reasons since it would not tarnish and prevent frequent refurbishment. An unadorned replica of the statue was placed in the garden to the right for guests to get a better view of it.

The pink and white Doge’s Palace is a reproduction of the residence for the Dukes who ruled Venice for seven centuries. The palace facade is lavishly adorned with ornamentation and statuary. At the very top is the statue of Justice that stands guard over the building. The building is a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles.

The Doge’s Palace is schematically correct in its delicate and profuse ornamentation, columns, colonnades and distinctive design pattern. Working from photographs and on-site visits, the Imagineers made a remarkably convincing facsimile right to down to the elaborate door handles.

Unlike the original, this version was made from fiberglass and plaster although it was made to look like the original marble and stone. The marble on the façade is actually brick which has been treated with fiberglass. Underneath the columns and arches are steel girders and beams providing the actual support for the building.

The statues seem to be made of solid stone but are actually hollow. They are lightweight and could easily blow away. To prevent this from ever happening, they are held in place with rods which run from their base through their hollow centers.

The interior does not duplicate the interior of the original. Imagineers adapted architectural elements from the periods during which the palace was built and so is an accurate representation of the styles from the 9th through the 16th century.

At the far end and around the corner of Disney’s Doge’s Palace is a carving of a grotesque face. Citizens could anonymously, and often hidden in the darkness of night, drop slips of paper into the open mouths of these types of faces and report their neighbors for crimes or voice complaints about government actions. The face located at the Doge’s Palace was specifically intended to be used to report financial crimes including tax fraud.

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Thanks, Jim! And here’s a little more on Italy, from The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit:

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

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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June 23, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Liberty Tree

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 LIBERTY TREE IN MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

The Liberty Tree was an iconic symbol of the American Revolution. Walt Disney included a version of it in his live action feature film Johnny Tremain (1957) and intended to have a living representation in his proposed but never-built Liberty Street in Disneyland.

(c) Disney

Instead, it is in Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square. The tree in Liberty Square displays thirteen lanterns commemorating the thirteen original colonies. It is the largest tree ever transplanted on Walt Disney World property.

The preparation to move the live oak from the east side of the property to the Magic Kingdom, a distance of eight miles, took almost a year of planning. The tree was forty feet tall, sixty feet wide and weighted thirty-eight tons. The root ball measured eighteen feet by sixteen feet by four feet deep.

It was too large and heavy to tie a chain around the trunk and lift it as was common because that would have caused massive damage to the bark and sensitive cambrium layers and potentially kill the tree.

In 1985, I did an interview with Director of Landscape Design Bill Evans who said, “Necessity is the mother of invention. We occasionally had to move trees and couldn’t use the accepted practice of putting a large box around the root system because sometimes the weight would have been more than we could have handled.

“We drilled through the hardwood center of the trunk and steel rods inserted to form a cross. North-South and East-West. These rods served as handles for hoisting and hauling the tree with a 100-ton crane to its present location. We went around with pruning shears to reduce the root system to something we could handle. By doing all this, we reduced the weight to about one-fifth.

“Local nurserymen and landscape people were absolutely horrified including the professional pathologist from the University of Florida who predicted the tree would die in two years if we bored a hole through it.

“When we planted it, we re-inserted the original wood plugs. Unfortunately, over time they became diseased and had to be removed and we filled the holes with concrete to stop any further spread of the disease. We also grafted a small live oak onto the tree to give it that fuller shape it has today.”

The tree began it journey June 11, 1970 but was so heavy that the trunk could only move slowly inches at a time much like the vehicles that haul rockets to a launch site. The tree was re-planted on March 6, 1971.

According to the sign at the side of the tree:

“The original Liberty Tree, a stately elm, was a rallying point for pre-revolutionary activities. The open space under its branches was called ‘Liberty Hall’ and a flag pole was erected through its branches with a hoisted flag the symbol for action.

