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: The Pandora Utility Suit

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

PANDORA UTILITY SUIT

By Jim Korkis

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has added a new interactive experience with the introduction of the Pandora Utility Suit.

This human powered suit helps demonstrate how technology is being used to restore the ecosystem on Pandora. The Pandora Utility Suit is inspired by the iconic Amplified Mobility Platform (AMP) suits of power armor from the original film, Avatar (2009).

The first military exoskeletons in the mid-21st century evolved into the Mitsubishi MK-6 Amplified Mobility Platform (or “AMP” suit) that could be used in different environments from arctic to jungle to desert. The human-operated multi-purpose mechanism amplifies strength and mobility while providing protection in toxic environments. It was designed to mimic the form of a human with two legs, two arms and dexterous hands.

In the original film, the suits were used primarily to defend the base and for patrol duties, but also appeared in the battle at the Tree of Souls scene and Colonel Quaritch’s final attack on Jake Sully.

The Pandora Utility Suit is the next evolution of the AMP suit, and was created to assist in the restoration of the environment. It has a streamlined design with no protective cockpit, unlike the AMP suit.

Its sleek structure and technical upgrades make it the perfect tool to collect plant samples, study flora and survive Pandora’s wild terrain. It protects its operator from Pandoran hazards while doing ecological research for the Resources Development Administration and its Pandora Conservation Initiative.

(c) Disney

Perched ten feet high, a human pilot straps into the cockpit of this exo-carrier and controls its powerful, yet agile movements. The giant walking suit was designed with articulated hands and a shoulder span of more than five feet. It also bears claw marks and battle scars from a Thanator – an alpha predator on Pandora that apparently attacked it.

The story of Pandora, like all the lands at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, is routed in the respect and preservation of nature. As the suit traverses the land daily, its pilot interacts with guests, sharing details about the land’s otherworldly landscape, and highlighting the importance of preserving nature.

The Pandora Utility Suit is another example of the collaboration between Disney Parks Live Entertainment, Michael Curry Design Inc. (that previously supplied the 120 towering puppets for Epcot’s Tapestry of Nations parade, and the puppets for DAK’s Finding Nemo – The Musical), WDI and Lightstorm Entertainment (Avatar director James Cameron’s film production company) that first brought Pandora – The World of Avatar to life at the park.

The suit made its official debut on April 22, 2018, the anniversary of the opening Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and appears twice daily, usually in the area outside Satu’li Canteen.

Show Producer for Disney Parks Entertainment Tony Giordano stated: “We knew when the land would be opening there would be some great opportunities for entertainment. Lightstorm suggested a suit that would fix the environment rather than the one in the film that destroyed the environment.

“They drew this amazing drawing of a scientist picking a piece of fruit out of the tree. Our partners at WDI looked at that drawing and made it into a reality. And then the Michael Curry Designs actually built the suit. The final product is a great partnership between those three groups.”

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Thanks, Jim! For more on the transformation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, see this.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and 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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December 14, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Wilson’s Cave Inn in Magic Kingdom

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

WILSON’S CAVE INN

By Jim Korkis

Interesting details at Walt Disney World are often hidden within plain sight and taken for granted by guests.

Only visible from a journey on the Liberty Square riverboat in Frontierland, along the north shore of Tom Sawyer Island is a hole-in-the wall labeled Wilson’s Cave Inn, meant to be reminiscent of the infamous Cave-In Rock on the shores of the Ohio River in southern Illinois.

That real 55-foot wide one-room cave was used as a meeting place for river pirates and staging area for raids on flatboats. Once pirates took over a flatboat, the best victims could hope for was being put ashore with no possessions and no way to know where they were. Other times, victims were killed and dumped in the river.

Cave-In Rock was used after the Revolutionary War as a haven for criminals who preyed upon travelers along the Ohio River. In the late 1700s, a fellow by the name of Jim Wilson stocked the cave with provisions and opened a business called Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment.

