For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


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

Available on Amazon here.

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)





Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Mouse Gear to Creations

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

FROM MOUSE GEAR TO CREATIONS

By Jim Korkis

When Epcot opened on October 1, 1982, the park’s largest store was called Centorium. It combined the two words “Century” and “Emporium”.

Epcot was to lead guests into the new 21st century and “emporium” is a place where goods are bought and sold, which is why the big store in the Magic Kingdom is called by that name. So the Epcot store was meant to represent a retail location for the new century.

It had a large ground floor and a smaller upper level reached by stairs or a glass elevator. As the Millennium Celebration started to approach, Walt Disney World closed the store, removed the upper level as a shopping venue and added more space to the ground floor.

It reopened in September 1999 as Mouse Gear, the largest in-park merchandise location of any Disney theme park at that time worldwide. The name Mouse Gear also combined two words: Mouse referring to Mickey Mouse and Gear referring to a toothed wheel used in machinery as well as “gear” referencing equipment and clothing.

Guests were surrounded by the sights and sounds of machinery at work. Colorful gears, pistons, levers and belts created a theme of production and activity.

Imagineer Agnes David-Hoffman was the art director and principal designer of the store. When it opened, she stated, “It’s a perpetual merchandise machine. This is the place where all the great ideas for merchandise are happening…where all of that production is happening. Not only is this going to be retail entertainment, it’s also meant to be an attraction for the guests.”

(c) Disney

The Imagineering storyline was that Mickey Mouse and his friends use this “factory” to create all the merchandise for the Walt Disney World Resort.

There were four different entrances surrounding the building.

One of the entrances was meant to be the “shipping” section where characters send the merchandise to other places on property. In this section was a giant icon in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s hand suspended overhead and a series of mechanical pieces styled to look like famous Disney characters on the wall.

As the Mickey icon moved clockwise from above, pointing at the different wall pieces, the mechanisms came to life with moving gears, gauges and sounds as the merchandise is sprinkled with the last piece of important material…pixie dust.

Imagineers created a special soundtrack to run in part of the store featuring a combination of industrial sounds that had been formatted into a rhythm or song. In addition, classic Disney songs were played.

The second level was styled to resemble the office of the factory with one section featuring frosted window silhouettes of Donald Duck, Scrooge, Daisy Duck and the nephews, that had also a loop of dialog indicating not everything was going well. Behind those windows were the actual store’s merchandise management team’s offices.

Hanging overhead and often unnoticed by busy shoppers was Dreamfinder’s Dreamcatcher from the Journey Into Imagination attraction that had closed.

Mouse Gear closed January 4, 2020 and was replaced by the Creations Shop that opened September 15, 2021 as part of the big EPCOT Transformation project announced in 2019.

The new store does not have an immersive storyline but features merchandise that embodies the “bold, sleek design” of EPCOT with large glass walls to connect guests with the bright outdoors.

Since Mickey Mouse is “the symbol of creativity for the Walt Disney Company”, the store was named “Creations” and features an oversized mural of Mickey Mouse as well as other designs and murals paying tribute to the iconic character.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disneyland Historical Highlights!

July 1, 2022   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Not Just a Walk in the Park

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 (53)

By Jim Korkis

I am a huge advocate for trying to get some of the Disney “old timers” who were there in the earliest days of Disneyland and Walt Disney World to share their memories of those times into print.

We have already lost so many who had unique perspectives and experiences, and their stories are now lost forever. So like many Disney fans and historians, I was excited to see that Not Just a Walk in the Park by Jim Cora was to be published, and to underline my feelings of urgency, he passed away March 2021, just months before this book was released.

Jim Cora was made a Disney Legend in 2005 and has his name on a window on Main Street at a couple of Disney theme parks. He started as a part time attractions host at Disneyland in 1957, but at the personal urging of Walt Disney he moved into management training where he was mentored by Van France. By 1971, he was part of the opening team of the Magic Kingdom and by 1979 was managing director for the Tokyo Disneyland project.

Not Just a Walk in the Park is a conversational, anecdotal memoir of Cora’s remarkable four decade career with the Walt Disney Company, especially its expansion internationally. He was beloved and respected by all of those he worked with at Disney.

For those focused only on Walt Disney World, only one of the eleven chapters is devoted to that park in this 192 page book, and that chapter doesn’t offer much new information.

However the chapter, like the others, does include never-before-known bits of information tossed in casually, like the fact that he was in charge of Fantasyland on opening day, but had forgotten to place an order for ticket boxes at the attractions, so that day cast members put the torn tickets into their pockets or nearby trash cans until the situation could be rectified.

