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: Disney’s Old Key West Resort

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’S OLD KEY WEST RESORT

By Jim Korkis

In the early 1900s, the only way to get to Key West was by plane, boat or train. It was not accessible by car until many years later. That is why the check-in desk at Disney’s Old Key West Resort resembles a train station–with actual antique lampposts from Key West’s Duval Street.

After a guest passes the security gate, they drive over a bridge to suggest the bridges that have to be crossed to get to each of the fabled island Keys.

Lobby Sitting Area Disney's Old Key West Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Just to the left of the check-in desk is a small lounge called Papa’s Den filled with books on shelves. “Papa” was the nickname of famed author Ernest Hemingway who supposedly wrote part of his novel A Farewell to Arms while living in Key West.

On either side of the fireplace are sets of framed pens, authentic to the early 1900s, to suggest Hemingway’s writing. The marlin fish handing overhead and vintage lures underneath suggest Hemingway’s love of fishing and his famous book The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway had a great love for cats, and so there are eight small statues of cats in the den as well. The two lion statues on the shelves reference his love of big game hunting, the bull his interest in bullfighting and running with the bulls. You’ll also find cigar boxes to hold his Cuban cigars and a hand bell to symbolize For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The fictional mayor of the town of Conch Flats is Cooter Trumbo, Esquire. “Cooter” is a call-out to a slang name for a turtle (turtles are a reoccurring theme in the resort) in the southeast United States, and “Trumbo” is for Trumbo Point, a man made addition to Key West in 1912 by the Trumbo American Dredging Company to accommodate a shipping port for the railroad.

The town’s logo includes an image of the city and three Latin phrases: Pro Bono Persona (For Your Own Good), Veni Vici Veni Adinfiintium (I Came. I Saw. I Stayed Forever) and Carpe Diem Omnidiem (Seize the Day Everyday.)

On the upper shelves and rafters of The Conch Flats General Store are items that reflect Old Key West’s history of wrecking and salvaging from nearby shipwrecks, making it the richest city in the United States at one time.

Turtle Krawl, sometimes spelled Kraal or Kraul, is an Afrikaans and Dutch word that refers to a corral for sea turtles that were often gathered in Key West for export and the making of turtle soup that was once considered a delicacy for the elite. In 1971, the United States government banned the killing of Green Sea Turtles, and today turtle soup is made from regular turtles.

That reference to the turtle industry is also in Old Turtle Pond Road and the Turtle Shack at the resort.

There is a lighthouse by the pool that calls to mind the famous Key West lighthouse opened in 1848 to help stop the inhabitants from causing shipwrecks.

Toward the end, the brick road ends and REST Beach begins. Key West, because of its hard coral, had man-made beaches. REST is actually an acronym for Recreation, Exercise, Swimming and Tennis.

The “family tree” just beyond the gigantic sand castle was planted in 1991 and is one tree with multiple trunks springing from it. To the left of it is a similar tree that was planted to show the original height the family tree was in 1991.

For those interested in more stories about Conch Flats, the resort offers a free guided walking tour most Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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Thanks, Jim! In the small world department, our home was built as the summer cottage of one of John Rockefeller’s bankers–a man who almost certainly would have known Henry Flagler in his Cleveland days, before he went to Florida and founded the railroad to Old Key West. Perhaps Flagler was even in our house once, long ago!

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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October 12, 2018   2 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Epcot Space Pavilion

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 EPCOT SPACE PAVILION THAT NEVER WAS

By Jim Korkis

As we continue the countdown to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s fun to remember that there were always plans for a Space Pavilion at Epcot. However, despite multiple attempts, Disney was unable to find a sponsor for such a project.

One version, as described by Tad Stones, who worked at Imagineering with Tim Delaney but later found greater success supervising the animated series for the Disney Afternoon block of programming: “Joe Haldeman, the Hugo Award winning science fiction author wrote a script for a pavilion. You’re inside a giant ball that is rotating and the idea was you took a 360-degree theater and turned it vertically so you’re looking up and down as opposed to side to side.

“Down below are audio-animatronics of the crew and robots. The idea is that you go through an excursion through the solar system with characters interacting and providing entertainment as well as knowledge about all of this.

From timjdelaney.com

“We found that it was unnatural to turn the theater vertically because things like looking at a planet now become distorted because of the perspective. You would be on a balcony. It would have been hugely expensive and the show would have lasted eight minutes.”

One of the designs that got as far as a three-dimensional model was the work of Imagineer Larry Gertz. It was a white domed model to simulate a base located on an asteroid orbiting the moon where mining was taking place. It was supposedly a makeshift affair built of a used space station and parts of old space craft.

The “traveler” would arrive aboard a simulated space craft. When the guest steps off the vehicle onto a ramp, he would leave behind the noises of flight behind him and find himself in utter silence.

