Hey everybody, there’s a new itinerary out for arrivals 8/31 through 10/26/2019. You can find it here.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Fort WIlderness Railroad

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

FORT WILDERNESS RAILROAD

By Jim Korkis

With the new Disney Vacation Club Resort Reflections being built there, changes are coming to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground that opened on November 19, 1971.

However, over the decades many things changed at the Fort. When it opened, it was much larger than most campgrounds at the time, so trams, bicycles and buses provided guests with transportation options to get where they needed to go.

From the very beginning, there were plans for a “campground railroad” to provide transportation and add to the rustic “theming” of the area. The official opening and dedication ceremony of the Fort Wilderness Railroad was January 1, 1974.

(c) Disney

The railroad was considered a Disney attraction, and was promoted accordingly on marketing material, even charging guests a minimal fee fifty cents per day (later a dollar) to use it. This made Fort Wilderness the only Disney resort, so far, that had an attraction. It lasted roughly six years until February 1980.

The railroad consisted of four steam trains, each pulling five cars, around a circular route through the campground at a maximum speed of ten miles an hour. Each engine ran on steam and used diesel fuel to stoke the fire. The track was approximately twice the length of the track at the Magic Kingdom Park.

Each train was roughly about 150 feet long and could seat up to 90 guests.

The trains were smaller than the ones at the Magic Kingdom and were based on the traditional Baldwin “plantation locomotives” popular in the Hawaiian Islands.

The railroad used a smaller gauge track (30 inches between the rails on the track) than at the Magic Kingdom (36 inches), which may have influenced people into thinking that the train itself was scaled smaller, but it was full-sized.

Unlike every other Disney train (even the ones operating on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), none of the engines were ever named. They were only numbered, and each of the four engines had a distinctive icon on the headlamps: elk, bison, deer and ram.

In the beginning, the train ran from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday causing some complaints from guests who disliked the fact that at all grade crossings the extremely loud whistle would sound. Eventually, the trains would cease operation around 5 p.m., eliminating that problem.

The heyday of the railroad was the opening of River Country in May 1976, where the train became the favored mode of transportation. New additions had to be made to the train cars including rubber floors, because of the dripping wet guests who had enjoyed Disney’s first water park.

The Disney Company never gave an official explanation or even an official closing date. The railroad was simply put on “hiatus” early in 1980.

Some claimed that safety was an issue and that the nearness of the tracks to the guests made Disney Legal fearful. Some claimed that the train produced too much noise and it disturbed guests. Some claimed that it was just too expensive to operate and could never recover its costs.

The bottom line is that the track was not laid correctly in the first place, so that even with several attempts to make adjustments the basic problem still existed that could not be overcome without a hefty investment.

After years of being outside and subjected to Florida heat and humidity, the engines and the coach cars were sold off to private collectors who restored them. All of the engines are now in California. Former Disney Executive John Lasseter has an engine and a couple of coach cars in his backyard railroad in Northern California.

Two of the coach cars were modified and placed temporarily at the entrance of Pleasure Island as ticket booths; one of those coaches is now at the front of Typhoon Lagoon, and the other was auctioned off. Four of the cars and 3,000 feet of track were donated to the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, but over the years those coaches also found other homes.

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Thanks, Jim! While you don’t have to be a railroad fan to be a Disney World fan, it helps. For those who are both, this book is in my library:


For more on Fort Wilderness, based on my nine stays there, see this. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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June 21, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Joe Rohde on Adventurers Club

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

JOE ROHDE TALKS ADVENTURERS CLUB

By Jim Korkis
I attended a cast member presentation April 3, 2006 where Imagineer Joe Rohde was talking about Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in particular the philosophy behind the Yeti in Expedition Everest. During the Question and Answer session following his talk, he talked about his work on the Adventurers Club.

Rohde: “I’ll tell you the whole story. So, Rick Rothschild was in charge of everything on Pleasure Island, as the chief show producer of Pleasure Island. And I had had a party at my house and he had come over to this party and my house is full of wild stuff: masks, and carvings and weird things. And so he called me in Monday morning and goes, ‘I have a project you should work on. You should work on this Adventurers Club concept.’

“The few of us who were working on it had tremendous freedom to do what we thought was cool. To call people up. Make deals. Go places. See things. Make things happen. And the Adventurers Club happened under those circumstances.

“I hope it’s not some kind of deep-rooted psychological thing; but these two projects, Animal Kingdom and Adventurers Club, both of them have this oppositional kind of point of view. Like we’re gonna deliberately do something that is not the thing that you commonly see around you.

