By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Expedition Everest

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

EXPEDITION EVEREST: LEGEND OF THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN

By Jim Korkis

According to the Imagineering back story in the queue line of Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, two business men, Bob and Norbu, have rebuilt an existing railroad that once transported tea in order to take travelers to the base of Mount Everest for profit. The railroad journey goes through the Forbidden Mountain that is in the path to the final destination.

As travelers exit Bob and Norbu’s office, they begin to see shrines of the yeti in various sizes. The majority of these shrines are showered with jewels and food, symbolizing the tremendous respect the locals have for the yeti. Previously, guests saw shrines and prayers flags and red paint (to ward off evil spirits).

Next, travelers walk through Tashi’s Trek and Tongba Shop filled with hiking supplies and equipment. Once travelers have finished their shopping, they then enter into the Yeti Museum of Professor Perma Dorje, Ph.D. The museum, which was transformed from a tea warehouse, is dedicated to “the serious study of the scientific and cultural aspects of the mysterious creature known and revered throughout the Himalayas as the yeti.”

The first half of the museum focuses on the geographic region of Nepal, the people of Nepal, and their interpretations of what they believe the yeti to look like. This setting is meant to establish a sense of reality before venturing into the fantasy elements.

Next, the Lost Expedition of 1982 is displayed in the museum. Legend has it that in 1982, a group of trackers went in search of the yeti. When none returned after several weeks, a search group was sent to find these trackers only to discover they had not survived. The remains of their expedition, including their tent, hiking equipment and camera, are shown throughout the exhibit.

A little more than halfway through the museum, travelers notice pictures of lowland jungle animals, midland forest animals and mountain animals. The purpose of this display is to rationalize that if these animals can survive the different areas of the mountain, then why can’t a creature like the yeti also survive?

Towards the end of the Yeti Museum, travelers notice a brown display cabinet filled with actual different discoveries that Walt Disney Imagineers made during an expedition by Disney and Conservation International to the Himalayas, meant once again to establish a sense of reality.

Upon exiting the museum to board their train, travelers see one last warning sign posted by Professor Dorje: “Respect the Power of the Yeti. The weight of the evidence leads to the inescapable conclusion: The Yeti is Real. You are about to enter the scared domain of the Yeti, guardian and protector of The Forbidden Mountain. Those who proceed with respect and reverence for the sanctity of the natural environment and its creatures should have no fear. To all others, a warning you risk the wrath of the Yeti. Prof. Perma Dorje, Ph.D Curator The Yeti Museum.”

Of course, Bob and Norbu can not allow the good professor to scare off potential customers and so they also post a sign that reads: “The opinions expressed by the curator of the Yeti Museum in no way reflect the views of the owners and operators of Himalayan Escapes, Tours and Expeditions.”

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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, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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January 17, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

TWILIGHT ZONE TOWER OF TERROR

By Jim Korkis

While variations of the Tower of Terror attraction have been at four different Disney theme parks worldwide, one of the things that makes the Walt Disney World version unique among them is the inclusion of the horizontal journey through the Fifth Dimension experience.

Every week the Twilight Zone television show began with host Rod Serling telling viewers that, with the key of imagination, one unlocks the door to another dimension.

The idea of another dimension was shown in the Little Girl Lost episode (March 1962) where a little girl named Tina falls into another dimension through the wall behind her bed. The premise for the Tower of Terror attraction is that the ill-fated elevator passengers have fallen into a new dimension and have been trapped there never aging for decades. They are not ghosts.

In the WDW attraction guests’ elevator leave the lift shaft and pass through the Fifth Dimension where they get a glimpse of the 1939 passengers motioning them to go deeper and join them. The elevator then goes into another lift shaft.

The Tower of Terror actually employs more than one type of vehicle in order to enable riders to leave the elevator shaft and pass through the Fifth Dimension. Guests sit in Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which rise up to the corridor scene in a Vertical Vehicle Conveyance (VVC).

At the time work began on the attraction, United Technologies was the sponsor of the Living Seas pavilion at Epcot. UT owned a subsidiary, Otis Elevator that had pioneered the development of the safety elevator in 1852 that would lock it in place if the ropes failed. Originally, because of their reputation, they balked at the idea of being involved with an “unsafe” elevator but were persuaded it would be good publicity.

The self-guided vehicle was assigned to Eaton-Kenway, a manufacturer of computerized pallet drivers for automated warehouse inventory transport. There were challenges getting both systems to work in tandem.