“Countless inflammatory cartoons and verses were nailed to its trunk and many Tories hung in effigy from its branches. Perhaps its proudest moment was the repeal of the Stamp Act when innumerable lanterns blazed among its branches for all to see.”

On the bronze plaque located at the base of the tree are the following words:

“Under the boughs of the original Liberty Tree in Boston in 1765, Patriots, calling themselves ‘The Sons Of Liberty’, gathered to protest the imposition of the Stamp Act.  In the years that followed, almost every American town had a Liberty Tree —  A Living Symbol Of The American Freedom of Speech and Assembly.

“Our Liberty Tree is a Southern Live Oak, Quercus Virginiana, more than 100 years old.”

The tree is the proud parent of more than 500 young trees that started out as acorns harvested from it.

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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

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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June 16, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: D-Luxe Burger

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.

D-LUXE BURGER IN DISNEY SPRINGS

By Jim Korkis

According to the back story for Disney Springs conceived by Imagineers, a Florida cattle rancher named Martin Sinclair and his wife Clara discovered the water source in 1850 and settled there. Martin became “The Cattle King of the Springs”.

(c) Disney

The story of the Disney Springs craft burger restaurant D-Luxe Burger is recounted by artifacts decorating the interior of the restaurant, which supposedly served as the original ranch house for Sinclair’s Glowing Oak Ranch in Springs, Florida. On the outside is the covered front porch where the Sinclair family could easily see the springs just a few short steps from their door.

Florida has the longest history of cattle ranching of any state in the United States so this back story honors that legacy.

In a display case is an undated letter from Martin to his wife Clara:

“My Dearest Clara. After weeks spent exploring the wilds of Florida, I have found us a home! The first night I arrived here after a particularly hard rain, the light from my campfire was reflected in the droplets of water clinging to the leaves of the oak tree overhead.

”The leaves appeared to be dancing and the sight of it inspired me to name the place ‘Glowing Oak’. In a fortnight I will return to you in South Carolina and cannot wait to start our living here in this happy place. Your loving husband, Martin. P.S. My crude hand cannot do justice to the beauty of this place but I’ve included a small drawing.”

On the wall is a map of the cattle ranches in the state of Florida in 1865 including several fictitious Central Florida ones created by Imagineering like Reedy Creek Ranch, Buena Vista Ranch, Kissimmee River Ranch, Turkey Creek Ranch and, of course, Glowing Oak Ranch.

A posted vintage advertisement for “Ranch Hands Needed for the Glowing Oak Ranch” stated: “To tend the lands. Square meals and fair deals for all. Must be able to rope and ride. Opportunities for Advancement.”

It ended with the slogan “There’s a seat for everyone at our table!” which later became the slogan for the family restaurant. In the ranch house, the Sinclairs cooked meals for the ever growing number of ranch hands. The reputation for outstanding food sometimes resulted in them opening the house to hungry tourists and locals as well.

Sinclair shifted from just being a dealer in beef cattle after he attended the St. Louis World’s Fair. In a display is a postcard dated from June 11, 1904 to Clara Sinclair: “My Dearest Clara, Greetings to you from the World’s Fair! I am finding such wonderful things here. Among my most favorite discoveries is a kind of ground beef sandwich they call a ‘hamburger’. I dare say, the recipe seems quite easy to discern, so I promise to fashion one for you upon my return. Your loving husband, Martin.”

That inspiration resulted in the Glowing Oak Ranch evolving into a family restaurant. It held its first ever “Burger Day” on February 26, 1905 from noon to five pm. “It’s no minced steak. It’s hamburgers! Hit of the World’s Fair. It’s time for fun. Join us now for a burger on a bun…with plenty of plates and, chairs and outdoor space!” Glowing Oak Ranch became Glowing Oak Restaurant on July 24, 1921. The restaurant provided the refreshments for the Springs Grand Centennial Expo in 1950.