“So, with the Adventurers Club the idea was: People have been in the parks all day long. And they have been programmed, by being in these parks, to expect certain things to be true. For example: If an inanimate object does something, it’s gonna do that same thing again later. Right?

“People think, ‘Nothing is gonna happen in this environment except the things that are gonna happen. This environment is on a loop. It will stay like this for an hour, for a day and for a year it will retain its sameness. It’s built to do that.

“Everything in this environment was designed and made by designers out of fiberglass and plastic and things. So nothing in this environment is made of real things. Everything in this environment is made, designed and built.” And I don’t mean this in a negative way. It’s just what you know.

“So we wanted to mess with all of that with the Adventurers Club, right? And create an environment where you’d walk into the environment and first you’d think, “Wait a minute. This stuff is like real. That…that’s like really a real thing. Is that fake? I think that’s real!”

“So, the most real stuff’s where you can get right up to it and go, “I swear that is real.” Then the second thing was that things would not repeat the same way. . The Adventurers Club would know that you were there and things would change based on the fact that you were there. And if it didn’t talk to you, it would talk to somebody. So, you know, inanimate things would come to life but they would not be on cycles.

“If you think back to the early, early Adventurers Club to where the performers’ outfits were as close as we could get them to real clothes people might wear in everyday life. So, when Hathaway Browne would come sit at the bar with somebody, it would be like a minute before you’d go, ‘Wait a minute. This guy is like not real. I thought this guy was real.’

“It plays against expectations that have been set up by other experiences, right? And that’s kind of how it was meant to work.

“I don’t go very often, because you know you wanna mess with it and tweak with it and change. But I check in on it every so often and I think it has endured fairly well, really. You think about it, it’s a theatrical performance running for almost twenty years. But it was deliberately constructed to be the counterpoint to the more programmed kinds of things you would experience in the parks.”

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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, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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June 14, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: To the Moon and Beyond

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

FLIGHT TO THE MOON AND MISSION TO MARS

By Jim Korkis

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969, but like many things, Disney was there first, not only with the Tomorrowland television episodes from the 1950s but also with attractions in the Disney theme parks.

Disneyland opened in July 1955 with an attraction called Rocket to the Moon that simulated a trip around the moon, and when the New Tomorrowland debuted there in 1967, the attraction was redesigned as Flight to the Moon. This revised version opened at Walt Disney World on December 24, 1971.

Inside were two “Lunar Transports” theaters meant to represent the passenger cabins in a space ship. The pre-show allowed guests to see pre-launch activity in Mission Control, “the nerve center of Disneyland’s spaceport”. Eight audio-animatronics male figures were seated along two banks of computers moving their heads and arms.

The one standing figure who talked to the audience was Control Center Director Mr. Tom Morrow. Screens behind Mr. Morrow showed some NASA footage, new projects that were being prepared, and the preparations for Flight 92 (that the guests would soon be boarding as their flight), as well as the famous footage from runway 12 where a clumsy albatross came in for an awkward landing that tripped security alarms.

Once in the theater, the upper ceiling and lower floor projection screens showed some of the same material from the original attraction with flares lighting up the dark side of the moon and being caught in a meteoroid shower on the return to the Earth. However, during the nine minute moon flight, two screens mounted on opposite sides of the cabin’s walls showed a new “live” telecast from the moon’s surface of astronauts gathering ore samples, demonstrating weightlessness and showing off the nearby moon base.

However, even as it was being installed at Walt Disney World, it was obsolete even though publicity stated “Disney called on NASA experts to provide data. The new show is as scientifically authentic, accurate and up-to-date as possible”. NASA had purposely withheld information including the actual design of the moon landing vehicle.

In March 1975, the new version entitled Mission to Mars, opened but it was not just a simple overlay at an existing location.

The entrance and holding areas were completely redone. More importantly, a female audio-animatronics character took over one of the seats in the Mission Control pre-show.

Mr. Tom Morrow was replaced by the audio-animatronics bespectacled Mr. Johnson (who was voiced by actor George Walsh, who had previously supplied the voice for Mr. Morrow) discussing space travel and the Mars vehicle. The new show included Mars footage shot by a NASA satellite.

Of course, there was no base on Mars for astronauts to transmit a “live” broadcast to the guests as was done on the “near-future” moon voyage. So that section was changed to images from probes launched from the rocket and narrated by Third Officer Collins voiced by Peter Renoudet. Those probes showed details of the surface of the planet including canyons and mountains.

