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March 2012 Archives

March 5, 2012

Gay Days

Gay Days at Walt Disney World will be here again before we know it, so I thought I would give you a history of how this annual event got started. As I so often do, I'll begin my story at Disneyland.

In the 1960's and 70's, the Disney Company regularly rented Disneyland to corporations and organizations for a "Private Party" to be held in the evening after the park closed to regular paying guests. These "parties" were very much like "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party" or "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party," in that it required a separate ticket to attend. But unlike MVMCP & MNSSHP, the company or organization renting the park was responsible for selling the tickets rather than Disney. In addition, they would have to guarantee at least seven thousand people would attend the event. These parties usually took place in the off season when Disneyland closed at 6pm. After a quick turnaround, Disneyland would reopen at 7pm or 8pm for party guests and remain open until 1am. These party tickets were generally cheaper than regular admission so many Southern Californians would wait for their company's night for their annual trip to Disneyland. In addition, ticket books were not required at these events so guests could ride the Matterhorn repeatedly without worrying about running out of "E" coupons.

Many organizations had standing reservations and year after year, their group would attend in a certain month. When I was a kid, my stepfather was in the military. Every year we attended Navy Night sometime in the dead of winter. I can still remember seeing my breath in the night sky as I drove my Autopia car in Tomorrowland - thrilled to be at Disneyland.

To give you an interesting example of one private party, Elizabeth Taylor rented Fantasyland for her 60th birthday for just herself and a few thousand of her closest friends.

When I started working at Disneyland, I of course was scheduled to work many of these private parties. It was interesting to learn that various groups would behave differently from one another or had different needs. For example, working at the Blue Bayou Restaurant, we knew that one pot of coffee was all we needed on Mormon Night.

In 1978 (or 1979), a number of gay individuals in Southern California decided that they wanted to rent Disneyland for an evening - just like any other group. However, they had a two-fold problem. First, they knew that the Disney organization would never allow homosexuals to hold a private party at Disneyland. And second, they needed an organization to represent their group. (You need to remember, in the 1970s, there were very few openly gay organizations.) To solve their problem, leaders of the community created the Greater Los Angeles Restaurant and Bar Association. This was a loose alliance of gay bars and restaurants located in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

With their organization in place, the leaders of the association approached Disney and requested a party date - never mentioning that their group had anything to do with gays. A minimum attendance was guaranteed and contracts signed.

A couple of weeks before the big night, Disney found out that the Greater Los Angeles Restaurant and Bar Association was a group of gay bars and restaurants. They tried to cancel the party, but legal action was threatened and Disney knew they didn't have a leg to stand on and backed down. When the big night arrived, Disney had extra supervision and security available to handle the perceived behavioral infractions that the night promised to bring. However, these precautions were not needed. The group behaved no better or worse than any other company or organization who rented the park. It was just another, uneventful private party. However, one interesting oddity was reported by the waitresses at the Blue Bayou Restaurant. They said that no other group tipped as well.

Even though the party went off without a hitch, Disney was not happy having "deviants" rent their park. The next day, Disney handed out a letter of apology to every cast member who had worked the party. In the letter, management stated deep regret for subjecting their cast members to such unacceptable working conditions and promised that nothing like this would ever happen again.

The following year, The Greater Los Angeles Restaurant and Bar Association once again approached Disney about renting the park for an evening. They were flatly turned down. However, Knott's Berry Farm and Magic Mountain (now Six Flags Magic Mountain) were more than happy to rent their parks to gays and continued doing so for a number of years.

In 1980, Andrew Exler and his date Shawn Elliott were fast dancing in Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Two security guards witnessed the gentlemen and approached them on the dance floor. One guard said, "This is a family park -- there's no room for alternative life styles. Two men can't dance together, this is our policy." The second guard said, "We make our own rules -- this is a private park." When the two men continued to dance, they were taken to Disneyland's security office and eventually asked to leave the park for the rest of the evening. Exler subsequently sued Disney and the case languished in the courts for four years. In May 1984, a superior court judge ruled that Exler's civil rights had been violated and ordered Disney to abolish their ban on same sex dancing and pay attorney fees amounting to $25,000. Disney did pay the attorney fees, but maintained that the lawsuit was not a class action suit, thus, would only apply to Exler and Elliott. No other gays would be allowed to dance at Disneyland. On August 14, 1985 Disneyland quietly reversed their 28-year-old policy that prohibited partners of the same sex from dancing together in the park. However, this apparently didn't include slow dancing.

