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 — w. Most Recent Stuff

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.

*  *  *  *  *

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

Next Week (June 22 through June 30, 2019) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: JUNE 22 TO JUNE 30, 2019

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on June 2019 at Disney World see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/22-6/30/19

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 6/22, 9a-10p 6/23, 9a-11p 6/24 through 6/26, and 9a-10p 6/27 through 6/30

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 8a-10p 6/22 through 6/25, 9a-10p 6/26 and 6/27, 9a-9p 6/28 and 6/29, and 9a-10p 6/30

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/22-6/30/19

Saturday 6/22 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 6/23  Morning:  Hollywood Studios Evening: none

Monday 6/24 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Tuesday 6/25 Morning: none Evening: Epcot

Wednesday 6/26 Morning:  none Evening: Magic Kingdom

Thursday 6/27 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 6/28 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 6/29 Morning: Animal Kingdom  Evening: none

Sunday 6/30 Morning:  Hollywood Studios  Evening: none

PARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/22-6/30/19

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon parade: 3p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/22-6/30/19

Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom 9.15p every night

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p every night

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9.30p every night

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 9 and 10p 6/21 through 6/27; 9p 6/28 and 6/29; 9 and 10p 6/30

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/22-6/30/19

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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June 20, 2019   No Comments

Review: The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek in the Bonnet Creek Resort Area

THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

The Bonnet Creek Resort is an enclave with four—soon to be five—hotels, surrounded by Disney World but not on Disney property.

Located adjacent to Disney’s Caribbean Beach and Pop Century Resorts in the area circled in the image, you’ll find in the Bonnet Creek Resort a Wyndham, Wyndham Grand, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, and soon, a JW Marriott.

Earlier in 2019, guests staying at two of these five hotels—the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Waldorf Astoria Orlando—gained access to the two most prized Disney World perks, access to FastPass+ booking 60 days before arrival, and eligibility to use Extra Magic Hours.

Because of this, I’m starting to cover these two hotels, with this review of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek based on my March stay now complete, and a review of the Waldorf Astoria based on my May stay there coming soon.

Note that there are four other Hilton-flagged properties in or near Disney World that all have access to the same perks–the next door Waldorf Astoria (review to come soon), and over in the Disney Springs Resort Area, the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, Hilton Buena Vista Palace and the Doubletree Suites by Hilton.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offer rooms with a king bed, or with two queen beds, in a long mid-rise block.

The best features of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek are its pool complex, reasonably central location especially close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the broad range of strong amenities it offers.

Weaknesses include the un-divided baths, absence of balconies, and park transportation–its buses have too many stops, and run too infrequently.

My full review of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek has four pages:

ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

Rooms with a king bed and rooms with two queens are available in the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

There are also some bookable views–e.g. a fireworks view. You can see in the moderate distance the Epcot and Hollywood Studios fireworks, and far away Magic Kingdom fireworks.  The absence of balconies makes these views less fun.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is a major convention hotel, and as in all such hotels, suite options are also available.

The bed side of Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek two queen room.

The undivided bath includes in one space a single sink, a toilet, and a shower/tub combo. This makes the room less family-friendly than most Disney-owned options. There’s also no balconies.

A photo tour of a two queen room at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is here.

DINING AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek has three table service venues, a snack/coffee shop, and both a lobby bar and another bar (and dining venue) at its pool complex.

Two venues, La Luce and Zeta, are more oriented to adults and the heavy convention crowds that you’ll find here. The downstairs Harvest Bistro is more family friendly, and you’ll find more of both high end and family-friendly dining at the next-door sister resort Waldorf Astoria.

There’s also a Disney gift shop offering souvenirs, park tickets and such off the lobby. Other typical amenities including a gym and a business center are also available.

There’s more on dining and the other amenities at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek here.

THE POOL COMPLEX AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek pool complex is in the top rank among the non-Disney hotels at Walt Disney World, clearly bested among them only by the pool complex at the Four Seasons.

The most distinctive feature of the pool complex at the Hilton Bonnet Creek is its lazy river, but it also has a pool slide–rare at the non-Disney hotels–a kids pool, two hot tubs, and a zero entry area.

For more on the pool complex at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, see this.

THEME PARK TRANSPORTATION AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek shares buses with the next-door Waldorf Astoria.

These buses depart too infrequently, and have too many theme park stops, to be a good option–although are better than most off-property hotel transportation options.