I did, however, learn much more about Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland than I had known previously, and Cora was also a consultant to Shanghai Disneyland even after he retired.

The “with Jeff Kurtti” credit is significant because I have been in the situation of trying to help a few Disney Legends write their stories and it is challenging with faulty memories, especially of names and dates, and just not the skill to communicate their stories effectively.

Kurtti is one of the most respected of Disney historians and a very good writer in his own right, and the fact that the text is so accurate and flows so smoothly are probably the result of his handiwork.

Each chapter is broken up into “bite-sized” sections that make the text less intimidating and easier to find some specific information—helpful, since there is no index.

A nice touch is that the middle of the book has fifteen pages filled with multiple personal photos on each page (mostly color) that I certainly had never seen before in any previous book or magazine.

With Dick Nunis’ book from Disney Editions coming out this year, I was intrigued by Cora’s comment that while he agreed with what Nunis was trying to accomplish when he ran the parks, he sometimes disagreed with how Nunis was going about accomplishing it. I think that is an insightful and accurate impression of a very controversial leader who Cora was friends with for a time.

Not Just a Walk in the Park is for those who love Disney parks history and would like to hear from someone who knew and worked with both Walt and Roy Disney and is credited for paving the way for the success of the foreign Disney theme parks.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disneyland Historical Highlights!

June 26, 2022   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Walt Disney World Fireworks

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

WALT DISNEY WORLD FIREWORKS

By Jim Korkis

The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the world (and the second largest purchaser of explosive devices, right behind the U.S. Department of Defense), deploying well over a million individual fireworks annually (Epcot alone uses over 750 shells every night in its show).

The Fantasy in the Sky Spectacular took place in celebration of the dedication of the Polynesian Village Hotel (now Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) on Oct. 24, 1971, making it the first Walt Disney World night time fireworks show.

Disney has never issued information about what it spends on fireworks shows, but it has been estimated that just the Magic Kingdom shows alone would cost conservatively eighteen million dollars annually.

Guests can find fireworks displays at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Only Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not have a fireworks show, because it was determined that the loud noises and bright lights in the sky would bother the animals and disrupt their sleep schedule.

Several teams are involved, including Safety, Entertainment Fireworks Storage Facility, Fireworks and Special Effects, and the Reedy Creek Emergency Services, spending months in preparation to make sure that the Entertainment stage technicians can deliver the finest fireworks displays safely every day.

Starting in 2004, to launch the projectiles Walt Disney World uses a compressed air system that ensures a higher launch with greater accuracy and consistency, as well as reducing unwanted noise. It also eliminates gunpowder fumes. Since fireworks do indeed still burn, guests may smell fumes, but not irritating gunpowder.

Walt Disney World parks change their fireworks offering regularly, constantly trying to “top” the previous show in terms of visual display, music and more. The nighttime park shows last roughly fifteen minutes or a little more.

Over the years many fireworks spectacular shows were developed for outside the parks but still on Walt Disney World property:

Merriweather’s Nighttime Fireworks Show: One early concept in 1987 by independent consultant Michael Kennedy was a nighttime fireworks show on the water surrounding Pleasure Island to be called “Pleasure Island Pyrotechnical Exposition.”

Supposedly, Merriweather Pleasure built another steamboat, the Pleasure Island Princess. This ship was blown up by greedy cousins who set alight fireworks (stolen supposedly from the Fireworks Factory on the island) in the belief that Pleasure was mis-using their eventual inheritance on such folly. The phantom ship piloted by a ghostly Merriweather Pleasure would re-appear each evening (or at least the sound of the steamship) and would vanish in a final flurry of showering fireworks.

Noah’s Ark was announced to be “the most ambitious nighttime spectacle in Disney Theme Park history” to open in 1992. It would have been staged on the waters of Crescent Lake, primarily for the delight of the guests staying at the deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts there, the Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Clubs, situated around that body of water.

Storyboards were created, and models were built. Award winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the score.

There would be huge floating stages with miles of neon tubing so that the colorful lights could be easily seen. Disney officials even considered moving the show to then-named Disney-MGM Studios to be the East Coast version of the popular Disneyland Fantasmic! Show. Eventually, it was decided just to re-create a version of Fantasmic for Florida.

Webber also worked on another grand spectacle show for WDW titled “EQ” that centered around horses, but it, too, never came to life. Don Frantz, responsible for producing and directing the Walt Disney World nighttime parade SpectroMagic, managed the conceptual development of both the proposed Webber shows.