When guests reach the Fifth Dimension corridor, the AGVs exit not on a track like a traditional dark ride vehicle but are guided by wires under the floor. This technology was originally developed for the vehicles in Epcot’s Universe of Energy attraction and The Great Movie Ride.

When they reach the far end of the corridor, they lock into another vertical motion cab, which handles the actual drop sequence.

The AGVs are powered by onboard batteries, which are charged while riders are unloading. At any one time, up to eight of these vehicles could be circulating around the Tower of Terror’s ride system. Ten were originally built.

While there really are two drop shafts on the Tower of Terror, there are actually four elevators that lift the AGVs from the boarding area up to the Fifth Dimension scene – two of these merge into a single corridor scene. This enables the ride to have an increased capacity.

Unlike other amusement park drop rides like Magic Mountain’s Freefall, guests are not in fact being pulled down by gravity. In fact, they are moving faster than the speed of gravity to a top speed of 39 miles per hour.

Once the AGV vehicles are locked into the Vertical Vehicle Conveyance (the elevator housing), they are pulled by cables connected to two enormous motors which are 12 feet tall, 35 feet long and weigh a massive 132,000 pounds. These pull the VVC up and down.

When the attraction was going through the test and adjust phase, it was found that the VVC was being pulled down so rapidly that it was compressing the air at the bottom of the shaft and blowing out the walls, so adjustments had to be made.

Besides the Fifth Dimension scene, other differences unique to the WDW version are some particular Twilight Zone artifacts and references, but that would need another column to cover!

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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, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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January 10, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Disney Institute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE DISNEY INSTITUTE

By Jim Korkis

CEO Michael Eisner and his family visited the Chautauqua Institution in 1985 in upstate New York. Chautauqua offered lectures, performances, recreation, and, most specifically, classes designed for adults to enhance their education during the summer months. Eisner felt this would be a great idea to build at Walt Disney World and would attract older, more affluent guests who were not interested in the theme parks.

In order to save on costs on the venture, it was decided to convert the already existing Lake Buena Vista villas and townhouses into housing for what would become the Disney Institute, and just build the additional classroom facilities there.

The new structures were designed by Tom Beedy and given the look of a small, friendly New England town. Facilities at the 457-room lakeside resort were designed to accommodate about 900 people at its peak, a fairly modest number considering the other resorts and attendance at the theme parks.

New structures included a 38,000-square-foot two-story sports and fitness center with a full basketball court, indoor pool, and a full-service spa with seaweed facial or an “aroma therapy” massage; a 225-seat Performance Center that was acoustically perfect and featured side boxes in the audience; a 400-seat movie theater without a balcony; and a 1,150-seat uncovered amphitheater (which proved to be a huge mistake when it rained, or the Orlando heat was too intense so could not be used).

Some upgrades to the Lake Buena Vista living accommodations were made, but most of these were merely cosmetic, so for example there were few outlets to plug in and recharge any devices like a computer. The prices were going to be the same as the premium resorts on property but without the same amenities.

The Disney Institute opened on February 9, 1996 with the motto “You won’t believe what you can do!”

Too often guests stayed at other resorts and simply drove in to attend classes or performances. The classrooms were designed to be small for an intimate experience but even with a full classroom it was not enough to cover the cost of the overhead for instructors, materials, maintenance and more.

When Disney Institute opened in 1996, guests could choose from more than 80 programs in nine different program track areas, including Entertainment Arts (which also encompassed all the animation classes), Sports and Fitness, Life Styles, Story Arts (with classes like As Walt Would Tell It), Culinary Arts, Design Arts, Environment (including a class where guests could make their own mini-Mickey Mouse topiary), Performing Arts (with a radio and television studio) and Youth Programs. Within six months many of these classes were cut, with only the more popular ones surviving and another round of massive cuts happening later in 1997. The Disney Institute in its first year of existence had the highest guest satisfaction ratings on all of WDW property.

Individual classes were each offered generally twice or three times a week (usually every other day) and were roughly two to three hours long. There was a morning session and an afternoon session. There was a two hour break for lunch and in the evening there were events either in the Performance Center or the Cinema.

Eventually, the guest enrichment programs slowly disappeared entirely and Disney Institute closed as a physical location in 2002. The Disney Institute still exists today in name offering expensive business classes on location to corporate clients throughout the world from their cubicles in Celebration.

