« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

July 2009 Archives

July 3, 2009


This blog is primarily for those of you who stay at the All Star Resorts. The McDonald's located on Buena Vista Drive was built specifically to cater to these three hotels.

As you might recall, this McDonald's once had enormous caricatures of a hamburger, fries, and a shake on its roof. For whatever reason, the powers-that-be decided it was time for a change and both the exterior and interior of this restaurant received a major makeover. Here are a couple of pictures of the new exterior. Gone are the fanciful figures to be replaced by sleek, modern lines.

McDonald's Exterior

McDonald's Exterior

The outdoor seating area has been given a casual feel complete with some comfortable wicker chairs and palm trees.

Outdoor Seating Area

Outdoor Seating Area

The ordering station and beverage bar received only minor changes.

Ordering Counter

Beverage Station

The seating area is more festive than its predecessor. This is accomplished by using white tables and chairs of primary colors. In addition, the overhead panels now display sporting scenes, also in colors that coordinate with the chairs.

Indoor Seating

Indoor Seating

Two "group" seating areas are clustered together under light colored wood canopies. Four flat-screen TVs can also be found within this setting.

Group Seating Area

The inside ordering counter and dining room are open daily from 5am to 1am. The drive-thru is open 24 hours.

Note, this McDonald's is extremely busy for breakfast and dinner. At lunchtime, it's practically deserted.

July 8, 2009

Swiss Family Treehouse

I know what you're thinking. Could I have picked a more boring attraction to write about? Probably not. The Swiss Family Treehouse is possibly the least sophisticated attraction in the Magic Kingdom and often skipped by guests who consider it a waste of time and energy. I'm hoping that reading this blog will convince you to give the treehouse another try - but this time with a different outlook. This attraction is chock-full of details if you'll just take the time to look for them.

Swiss Family Treehouse Poster

Swiss Family Island Treehouse was one of the opening day attractions at the Magic Kingdom. The word "Island" was dropped sometime in 1989. In the days of ticket books, this attraction required a "B" coupon. In the early years, the Swan Boats made a complete circle around the treehouse during their short journey into Adventureland. Here is a picture taken in January 1972. This angle is almost impossible to get today as "The Magic Carpets of Aladdin" now occupy the spot from which this photo was taken. In addition, so much foliage has grown up around the tree over the years that it's difficult to tell where the treehouse ends and real growth begins.

Swiss Family Treehouse 1972

These next two pictures were taken in 2009.

Swiss Family Treehouse 2009

Swiss Family Treehouse 2009

This attraction was inspired by Disney's 1960 movie Swiss Family Robinson starring John Mills and Dorothy McGuire. The story tells of a shipwrecked family that salvages their vessel, the Swallow, and builds a fanciful home in a tree (among other adventures). Disney has announced that a remake of this classic is in production and will open in 2012.

1960 Movie Poster

A smaller version of the Swiss Family Treehouse opened in Disneyland on November 18, 1962. This tree has since been redesigned and is now Tarzan's Treehouse. Hong Kong Disneyland also has a Tarzan's Treehouse whereas the Tokyo and Pairs parks still use the Swiss Family theme. Below is a picture of Tarzan's Treehouse in Disneyland.

Tarzan's Treehouse Disneyland

Back at the Magic Kingdom we find a rest area near the entrance to Swiss Family Treehouse. Notice how the planter and benches are made of volcanic rock supplemented with pieces of the ship's wreckage.


Also near the entrance is a sign that provides an extremely brief synopsis as to why this treehouse exists. Below the sign are canons that were used for protection against pirates.

Treehouse Synopsis


Another sign, sporting the family's crest, indicates the entrance to Swiss Family Treehouse.

Entrance Sign

This man-made tree is modeled after a Banyan. Its concrete root system extends four stories into the ground. The tree itself stands sixty feet high and ninety feet wide. Its 1,400 limbs are made of concrete covered steel and it sports 300,000 vinyl leaves. There are 116 stairs, 66 of which go up.

The Spanish moss hanging from the tree is real. This plant is not a parasite and gathers its nutrients and water from the air.

I know it's hard to believe, but on busy days, the Swiss Family Treehouse can have a line. In the queue you be able to see part of the Swallow's hull.

Swallow's Hull

Your journey begins along a covered pathway. The banisters to each side are made up of rails complete with belaying pins. Belaying pins are specially shaped pieces of dowel used on sailing vessels to secure the lines. The canopy covering this walkway was constructed using the ship's oars and sails.

Covered Pathway

To reach the island on which the treehouse stands, guests must cross a suspension bridge. The bridge was constructed with the island's native bamboo and the ships railings, riggings, and decking.

Suspension Bridge

On the other side of the bridge you'll find a most ingenious device created by the castaways. A giant bamboo waterwheel is turned by a flowing stream. Connected to this waterwheel is a secondary wheel that rotates a series of bamboo cups. One by one, each cup is filled with water then transported to the upper reaches of the treehouse. Here the water is dumped into a reservoir. Radiating from this reservoir is a series of bamboo pipes that distributes water to the entire treehouse.

Water Wheel

Water Wheel

Water Wheel

Bamboo Pipes

Bedroom Basin

As you begin your assent, notice the family's coat of arms at the base of the tree.

Coat of Arms

Although there are several rooms to visit while touring the treehouse, much of your journey will be spent climbing stairs. Instead of looking at this as an arduous task, take this time to examine the many details that abound. Its here that you'll begin to notice that this home is built quite logically by using the natural elements found on the island and the portions of the ship that were salvaged.

Treehouse Stairs

Ship's Rigging

Ship's Rigging

Ship's Lantern

Ship's Bulkhead

The first room you come to is the living room. The lively melody being played on the pump organ is called "Swisskapolka." This tune was used only once during the movie while the family was engaged in a comical race riding a number of different animals. Like so many other items found around the treehouse, all of the furnishings in this room came from the Swallow.