“At the time, we were talking about doing all kinds of different spectaculars,” said Imagineer Eric Jacobson. “You could say that the basic thinking behind them was one of the keys that led the way to Disney’s foray into Broadway.”

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disneyland Historical Highlights!

June 17, 2022   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Pixie Hollow

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

PIXIE HOLLOW

By Jim Korkis

The Disney Fairies franchise was a new concept launched in 2005 to try to start another profitable enterprise like the Disney Princess franchise for the Walt Disney Company.

Tinker Bell and her newly created fairy friends were to focus on girls younger than the demographic for the princesses, or roughly six to ten years old, to try to compete with the Barbie franchise of Fairytopia that included DVDs, books, games and more.

(c) Disney

Pixie Hollow is located in the mountains in the north of Neverland, where all four seasons co-exist at the same time and are each presided over by a Seasonal minister. Areas include Spring Valley, Summer Glade, Autumn Forest and Winter Woods.

The entire area has been ruled for hundreds of years by the regal Queen Clarion. The Pixie Dust Tree is located at the center of Pixie Hollow and it is where the fairies get their pixie dust each day to perform their various tasks.

The franchise was supported by multiple books, games, an online presence, toys and more. In 2008, the first straight-to-video movie entitled Tinker Bell was released, introducing a wider audience to the stories of Pixie Hollow.

The Walt Disney Company felt that to better take advantage of the franchise, there should be a physical Pixie Hollow location in the Disney Parks where young girls and other guests could meet the fairies and get autographs and photos.

In October 2008, two Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet locations were opened at Disneyland, at the entrance to Tomorrowland where the previous Ariel’s Grotto was located and changing the rotating mermaid seashell into Tink’s teacup house, and at Walt Disney World’s Mickey’s Toontown Fair where other character meet-and-greets took place.

The premise was that going through the entrance to the area, guests shrunk to the size of fairies or roughly six inches tall and once they left, they were restored to their normal size.

Another version opened at Hong Kong Disneyland in January 2011 as part of that park’s fifth anniversary celebration. At all locations, guests had the opportunity to meet Tinker Bell herself and at least one of her fairy friends: Silvermist, Rosetta, Iridessa, Fawn, Terence and Vidia, and others.

The Walt Disney World location closed in February 2011 for the expansion of the New Fantasyland. The original plans that were announced for the New Fantasyland included a larger, more elaborate Pixie Hollow location, but that was abandoned along with other expansion plans including individual areas for several Disney princesses. The feedback from guests was that the plans were too “girl-centric”.

Alternate proposals then suggested including Pixie Hollow as part of Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in the side pathway that leads to the entrance of the World Showcase. If it were popular, like other temporary Flower and Garden additions like the miniature train in Germany, it would be made permanent.

It was also suggested to become part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because of the film connection, but neither of these proposals happened.

Tinker Bell and her fairy friends eventually returned to Walt Disney World in July 2011 in Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook located in the Adventureland Veranda. It later closed in 2014 to make room for the Skipper Canteen restaurant. The fairies can now be greeted at the Town Square Theater on Main Street.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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

June 10, 2022   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Reedy Creek Improvement District

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

REEDY CREEK IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT

By Jim Korkis

At the end of April 2022, the Florida Legislature voted to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District (“RCID”) by June 2023. Details are still unclear about the specifics of how that will happen, if it does, and the ramifications on the counties of Orange and Osceola, among other things.

In 1967, the creation of RCID allowed the Walt Disney Company to utilize some innovative techniques in building and to exceed the safety standards of both Orange and Osceola counties. All of this was able to be accomplished without taking any money from the taxpayers in those two counties.

Some have argued over the years that, when the Walt Disney Company abandoned the idea of building Walt Disney’s experimental city, the original reason for allowing the company such vast governing power through an improvement district was no longer necessary.

Improvement districts are not unusual, but are more common in rural areas needing things like hospitals or fire protection often unavailable in unincorporated sections. There are improvement districts in every state in the United States and over a thousand in Florida.

Basically, the government has certain responsibilities and duties to people from providing fire protection, garbage collecting, water and sewer, street lighting to other services for which people pay taxes.

However, sometimes areas need things that are not covered under those general responsiblities, cannot be easily provided, or need to be handled differently. A district can do that.

A specific boundary is established and a district is formed with the approval of a simple majority of the property owners. Once created, the district operates as a political subdivision with a Board of Directors made up of the property owners that governs the functions of that district.

These improvement districts can have wide ranging authority from imposing taxes, adopting ordinances, contract for professional services, constructing and operating improvements, handling pest control, and more. Overlaps in jurisdiction can and do occur, so coordination is necessary.