Many things on the physical site were gutted and razed when the area was transformed into the Saratoga Springs resort that opened on May 17, 2004.

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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, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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January 3, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Walt DIsney’s EPCOT Center

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (24)

By Jim Korkis

While there have been many impressive recent books about Walt Disney World, it is also important to consider adding some older editions to your personal Disney library.

Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow is historically fascinating and still valued by Disney fans for its text and illustrations, despite much of the information being outdated by all the changes that have taken place over the decades. It really is a time capsule for a park that no longer exists and will disappear even more with the new changes that have been recently announced.

Published by Harry Abrams Inc. in New York, it had the full approval and cooperation of the Walt Disney Company. Originally written just before Epcot opened so it could encourage guests to visit Disney’s newest theme park, it was hugely popular.

The earliest edition features beautiful concept art that was replaced with color photos in the second edition. In fact, the book resembles the high-end art books being produced by Harry Abrams Inc. at the time, including even fold-out pages for some of the illustrations.

There are four distinct versions of the book.

The first edition was simply called Walt Disney’s Epcot. The second edition after the park opened was entitled Walt Disney’s Epcot Center with the addition of the five interlocking circles logo and the official Epcot Center lettering on the front cover.

Both editions are huge, roughly 9.5 inches wide and 12 inches tall and 239 pages long. Other than changing some of the concept art and models for photographs of the finished park, the text and the layout remains pretty much the same in the second edition.

The book traces the design and construction of the park but avoids discussing why Walt’s original dream failed to materialize. The wonderful artwork and photos make the book a priceless addition to a collection especially for a fan of Epcot.

Two other smaller, thinner editions were issued that measure roughly less than 9 inches wide and 11 inches tall and contain only 127 pages. They have a stiff board cover rather than the dust jackets on the two larger editions.

These smaller versions were less expensive and meant to be sold as a souvenir edition at the Disney theme parks. Like the larger editions, one was published just as the park was opening and the other had updated photographs after the park had opened.

I point out these differences because it is important to know which edition you are purchasing. I have all four editions so that I can use them for reference when I write my articles and books, but you may just want one of them to add to your collection.

The larger volumes have an almost twenty page introduction by Marty Sklar that is trimmed to roughly four pages in the smaller editions. When I talk about concept art, it is not just the paintings shown in the American Adventure section or Bob McCall’s paintings for Horizons, but material like three pages of artwork for Japan’s Meet the World attraction that never opened at Epcot.

Unlike some other older books, this is not a difficult or expensive book to obtain. I definitely wish similar volumes had been produced for the other Disney theme parks, but it is great that this one was.

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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, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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December 27, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Disney Springs and its Stories

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

DISNEY SPRINGS AND ITS STORIES

By Jim Korkis

Florida has one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs on Earth, with more than 900 natural springs. Springs served as locations for Spanish missions, steamboat landings, gristmills and more, including reservoirs for irrigating crops. A few springs gave birth to towns, including Silver Springs in Marion County, Green Cove Spring in Clay County, and De Leon Springs in Volusia County.

Inspired by small Florida towns that developed in the early 1900s around these bodies of water, the storyline for Disney Springs–the shopping, dining and entertainment area of the far east side of Walt Disney World–is that Disney Springs also attracted its first settlers “more than a century ago”.

That original group of settlers discovered a natural spring and a wonderful piece of land near it to settle on in the mid-1800s. They built the Town Center where the residents lived. They even built a water side promenade where they could gather to relax after a busy day.

As the population grew, the town branched out to towards the water with The Landing, which was the transportation hub (for planes, trains and more), and then continued to expand, on either side of the Town Center, with the Marketplace and the West Side.

In the West Side there are remnants of an elevated train trestle that was supposedly built for the fictional 1950 Springs Centennial Expo that is shown on a poster in D-Luxe Burger and at Guest Relations. That Expo had hot air balloons and a big distinctive central structure like most World’s Fairs that later became Characters in Flight and the Cirque du Soleil building.

According to the back story, a Florida cattle rancher named Martin Sinclair and his wife Clara first discovered the water source of the Springs in 1850 and settled there. Sinclair shifted from just being a dealer in beef cattle after he attended the St. Louis World’s Fair and discovered a new treat: a hamburger.

That inspiration resulted in the Glowing Oak Ranch evolving into a small family restaurant. Glowing Oak Ranch became Glowing Oak Restaurant officially 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 Restaurant to D-Luxe Burger on May 15, 2016.