For example, in my last stay, Magic Kingdom buses left generally every thirty minutes (there were a few 60 minute intervals) and went next to the Waldorf Astoria.  From Magic Kingdom half went on to Epcot, then to Hollywood Studios, and the other half went on to Animal Kingdom. Buses to the Studios could take 45 minutes. Moreover as is the case with all non-Disney buses, Magic Kingdom buses dropped off at TTC, not the park itself.

Having a rental car, or using cabs, Uber or Lyft (or for a pricey variant of Lyft, a Minnie Van) is a better option.

In addition to the theme park buses, buses to and from Disney Springs run in the evening.

Having your own car or a rental is a much better option. Self-parking at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is $27/night and valet parking is $37/night. Parking at the theme parks is $25/day.

PRICING AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

Pricing at the non-Disney hotels is much less visible than that at the Disney-owned resorts, and multiple prices for the same room e.g. for non-refundable stays, stays by folk with AAA, etc. are common.  Discounts and deals are also common, and these hotels sometimes show up on the various hotel deal sites.

Pricing for most of them is also obscured by mandatory “resort fees.”  Resort fees are a mandatory extra cost added every night of your stay, whether you like or not. I personally find mandatory resort fees a misleading and unethical practice.  A fee that is mandatory, and charged each night, should simply be rolled into the nightly room price.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek resort fee is (after tax) $$50.63 per night–among the highest resort fees at a Disney World hotel.

Base prices at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek (before any discounts you might find, but including resort fees and taxes) are generally ~$50/night higher than those for a Disney-owned moderate resort, and substantially less than those of a Disney-owned deluxe resort.

For families looking for queen beds, lots of dining options, a very strong pool complex, and other strong amenities, and ok with the absence of balconies, an undivided bath, and weak transportation, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek can be a reasonable option, offering amenities somewhere between those of a Disney moderate and a Disney deluxe at a price commonly closer to that of a Disney moderate.

Among the five Hilton flagged properties at Disney World with access to FastPass+ booking 60 days before arrival, and eligibility to use Extra Magic Hours, for families I would rank it second, after the Hilton Buena Vista Palace, which offers balconies and a divided bath.

Kelly, the long-time travel agent partner of this site, can book your Disney World vacation at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek–or at any other Disney World hotel!  Contact her using the form below.

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PHOTO TOUR OF A ROOM AT THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

This review continues here.

MORE ON THE HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

OTHER KEY PAGES FOR WHERE TO STAY AT DISNEY WORLD

 

 

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June 16, 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

Next Week (June 15 through June 23, 2019) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: JUNE 15 TO JUNE 23, 2019

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on June 2019 at Disney World see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/15-6/23/19

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-10p 6/15 and 6/16, 9a-11p 6/17 through 6/19, 9a-10p 6/20, 9a-11p 6/21 and 6/22, and 9a-10p 6/23

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 9a-10p 6/15 and 6/16, 9a-9p 6/17 and 6/18, 9a-10p 6/19 and 6/20, and 8a-10p 6/21 through 6/23

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/15-6/23/19

Saturday 6/15 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 6/16  Morning:  Hollywood Studios Evening: none

Monday 6/17 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Tuesday 6/18 Morning: none Evening: Epcot

Wednesday 6/19 Morning:  none Evening: Magic Kingdom

Thursday 6/20 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 6/21 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 6/22 Morning: Animal Kingdom  Evening: none

Sunday 6/23 Morning:  Hollywood Studios  Evening: none

PARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/15-6/23/19

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon parade: 3p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/15-6/23/19

Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom 9.15p every night

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p every night

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9.30p every night

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 9 and 10p 6/15 and 6/16; 9p 6/17 and 6/18; 9 and 10p 6/19 through 6/23

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 6/15-6/23/19

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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June 13, 2019   No Comments

December 2019 at Walt Disney World

 June   July   August   September   October   November   December

WHAT IS DECEMBER LIKE AT DISNEY WORLD?

Early December, with lower crowds, lower prices, and wonderful Christmas decorations and events, has the best weeks of the year to visit.

Later December has the highest crowds and prices of the year.

Park closings to additional guests are possible in this later December period, as are 8a openings and more morning Extra Magic Hours than other weeks.

December also has a special party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a special evening event–with its own ticket–that has become a family tradition for many, and major New Years Eve celebrations.

[Read more →]

June 10, 2019   No Comments