Unsuspecting travelers stopped there for food and drink and illicit activities like gambling and the company of women, and would find themselves robbed and often killed. Samuel Mason took over the criminal enterprise after Wilson, and renamed the location Cave-In Rock.

The illegal activities were at its peak from 1790 to around the 1870s. Imagineers blended both stories into Wilson’s Cave Inn for the Rivers of America, using the word “inn” to suggest a tavern. In the narration on board the Liberty Belle, Sam tells guests that Cutthroat Corner is the most likely place to find river pirates.

Shortly afterwards, raucous noises can be heard coming from the mouth of Wilson’s Cave Inn. Guests are then told that they should be safe from the pirates because based on the sounds coming out of the cave, “their interests lie elsewhere” implying wild women, drinking and gambling.

That story of the riverside venue might seem familiar because not only was it documented in an episode on the History Channel, but it was used in the movie How the West Was Won (1962).

Why it appears at Walt Disney World is that it was also the basis for the Disneyland television episode “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1955) that was later released along with another television episode as a theatrical movie in 1956.

The Disney story included not only Sam Mason but the Harpe brothers, who took over the location as a base of operations after Mason. Of course, in real life, Davy Crockett would have been just a teenager when Mason and the Harpes were doing their dirty deeds.

Scenes from the show were actually filmed at the actual Cave-In-Rock location, which at the time had become part of a 200 acre Illinois state park. Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen can be seen approaching the entrance to cave just prior to the climactic battle.

As Davy Crockett and his companion Georgie Russell journey down the river on the keelboat commanded by Mike Fink, the men pick up a traveling minstrel, who unknown to them, is in league with local river bandits.

On their way to get horses from friendly Chickasaw tribesmen, Davy and Georgie are kidnapped by a group of Chickasaws because white men have been murdering members of their tribe. Crockett and Fink discover that the river pirates are masquerading as Native Americans as they loot passing freighters from a riverside cave.

The men find their way into the lair, and in the ensuing battle several kegs of gunpowder are exploded, sealing the cave. The victorious heroes escape safely with the captured villains.

Today Walt Disney World guests can enjoy not only a glimpse of vintage river history but also a tribute to Disney’s Davy Crockett.

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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 Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and 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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December 7, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Roy O. Disney

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 (11)

By Jim Korkis

The story of Walt Disney World is actually the story of individual people who working together made one of Walt Disney’s final dreams come true. Many people forget that if it were not for Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, that Walt Disney World would never have been built.

From the October 1972 Walt Disney Productions’ publication titled, The National Champion: A Report to Participants in Disneyland and Walt Disney World:

(c) Disney

“Of the thousands of persons responsible for the creation of Walt Disney World, no one played a more important role than the late Roy O. Disney. Long known as the behind-the-scenes financial genius, he was thrust into the leadership role by the untimely passing of his brother Walt Disney in 1966.

“Throughout the busy years that followed, Roy devoted nearly all his time and energy to bringing Walt’s dream to reality. It was a dream that was staggeringly complex…and yet with Roy’s guidance, it did indeed become a reality…”

At the dedication of WDW in October 1971, Roy was asked by reporters why a seventy-eight year old grandfather had felt the obligation to tackle this impossible project of battling unforgiving swamp land at this point in his life. Roy smiled, “I didn’t want to have to explain to Walt when I saw him again why the dream didn’t come true.”

The immediate reaction to Roy O. Disney is that he was the important financial officer for Disney that allowed Walt to build his castles. Roy was much more than just the “money man” but he was extremely modest and actively avoided the spotlight so that it could shine brighter on his younger brother.

These two books provide a fuller picture of this very important, intelligent, caring and humorous man, as well as providing some insights into his challenges of building WDW. In most books, Roy is a supporting character, but here are some intriguing insights into this most remarkable man that were previously unknown except to his closest peers when he was forced into leading the creation of WDW.

