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November 9, 2014

Memories of River Country

Gary Cruise banner

I have many wonderful Disney memories, picked up over the years during all those magical trips to the sunny south. But I've also racked up a few Disney regrets. This blog is about one of those regrets!

I never made it to Disney's first water-park, River Country . . .

1979 Postcard Book River Country

Everything I've read and everything I've heard about River Country has convinced me that it was exactly my kind of place! A modern six acre water park with dramatic and exciting water slides, all cleverly disguised as an old fashioned swimmin' hole from the days of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer! Yup! My kind of place!

1984 River Country Flyer
1984 Brochure

1987 River Country Brochure outside
1987 Brochure

1987 River Country Brochure inside
1987 Brochure

Fortunately, Carol and Rob were there several times and she brought home some great memories as well as plenty of brochures, postcards, tickets and photographs to add some color to my descriptions of their memories. There was plenty of descriptive information in the Tickle Trunk!

1989 River Country Brochure Front
1989 Brochure

Some of these images are thumbnails, click on the image to see a larger version you can read more easily.

1989 River Country Brochure Inside
1989 Brochure

Here's how that 1987 brochure described River Country: "Dive into the bygone days of the ol' swimmin' hole with River Country's twisting water slides. Hop on your inner tube for a white-knuckle white water rapids ride. Relax in a sparkling 330,000-gallon swimming pool. Or let your guppies go off on their own at Kiddie Cove, a specially designed area for youngsters. A sandy beach and winding nature trail complete the idyllic scene.

Towel rentals and lockers are available as well as a snack bar with food, soft drinks, beer and wine. Or you can pack a picnic basket and enjoy a full day of fun in this unique corner of the world."

River Country opened with fanfare June 20, 1976 when Susan Ford, President Gerald Ford's daughter, took the first trip down Whoop 'n Holler Hollow and splashed into Bay Cove, the larger of the park's two main bodies of water.

Birds-eye View Postcard

The park was located beside Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, along the south shore of Bay Lake. There was very little parking available for River Country; most visitors used Disney transportation to get there. Guests who arrived at the campground by boat simply walked a short distance to the River Country entrance. Those arriving by bus transferred to a campground tram or bus and rode to The Settlement area before walking a few hundred yards to River Country.

River Country Water Wagon

River Country cannon

River Country Map

Bay Cove was the main "swimmin' hole at River Country. It had a sand bottom and was filled with filtered water drawn from Bay Lake. This very natural looking man-made lagoon was separated from the lake by a large inflated dam which kept the water level in the lagoon about six inches higher than the adjacent lake. The filtration system drew water from the lake, filtered it and sent it to the various slides throughout the attraction at a rate of 8,500 gallons per minute. Surplus water spilled out over the top of the dam and returned to Bay Lake.

Bay Cove

At one side of Bay Cove were the two large water slides, Whoop 'n Holler Hollow and White Water Rapids, and opposite was the main beach covered with white sand, beach chairs and umbrellas. The lagoon tapered in depth, from the sandy shore at the beach it grew deeper as you approached the slides. The slides dropped adventurous guests into six feet of water and there was a bit of a distance to swim before they were able to touch bottom. This area was for experienced swimmers only!

River Country postcard

Whoop 'n Holler Hollow was the most exciting of the slides! There were two fibreglass body slides, one 160 feet and the other 260 feet. Riders careened and sloshed through plenty of twists, bends and tight hairpin turns before plunging into the lagoon.

Carol rides the slide
Carol

Rob
Rob

Rob.jpg
Rob

At White Water Rapids riders rode an inner tube as they bobbed past man-made rocks and through Raft Rider Ridge, next to Whoop 'n Holler Hollow, before entering the high-speed chute and splashing down into the lagoon. The water slides featured a lot of man-made rock, similar to that seen at Big Thunder Mountain and other places throughout Walt Disney World. Most riders floated around on the tubes for a few minutes before trekking up the queue to ride again!