Living Room and Pump Organ

Living Room and Ship's Wheel

There are a number of good views to be had from the Swiss Family Treehouse. However, many have been obstructed over the years by the lush growth of the Jungle Cruise. The next picture was taken in 1972. In the foreground you can see rock outcroppings within the Jungle Cruise. In the center of the picture you can make out the Magic Kingdom monorail station and to the right, the Polynesian Resort. These sights cannot be seen today.

View from Treehouse 1972

Jungle Lookout Sign

The next room you come to is the bedroom used by mother and father Robinson. (They didn't have names.)

Mother and Father's Bedroom

Mother and Father's Bedroom

You're almost to the upper most reaches of the tree at this point. There are just a few more stairs before you reach the top and the boy's bedroom.

Treehouse Pathway

Boy's Bedroom

Take a look at these next two photos. Can you spot any peculiarities?

Boy's Bedroom Sign

Boy's Bedroom

The first thing I noticed is that the sign states that this bedroom belongs to Fritz, Ernst, and Francis. However, I only count two hammocks. Where does the third boy sleep?

The other thing I noticed was the date, July 17, 1805. The sign states that this is the first anniversary of their deliverance. Now anyone familiar with Disney history knows that July 17th is a very special date -- the day that Disneyland in California opened. I also noticed the year, 1805. This is exactly 150 years prior to the year that Disneyland opened (1955). This seemed like too much of a coincidence so I did a little research. First, I could find no reference to a year in the book. However, I could find the date of the Swallow's shipwreck, January 31st and the castaways came ashore on February 2nd. So it seems that the Imagineers fudged a little on this detail in order to give a nod to Disneyland.

From this point on it's all downstairs.

Treeshouse Stairs

The next area of interest is the Library. On the desk you can see a map of the Indian Ocean. The book has the castaways marooned in the East Indies, en route to Port Jackson, Australia while the movie has them in route to the German colony of New Guinea. However the exact location of the island is somewhat of a mystery, for on this island the family encounters a giant turtle, a tiger, an elephant, an ostrich, a zebra, monkeys, and other creatures - creatures that never existed together in the wild.

Library Sign


The final stop is the kitchen. Here you'll find a storage area, a stove built of volcanic rocks, running water, and a table, ready to serve a hungry family.

Kitchen Sign

Kitchen and Stove

Kitchen and Table

The Swiss Family Treehouse can't compete with Splash Mountain or Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, but it was never intended to. It's meant to be a place where you can let your imagination run wild for a few moments and fantasize what it might be like to live on a deserted island with basic creature comforts and the occasional adventure. As I mentioned earlier, this attraction has a number of details that are worth note if you'll take the time to look for them.

The movie, Swiss Family Robinson, is available on DVD. Is it worth watching? Well, if you've made it to the end of this blog I'll say yes. That would indicate that you're a true Disney fan. The movie is a little dated, which is probably why Disney is filming a remake, but if you can suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours, it's enjoyable.

Swiss Family Treehouse DVD


July 10, 2009

Liberty Square Odds & Ends

Since I recently wrote a feature article and a blog about the Hall of Presidents, I thought I'd write a companion piece about a few of the other, less noticed sights in the area. Let's start with the porch to the right of the Hall of Presidents. Here you'll find two rocking chairs. The setting, in and of itself, is picturesque, but to use these seats is even better.

Liberty Square Porch

If I may suggest, get a dessert from nearby Sleepy Hollow and enjoy it here. This is a wonderful spot to sit, relax, and people watch. Although it is possible to see the parades from here, I can't really recommend this porch as a prime viewing location. Too many guests will be between you and the floats and only the upper half of these moving show pieces will be visible.

Near the entrance to Hall of Presidents you can find a little girl's doll in the window. And to the left side and around the corner, take a look at the upper windows. Here you'll find two lanterns. Remember the old battle cry, "One if by land, two if by sea." You can also find a Minute Man's rifle.

Child's Dool

Lanterns in a Window

Minute Man Rifle

Across the street from the Hall of Presidents is Disney's version of the Liberty Tree. The original Liberty Tree was located near Boston Common. On August 14, 1765, the Sons of Liberty gathered there to protest the Stamp Act. They concluded their protest by hanging two tax collectors in effigy from its branches.

Liberty Tree

In the years that followed, similar trees all across the colonies were designated "Liberty Trees." As it was dangerous to assemble and protest during these trying times, the trees provided a meeting place that gave the appearance of a casual gathering beneath its branches.

The trees were often decorated with lanterns and banners. In addition, a pole would be erected within its branches as a signaling device. When a flag was raised (usually yellow), the Sons of Liberty knew it was time to meet. Disney's tree sports thirteen lanterns - one for each colony.


Disney's Liberty Tree is a Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and was found growing on the southern edge of their Florida property. Determining that it would be perfect for the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers decided to dig it up and move it. However, this would be no small undertaking. It's estimated that the tree weighed more than 35 tons and its root-ball measured 18'x16'x4' around.

The tree could not be lifted by placing cables around its trunk. Its weight would cause the cables to slice through the bark and into the soft cambium layer. This would seriously damage or possibly kill the tree. Instead, two holes were drilled horizontally through the trunk. Metal rods were then inserted into these bores and cables attached to the ends. Lifted by a large crane, the tree was transferred to a flatbed truck for transportation to the park. Once at the Magic Kingdom, the cables were reattached and the crane lowered the tree into place. The rods were then removed and replaced with the original plugs.

Unfortunately, these plugs had become contaminated during the move and caused an infection to grow within the trunk and eat away a portion of its interior. To remedy the problem, the plugs were removed and the diseased sections of the tree were cleaned out. This time, the holes were filled with cement. In addition, a young Southern Live Oak was grafted to the base of the tree. At one time, you could see these scars, but the bushes have grown up around the tree and they are now hidden.

Disney produced a movie in 1957 titled Johnny Tremain. Based on Esther Forbes' book, the story tells of a lad who was badly injured as an apprentice silversmith then finds himself deeply involved in the American Revolution. In one scene of the movie we see Johnny and the Sons of Liberty hanging lanterns on the Liberty Tree. Some of the music used in this movie can be heard in the Liberty Square area. This film is available on DVD.