With RCID, Disney extensively communicates with local, regional, state and federal regulatory agencies on matters that cross jurisdictional lines.

There were two significant reasons for establishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

First, it was to ensure that Florida taxpayers would not be burdened with the cost of providing and maintaining essential public services and infrastructure required to build and operate Walt Disney World.

Second, since the original plan was to build a “community of tomorrow” on land encompassing two different counties (Orange and Osceola) that had different building standards and regulations, it was necessary to have a unified governing body that could provide the legislative and regulatory flexibility necessary to allow over the entire area innovative construction techniques from buildings to roads and water control as well as environmental protection of the area.

As early as 1969, RCID required sprinkler systems within all permanent and most temporary buildings, which was a first in Florida. It also required extensive networks of smoke and heat detectors.

Thanks to RCID, the Vista United Telecommunications system in 1978 became the first commercial fiber optic system in the United States, and then became a hundred percent digital switching network in 1983. It was the first telephone company in the state of Florida to implement a 911 emergency system.

RCID created an Environmental Services Department in 1971 and tasked them not to just maintain, but whenever possible, improve the woods, wetlands and swamps that are native to the property.

Without RCID, projects like the expansion of Disney Springs and the reconfiguration of Buena Vista Drive and World Drive would not only have required approval from Orange County officials, but they also would have been subject to the county’s budget approval process.

RCID provides Disney with the means to approve and fund such improvements expeditiously, avoiding much of the bureaucratic red tape.

The only good news is that there is still a year to try to figure things out, but whatever the outcome, it may be a whole new world.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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

June 3, 2022   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: A Portrait of Walt Disney World

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 (52)

By Jim Korkis

My only complaint with A Portrait of Walt Disney World, a beautiful hardcover book celebrating fifty years of Walt Disney World is the same as many other Disney fans: even though the book was published in September 2021, it was challenging to get a copy until the beginning of this year, thanks to supply chain issues and problems with it being printed in China.

However, even with that caveat, A Portrait of Walt Disney World is definitely worth all the angst even though some orders from Amazon have arrived with bumped corners and sometimes a tear in the cover.

This 320 page book is, according to the publicity copy, “a robust portrait of the Walt Disney World Resort through vibrant voices and rare Disney theme park concept art, photographs and ephemera.” It certainly lives up to that description.

Unlike some “coffee table” books, this one has outstanding content to match the amazing visuals, even the smallest of which are sharp and colorful. Where else can you see background art from the 1953 Donald Duck cartoon short Don’s Fountain of Youth where the feisty fowl and his nephews visit Florida?

That’s just the beginning when it comes to treasures like multiple color photos of both Walt and Roy Disney on Walt Disney World property, early maps, design concepts (like for the Walt Disney World logo), a portrait by Charles Boyer of Dick Nunis as General Patton, and much, much more rather than the familiar images presented in previous Disney Edition books about Walt Disney World.

In addition, the text is sprinkled with quotes and memories from numerous people, including Roy Patrick Disney (Roy O. Disney’s grandchild), Debbie Dane Browne (Walt Disney World’s first Ambassador https://yourfirstvisit.net/2022/05/06/fridays-with-jim-korkis-walt-disney-world-ambassadors/ ), and many different Imagineers and others.

I would suspect the wonderful insight into the philosophy of Walt Disney World along with the accurate text is the result of the integrity and knowledge of the authors: Kevin Kern, who was manager of research for the Disney Archives; Tim O’Day, whose writing on Disney history as well as his many contributions to the Disney parks (like arranging for pardoned White House Thanksgiving turkeys getting a reprieve at the Disney parks) and Steven Vagnini, who is currently working for WDI but has had a noteworthy career at the Disney Archives, D23 and other departments.

It must have been quite a challenge to try to shoehorn a half decade of overwhelming accomplishments into the space allotted, but these authors seem up to the task. While some tangential information is obviously missing and they had to adhere to the approved Disney narrative, they were able to cover just about everything very solidly.

After the early history of the creation of Walt Disney World, the book then become neither chronological nor necessarily geographical (Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland is not discussed until after Disney’s Hollywood Studios) but the text continues to read so smoothly that it is not disturbing.

As you might suspect, I have a library filled with books just about Walt Disney World, but I consider A Portrait of Walt Disney World a true treasure and one that I will be using for reference in the future. The book is now easier to locate and purchase so you should consider adding it to your personal library if you have any interest in Walt Disney World and its history.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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

 

May 28, 2022   No Comments