White Water Rapids

Rob at White Water Rapids
Rob

In the middle of the lagoon was a small platform which had two water activities. At the Boom Swing guests could dangle from a wooden ship's boom, swing out over the bay and drop into the water. There was also a Cable Ride, similar to a "zip line", where the daring could grab a handle, slide down the cable and let go to enjoy a cooling plunge into the water! Nearby, in the water, was a Tire Swing. Swimmers could climb up onto a raft-like dock and board a tire-swing. It took practised skill to swing back and forth and then time your release to achieve a graceful dive!

Tire Swing postcard

Bay Cove was bounded by two bridges which gave easy access to the slides. Bay Bridge was located near the inflated dam on the Bay Lake side. A "tipsy" floating Barrel Bridge, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island, separated Bay Cove from Kiddie Cove where children could enjoy a shallow beach and four small slides.

Kiddie Cove postcard

The oversized heated pool was known as Upstream Plunge. Half of the pool was cordoned off for swimmers while the other was set aside for those who risked life and limb riding down Slippery Slide Falls. The side-by-side slides, along a sculpted concrete rock face, ended with a seven foot drop into the pool! No other Disney water slides have ever featured this sort of drop! Yeehaw!

River Country Press Photo

Slippery Slide Falls

Slippery Slide Falls
Rob - ready to plunge!

Indian Springs was the first Disney splash pad for the kiddies, an area where they could run, splash and squirt each other. What could be more fun?

Splash Pad postcard

There was even an elevated boardwalk across the cypress swamp; sunken trees and wildlife were abundant all along the Cypress Point Nature Trail.

Goofy was the official mascot at the park and made frequent appearances. He sometimes arrived by boat, other times on horseback and always enjoyed a soothing and cooling plunge down one of the slides. In the late 90's every day was the 4th of July as Goofy and a number of other characters including Chip, Dale, Minnie and Pluto took part in River Country's daily All-American Water Party.

Rob has fond memories of several visits to River Country about three decades ago, "It was a great spot for a kid," he told me, "there was just so much to do! It was the first place I experienced water slides and I really enjoyed each one of them, but even better were the other water activities. The boom swing and the cable ride were terrific. I liked to ride the cable all the way to the end. When it jarred to a stop I could do a full back flip and land in a perfect dive. I used to float around the tire swing and watch as folks let go at the wrong time and did some nasty belly flops!"

Rob is a nature lover, so I asked if he liked the Cypress Point Nature Trail. "Oh yeah," he said, "I never missed it. There were plenty of birds along the shore, small deer roaming freely and a big alligator in a fenced in area."

Tickets

Rob went on, "As a kid I saw River Country as a great place to have fun, but I didn't really appreciate the way it was built. Now, when I look back after more than thirty years I can see the nostalgia they built into the place. All of that new and modern stuff was made to look old and rustic . . . and the things I enjoyed most were so simple, dropping off an old wooden spar into the water or sliding down a wire and flipping into the pond. It reinforces the notion that newer isn't always better!"

Carol enjoyed it there too. Yes, she rode the slides, but she liked the heated pool much better than that chilly lagoon! Carol and her friend Judy scurried to commandeer their favourite table and umbrella so they could relax and enjoy some "down time" basking in the sun while the kids, Rob and Jenn, romped and played.

Their favourite table

Carol was always near the water when she grew up; boating and swimming were a regular part of her family life so River Country was a natural for her. The rustic charm the Imagineers created on the shore of Bay Lake reminded her of her Canadian home on the shore of Buck Lake. She also had one unusual memory from River Country. It was the first place any of them ever encountered Chicken Tenders; they were served with a tasty red sauce and were a huge hit!

Sometimes there were three generations represented, when Carol's mother Sybil joined in the fun. There was something there for everyone!

Beach postcard

The beach

Here's a funny little incident that happened while I was writing this blog. Rob was visiting Carol and I and he had just read a draft of this article. We were discussing it over dinner when I mentioned that during my online research I saw pictures of a River Country licence plate and a River Country beach towel. Carol quietly stood, went down the hall to the linen closet and in seconds came back with this towel.