Johnny Tremain DVD

Next to the Liberty Tree is the Liberty Tree Tavern. If you look around the restaurant's perimeter, you can find some herbs growing and a kettle in which to cook a meal.


Cooking Kettle

To the left of the Liberty Tree Tavern is a replica of the Liberty Bell. Cast from the same mold as the original, this bell was created for the Walt Disney World Resort in 1989.

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Circling the bell are the flags of the original thirteen colonies. Near the base of each flagpole is a brass plate with the date that the state ratified the Constitution.

Flags of the Colonies

Brass Plate and Date

Also in the area is a sign with a lengthy history of the Liberty Bell -- so lengthy that I doubt that many of you have taken the time to read it while standing in the hot Florida sun.

Liberty Bell Sign

To help you out, I've copied it for you here. Enjoy.


The Liberty Bell

The Province Bell was the name first used to describe me. I was ordered from the English bell foundry of Whitechapel in 1751 by the Pennsylvania Assembly. I was to be part of the celebration which would commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges signifying the founding of Pennsylvania.

Soon after being brought to America from England it was decided to test me for tonal quality. For this purpose I was hung in the notch of a tree and struck. With the first stroke of the clapper I sang out a glorious note. However, with the second strike I cracked and then gave off a terrible sound.

Two Philadelphia metal workers, Pass and Stow, melted me down, added more copper and recast me. I was now an American bell although everything about me was the same as the first bell, including the inscription "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" and "By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in Pennsylvania."

People now know me as the State House Bell. At first my only duty was to call the legislature to assemblies. However, as English rule became more and more intolerable I was used to summon people together to discuss and protest issues they considered unfair.

I was muffled as a symbol of protest and tolled slowly when the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 were passed into law. I continued to toll for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The time I remember best was on July 8, 1776, when I summoned the citizenry for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. It was during this era of unrest that I became known as The Bell of Independence and The Bell of Revolution.

During the Revolutionary War I was wildly rung to signify each victory and muffled and tolled slowly to announce each defeat. The people could judge the success of the war effort just by the way I was rung. I became so important to the people that when Philadelphia was invaded by advancing British forces, I was taken to Allentown, Pennsylvania and hidden in the floorboards of a church so the British wouldn't find me. After a year in hiding, I was returned to the State House in Philadelphia. On September 3, 1783 I was rung joyously to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the war between Great Britain and the United States.

After eighty years of almost continual use, I was rung to mourn the death of Chief Justice Marshall on July 8, 1835 and cracked. In 1846, I was rung for the last time to commemorate George Washington's birthday. Although I can no longer be actually rung, I still occupy a special place in American history. The Herald of Freedom and the Liberty Bell are the names by which I am best known today; and perhaps these are the names which best describe me, for when the freedom and liberty of the United States hung in the balance, my voice was used to rally the people to the cause of liberty.

Cast from the same mold, this bell is a "Second generation" of the Original bell that hangs in Philadelphia. It was cast for Walt Disney World Resort in 1989.

July 15, 2009

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Hang on to them hats and glasses cuz this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness.

Thunder Mountain Poster

In reality, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad isn't the most thrilling coaster in the world. In fact, it only reaches a top speed of somewhere between 24-30 miles per hour. By today's standards, that's pretty tame. Yet this ride is still a perennial favorite and hour-long waits are not uncommon during the busier times of the year. Why is this? Theming. The true love of this attraction comes from the overall experience, not just the thrills you encounter while racing over buttes and bluffs.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMR) was not around on opening day. In the beginning, this area was just a grassy pasture you passed by while riding the Walt Disney World Railroad.

These next three photos were taken in January 1972. The first picture was shot from the Skyway in Fantasyland looking back toward the southern half of Tom Sawyer Island. The suspension bridge connecting the north and south islands will someday be anchored at this point. The majority of the empty land beyond the island is where Splash Mountain will reside, but to the right side of the picture you can see where the entrance to BTMR will someday stand.

Before Big Thunder Mountain

This next picture was taken from the Walt Disney World Railroad looking over the future BTMR. You can see the Haunted Mansion in the background.

Before Big Thunder Mountain

The final picture was taken from the of the Adm. Joe Fowler (now the Liberty Belle) looking back at this vacant land.

Before Big Thunder Mountain

If you'd like to learn more about how the BTMR came into existence, check out Anita Answer's article about the Western River Expedition.

The topography of Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain was inspired by Monument Valley in Arizona. (The topography of Disneyland's Thunder Mountain is based on Utah's Bryce Canyon.)

Monument Valley, Arizona

There's no missing Big Thunder Mountain. It can be seen from many vantage points within Frontierland. Its towering butte beckons.

Big Thunder Mountain from a distance

The story of BTMR goes something like this. During the late 1800's, gold was discovered deep within Big Thunder Mountain. Overnight, prospectors started mining the ore and soon the town of Tumbleweed sprang up on the mountain's slope. Additionally, The Big Thunder Mining Company was formed and trains were built to haul the gold.

Big Thunder Mining Company building

Everything was going well until a flash flood ravaged the mountain and town, ruining any future mining operations. Now it's not certain if the flood was caused by Mother Nature, or brought on by Professor Cumulus Isobar, a rainmaker hired by the settlers a few days earlier.

Professor Cumulus Isobar

The townsfolk took the flood in stride and headed over to the Gold Dust Saloon for one last belt before leaving Tumbleweed for good. A good ear can hear the shindig still going on as you pass by. By the way, the proprietors of the Dry Goods store next to the saloon are, D. Hydrate and U. Wither.

Tumbleweed Sign

Gold Dust Saloon

Dry Goods Store Sign

But one gentleman, Cousin Elrod, decided a cool bath is better than a cool drink.

Cousin Elrod

To reach the BTMR you pass beneath an abandoned ore processing plant and proceed up a hill. Along the way you encounter a number of discarded pieces of mining equipment.