Some things that had delighted guests in the previous show remained including the footage of the albatross tripping the security alarms and the danger from a meteoroid shower forcing the ship’s immediate return to earth.

(c) Disney

The theaters remained the same as the earlier incarnation with four tiers and screens on the top and bottom. However, when the moon came into view, the ship jumped into “hyper-space penetration” that brought Mars into range.

Some guests had lost interest in real space flights so weren’t as interested in this new destination adventure, and attendance quickly dwindled and it was closed in October 1993. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opened in the space June 1995 and was replaced by Stitch’s Great Escape on November 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, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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June 7, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme 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 (17)

By Jim Korkis

While this book is a decade old, because of the material being covered in it, the information is timeless and still valuable today. It was the policy of the Disney Company that most people’s contributions to the magic remain anonymous in order to promote the Disney brand as well as the fact that many different talents may have collaborated on the final product.

When it came to the theme parks, it meant that the Imagineers were often not credited or their names might appear in an article but without any explanation of specifically what they did.

“Imagineer” is a Disney word coined by Harrison “Buzz” Price that combined the two words “imagination” and “engineer” indicating that it was equally important not just to dream up an idea but to find a way to make it a reality.

This book concentrates on the classic “first” Imagineers who worked directly with Walt Disney himself, including Harper Goff, Ken Anderson, Herb Ryman, Sam McKim, Richard Irvine, Bill Cottrell, Marvin Davis, Bill Martin, Marc Davis, Claude Coats, Bill Evans, Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey, Blaine Gibson, Fred Joeger, Harriet Burns, Wathel Rogers, Roger Broggie, Bob Gurr, the Sherman Brothers, Buddy Baker, George Bruns, X. Atencio, Ub Iwerks, Bill Walsh, James Algar, Ward Kimball, and, of course, John Hench.

Each person receives their own chapter covering their lives and identifying their projects. Photographs show these Imagineers at work, painting, sculpting and model-making among other things. The book is filled with their color concept art usually unseen by the general public.

The newer generation of Tony Baxter, Joe Rohde, Kim Irvine, Tom Fitzgerald and others do not appear, probably because a sequel was intended but never produced.

Author Jeff Kurtti has been a leading Disney authority for decades and is still very active in Disney scholarship with several new books scheduled for release this year.

The late Bruce Gordon who is the co-author (and regrettably passed away much too young, just before this book came out) was an Imagineer for roughly a quarter of a century and not only significantly contributed to many Disney attractions like Splash Mountain but authored many important books about the many worlds of Disney.

Both of them are noted for their accuracy in their writing and because of their direct acquaintance with these people, their ability to share information and anecdotes that appear nowhere, else from Imagineering yo-yo contests in the halls to the lawyer who won the handstand walking contest.

Their stated goal was to familiarize people with the core team of creative people who worked with Walt on the theme parks and related projects and in that, they succeeded.

In the process, the book covers not only these specific individuals but the history of Imagineering and how it operated under Walt’s supervision. It can certainly be argued that some people like Mary Blair and Alice Davis have been ignored because of the restrictions of space. However, for some of the others who have been included, this is the only information on them and their lives that exists in an easily accessible resource.

For me, one of the additional joys of the book are the people sharing their personal stories of working with Walt Disney giving great insight into a man who was really a boy who never grew up. This book is recommended for a much better understanding of the people behind Disneyland and Walt Disney 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, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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May 31, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: President Trump in the Hall of Presidents

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

TRUMP IN THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS

By Jim Korkis

Without fanfare, a new audio-animatronics figure representing President Donald J. Trump premiered quietly at the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday December 19, 2017. Anticipating possible problems, a Disney security guard was stationed at the back of the auditorium for a clear view of the entire audience.

There had been a petition that garnered more than 15,000 signatures “to stop the inevitable Donald Trump animatronic figure from speaking” claiming that he “ran a Presidential campaign on hateful speech, misogyny, racism and xenophobia.”

The anticipated negative reaction never materialized, certainly not in a physical manner, and the figure continues to perform to this day.

Having President Trump speak continues a tradition of having a sitting president speak that began with President Bill Clinton in 1993. Thomas Smith, editorial content director for the Disney Parks wrote, “We worked closely with the current White House just as we have with previous administrations.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger stated, “There was already a script that was written for his team to edit; we were hopeful that by the first anniversary of his election, he’ll be there with all the other presidents that preceded him but it is always a challenge.”

The President recorded his speech sometime after June 2017, which resulted in a delay in installation of the figure from its previously announced July appearance.