In late 1987, three UCLA students were told, "touch dancing is reserved for heterosexual couples only." In response, they filed a lawsuit against Disney citing another civil rights violation. However, before the case ever made it to the courts, Disney reassessed the situation and backed down.

In 1984, Michael Eisner became CEO of The Walt Disney Company. At that time, Eisner named Jeffrey Katzenberg to head Disney's motion picture divisions. Shortly after arriving, it was brought to Katzenberg's attention that Disney was the only major movie studio to deny domestic partner benefits to its employees. Realizing that the company was losing talented people to the competition because of this policy, Katzenberg was instrumental in rescinding it. On January 1, 1986, Disney began offering full benefits to the domestic partners of its employees.

In 1991, Doug Swallow and some of his Orlando friends decided to get a group together to visit the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. They picked the first Saturday in June. The idea was promoted at gay venues around the city and people were asked to wear red shirts so fellow attendees could recognize one another. It's estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 showed up. The event was successful enough that another Gay Days was planned for the following year - once again, the first Saturday in June.

For the second Gay Days, Disney issued a memo to cast members instructing them to disavow any knowledge of the event.

In 1994, Disney posted signs at ticket booths and near the main gate informing guests that there was a gay and lesbian gathering at the Magic Kingdom. However, the signs went on to say "Walt Disney World is open to everyone. We do not discriminate on any basis."

Disney received a lot of flak for these signs. It was pointed out to management that they would never dream of posting similar signs if another minority were to visit the park in mass. The signs did not reappear in 1995. However, for several years thereafter Disney distributed flyers to their hotel rooms informing guests that the Magic Kingdom would be very busy on that day and perhaps they might want to visit another park. Gay Days was not mentioned as the reason.

Disney also started providing their Guest Relations cast members with prepared statements to calm homophobic guests. In essence, the statements said that Walt Disney World is open to everyone and they do not discriminate against anyone. In some cases, Disney would swap out a 1-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom for another park for irate guests.

It is estimated that 50,000 participants visited the Magic Kingdom for Gay Days in 1995.

In 1997, Disney rented Typhoon Lagoon to the event organizers for an after-hours party - a tradition that continues to this day. In that same year, the Southern Baptist voted to boycott Disney because of Gay Days and Disney's domestic partner benefits. The boycott had little to no effect on the company and was rescinded in 2005.

In 1998, the City of Orlando flew rainbow flags downtown to welcome visitors. And in 2002, Gay Days is referred to specifically in welcome letters from the Orlando mayor and Orange County chairman.

Today, Gay Days attracts over 150,000 visitors to the Orlando area for the week-long celebration. Besides special days at the Disney parks, over forty events are held in and around Orlando and it's estimated that more than $100 million is pumped into the local economy. Website GayDayS.com is now on the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau membership roster and part of VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism agency.

The Disney theme park days for 2012 are as follows:

Thursday, May 31 - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Friday, June 1 - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Saturday, June 2 - Magic Kingdom
Sunday, June 3 - Epcot

Saturday, October 6 - Disneyland
Sunday, October 7 - Disney's California Adventure

For more information, visit www.GayDayS.com and www.gaydaysanaheim.com

In response to a rash of suicides among bullied gay teenagers, columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller began an internet-based project entitled, "It Gets Better." They requested that gay adults create videos, telling lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth that things will get better as they grow older and to hang in there -- their lives have value. And if they are being bullied, let someone know.

Disney has joined the fight against gay bullying and created a video featuring cast members from across the company.

To view the official "It Gets Better" website, click here.

All bullying must stop!