Entrance and Gold Processing Plant

Abandoned Mining Equipment

Abandoned Mining Equipment

Lytum and Hyde

Abandoned Mining Equipment

Abandoned Mining Equipment

Supply Wagon

Eventually you enter the long vacant offices of the Big Thunder Mining Company.

Big Thunder Mining Co. Offices

Big Thunder Mining Co. Offices

After wandering around on the upper level, for what can seem like an eternity, you eventually descend below where the trains arrive and depart. It's here that you board one of the following six trains.

U.B. Bold
U.R. Daring
U.R. Courageous
I.M. Brave
I.B. Hearty
I.M. Fearless

Train Loading and Unloading Area

U.B. Bold Engine

Your journey begins as you travel through a bat filled cave then alongside a cavern packed with stalactites and stalagmites. Up ahead you see a massive waterfall cascading to each side of the tracks.

Cavern Waterfall

Averting a wet encounter, the train bursts outside and starts its mad dash through the wilderness.

Train emerges from mine

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

Racing around Big Thunder Mountain

While your train is making hairpin turns and sudden drops, a number of sights can be seen along the way.

Mountain Goat


Desert animal

Roadrunner and Rattlesnake

Mining Equipment

Big Thunder Mountain Butte

Dinosaur Bones and Jaw

Hot Springs and Mud Pots

Mining Equipment

Cow Skull

Eventually, you return to the Big Thunder Mining Company offices, shaken, but fine.

Returning to Big Thunder Mining Company

Guests exit the attraction along Nugget Way. This is the perfect spot for less adventurous souls to wait for their party. This area also offers great photo opportunities and you might even be able to snag a shot of your friends and family as they whisk by.

Nugget Way Sign

Nugget Way

Friends and Family on Train

Here are some interesting facts about BTMR:

BTMR opened on September 23, 1980. The "official" Grand Opening was on November 15, 1980.

It cost $17M to build - the same amount it cost to construct Disneyland as of opening day.

The attraction area is approximately 2.5 acres.

The top of the butte is roughly 100 feet high from ground level. If you calculate from sea level, the way a real mountain would be measured, the pinnacle stands 197'6".

The ride duration is about 3 minutes 25 seconds.

Each of the engines pulls five cars and can hold a total of 30 guests.

The track length is 2,780 feet.

There are about 20 Audio-Animatroncic figures scatters around the ride.

The mining equipment found around the attraction is genuine. Some of it was purchased at auctions throughout the Southwest while other material came from existing mines that date back to Big Thunders era of 1880.

Over 100 tons of actual mine tailings were shipped to Big Thunder for use in it's retaining walls and runoffs from the mining.

Construction materials included the following: 6,500 tons of steel beams, rods, and mesh, 4,675 tons of concrete, 90,000 gallons of water, and 4,000 gallons of paint.

The spiel, "Hang on to them hats and glasses cuz this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness" was recorded by Dallas McKennon. This is the same gentleman who voices Ben Franklin in the American Adventure. Mr. McKennon passed away on July 14, 2009.

Here's a little trick I use when visiting the Magic Kingdom. First, ARRIVE AT OPENING. Be at the Adventureland "rope drop" at 9am. Once the welcoming announcement finishes, hightail it (safely) to the Jungle Cruise and secure Fast Passes for everyone in your party.

Jungle Cruise Sign

As soon as you have these gems in hand, make haste (safely) to BTMR. The line shouldn't be any more than 5 minutes in length. After riding, get in line and ride Splash Mountain, whose wait shouldn't be anymore than 10 minutes.

Splash Mountain Sign

I choose to ride BTRM first because its ride duration is shorter than Splash Mountain, allowing you to queue up for the second attraction sooner.

After you've completed these two adventures, mosey back toward Pirates of the Caribbean for some high seas high jinx with the buccaneers. If you survive their assault it will almost be time to ride the Jungle Cruise. This touring plan should allow you to complete four major attractions in just a little over an hour.

Pirates of the Caribbean

If arriving at the Magic Kingdom at opening just isn't your cup of tea, but you can still be at the park by 10 or 11, then I would suggest getting a Fast Pass for either Splash Mountain or BTMR then wait in line and ride the other one. Hopefully, your Fast Pass return time will be nearing when you exit the first attraction.

Thunder Mountain Fast Pass Machines

If you arrive after noon on a busy day, I have no suggestions for you.

After 12 Clock

That's all I have on BTMR. As I said at the beginning of this article, it's a pretty tame coaster as coasters go. But it's Disney's meticulous attention to detail that makes this attraction so compelling.

Mind these warnings before you ride:

Safety Rules

BTMR can also be found in:

Disneyland California's Frontierland

Tokyo Disneyland's Westernland

Disneyland Paris' Frontierland

Hang on to your hats!

July 17, 2009

Hotels that Never Were at Walt Disney World

WDW Preview Edition

In early 1971, I purchased the above booklet - a "Preview Edition" of Walt Disney World. Within its 21 pages were dozens of artist's renderings of this fantastic resort that was under construction in Florida. I took it home and read it cover to cover, twice. The booklet briefly described each of the lands within the Magic Kingdom and the two new hotels being built. It talked about the Mickey Mouse Review and Country Bear Jamboree, both unheard of attractions at Disneyland. It described recreational activities like golf, waterskiing, and sail boating, also unheard of activities at Disneyland. The booklet closed with a discussion of Epcot, the city, not the theme park - a community that was to one day have a population of 20,000.

Artist's Rendering of EPCOT

Another topic discussed was Disney's Five Year Plan for the property and the three hotels that would soon follow the Polynesian and Contemporary. These were the Asian and Venetian resorts which would sit on the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Persian that would be located on Bay Lake.

For a number of years, the following picture (minus the animation) hung in every room at the Contemporary Resort. Here you can see all of the existing and planned hotels plus the Ft. Wilderness Campgound. Also notice, there is no Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, or Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom.

Seven Seas Lagoon

Let's start with the Asian Resort. Slated to open in 1974, this Thailand-inspired hotel was to have 600 rooms, including 50 suites that would exhibit a royal décor. A lounge and theme restaurant would be found within the resort's 160-foot center tower and provide dancing and stage-shows, in much the same way as the Contemporary's "Top of the World." This resort was also to have its own monorail station.