The ramp would lead the guest to a staging area and from there allow him to enter the base itself.

The four main elements in the dome would be the space station, the asteroid honeycombed with great caverns and mine shafts, an astronaut training thrill ride, and a children’s playscape.

“You’ll be able to wander at will through the asteroid,” Gertz said in the 1980s. “It will be a visceral experience of space. You can follow catwalks through the caves.”

One of the thrill rides would be a simulator. They would represent devices down in a gaping excavation, bobbing and probing into the rock like huge, spidery mining machines.

On the lower level would be the astronaut training facility. It was actually a modified roller coaster where guests would get into a mining car. A catapult would propel the vehicle from a standing stop to sixty miles per hour in four and a half seconds, putting three G’s of pressure on the passengers. The vehicle would rocket three times around the asteroid on tracks.

“We’ve tried to create something that feels like a mining town,” explained Gertz. “We’ve also created something that might resemble the living environment in a space station. There is a general store selling all kinds of space stuff. And we’ve put in a sales lot for used space craft. You’ll see satellite communications in operation too. Lots of education in this.”

The station pavilion would be 300 feet in diameter and 110 feet high. In comparison, Space Mountain at WDW was 200 feet in diameter and 90 feet high.

What stalled this project from developing further was the lack of a corporate sponsor to foot the bill.

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Thanks, Jim! I had utterly forgotten about the Space Pavilion idea. And while I grew up on classic science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke), Joe Haldeman’s Forever War series is one of my favorites.

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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October 5, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Disney’s Tiki Culture

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

TIKI CULTURE AT WALT DISNEY WORLD AND DISNEYLAND

By Jim Korkis

Brandon Kleyla, sometimes known as Trader Brandon, just released a small book entitled The Field Guide to Tiki Decorating, available only directly through him at www.traderbrandon.com.

Why is that of interest to WDW fans? Kleyla is a former Disney Imagineer who was responsible for designing Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at The Polynesian Village Resort. It took him seven years to do both the Disney locations.

“The book started because people were asking me to write a Trader Sam’s related book which obviously because of Disney trademark restrictions on intellectual property I can’t,” shared Kleyla with writer Seth Kubersky. “But I started putting together thoughts together of what I could share about creating a backstory, music, lighting…kind of a big overview.

“I’m sad because I don’t really enjoy Trader Sam’s as a guest because I’ve slept in there. I’ve lived in there. But I get to enjoy sitting in a corner, just watching everyone else and seeing them react so I get that side of it.”

Disneyland, of course, was partly responsible for the revival of Tiki Culture in the 1960s. Stouffer’s sponsored the Plaza Pavilion and the Tahitian Terrace restaurants at Disneyland and had contracted to sponsor the new “adventure in eating and dining” called The Enchanted Tiki Room which would share the kitchen with those other two dining locations. Posters were printed up and guests alerted.

Reservations (the first ever restaurant at Disneyland to have reservations) were to be spaced at one hour intervals and after the main course had been completed the performing audio-animatronics tropical birds would spring to life in dozens of overhead bird cages.

Walt soon realized that guests would be so enchanted that they stopped eating and didn’t finish in time for the next seating. In addition, the space was so small that it would have limited capacity as a restaurant. (That is certainly the situation with both Trader Sam’s locations, with lengthy wait times for the limited indoor space.)

The Enchanted Tiki Room–where all the birds sing words and the flowers croon– opened June 23, 1963 at Disneyland and it was the first to feature audio-animatronics technology developed by WED (Imagineering) from recently declassified military documents about the launching of rockets and releasing the various stages (open/close the same as bird beaks).

The building was the first fully air-conditioned building at the park, in order to make sure the computers in the basement of the attraction did not overheat. Since the attraction was owned by WED rather than Disneyland, guests paid an extra seventy-five cents (the cost at that time of an “E” Ticket) to experience it.

An almost identical copy of the show (but with a much different pre-show) called Tropical Serenade opened with Walt Disney World in 1971. It was rehabbed as The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) in 1998. It returned to its original format in August 2011 with a slighted edited version of the original show. [A review is here–Dave.]

Of course, the Polynesian Village Resort that also opened in 1971 has many references to Tiki Culture, including since 2015 Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto located inside the Great Ceremonial House where guests can order a HippopotoMai-Tai in a souvenir mug. The interactive interior of the Grotto seems to be a tribute to Walt’s original plans for such a food and beverage area over half a century ago.

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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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September 28, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Disney A to Z

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 (10)

By Jim Korkis

I can’t believe you don’t already have a copy of this valuable reference in your library, but you may perhaps be dragging your feet to purchase the latest edition that is 864 pages long with over 7,000 entries. Editions came out in 1996, 1998, 2006, 2015 (exclusive limited Sam’s Warehouse club edition), and 2016.