March 12, 2012

Disney’s Character Warehouse

There can be no argument; visiting Walt Disney World is expensive. That's not to say it isn't worth the price, but most people need to plan and budget and schedule wisely before a visit to Orlando. There are, of course, ways to save money. First, you can stay at one of Disney's value resorts (or stay off property). At meal time, you can opt for a counter-service restaurant rather than a table-service eatery (or eat off property). And when buying souvenirs you can" You can" Not buy them? That's probably not an option for most of you. But how can you save money when your kids are begging you for that special Disney souvenir? Disney does offer "Special Values" on a few of their items in the parks and resorts, but the selection is very limited. However, there is another option. Go off property.

Now I'm not talking about the tourist traps that line Highway 192. In most cases, these stores sell items of lesser quality than you would find at Walt Disney World. In addition, these stores do not sell merchandise branded with the words "Walt Disney World" but only with the word "Disney." What I am talking about are the two Disney's Character Warehouse stores that Disney operates at the "Premium Outlets" malls nearby. Here you will find entire stores filled with merchandise that was once sold at Walt Disney World. Now these stores might not carry exactly what you're looking for, but the selection is good.

Disney's Character Warehouse

Disney's Character Warehouse

Disney's Character Warehouse

As with any merchandising company, Disney must liquidate out-of-date items, off sizes, left-overs, hard-to-sell stock, discontinued items, and other articles that can no longer be allowed to take up valuable shelf space in their resorts and parks. And that's where Disney's Character Warehouse stores come in. These shops were set up to liquidate this merchandise. There are actually several of these shops in Florida, but my article is primarily about the two in Orlando.

As the sign in the window says, prices can be up to 70% off the original price. Of course, not everything is reduced this much. But good deals can be found throughout the store.

Up to 70% Off

Here's one example I found. This Christmas Duffy Bear is now out of season so it is being liquidated. Over the holidays he sold for $30. At Disney's Character Warehouse, he's now selling for $9.99.

Christmas Duffy Bear

Duffy Price Tag

Disney sells a lot of clothing at Disney's Character Warehouse. But once again, some of it is out of season. For example, in the spring you might find sweaters and jackets and in the fall, numerous t-shirts. You'll also find merchandise with last year's date. But that's not always the case so check out the entire store.

Out of Date Merchandise

Now this next little tidbit is important, so pay attention. NOT EVERYTHING IN THE STORE IS VALUE PRICED. For example, these Vinylmation figures are the same price at Disney's Character Warehouse as they are in the parks. But the vast majority of the merchandise has been discounted, so these stores are worth the effort.


Disney park tickets are also sold at Disney's Character Warehouse, but once again, these are NOT discounted.

The closest store to Walt Disney World is located at "Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Avenue" mall. The address is:

8200 Vineland Avenue
Suite 1252
Lake Buena Vista

Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Ave.

Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Ave

If you don't have a car, a taxi ride over wouldn't be too expensive. If you do have a car, getting there is easy. But since directions would vary depending on the resort you're staying at, I'm not going to give you instructions. Just ask your concierge and they'll be able to help you out.

A word of warning. The traffic approaching this mall can be horrific at certain times of the year. Bring your patience.

The second Orlando store is located at the north end of International Drive at the "Orlando Premium Outlet" mall. The address is:

4951 International Drive
Suite 95

Orlando Premium Outlet

Orlando Premium Outlet

This mall is a little further away and a taxi ride will cost significantly more. I would visit this mall only if you have a car or if you're a big-time shopper. Although both malls have dozens and dozens of other stores to tempt you, the one on International Drive has additional vendors located at competing malls. There are easily three to four times as many stores in the immediate vicinity.

Note, the merchandise at the two Disney's Character Warehouse stores is almost identical. There is no need to visit both shops.

There are also Disney Character Warehouse stores in Fort Lauderdale (Sunrise) and Saint Augustine.

If you're visiting Walt Disney World on a tight schedule, maybe a trip to one of these outlet malls isn't the best idea. You can easily spend an entire afternoon browsing all of the stores. But if you're here for a longer stay and want to find a few bargains, then think about the outlet malls and Disney's Character Warehouse stores.