Here are three artist's renderings.

Artist's Rendering of Asian Resort

Artist's Rendering of Asian Resort

Artist's Rendering of Asian Resort

The Asian Hotel was to sit where the Grand Floridian now resides. In this next picture, you can see a square plot of land jutting into the Seven Seas Lagoon. The resort was part of Walt Disney World's master plan and was incorporated into the original design.

Seven Seas Lagoon

When construction began on the Grand Floridian, a portion of this land needed to be reconfigured to accommodate the new hotel.

Grand Floridian Construction

The Venetian Resort was to sit in-between the Transportation & Ticket Center and the Contemporary Resort. Plans called for a "City of Canals" that would offer unique shopping opportunities as guests traveled by gondola under ornate bridges to various sections of the resort. Reminiscent of St. Mark's Square, a 120-foot campanile would be the hotel's icon. This resort would also have its own monorail station.

Here are two artist's renderings of the Venetian Resort and an aerial view of its proposed location.

Artist's Rendering of Venetian Resort

Artist's Rendering of Venetian Resort

Seven Seas Lagoon

After the Grand Floridian's success, Michael Eisner wanted to build an even more luxurious resort. The plans for the Venetian were given a second look and eventually discarded for a Mediterranean Resort that would be themed after a small Greek island. The land was cleared where the Venetian was to stand, but it was soon discovered that this area was unstable and would require pylons deeper than those used on Spaceship Earth to support the hotel. Because of this, cost estimates skyrocketed and plans were dropped. Eventually the land was replanted with trees and now can be seen as a lush forest as you travel past on the monorail.


The Persian Resort was to sit north of the Contemporary and to the east of the Magic Kingdom on Bay Lake. Some renderings show a spur from the monorail reaching this hotel while others display a second loop that traveled through Tomorrowland. You can see this loop on the picture below. To see the spur, look at the above Contemporary Resort "property" map.

Map of WDW

The Persian Resort was to have a 24-foot dome atop a central building that would act as the entrance to the hotel and house a restaurant, shops, and meeting facilities. The guest rooms would radiate from this building in a circular design. Here are two artist's renderings.

Artist's Rendering of Persian Resort

Artist's Rendering of Persian Resort

None of the resorts ever materialized for a number of reasons, but the main culprit was the 1973 oil embargo. Tourism dropped off significantly during this time and three more deluxe resorts were not needed.

The third resort to be built at Disney World ended up being the Golf Resort and opened in December 1973. It was later renamed The Disney Inn (1986) to give the resort a broader appeal. In February, 1994, this resort was leased to the U.S. Government for military personnel and the name changed to Shades of Green. The government purchased the resort outright in 1996.

July 20, 2009


Realizing the importance of our youth and sports, ESPN has a long history of covering and promoting high school athletic events. ESPN RISE was created to encourage and recognize teenage athletes by providing them with recognition, resources, information and the inspiration they need. This encouragement will in turn motivate them to improve their skills and achieve their goals to be the best athletes they can be.

In addition to promoting actual events, ESPN publishes several magazines aimed at the youth market. ESPN RISE is a comprehensive sports magazine that is published in 30 U.S. markets. Keeping the magazine regional allows the stories and topics to be focused on local achievements and events. The magazine has a monthly circulation of over one million.

ESPN RISE Magazine

ESPN Girl, is aimed at the teenage female athlete. This magazine is distributed free to high-schools across the U.S. Besides encompassing a large array of sports, other topics such as nutrition, fashion, and socializing are brought into the mix. Each issue has a circulation of roughly 300,000.

ESPN Girl Magazine

In a similar vein, Gridiron and Hardwood magazines emphasize high school football and basketball. Each of these publications has a monthly circulation of 100,000.

Gridiron Magazine

Hardwood Magazine

In an effort to expand on their commitment to promote and encourage youth-oriented sports, the ESPN RISE Games were developed. This week long event (July 19-25) will take place at Disney's Wild World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.

Disney's Wild World of Sports Complex

Disney's Wild World of Sports Complex

The games will feature elite and competitive channel sports events. Baseball, softball, football, basketball, field hockey, and track & field competitions will all be represented. It's hoped that at future events, additional competitions will be added as the popularity of the games grow.

To get this year's games off to a proper start, an Olympic-style opening ceremony took place last night (July 19). Disney and ESPN pulled out all the stops to make sure these young competitors felt like champions. NFL reporter and senior writer Michael Smith hosted the show.

Michael Smith

After welcoming us to the kick-off event, the parade of athletes took place. Each of the participating teams walked, and sometimes ran, onto the field as their team's name was called out. The enthusiasm, excitement, and pride could easily be seen on these kid's faces.

March of the Athletes

March of the Athletes

March of the Athletes

March of the Athletes

After everyone was assembled in the infield, a local National Guard unit marched onto the green and took its position among the youth.

Color Guard

Color Guard

Seven-year-old Gina Marie Incandela sang the National Anthem. Incredible is all I have to say. How a child this young can hit those high notes is amazing. The crowd gave her a stirring ovation at the anthem's completion. Among her other performances, Gina Marie has performed at the 2009 NBA Finals and the Today Show on NBC.

Gina Marie Incandela sings National Anthem

Next, Disney Ambassador Clay Shoemaker and Mickey Mouse made an appearance.

Disney Ambassador Clay Shoemaker and Mickey Mouse

Jay Corbin and Brandon Hancock, ESPN RISE editors, were also on hand to welcome the crowd and help kick off the ceremony.

Jay Corbin

Brandon Hancock

In a stirring moment, the first "True Champion Award" was given to Kyle Bogden. In a national contest, Kyle's essay was selected as it exemplifies what a true winner is all about. Here is a quote from his essay:

"I guess you could say I'm a mentally strong kid due to the adversity I have overcome. I am hearing-impaired in both ears, and must wear two hearing aids every day. Some people consider me handicapped, or think I need special treatment, and I always tell them the same thing. 'It's a gift, and I'm grateful for what I was given because I know that I can get through it every day.' "

Kyle Bogden

Kyle Bogden

No Olympic-style observance would be complete without a torch-lighting ceremony. Trace Arena from Tampa, Florida, who plays for the Tampa Makos, was randomly selected as part of a Magical Moment during baseball registration.