One of my favorite books remains Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas who knew and talked frequently with both Walt and Roy as part of his job as a reporter for the Associated Press. I must say, however, that I was a bit disappointed in his book on Roy since it too often defaults to just repeating material from the previous book without additional perspective.

Still, the book is well-written, accurate and provides some new information about Roy and perhaps Roy’s own hesitancy to reveal himself to others is part of the fault. For instance, he never even talked to his own son about his time serving in the Navy during World War I, something common among some veterans.

Madden’s book is also well-researched, even though he never had the opportunity to interview Roy or his son. An advantage of this book is that in the past two decades since Thomas’ book, new information about Roy has surfaced, and much of it is included here.

For those wanting to do their own research, Madden includes forty-two pages of annotations and bibliography. It is a well-written book that will give you a better sense of Roy as a husband and father as well as a protective big brother even though unlike Thomas, Madden did not have access to the Disney Archives or the Disney family.

I personally feel there is much more to Roy’s story than appears in both these fine books but I also feel it may never get told as the years disappear and those who actually knew him disappear with them.

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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 Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and 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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November 30, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Powerplant and the Air Terminal

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 POWERPLANT AND THE AIR TERMINAL AT DISNEY SPRINGS

By Jim Korkis

The newest restaurants at Disney Springs tie in to the area’s overall storyline of a restored Florida waterfront town. The Edison was once the power plant for the town. Its design is meant to evoke the steam powered age of innovation.

The restaurant is promoted as a “lavish industrial Gothic-style destination for fine food, handcrafted cocktails and exciting nightlife.” The impressive, detailed decor includes actual antique pieces and a large industrial-style mechanical clock at the main entrance.

Different dining areas have their own themes including: The Boiler Bar, The Ember Parlor, Telegraph Lounge, The Patent Office, The Tesla Lounge, The Radio Room, Waterfront Patio, and The Lab. Antique boilers are a focal point for guests who enter The Edison from the Enzo’s Hideaway tunnels and any guests that make their way downstairs.

Adjacent to The Edison, The Patina Restaurant Group operates three new restaurant venues. The group already runs Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs, Via Napoli and Tutto Italia at Epcot, as well as six restaurants at Disneyland. Patina will also manage the new space-themed restaurant to be built in Future World East at Epcot.

The other three restaurants exist in what was once supposedly Disney Springs’ Air Terminal. The story goes that the Italian immigrant couple Maria and Enzo ran a bakery in the airport lobby, but travelers diminished over the years because of larger airports with greater amenities and other forms of transportation increasing in use, so the location closed.

In addition to the bakery, they tried to sustain themselves by opening a small pizza by-the-slice restaurant (Pizza Ponte, whose logo references the nearby bridge).

The success of this venue allowed Maria and Enzo to fulfill their ultimate dream to restore and transform the long-forgotten terminal to its former glory, giving it new life as a grand restaurant showcasing the flavors of Southern Italy. They named the restaurant Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante.

Surrounding the main dining room, an impressive period-style mural depicts the destinations once served by seaplanes that departed the terminal as well as a period-style metal globe chandelier. Some of those destinations include New York, Daytona Beach, New Orleans and Cuba. It has an Art Deco structure reminiscent of those of the early 1930s and features fifty foot tall ceilings and expansive views of Lake Buena Vista.

The restaurant interiors showcase artifacts that reference air travel of the early 20th century, with maps and historic flight paths. Signage in the main dining room recalls its prior use as the departure lounge for the terminal. Diners may also be selected for seating in the smaller “First Class Lounge,” or request it when they make a reservation. The host and hostess staff dress like old-style flight attendants, and even the table settings match the 1930s era.

As the story of the complex continues, after the couple purchased the terminal, Enzo accidentally discovered a former “bootlegger’s hideout” in the tunnels beneath the terminal that connected it to the power plant next door. Now called Enzo’s Hideaway, the former speakeasy has a wall of graffiti that tells the tales of its storied past.