March 13, 2012

Storybook Circus - Soft Opening

Yesterday (March 12, 2012) the new Storybook Circus began a soft opening at the Magic Kingdom and Deb Wills was there in the afternoon capturing the magic. In her blog, she mentioned that the area was very crowded with guests trying to get their first look at this new section of the park. Since I don't like crowds, I set out this morning (March 13) to be at the Magic Kingdom before opening and one of the first people to arrive at Storybook Circus. I wanted to be able to experience this new land crowd-free and capture a few pictures Deb was unable to take.

The entrance to Storybook Circus is still far from complete. Guests walk through a corridor of plywood to reach this new area.

Storybook Circus Entrance

Here is a picture of the new entrance to the Dumbo attraction. The structure is modeled to look like a Circus ticket booth. Fortunately, no tickets are required to ride this attraction.

Dumbo Ticket Booth

There are many subtle changes to the Dumbo ride. To begin with, the first of two Dumbo attractions turns clockwise rather than counterclockwise. (This is a change from the previous Dumbo.) I have to assume the second Dumbo attraction will turn counterclockwise to add visual interest.

Dumbo Attraction

Dumbo Attraction

Timothy, Dumbo's mouse friend, no longer sits atop the attraction. He has been replaced with four storks carrying baby Dumbos.

Storks and Baby Dumbo

Storks and Baby Dumbo

Below the storks are the heads of four Mrs. Jumbos.

Mrs. Jumbo

The center structure of the old Dumbo attraction had a more open design. Guests could see gears and twirling chipmunks and pinwheels. The next two picture are of the old Dumbo attraction.

Old Center Structure

Old Center Structure

The center structure of the new Dumbo is "contained" and does not feature these details.

New Center Structure

Beneath the center structure, a number of pictures tell the story of Dumbo. Here are just a few of them.

Dumbo Story Panel

Dumbo Story Panel

Dumbo Story Panel

Dumbo Story Panel

In my opinion, one of the best enhancements to the Dumbo attraction is the addition of a water feature (fountains). I've heard for years this wasn't possible in the old location because the weight of the water would be too much for the untilidors beneath to support. I don't know if this is true or not, but I'm sure happy the Imagineers included this feature in Storybook Circus.

Dumbo Water Feature

Dumbo Water Feature

Dumbo Water Feature

Here's a picture of me taking flight with everyone's favorite pachyderm.

Jack Riding Dumbo

The "Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini" is a reworking of "The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm." The track is identical, just the surrounding area has been rethemed to feature Goofy (Goofini) as a crackpot pilot. Once again, the entrance is marked by a circus-type ticket booth.

Barnstormer Entrance

Barnstormer Ticket Booth

The old entrance queue is now used to exit the attraction and a completely new, and much longer, queue has been built for boarding. Along the new queue are several cute vignettes featuring the antics of Goofini.

Goofini Antics

Goofini Antics

Goofini Antics

Goofini Antics

Portions of the new queue offer some (not a lot) protection from the sun.

Shaded Queue

As you exit your aircraft, take a moment and check out some of Goofini's gear, including First (and Second) Aid kits.

Goofini's Gear

Here's a picture of the Great Goofini's plane crashing through a billboard.

Billboard Crash

The new Fantasyland/Storybook Circus train station is beautiful. The restrooms for this area are housed in the roundhouse used for the Casey Jr. Circus Train.

Fantasyland/Storybook Circus Train Station

Fantasyland/Storybook Circus Train Station

Fantasyland/Storybook Circus Train Station

Fantasyland/Storybook Circus Train Station

A nod to Walt's backyard train, the Carolwood Pacific, can be seen at the station on the clock face and above the main entrance.

Carolwood Park

I love the Casey Jr. weather vane.

Casey Jr. Weathervane

A close observer will notice a spur of tracks running through this area (and to the roundhouse - restrooms). You will also notice the tracks come to an abrupt end before reaching the main line.