Torch Lighting

Torch Lighting

In closing, Disney put on a spectacular fireworks display.





Is this event for everyone? Certainly if your daughter or son were one of the athletes on the field you'd want to be here to cheer them on. For the average Disney World guest, probably not. But the evening packed a lot of excitement into an hour. And if you follow high school sports, this event will make you feel good about all that is being done to promote this often overlooked segment of the athletic world.

ESPNU will provide extensive coverage of the ESPN RISE Games starting on Saturday, July 25th through Wednesday, July 29th.

If you've never seen Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, I would highly recommend doing so. Even if athletic events aren't your thing, this venue is typical of Disney - it's done well and is worth seeing. And while you're there, you can always grab a bite to eat at the Wide World of Sports Cafe (counter service). Admission to an event is not required to dine here. Just tell the gatekeeper that you only want to eat at the restaurant.

For more information about ESPN RISE, click here.

ESPN RISE Game and Torch

July 25, 2009

Fort Wilderness Railroad

It's interesting what fond memories the Fort Wilderness Railroad conjures up in so many of us considering its short life. It only ran between 1973 and 1977. Still, this little train made a big impact and continues to cause us to wax nostalgic when we think of it.

Fort Wilderness Railroad Poster

Originally built at a cost of $1M, these trains were used to transport guests around Ft. Wilderness in the same manner the buses do today. They ran from 7am to 11pm and guests could ride all day for $1. The scenery was magnificent as you traveled beneath a pine and cypress forest, over canals, and through meadows. You didn't need a destination. Riding was sufficient.

Fort Wilderness Railroad Artist Concept Drawing

Fort Wilderness Railroad

If this train was so great, then why did the Fort Wilderness Railroad have such a short life? Well, there are several reasons and they all combined to create a headache for Disney - a headache that aspirin alone couldn't cure.

The design for the Fort Wilderness Railroad was based on narrow-gauge plantation locomotives that were used in Hawaii to haul sugarcane and pineapples from the fields to the docks. They were reliable and considered steadfast workhorses.

The four Fort Wilderness engines and rolling stock (five cars per train) were built in California by Mapo, Disney's engineering and development department. Built at 4/5 scale, these engines had a 2-4-2T wheel design and used diesel fuel to heat the water for steam. Fully loaded, each train could accommodate 90 passengers.

Fort Wilderness Railroad

The total length of the Fort Wilderness track was twice as long as the track that circles the Magic Kingdom. Yet, the Fort Wilderness engines only held 225 gallons of water and 175 gallons of fuel compared to the Magic Kingdom's engines which carry 1,837 gallons of water and 664 gallons of fuel. This decreased capacity required the trains to make frequent stops to replenish their supplies - an often overlooked detail. It wasn't uncommon for a train to run out of "gas" and be stranded on the tracks.

Much of this inattention could be attributed to Disney's desire to save money. Rather than hire a professional railroad crew, inexperienced workers were employed off the street. These cast members were given the "basics" of steam train operations, but in essence, they were simply ride operators with no experience in running a railroad. A steam engine is a complicated piece of machinery with temperaments that require constant attention, something these undertrained cast members simply weren't equipped to provide.

Another problem had to do with the roadbed. Corners were cut while laying the rails, installing the spikes, and placing the ballast. Because of this, the tracks often shifted and derailments were common. Repairs and maintenance were an ongoing nightmare.

There were also complaints from guests that the trains were too noisy and disturbed the tranquility of the campground. Since they started operation at 7am, campers did not appreciate being jolted out of their sleeping bags to the sound of the engines' whistle. In addition, there were no barriers between the track and the campsites. There was nothing to prevent a child from wandering onto the rails as you can see in this next picture.

Fort Wilderness Railroad

Eventually it was decided that the Fort Wilderness Railroad was more trouble that it was worth and Disney did not want to invest any more capital to fix the problems. The trains were retired and eventually found themselves in a field exposed to the elements. After years of neglect, several members of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society purchased the decaying trains and have restored them to their original beauty.

Two of the coaches were briefly used as ticket booths at Pleasure Island, but they too were eventually replaced by permanent structures.

All of the track has been removed from Fort Wilderness, but you can still see some of the trestles that once spanned the canals.

Fort Wilderness Railroad Trestle

It's a shame this endeavor wasn't undertaken properly in the beginning. If it had been, maybe we'd still be riding this lovely train today rather than buses on our way to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review.

July 30, 2009

Rafiki’s Planet Watch – The Forgotten Land of the Animal Kingdom

Let's start with a little history. When the Animal Kingdom opened (April 22, 1998 - Earth Day), there was no Rafiki's Planet Watch. Well, there was, but it was called Conservation Station back then and was an outcropping of Africa. Conservation Station failed to spark the guest's imagination so sometime in 2001, this area became its own "land" and was renamed Rafiki's Planet Watch. In reality, not much changed except for the addition of a number of sights to the boring walk from the Conservation Station train to the actual facility. With these new exhibits came a new designation for this walkway, Habitat Habit. In addition, Rafiki, the all knowing mandrill from the Lion King movie, was added to the trail.

These changes helped increase interest, but this area is still under appreciated. I'm going to guess that many of you have experienced Conservation Station/Rafiki's Planet Watch at one time or another. I'll also venture to guess that you came away from the experience saying to yourself, "This was nice, but now let's go do something exciting." If I'm correct, I'm hoping that my blog will convince you to give this "forgotten" land another chance. If you'll just slow down and appreciate that this is not Expedition: Everest, there are many rewards to be found here.

Rafiki's Planet Watch is placed strategically near the exit of Kilimanjaro Safaris and Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The Imagineers' expectation was that you would be so inspired after viewing the animals in the "wild," that you'd want to see how they were cared for backstage and would hop aboard the Wildlife Express to Conservation Station.