The Trump figure with an unbuttoned suit jacket with extra long white and blue tie stands between a seated Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. As with previous presidents, Imagineers requested Trump’s exact measurements and carefully studied film footage and still photos. The Trump figure moves his head during the traditional roll call of leaders, motions with his arms and gives a brief speech.

While most agreed that Disney was able to capture the hairstyle and hand gestures pretty exactly, there was controversy that the face was not completely accurate, although there is ample evidence that many of the previous presidents did not look exactly like their counterparts either.

A Disney press releases states the figure “features the latest advances in technology that enable smoother and more lifelike movements.” In addition to the new figure, when the attraction was closed it underwent an elaborate renovation, including a high definition projection system and updated sound and lighting equipment.

After George Washington speaks briefly, the audio-animatronics Trump figure recites the Oath of Office and then delivers the following speech in front of the backdrop of the White House:

“From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people. At our founding, it was the American people who rose up to defend our freedoms and win our independence.

“It is why our founders began our great Constitution with three very simple words: We The People.

“Since that moment, each generation of Americans has taken its place in defense of our freedom, our flag, our nation under God.

“These are the achievements of the American spirit—the spirit of a people who fought and died to bring the blessings of liberty to all our people. Above all, to be an American is to be an optimist, to believe that we can always do better and that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us.

“It’s a privilege to serve as the president of the United States, to stand here among so many great leaders of our past, and to work on behalf of the American people.”

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Thanks, Jim! For more on the updates to the Hall of Presidents, see this.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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May 24, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Magic 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.

THE MAGIC OF WALT DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

With the upcoming 50th Walt Disney World anniversary, Disney fans are curious about what the popular vacation destination was like when it was first opened in 1971. Thankfully, there is an opportunity to do so.

The Magic of Walt Disney World is an approximately thirty minute 1972 theatrical featurette produced by Walt Disney Productions to offer a tour of the first phase of the new Vacation Kingdom in Florida.

Inspired by the success of the forty-two minute 1956 theatrical featurette Disneyland U.S.A. that helped promote that new theme park, this similar, shorter Technicolor featurette was produced to emphasize the differences between the two parks. For instance, there are extended sections featuring the Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall of Presidents, since those attractions were unique to WDW.

The narration begins: “The first contingents of adventurous men sailed across the ocean to open up a new world. One of the first places they set foot upon was a bit of land that is now the state of Florida, U.S.A. Of course, there’ve been quite a few changes since then, and the New World has come a long way.

“But now, squarely in the middle of the very same bit of land, another new world has been opened up: Walt Disney World. The foundations of Walt Disney World were the dreams of one man. The sharing of those dreams with others has truly created a new world, and its reality is living proof that dreams really do come true.”

The film, which showcased not just the Magic Kingdom but also the resorts and recreational activities, premiered in theaters December 20, 1972, paired with the Disney live action film Snowball Express featuring Dean Jones. An expanded and updated version with new narration by Andrew Duggan was broadcast as an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney on March 31, 1974. Fortunately, the entire featurette is available on YouTube.

Produced by Ron Miller. Directed by Tom Leetch. Assistant Director Ronald R. Grow. Written by Tom Leetch and Bill Bosche (narration). Narrated by Steve Forrest. Music by Buddy Baker. Cinematogrpahy by John M. Stevens. Edited by Lloyd L. Richardson.

Why Forrest as narrator? Forrest had appeared in the Disney live action films Rascal (1969), The Wild Country (1971) and narrated the Disney television episodes The Owl That Didn’t Give a Hoot (1968) and Wild Geese Calling (1969). The Wild Country went into general release on January 20, 1971. The movie poster advertised that Walt Disney World would be opening that October.

Of course, today it all seems quaint from the outdated hairstyles and fashions of the guests who were enjoying the vacation kingdom to how simple and uncrowded WDW seemed. The character costumes are almost unrecognizable from the versions in the parks today. How many remember when Pooh had a jar of honey on the top of his head like a hat?

One of the charms is seeing things that have long since disappeared like the Skyway floating above the park, the 20,000 Leagues attraction with the submarines designed to mimic the one piloted by Captain Nemo in the famous live action movie, the sea serpent topiary outside of Cinderella Castle, the infamous Bob-A-Round boats in the Seven Seas Lagoon, part of the water ski show and even part of a performance at the Top of the World Lounge at the Contemporary.

Equally amazing are all the things that have remained pretty much the same over the last half century. I only wish this film had been longer, and that Disney would have done one of these every year.

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Thanks, Jim! And if you are interested in this era of Walt Disney World, check out Jim’s latest book, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his 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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May 17, 2019   No Comments