River Country towel

That woman has everything!

So what happened to River Country? Why did it close?

There were a number of factors. First, both Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon had opened, in 1989 and 1995, and drew some guests away from the old swimmin' hole! Attendance was down, but there was another serious issue as well. It affected all bodies of water in Florida. A nasty little amoeba prevalent in Florida water was found to attack the nervous system and brain. It had already caused Disney to ban swimming at all of the other beaches around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon.

River Country closed September 1, 2001, at the end of the warm-weather season, as it did every year. Everyone expected that it would reopen in spring of 2002 . . . then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Attendance at Walt Disney World plummeted and management took drastic actions to control costs as their revenue plunged. River Country didn't re-open in the spring of 2002 and on April 11, 2002, the Orlando Sentinel reported "Disney World spokesman Bill Warren said that River Country could be reopened if 'there's enough guest demand.'"

Finally on January 20th 2005 came the expected announcement, River Country would not be reopening. The closure was permanent!

The only other Disney park ever to close was Discovery Island in April 1999; River Country joined it in 2001 but it didn't become "officially closed" until 2005.

The park now lies in ruin; you can still peek through the fence in some spots and see the crumbling slides that used to drop riders into Upstream Plunge. The walkway at Cypress Point Nature Trail is still visible if you ride the boat from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom, but it's rotting away and slowly falling into Bay Lake!

Dang! If time machines are invented and I get the chance for a "do-over", a visit to River Country will be very high on my list!

November 16, 2014

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - November 2014

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the October Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler Word Search:

http://allears.net/ae/mb101614-key.pdf

There were 71 responses to the word search puzzle on WDW bodies of water. The first 10 unused letters in the puzzle were JOZFUSKLVM.

The winner of a Mike & Sully pin was Jessica P. of Lakewood, CO. Thanks for playing!

This month we are going to continue with a word search puzzle, but this time the subject will be animated PIXAR characters.

From 1995 when the first "Toy Story" arrived in theaters to the latest "Monsters University," it seems Pixar Animation Studios can do no wrong. Disney was so impressed with the company, they decided to bring them into the fold in 2006. During that time they have created literally hundreds of lovable characters, from toys to monsters. At Disney they like to say it all started with a mouse, but at Pixar I guess you could say it all started with a lamp and a ball!

Here's the link to the new word search puzzle:

http://allears.net/ae/mb111614.pdf

If you'd like to be entered for a chance to win a collectible Disney pin, there's no need to send me the completed puzzle; just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row of the puzzle. Send your resulting answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on December 12, 2014. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog, along with a new puzzle, in mid-December.

Since I actually received some wrong answers for the first two word search puzzles, I'm wondering if they may be too hard? What does everyone think? Any feedback on the different format would be appreciated! Drop me a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 17, 2014

Rhode Island Comic Con

rhode-island-comic-con.jpg

by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars Guest Blogger

If you don't think you can find much Disney at a Comic Con event, think again! Over the weekend of November 1-2, the Rhode Island Comic Con was held at the RI Convention Center. This was the third year of the event and was the biggest so far.

Besides meeting Star Trek stars such as William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig, I decided to set off on a mission to find as many Disney-related things there that I could.

The Stars

There were numerous stars on hand over the weekend, including many who have Disney ties. Rebecca Mader, an English actress who played the role of Wicked Witch of the West in ABC-TV's Once Upon a Time, was at the event signing autographs for a long line of fans.

rebecca-mader.jpg

Christy Carlson Romano, voice of Disney Channel's old show Kim Possible, was also on hand to sign autographs and record voicemail messages. I was able to speak to her briefly before the show floor was open to the general admission ticketholders, and she discussed with me how she liked working for Disney and tries to keep in touch with them. She is also working on a new TV movie, Where Fate Meets.

christy-carlson-romano.jpg


Brian Muir, a famous sculptor who created the Darth Vader helmet and armor, talked to me about how it took about a month to create the costume. He is currently working on the new Star Wars VII movie but was unable to comment further on that. He has also worked on other Disney/Marvel Comics movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy.

rhode-island-comic-con-brian-muir.jpg

There were other personalities, too, such as Michael Kingma, who played a Wookiee in Star Wars: Episode III, and other illustrators and artists.