Officially, the “current owner, Martin Sinclair VI” re-branded the Glowing Oak Restaruant to D-Luxe Burger on May 15, 2016. While the ranch itself has been sold off and re-developed over the years, the oak tree that inspired the original still stands outside the front door to the restaurant.

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Thanks, Jim! I’m a big fan of D-Luxe Burger. In our book, we note that “D-Luxe Burger serves up the best quick service hamburgers on property.”

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

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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June 9, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Miss Adventure Falls

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.

MISS ADVENTURE FALLS

By Jim Korkis

Miss Adventure Falls opened at the Disney World water park Typhoon Lagoon on March 12, 2017. Built on two acres near the pineapple fields of Crush’ n’ Gusher, the water rafting attraction was originally announced as “Miss Fortune Falls”. It was added to the water park to strengthen its competitiveness against Universal Orlando’s new Volcano Bay water attraction.

(c) Disney

Its story is that fictitious Captain Mary Oceaneer, a treasure-hunting heroine who collects and protects deep sea antiquities, got stranded with her pet parrot at Typhoon Lagoon years ago by a rogue storm.

On “treasure” rafts, Disney guests journey up past Mary’s wrecked ship, the M.S. Salty IV, with a massive hole in the side hull revealing her talking pet parrot, an audio-animatronics figure who sings and talks at a telescope trying to keep track of the unique artifacts that have been scattered when the ship crashed.

From there, it becomes a white-water adventure with twists, turns and dips that also feature some of the treasures along the way that Mary and her parrot have gathered in their travels around the seven seas. With a ride time of two minutes, it is the lengthiest slide experience at any Disney water park.

Mary is part of a new ongoing storyline at the Disney theme parks centered around the members of S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) inspired by the affection for the former Adventurers Club that operated at Downtown Disney. She appears in a portrait of the S.E.A. members in the queue of Tokyo DisneySea’s Mystic Manor.

Other prominent members of that fabled group include Harrison Hightower III, Lord Henry Mystic, Barnabas T. Bullion, Dr. Albert Falls and founding member Jason Chandler.

Captain Mary Oceaneer is also the main character of the Oceaneer Labs on the Disney Cruise ships. Portraits of her and her parrot named Salty show them to be treasure hunters, oceanographers and deep-sea divers. In fact, her diving suit is on display.

Her back story is that she and her parrot found treasure on and below Castaway Cay and established the first Pirate Party onboard the ship. For the new water park attraction, the parrot has been named Duncan.

The same storm that transformed Typhoon Lagoon also beached her ship and left her stranded. The impact scattered her nautical treasures around the tropical paradise.

The entrance of the attraction is composed of items from the shipwreck, including a bird cage, a diving helmet, a vintage Adventurer’s magazine with a cover painting of a smiling Mary. That undated magazine is Under the Sea Quarterly: The Magazine by and for Divers. Special Edition. “Treasures from the Deep. Meet Mary Oceaneer Collector & Protector of Deep Sea Antiquities.”

The queue is filled with items including unopened crates of S.E.A. artifacts, crackers for the Captain’s parrot, as well as parrot-shaped footprints.

Also nearby is Mary’s diving bell with the S.E.A. motto, “Exploratio Continua”, and underneath Atlantean lettering first created for the Disney animated feature film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001).

“Burma Shave” style individual signs share the story: “Follow the adventures of Captain Mary Oceaneer aboard a family raft ride featuring rushing rapids, an enclosed slide flume and treasures around every twist and turn. Captain Mary and her parrot…Dove for treasure hoping to share it… As they were hauling their treasures to port… a typhoon hit and cut their trip short. Bon Voyage.”

A map is posted indicating where there are gold coins, pearls and gems, “shiney” objects, sandals and crackers along the shores of Blustery Bay and Leaning Palms.

On the bookshelves of the Skipper Canteen restaurant in Adventureland is a copy of the book Parrots as Pets by Mary Oceaneer.

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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

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

June 2, 2017   No Comments