I’ve known the author of Disney A to Z, Disney Chief Archivist Emeritus David R. Smith, for decades. I did a lengthy interview with him on March 16, 2005 at Walt Disney World where among other things we talked about this book.

“Well, the first version of the book Disney A to Z came out in 1996 and, at that time, Hyperion, which was publishing the Disney books, said this is a great reference book and we should keep updating it every two years. So two years later, in 1998, we did the updated version of Disney A to Z, so I expected when 2000 came along, they’d be ready for the next edition. Well, they’ve been dragging their feet.

“What I did though in 1998, the minute that I shipped off the manuscript for the updated version to the publisher, I started putting onto my computer all of the new material that would then go into the next edition. You know what’s happening with the company all the time: we’ve got new movies coming out, we’ve got attractions opening at the park, we’ve got attractions closing at the park, we’ve got songs winning Oscars and all that sort of thing.

“All this type of information as it crosses my desk, I just type it into the computer right there! So, I’m up to date as of Friday and it’s Disney Editions now that publishes the Disney books. If they say we’re ready to do your new edition of Disney A to Z, the next morning I will ship off the computer disc and they’ll be all ready to go!

“Well, as you know, so many of the questions you get over and over again so you find that maybe 95% of the questions you can answer without doing any research whatsoever and then the other 5%, some of them take a lot of research to try to find the answers.

“That’s the reason I wrote Disney A-Z: The Official Encyclopedia so that I would have all that information at my fingertips rather than going through different file folders. Primarily, we utilized most frequently three huge file folders. One listed all the films and material about them. Another had a listing of all the theme park attractions and when they opened and closed. The third was a listing of people who had worked at Disney.

“We would keep getting requests that somebody’s great aunt had said they worked at the studio and they wanted to know when or just to check. Things happen quickly at Disney and without warning and one of the challenges I have being based in California is getting accurate opening and closing dates for things at Walt Disney World. Fortunately, cast members have been a huge help in that area.

“There was no money to pay for photos, so I took my own camera out and took pictures for that first edition because since I was on salary, they didn’t have to pay me anything additional.”

The WDW material is not as complete as the Disneyland material, but it is still valuable and authoritative. Even with the publication of this latest volume, Dave continues to constantly update and add entries online here.

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Thanks, Jim! You can see my copy of one of the older editions here:

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, More Secret Stories of Disneyland, 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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September 21, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: A Field Guide to Pandora

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 IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

In the 2009 film Avatar, filmmaker James Cameron envisioned a moon called Pandora in the Alpha Centauri system orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus, with an atmosphere on the moon unbreathable for humans without assistance from Exo-packs.

Earth personnel in the presence of the Resources Development Administration, a quasi-governmental company, travel to this distant place in the 22nd century primarily to mine a rare mineral whose superconductive properties allow it to float in magnetic fields.

In addition, scientists studying the indigenous humanoid species called the Na’vi and the unusual fauna and flora also accompany the private security contractors employed by RDA.

Cameron meant to draw parallels between the lush, tropical forests of this science-fiction inspired moon and the supposed devastation of the ecology on the current Earth where humans have turned their planet into a global urban slum where little remains of a functioning natural ecosystem. He also wanted to make connections between the Na’vi’s spiritual relationship and responsibility to their world which have allowed it to flourish.

Cameron utilized a team of expert advisors in order to make the various examples of fauna and flora as scientifically feasible as possible. The Pandoran ecology is inter-connected from the floating mountain ranges to winged banshee predators.

In the Animal Kingdom’s version of Pandora, the Na’vi people make appearances only in the two attractions and in artwork throughout the area. Disney claims this is to have guests see the area from the Na’vi point of view as well as the difficulty in creating realistic costumes for the unique creatures.

The Na’vi people, according to Disney, “possess humanlike consciousness and intelligence. The average Na’vi is three meters tall with cyan-colored skin and bioluminescent markings. They have large almond-shaped eyes, long torsos and a prehensile tail.”

Throughout the area are examples of Pandoran plants and Disney published a flyer explaining what they are when the area first opened.

“The diversity of Pandoran plant life and its range of size and complexity suggest that the environment of Pandora acts as a strong force for natural selection. The environmental factors that plants experience on Earth – radiation, water, atmospheric gases and gravity – are present on Pandora, although their characteristics differ profoundly.