Enzo’s Hideaway speakeasy was inspired by Roman aperitivo bars as well as Florida’s history of rum running, and was supposedly a social center for Disney Springs during the dry years of Prohibition. The Hideaway attaches to The Edison next door through a secret passageway. Actually, some of the tunnels in real life previously included backstage Pleasure Island cast member areas and green rooms for performers.

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Thanks, Jim! And you can find reviews of these–and all other–Disney World table service dining venues in the book I co-author with Josh of easyWDW.com, The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Mickey Mouse, and 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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November 23, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Everyone Comes to 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.

EVERYONE COMES TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

In 1965, Walt Disney told the press, “We love to entertain kings and queens but at Disneyland everyone is a V.I.P.”

Dignitaries, celebrities, royalty and more visited Walt Disney World with the same joy as when they previously visited Disneyland. Of course, there were many celebrities at the dedication weekend ceremonies October 23-25 in 1971, from Bob Hope to Julie Andrews, but during the next twenty years many others enjoyed being guests in the Disney vacation destination as well.

Here are just a very few that you might not remember who officially visited during the first two decades of Walt Disney World to show the wide variety who came to enjoy the Most Magical Place on Earth, as Walt Disney World was originally called.

1971: Mickey Rooney, Astronaut Eugene Cernan, Johnny Bench

1972: Senators Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie and Henry Jackson. Sargent Shriver, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Wernher von Braun

1973: President Richard Nixon, Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter, George Wallace of Alabama, boxer Joe Frazier, Howard Cosell, Billie Jean King

1974: Texas Governor John Connally, Truman Capote, Ginger Rogers, John Lennon

1975: U.S. and Soviet crewmen of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission, King Hussein of Jordan, Michael Landon, Henry Kissinger, Susan Ford

1976: Jose Feliciano, Natalie Cole

1977: King Hussein of Jordan, Mrs. Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Senator George McGovern, Prime Minister Robert D. Muldoon of New Zealand

1978: U. N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Muhammad Ali, John Denver, Phyllis Diller, Empress of Iran, Amy Carter, Donny Osmond

1979: Former President Gerald Ford, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, the Russian Olympic swim team, Sophia Loren, Maureen McGovern, Marie Osmond

1980: Michael Jackson, Paul Lynde, the Osmond Family

1981: Burl Ives, Debby Boone, tennis star Yvonne Goolagong, Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Schroeder, Chubby Checker, Ray Stevens, Reba McIntire

1982: Former President Richard Nixon, Jimmy Buffet, Barry Manilow, Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, Mel Tillis

1983: President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Crown Prince Harald of Norway, John Travolta, Red Skelton, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Billy Idol

1984: Medal winners of the U.S. Olympic team (including Mary Lou Retton), Julius Erving (Dr. J), Vincent Price, Michael Jackson again, Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel, Richard Carpenter, Toni Tenille, Marvin Hamlish

1985: Secretary General of the United Nations Javier Perez de Cuellar, Senator Albert Gore Jr., Kenny Rogers, Morey Amsterdam, the Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Norris, Ron Jaworski, Whitney Houston

1986: Robert Conrad, Alice Cooper, Johnny Unitas, George Plimpton, David and Harriet Nelson, Kurt Russell, twenty Soviet Junior Cosmonauts, Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, Buddy Rich

1987: Alan Thicke, Robert de Niro, Rob Lowe, Ron Howard, Bo Derek, June Carter Cash, Voyager pilots Jeanna Yeager and Dick Rutan, Gene Siskel, Rosemary Clooney, Roger Williams, Keith Hernandez and Daryl Strawberry

1988: Nancy Reagan, Burt Reynolds, Ray Parker Jr., Frankie Avalon

1989: Vice President Dan Quayle, Pee Wee Herman, Willie Nelson, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Allen, George Burns, Vanna White, Bob Denver, Jim Henson, George Lucas, Betty White, Harvey Korman, Buddy Hackett