Circus Train Tracks

Circus Train Tracks

In Deb Wills' blog she mentions that the details of Storybook Circus are outstanding and if the rest of the Fantasyland expansion follows suit, we're all in for a fantastic new area. I couldn't agree more. Even with only one Dumbo attraction working and the area still surrounded with construction walls, this is a great place. Thank you, Disney Imagineers.

March 19, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part 1

Jack Spence Masthead

Fort Wilderness Logo

I have written several blogs touching on the various activities found at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, but two recent events have prompted me to revisit this resort in-depth. First, I stayed in one of the cabins for the first time. And second, while I was there, I created a comprehensive video of this sprawling campground. So here goes, a look at one of the best loved spots at Walt Disney World that has perhaps the most loyal following of any resort.

One of the first things I notice whenever I visit Fort Wilderness is that the other guests staying here are extremely outgoing. Everywhere I wander, people say "hello" to me when I pass them on a sidewalk or while I'm browsing at one of the two trading posts. There is just something about this place that makes people friendlier. I'm normally a "keep to myself" kinda guy, but this sociable attitude is infectious and in no time at all, I'm initiating the greetings. If you've visited here before, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't ventured to this portion of Walt Disney World yet, you're in for a treat.

Fort Wilderness officially opened on November 19, 1971. It has grown over the years and currently covers over 700 acres with 409 Wilderness Cabins and 784 campsites designed to accommodate tents and recreational vehicles. The name "Fort Wilderness" came from the fort found on Tom Sawyer Island located at Disneyland.

Fort Wilderness has three distinct areas, The Outpost, The Meadow, and The Settlement. Campers arrive at The Outpost via Vista Boulevard. Like all Disney resorts, a large sign welcomes guests to the property. Those driving RVs proceed to a special "drive-thru" check-in counter. Visitors staying in a cabin should park their vehicle and check-in at the Reception Outpost. Guests staying in tents may use either check-in spot. The Reception Outpost was constructed out of pine logs imported from Montana.

Fort Wilderness Sign

RV Check-In

Cabin Check-In

After finishing the required paperwork, the receptionist will give you a map and driving directions to your campsite or cabin.

There is limited automobile parking at The Outpost and none at The Meadow and The Settlement. Guests who wish to take advantage of the various activities available at Fort Wilderness should walk, bicycle, use the internal bus system, or use an electric cart. Electric carts can be rented at Reception Outpost and cart and bicycle parking is available at all three areas of the campground. If you do rent an electric cart or bring your own, be sure to read the "Rules & Regulations" guide given to all guests at check-in. Electric carts can be reserved in advance by calling 407-824-2742. Drivers must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver's license.

FW Map

Walking at FW

Bicycling at FW

Buses at FW

Electric Cart

If you don't have a bike or electric cart, you will probably be using the internal bus system within the campground. Three routes navigate the 700 acres and take guests to the various loops, The Outpost, The Meadow and The Settlement. The routes are designated by color -- Orange, Yellow, and Purple. All bus stops have maps with easy-to-read indicators. Like all Disney buses, the ones at the campground are clean and reasonably efficient. However, some people dislike the fact that in order to go to any theme park or Downtown Disney, you must first take a campground bus then transfer to another bus or boat. This can easily add 15 to 20 minutes to your journey.

Buses at FW

Buses at FW

FW Bus Stop

The designers of the campground did their very best to disturb as few trees as possible when creating Fort Wilderness. This area is a surprise to most first-time visitors. They have no idea that such a peaceful spot exists on property. Groves of pine and cypress surround the campsites and roadways. Combine this with numerous canals and grassy knolls and you have the perfect spot to pitch a tent or park your RV. Fort Wilderness Campground consistently receives AAA's Level 3 rating (their top) and Trailer Life Magazine awarded this property with a 10/10/10 rating, the highest possible.

The campground is divided into 28 loops. Some of these loops are designated for cabins, some for RVs, and some for campers and tents. Most sites are separated from one another with a barrier of bushes and trees, adding a secluded nature to the area.