  • “Spiny Whip: The cup-shaped top of this plant collects raindrops and many species of birds use the plant as a source of water.
  • “Panopyra: This plant captures water and minerals from dew and fog. The Na’vi collect the liquid and use it as a healing drink.
  • “Vein Pod: The pods produced by these trees help to detoxify the atmosphere on Pandora, maintaining stability in the environment.
  • “Flaska Reclinata: This plant absorbs, condenses and purifies atmospheric toxins on Pandora.
  • “Dapophet: The leaves at the top of this plant have healing properties used by the Na’vi, while the leaves along the stem store water and are used as portable hydration.
  • “Puffball Tree: This tree is an important plant on Pandora for purifying the atmosphere. The Na’vi also harvest its leaves for salt.
  • “Grinch Tree: This tree grows in a hunched shape with a twisted trunk and bluish bioluminescent leaves.”

Producer and director James Cameron stated, “I think I knew (the theme park version) was going to be a pretty amazing world but I was still thinking ‘movie’. You can walk around and smell the world, touch the world. I wander around with a sense of wonder myself. I had an amazing time working with the Imagineering artists as they conjured all of this.

“This has been a transformative adventure for me. It’s certainly transformed my perception of what is possible in the real world. If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said this is not possible. What they have created here is not possible.”

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Thanks, Jim!  And 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, More Secret Stories of Disneyland, 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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September 14, 2018   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Duffy the Bear

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

DUFFY THE BEAR

By Jim Korkis

A new best friend for Duffy the Bear, Cookie, had her global debut July 2018 at Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disney Company has been attempting to capitalize on the Duffy craze by introducing new characters, starting in 2016 with Shellie May and Gelatoni. Stella Lou joined in 2017 and this year a yellow female dog who is a “foodie” named Cookie has joined the squad.

Olu, a turtle, made his debut at the Aulani resort on July 27. As Mickey Mouse and Duffy were sailing the islands looking for a perfect birthday present for Shellie May, they heard the sounds of a ‘ukulele calling them over to a cove where a kindhearted turtle named ‘Olu played happy tunes. They decided he would be a perfect present to sing “a special song of friendship and love.”

Like many things, Duffy got his start at Walt Disney World. Beginning in 1988, WDW was home to the Disney Teddy Bear and Doll Weekend event that lasted for twenty years, ending in 2008. Disney noticed that Disney-themed bears were generating high prices so with the opening in August 2002 of Once Upon A Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace, it was decided to introduce an exclusive Disney bear.

Dubbed the “Disney Bear”, it was risky because the introduction of the character would not be supported by any previous appearances in animation, comics, records or any other media. Basically, there was the hope that people’s love for teddy bears, and especially one with four “Hidden Mickeys” who was meant to be Mickey’s friend, would be enough to generate sales. He was only available at Walt Disney World.

Yet, despite all efforts to re-theme the bear, the product was considered a “dud” by the Disney Company, who cleared their shelves and sent the remaining stock to their outlet stores.

The Disney Bear was indeed cute, and the Japanese have always had an affection for things that have cuteness. The product was introduced to Tokyo DisneySea Resort as a special limited promotion for the Harborside Christmas celebration in 2004 in the American Waterfront area. It was still called the Disney Bear.

In December 2005, the bear was re-named Duffy because he was carried in Mickey’s duffel bag and marketed not just as a product to sell, but an experience to share. The character definitely fit in with the themes of Tokyo DisneySea including water exploration and adventure which is one of the reasons for Duffy’s sailor suit.

Duffy became established as a “photo and fashion” character. In Japan, costumes for Duffy expanded at a frightening rate including many limited editions.

Of course, the Disney Company saw that guests were buying multiple Duffys to carry around as well as all the costumes, so they decided to re-introduce the character in the Disney parks.

The official relaunch was October 14, 2010, at Epcot at Walt Disney World because Duffy was a world explorer, although he was also re-introduced that same day at Disney California Adventure in California.

Officially, the Disney Company maintains that Duffy is not a revised version of the “failed” Disney Bear. Rather, Duffy is a “cousin” of the Disney Bear.

In January 22, 2010, the Oriental Land Company—the owner of Tokyo DisneySea–introduced a “friend” for Duffy, a little girl bear in a soft shade of pink named Shellie May. Actually, at one point, they considered the girlfriend would be a pink cat with polka dots (to theme in with Minnie Mouse) and dark red Mickey head silhouette imprint on her behind. Some prototypes were made.

Duffy brings happiness and Shellie May’s slogan is that she brings joy. She especially brings joy to the financial bottom line because the Oriental Land Company launched sets of matching costumes for Duffy and Shellie May, including new matching set costumes for every season. There seems to be no limit to the number of costumes. Nor any limit to the number of new friends for the pair that interconnect with other available merchandise.

The marketing phrase for Duffy is “Where will you take Duffy next?” For the Disney Company the answer is “to the bank….every day.”

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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, More Secret Stories of Disneyland, 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.

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

September 7, 2018   No Comments