Rafiki's Planet Watch Entrance

Wildlife Express Sign

The Harambe Train Station is reminiscent of the European colonial-style structures built in many parts of Africa during the late 19th to early 20th century. Once again, details abound if you take the time to look for them.

Harambe Train Station

When you enter the structure, you'll see a lot of unused queue. It's obvious the Imagineers thought this attraction was going to be more popular than it is. To the far right side of the building are the ticket windows. Posted between them is a sign of interest.

Harambe Station Queue

Ticket Windows


Since the picture's size precludes you reading it, I'll post its contents here.


The Harambe Town Council and Eastern Star Railways are very regretful to announce the cessation of continuous railway service to:


And points beyond.

Service to the above area has been interrupted due to:


Future service to the affected regions will be announced and implemented by the Harambe Town Council and Railway if and when it is deemed to be of public service and of a safely sufficient to appropriate standards.



This sign, and several others in the queue, were intended to be read while waiting in line. It's a shame that these details are passed over as we race to board the train.

Overhead are signs that list the north and southbound stops along the Eastern Star Railway.

Southbound Stops

To each side of the station platform are enclosures containing luggage. These are holding areas used for the loading and unloading of baggage. Also notice the top of the train. This is where possessions are stowed during a trip. If you look closely, you'll notice that the baggage is old and the belongings eclectic. This train caters to a developing area and its passengers are of meager means. All of their worldly goods may be traveling with them. Everything from bicycles, chairs, trunks, crates and safari equipment might be found up here.

Baggage Holding Pins

Top of the Train

The train's engine is modeled after English steam-powered locomotives that traversed Africa in the early 20th century. Close inspection will find that these locomotives have seen better days and have been patched together over the years.

Train Locomotives

The seating on the coaches is side-facing. This allows everyone to have a good view during the five and a half minute ride to Conservation Station. The train can carry 250 passengers. Along the way, the conductor gives a brief overview of what awaits you at Conservation Station and points out some of the sights.

Train Cars

Side Seating

Harambe Station is located at the edge of civilization. As soon as the train pulls out, you are surrounded by lush vegetation as you skirt the east side of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Lush Vegetation

As your journey continues, the backstage homes of many of the animals come into view. Each night, all of the creatures of the Kilimanjaro Safari are brought to these (and other) enclosures for feeding and care. It's not uncommon to see animals as you pass by this area as they are given occasional "days off" to rest up from their hectic safari duties.

Animal Enclousures

Animal Enclousures

Eventually, the train pulls into Conservation Station where you disembark. There are a few points of interest here, but the real sights lay ahead down the lush trail.

Train Arriving at Conservation Station

Conservation Station

Jungle Walkway

A short distance down the path we encounter Rafiki, pointing the way to Habitat Habit. This is a good photo op for the kids.

Rafiki Pointing the Way

In the early years, there was nothing along this considerable walk to Conservation Station except a thriving jungle. As pleasant as this was, most people found it boring. So when Rafiki's Planet Watch came into existence, this trail was populated with a number of exhibits that promote the environment.

At the first stop along the path we encounter the Cotton Top Tamarin monkey. Here we learn that researchers at the Animal Kingdom are studying these creatures and their habitat. It's hoped that the knowledge gained here can someday help save these endangered animals and their dwindling forest.

Tamarin Monkey Enclousures

Tamarin Monkey

The next encounter along the trail is definitely for the little ones. A simulated backyard has been created and children are taught that the creatures that live near our homes, even the icky ones, are beneficial to our environment.

Habitat Habit

Simulated Backyard

Any child who wishes to participate is loaned a grease pen and board. On the leaf shaped pallet are pictures of all the creatures "hidden" within the backyard. As the children discover a bug or animal, they check it off on their leaf. When they find them all (or most), they return to a cast member who congratulates them on a job well done.

Leaf Grease Board

Hidden Creatures

A Job Well Done

The cast member then presents them with a "Kids' Discovery Club Membership Card.

Kids' Discovery Card

On the reverse side, the six lands of the Animal Kingdom are listed. The cast member then helps the child stamp the Rafiki's Planet Watch space, indicating that they have completed this challenge. Check your guide map for a "K", indicating the other "Kid Discovery Club" locations around the park

Kids' Discovery Care Reverse Side

In the last section of Habitat Habit you'll find a number of signs and simple displays. These encourage us to create "animal friendly" environments in our own backyard.

Environments in your own Backyard

Next stop, Conservation Station. This building's entrance is marked by a large collage of animals. But while taking in this impressive work of art, don't forget to look at the rockwork in the pavement.

Conservation Station Entrance

Conservation Station Rockwork

Once inside, the collage continues. Instead of just walking through this area, take a moment to appreciate this room. It is amazing.

Conservation Station Lobby

For the most part, the public area of Conservation Station is contained in one large room with different areas dedicated to various topics. There are several "cut outs" of animals scattered around this room. On the back side you'll find "Fact" And Fable." The information presented here replaces myths with truths about the creature.

Conservation Station Main Room

Fact... And Fable

To the left of the entrance we find "Song of the Rainforest." Step inside one of these booths for a 3-D sound adventure. Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas narrates this short audio tour. The sound effects are so realistic you'll want to swat the mosquito as it flies in your ear and your skin will crawl when the bird-of-prey snatches its next meal just inches from your head. Also heard is the destructive sound of a chainsaw as it cuts into a tree. The message here is strong - we must save our rainforests.

Song of the Rainforest

Rainforest Sound Booth

Rainforest Sound Booth

To the right of the entrance is a small, stand-up theater. Currently, a short movie about Siberian tigers is shown here.

Movie Theater

For me, the highlight of Conservation Station can be found in the research and care facilities located along the outer wall. A wealth of information is available here for the taking.

The first stop is the Wildlife Tracking Center. One of the many duties performed in this lab is the testing of feces. Samples are continually being gathered from all of the animals throughout the park. Just like with humans, the information garnered from these tests provides invaluable information as to the health of the animal. For instance, by checking the hormone levels in the feces, the technicians can determine if certain animals are pregnant.