The loops for RVs have concrete pads ranging in size from 25 feet to 60 feet deep and widths of up to 25 feet. Those intended for tents have a concrete pad for your car and a sandy patch in which to set up camp. All sites have electricity (120/220 volts), city water, charcoal grill, picnic table, and cable TV hookup. All but 90 sites offer full sewer hook-ups. The ones that don't are intended for tent campers. Check-in time for campsites is 1pm and check-out at 11am.

RV Loop

RV Parking

RV Parking

Tent Campsite

Tent Campsite

There are a number of comfort stations located around the campground. These are clean facilities that offer toilets, showers, laundry facilities, ice, and campground information. I was especially impressed with the showers. Each shower is individual with its own, private dressing room. Unfortunately, I could not get an adequate picture of the shower and dressing room to share with you here.

Comfort Station

Comfort Station

Laundry Room

Campground Information

Ice Machine

The campers at Fort Wilderness love to decorate their campsites. Christmastime is especially festive with strings of multicolored lights and holiday adornments. However, Christmas isn't the only time campers pull out all the stops. Take a look.

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Pets are welcome at several of the loops at Fort Wilderness. When making your reservations, make sure to let the cast member know you will be bringing your animal family with you. While enjoying the campground, pets must remain on a leash. However, Waggin' Trails Dog Park offers a wonderful, fenced-in grassy field where you can let Rover run free with other vacationing K9s. The dog park is located next to the playground at loop 300. A number of signs point the way so you can easily find this doggie retreat from anywhere within the campground.

Sign to Dog Park

Dog Park Rules

Waggin' Trails Dog Park

For those of you who like the idea of spending some time communing with nature, but have neither an RV, camper, or tent, Disney offers the Wilderness Cabins. Introduced in 1997, these "cabins" are actually modular homes that have been given a rustic feel both inside and out. The exterior of the cabins is covered in real timbers. A deck, complete with picnic table, is accessible from both the living room and bedroom. A charcoal grill is just a few feet away. Note, there is only room for one car.

Wilderness Cabin

Cabin Porch


An extensive use of wood is applied to the interior of the cabins. Combine this with country furniture, "lantern" style lighting, and Native American rugs and bedspreads, and you've got yourself a real rustic retreat.

The cabins measure a little over 500 square feet and can sleep six, four in the bedroom (one double bed and twin bunk beds) and two on the Murphy bed in the living room.

The living room has a loveseat (that will comfortably seat two adults), a coffee table/ottoman, and a children's table and two small chairs.

The dining area features an oval table with a bench seat and three full-sized chairs.

The kitchen has a stove/oven, microwave, full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, and a double sink. The kitchen is fully stocked with cooking utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and flatware.

The bathroom has a combination shower/tub, a sink, and toilet.

In the two closets are a vacuum cleaner, iron and board, collapsible crib, safe, stepladder, and broom.

There are two TVs, one in the living room (with DVD player) and one in the bedroom.

High-speed internet connections are available for a fee. WIFI is not available in the cabins. I do not know if Disney plans to add it in the future.

Cabin Floorplan

Pictures of the Living Room:

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Pictures of the Dining Area:

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Pictures of the Kitchen:

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Pictures of the Bathroom:

Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom

Pictures of the Bedroom:

Cabin Bedroom

in Bedroom

in Bedroom

Things I like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are located at Fort Wilderness. This is fantastic! If you're not a camper, but still want to experience the rustic appeal of this wonderful portion of Walt Disney World, the cabins are the way to go.

The kitchens and bathrooms have recently been refurbished.

The kitchens are well appointed. Just about anything you'd need to prepare a meal is here.

The Murphy bed is far easier to open and close than the convertible sofas found elsewhere on property. Since the beds use cables to counterbalance their movement, even a person with limited strength can effortlessly operate them.

What I don't like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are advertised as "sleeps six." I would not like to put this to the test. In the bedroom, the double bed is pushed up against the wall. If the inner sleeper needs to get up in the middle of the night, they must disturb their companion. The same is true of the Murphy bed. One side of the bed is a mere six inches from the couch when open. It is impossible to enter or exit the bed from this side.

The bathroom only has one sink. If six people were really using this cabin, two basins would be most useful.