1990: President George Bush, Prince Ranier of Monaco, Greg Louganis, Mark Hamill, Lou Ferrigno, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, Liza Minnelli, the Harlem Globetrotters, Jerry Lewis, Sylvester Stallone, Arthur Ashe

1991: Bozo the Clown, Emmett Kelly Jr., Joe Namath, Crystal Gayle, David Cassidy, Cathy Rigby, Ben Vereen, Bob McGrath

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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 Mickey Mouse, and 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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November 16, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Joe Rohde on Africa in Epcot and the Animal Kingdom

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 ON AFRICA IN EPCOT AND IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1996, I asked Imagineer Joe Rohde if that meant that the proposed African pavilion at World Showcase would now never be built.

“You don’t understand the story,” replied Rohde. “World Showcase is the story of people. Animal Kingdom is the story of the animals. I hope there will be an African pavilion built at World Showcase. It will help complete the story.”

Recently, Rohde clarified that concept even further: “At Epcot’s World Showcase, you’re seeing replicas of famous buildings like the Temple of Heaven in China, the Doge’s Palace in Italy, or the Eiffel Tower in France. And you’re actively comparing those replicas to what you’ve seen in person or in media. You know they are just representations. Nobody looks up at the Eiffel Tower in Epcot and mistakes themselves for being in Paris.

“At Animal Kingdom, we didn’t want to theme the Lands around specific geopolitical places and their landmarks. That’s just asking for trouble with all the changing politics for one reason. The Africa section of the Park is not Nairobi, for example. Instead of capturing the actual architectural icons as in World Showcase and elements that relate to a very real specific place like Paris, in Animal Kingdom we are capturing the emotional feeling of these exotic lands.

“Harambe is a fictional town meant to be reminiscent of an East African port catering to tourists in modern Africa. The details are real but they are a combination from things we found in many different areas and we mashed them together. The history we created is very much based on the reality of the region.

“Harambe is themed around the sorts of things that you would expect to see if you were in Africa alongside the elephants, hippos, gorillas, and other animals that call that section their home. You really ‘feel’ like you’ve been transported to a new place where you actually could go on a two week African safari.”

On their six research trips to Africa, the Imagineering team kept being struck by how many elements of a typical theme park had been incorporated into the different tourist areas.

While in Kenya at Lake Nakuru, a popular safari park, this idea was starkly apparent. When word went out over the radios carried by the Land Rover drivers that a leopard had been sighted, the news created a traffic jam.

Nearly fifty vehicles converged on the tree where the leopard was perched. Dozens of tourists leaned out of windows to photograph the animal that was roughly three hundred feet away.

“That’s when we realized that the tourists’ Africa is already a theme park but just not a particularly well run one,” recalled senior concept designer Kevin Brown. “We knew the experience we could provide in Animal Kingdom would be as good or better than that.”

The research was intensive. The Imagineers took family-oriented package safari trips, from the lowest to the highest end, to get a full exposure of what a family might experience on such excursions.

They also created their own East African itinerary. They felt it was important to experience things as a group, just like theme park guests would. One discovery was that truly wild places were not accessible to the average tourist.

“The highlight of the trip was the hippos – big and strong and mean,” said Rohde. “One surged out of the water with a snort and chased our boat, mouth open. We boated slowly over stretches of water where tell-tale eddies betrayed hippos lurking beneath – lots of them.

“That evening was the first time I have felt the exhilaration I expected from Africa. Fifteen-foot crocodiles and massive hostile hippos crashed through the water. As sunset drew on, the animals became more aggressive. We wanted to capture that same feeling in the park.”

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Thanks, Jim! For more on Disney’s Animal Kingdom, see this.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Mickey Mouse, and 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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November 9, 2018   No Comments