Wildlife Tracking Center

And I'm sure the kids will love the poop exhibit. On a table in this room are various stuffed animals. Behind each animal is a sample of its poop.

Poop Exhibit

And if this hasn't satisfied your excrement curiosity, you can actually handle some elephant poop at the next exhibit. Don't worry, it's been incased in some sort of resin so it neither feels yucky or smells. Kids love this.

Conservation Station Exhibit

Also in this area are two knowledgeable cast members. They love nothing better than to answer all of your questions. Here is Suzanne showing me how the researchers at the Animal Kingdom are studying elephant vocalizations. While playing a recording, she showed me a printout of the sounds that they make.

Elephant Vocalizations

Perhaps the biggest draw at Conservation Station is the Veterinarian Treatment room. This is an actual operating room where animals are examined and operated on when necessary. Of course, some of the larger animals are too big to be cared for here, but the general rule is this. If the animal weighs less than 500 pounds and can fit through the door, it is treated here.

Veterinarian Treatment Room

All of the animals are given yearly health check-ups. These are usually scheduled between 10am and 11:30am. The afternoon hours are left open so that the vets can make their rounds out in the field. On the day I visited, an Imperial pigeon from the Maharajah Jungle Trek was being given its yearly exam. If you look closely you can see the anesthesia face mask covering the bird's beak.

Pigeon Health Check-up

Pigeon Health Check-up

Pigeon Health Check-up

I was told that three days earlier a tiger received a root canal in this room. You never know what to expect from day to day. The Animal Kingdom also has its own version of a paramedic vehicle so that the vets can attend to emergencies out in the field.

Continuing along this outer wall we see a number of animal enclosures. These include reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. I know that these slithery creatures might give some of you the heebie-jeebies, but rest assured, they're all safely contained behind glass.

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates

At the final station, we learn about the animal's diet. Actual samples are on display with descriptions of what goes into their daily meals. This is a working facility and cast members can frequently be seen here preparing the food for a given animal group.

Food Station

In the center of Conservation Station, a cast member can often be found with an animal in hand. These animal encounters are scheduled every hour on the hour and will last for about thirty minutes. Here we see Heidi with a Scarlet Snake. After providing us with some background information, she takes questions from the small group gathered around her. She then encourages us to touch the snake.

Heide with Scarlet Snake

Touching the Scarlet Snake

Another cast member is on hand with a disinfectant hand gel. If you touch one of these creatures, it is mandatory that you clean your hands afterwards.

Each hour brings a new animal and more learning opportunities. Here we see a tarantula and an owl. Sorry, I didn't find out the species of either.



Conservation Station also offers good opportunities to meet some Disney characters without huge crowds. Pocahontas, Jiminy Cricket, and Rafiki all make appearances here.

Jiminy Cricket


Before heading outdoors to Affection Section, I needed to use the restroom. When I approached the urinal, I burst out laughing as I read the sign at eye level.

Restroom Sign

By the way, I know the answers to the questions because I DID wash my hands. If you want to know for yourself, you'll have to make a visit to Rafiki's Planet Watch and either visit the men's room or have a male member of your party do so.

Through the doors at the far end of Conservation Station we find Affection Section. This is a petting farm intended for children.

Affection Section

Just inside the enclosure is a basket full of brushes. Feel free to pick one up and give a goat a good combing.

Basket of Brushes

Brushing a Goat

Besides goats, sheep, a donkey, llama, cow, and a pot-bellied pig are on hand.






When you're finished with the animals, a sink is available near the exit for a vigorous hand washing.


Next to the petting farm is a small stage. Several times a day, a thirty minute show is presented here. Usually, two animals not normally seen in other parts of the Animal Kingdom are displayed and discussed. But before the show started, I found Nikki sitting on stage with an opossum. It seems that this little fellow was attacked by a dog and lost its front left leg. After being treated by a vet, it was moved to an animal shelter and eventually adopted by Disney. Nikki was feeding this little cutie, trying to get him used to being on stage, as he'll eventually be one of the animals to star is this casual presentation.


Nikki and Opossum

In the show I saw, one of the sheep from Affection Section was brought onstage. The cast member discussed how this animal, and others, are trained - not to perform, but to assist the vets when it comes time for their check-ups. By using certain commands, an animal can be trained to step onto a scale or present itself for an injection. A child from the audience was selected to help in the demonstration.

Sheep Training

Sheep Training with Child

The second animal displayed was a Ball Constrictor. With this animal, the cast member explained the importance of snakes in general and the characteristics of this animal in particular. At the end of the show, children and adults were given the opportunity to touch the animals and ask more questions.

Cast Member with Ball Constrictor

Ball Constrictor

Each day's show offers two different animals. In addition, the animals presented are constantly changing as new creatures are added to the lineup - like the opossum.

Next to Affection Section is the "Out of the Wild" shop. The usual Animal Kingdom souvenirs are sold here. However, if you're looking for something to eat, you're pretty much out of luck. With the exception of some very light snacks and bottled water, there is nothing here to satisfy those hunger pangs.

Out of the Wild Shop

The train ride back to Harambe Station skirts the edge of Asia. Along the way, a small, authentic village can be seen.

Asian Village

The goal of Rafiki's Planet Watch is to educate people about the importance of our environment and about the animals who inhabit our planet. This is one of a handful of spots in the Animal Kingdom where you can engage knowledgeable cast members in conversations about the creatures that live here.

I spent two and a half hours at Rafiki's Planet Watch and I wasn't bored. But to be honest, I spent a lot of this time taking pictures and asking questions so I could blog about this area. It would not take most of you anywhere near this long to experience the sights and sounds found here. But Rafiki's Planet Watch deserves more than just a cursory glance. This is not a passive place. Like so many things in life, the more effort you put into this area, the more you'll get out of it.

Return to Blog Central

About July 2009

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in July 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2009 is the previous archive.

August 2009 is the next archive.

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