The Merchandise

There were many opportunities to purchase Disney-related items and artwork. From prints, to Frozen-inspired jewelry, to patches with Disney princesses -- there were items that would appeal to fans from all branches of the Disney universe, including Star Wars and Marvel Comics fans.

rhode-island-comic-con-comics.jpg


rhode-island-comic-con-prints.jpg


rhode-island-comic-con-figures.jpg


The Fans

Cosplay, the art of dressing up as your favorite character, is another popular thing to do at Comic Con. Here are a few folks who dressed up as characters with Disney affiliations:

rhode-island-comic-con-cosplay.jpg

rhode-island-comic-con-cosplay-2.jpg

rhode-island-comic-con-cosplay-1.jpg


Kids Con

Also at the convention, there was an area that had many sessions devoted to kids' interests. There was even a story time with Disney princesses, Frozen characters and Merida from Brave.

rhode-island-comic-con-kids.jpg


Everything Else

There were also many replicas on display as well, such as a replica of a truck from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

rhode-island-comic-con-shield.jpg

Star Wars, too, was well-represented, with a replica of a landspeeder from Star Wars on hand, as well as an R2D2 roaming the halls.

I wanted to get in on the action, so for a small donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation I was able to jump into a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark and swap the idol!


rhode-island-comic-con-lopes.jpg


Overall, this was a great event, and I am looking forward to going again next year. It's going to be a huge undertaking to top this year's event! This event is one that every Disney and Marvel comic fan should attend.

November 23, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk - Disney Matchbooks

Gary Cruise banner

Here's another piece of Disney history plumbed from the depths of the Tickle Trunk - Disney matchbooks!

Carol's old pine box of memories contains a shiny metal box full of matchbooks she collected decades ago!

Match Book Tin

Times were much different in the 1970's and 1980's and our acceptance of tobacco smoke and those who used tobacco products was much more open.

These days there are a few designated smoking areas scattered around Disney parks. Sometimes they are hard to find and at other times my nose can pick them out very easily. But in the early days smoking was permitted almost everywhere in the parks; even in restaurants!

There was a Tobacconist Shop on Main Street in Disneyland and in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. These stores displayed and sold hand-crafted pipes and tobaccos from around the world. Cigars and cigarettes were also available, but they were kept discretely under the counter.

Almost every Disney resort and restaurant had matchbooks which were given away free to customers. Yes, it was a vastly different time!

By the mid '80's the health risks associated with tobacco smoke were becoming clearer and public perception brought about slow but persistent change. Disney matchbooks are no longer available, smoking is now taboo in restaurants and designated smoking areas are few and far between.

The Tobacconist Shop in Florida closed in 1985 and the California shop followed suit in 1991. I suspect that we have seen the last of Disney matchbooks!

If you have any old Disney matchbooks be sure to hold onto them, they are real collector's items.

Here are a few examples from Carol's matchbook collection!

Match Books

More Match Books_2

There are even a few match boxes!

Match Boxes and books

And here are a few added bonuses at no extra cost!

1) Two Disney ash trays!

Disneyland Ash Tray
Do you see the faint gold printing inside the ash tray? It reads "Disneyland"

Orange Bird Ash Tray

2) A few Disney sewing kits!

Sewing Kit - Grand Floridian
From the Grand Floridian

Sewing Kits

Yes, that old Tickle Trunk has a bit of everything in it, great memories from years gone by!

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About November 2014

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in November 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2014 is the previous archive.

December 2014 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.