Blaze Pizza took over the space in Town Center at Disney Springs that used to be occupied by the town’s lumber mill – The Buena Vista Timber Company established in 1868.

The restaurant design includes elements reminiscent of the workings of a sawmill, from a prop wood planer to the layout of the dining room where the tables and benches are arranged in rows to suggest logs that have been pulled up to the mill from the springs.

The Ganachery Chocolate Shop used to house the town’s only apothecary shop that supplied the necessary medicines for the inhabitants to cure their ills.

The space was taken over by a South American couple (their photos are on the wall) who turned their love for the cocoa bean, a major South American crop from which chocolate is made, into a chocolate shop adapting the existing pharmacy shelves and equipment to their needs.

An old billboard advertises the passenger train that used to stop in the town. There are some stray rails still embedded in the pathways. STK Steakhouse is the home of the old railroad station and is a reference to a 1889 train station in Downtown Orlando. The Imagineers didn’t need to reference old photos because the station still stands today. It’s Church Street Station.

The Polite Pig was the location of the original farmer’s market for the area. Ancient machinery sits unused next to a weathered sign, which indicates that the apparatus was used for a spring water ice works operation that now houses Sprinkles. The bottling plant was a building reclaimed to house Morimoto Asia.

Many more stories behind the various buildings were created by Imagineers and are awaiting to be rediscovered.

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Thanks, Jim! I don’t much cover Disney Springs on this site, but our book is rich in overviews and dining reviews. See below for how we start.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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December 20, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: An Epcot Comic Book with Mickey and Goofy

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

MICKEY AND GOOFY EXPLORE THE UNIVERSE OF ENERGY

By Jim Korkis

Mickey Mouse and Goofy certainly were very concerned about energy. Thanks to the Walt Disney Educational Media Company, they were able to satisfy their curiosity and appeared in an unusual early Epcot Center collectible.

Starting in 1945, the Disney Company established an official 16mm film division to rent out its movies to schools and community groups. By the 1960s, the division was making well over a million dollars a year renting films and selling educational filmstrips and related material to schools, and expanded into the Walt Disney Educational Media Company that was especially active during the 1970s and 1980s.

The division produced original material ranging from filmstrips to comic books to kits with audio cassettes and workbooks, to even short new videos on a variety of subjects including Figment for elementary and junior high schools. For instance, WDEM created the thirty-six page full color comic book Mickey Mouse and Goofy Explore Energy (1967) included in its Wide World of Energy multimedia kit made with information assistance from Exxon.

The popularity of that comic and kit led to another comic book Mickey Mouse and Goofy Explore Energy Conservation (1976). Both comic books were written by Carl Fallberg and drawn by Tony Strobl, who were also producing the regular newsstand Disney comic books. Both these comics were available “in limited quantities without charge” from the Exxon Public Affairs Department in Texas, so they are not difficult to locate and obtain at a reasonable price.

When the Universe of Energy pavilion originally opened at Epcot in 1982 it was sponsored by Exxon, who made sure the attraction downplayed the value of alternative forms of energy like wind and solar power.

To help reinforce the proposition that oil was the most important source of energy, and that Exxon should be actively encouraged to develop methods like off-shore drilling to make sure there would be enough, the company partnered with Walt Disney Educational Media to produce the comic book Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy (1985).

This comic was illustrated by Jack Manning, another Disney comic book artist, and was sixteen pages long plus covers. For awhile, it was given away free at the Epcot Energy Exchange in Communicore East to children. It could also be obtained for free directly from Exxon.

The cover features Mickey and Goofy standing in front of the pavilion and a pink dinosaur is peeking out and motioning them to come inside. The book itself does not really feature the attraction itself but is just a springboard for Mickey to lecture Goofy on the importance of oil as the primary source of energy.

There is a brief glimpse of the pre-show circular theater screen, the vehicles (where all the males are wearing bow ties and hats as if they had stepped out of a 1950s comic book), a brief encounter with a cartoon brontosaurus and at the end a prompting for guests to go to Exxon’s Energy Exhange to learn more.

The Energy Exchange (which closed in 1994) had dozens of interactive exhibits, videos, models and more on energy. The Video Bicycle allowed guests to pedal a stationary bicycle to generate electricity. A video monitor displayed how much power the guest was generating through their pedaling. (Nine days of pedaling was needed to generate the same amount of energy as one gallon of gasoline.) How many Walt Disney World fans recall that location?

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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, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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December 13, 2019   No Comments