The living room only has seating for two adults. Others must sit on the less than comfortable dining table chairs to watch TV.

Although the kitchen and bathroom have been recently refurbished, the rest of the cabin has a dingy feel about it. I realize it's supposed to feel rustic, but the rooms at the Wilderness Lodge accomplish this with a cleaner feel.

I'm hoping this last complaint is just a misfortunate oversight rather than being indicative of the overall housekeeping provided at the cabins. During my stay, I found a number of items that should have been attended to before I arrived.

A can of beer was left in the refrigerator.
Empty bags were found in a kitchen cabinet.
The top of the refrigerator was very dusty.
A dead and dried lizard was found lying in the middle of a counter.

Would I stay at the Wilderness Cabins again?

Probably not. If I want the "home-away-from-home" feel a separate bedroom and kitchen provide, I would rent one of the DVCs found at other resorts around property. However, I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. I've never really been into camping. I'm sure others love these rustic cabins and can't imagine staying anyplace else.

I have created of video of the Fort Wilderness Cabins. This should give you a good idea of what they offer.

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I discuss the many activities that can be found at Fort Wilderness.

March 20, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead

Yesterday I discussed the various campsites and cabins at Fort Wilderness and the transportation options. Today I'm going to talk about the many opportunities for adventure found at the campground.

Most people who visit Walt Disney World focus their attention on visiting the theme parks. But when you stay at Fort Wilderness, you have a slightly different attitude. Yes, the parks are terrific and cannot be ignored. But the campground offers a host of low-tech activities that also command your attention. Let's start at The Outpost.

For those of you with a hankerin' to ride a horse, head over to Trail Blaze Corral (Tri-Circle-D Ranch - The Outpost). Offered several times a day, these rides last about 45 minutes and offer a leisurely walk through the pine forests of Fort Wilderness. All tours have two guides, one who leads the way and another to bring up the rear. If you're an experienced rider, you'll probably be bored with this tour. But if you're a city-slicker with limited opportunities to be around horses, then this adventure will be right up your alley. Riders must be at least 9 years old and 48 inches tall and can weigh no more than 250 pounds. To make advanced reservations, call (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7528). Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance. To make same-day reservations, call 407-824-2832 or touch 57 on your in-room phone.

Tri-Circle-D Rance -- The Outpost

Horseback Riding

The Meadow offers the widest array of activities for outdoor fun. But before we start with the goings-on, let's take a look at the Meadow Trading Post. This spot sells the usual collection of Disney souvenirs, but there are also a few Fort Wilderness exclusive pieces that cannot be found outside the campground. In addition, the store sells a reasonable selection of food stuffs to help accent the groceries you brought with you. Free WIFI is also available in and around this shop. Removable propane tanks can also be refilled here. Packages being delivered from the parks will be dropped off at the Meadow Trading Post for you to pick up at a later time. The Meadow Trading Post is open from 8am to 10pm.

The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post

As you might imagine, bicycles can be rented at the Bike Barn. However, other equipment can also be obtained here. Canoes, kayaks, rods & reels (and bait), shuffleboard equipment, tennis rackets, and other sports paraphernalia are available from 9am to 7pm. Note, fishing is on a "catch and release" basis.

The Bike Barn





Paddling the waterways of Fort Wilderness is the perfect way to while away an hour. One of the canals makes a circle in and about the campsites and unspoiled woods. It takes about 30-45 minutes to complete the journey and along the way you'll see a varied assortment of wildlife. You might also recognize one of the bridges that the old Fort Wilderness Railroad once traversed.


Fort Wilderness Railroad Bridge

Water Fowl

Water Fowl

Wilderness Back Trail Adventure offers guests a chance to experience a Segway X2 Personal Transporter. This is an off-road tour that winds its way around the campground with a side trip to the Wilderness Lodge and back. The event lasts two hours including training. For reservations call 407-939-8687. Groups meet at the Bike Barn.


Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Disney offers the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience. At this activity, instructors conduct a short training session, teaching guests how to hold and fire a compound bow and arrow. When target practice begins, the trainers will offer tips and techniques on how to better hit that coveted bull's-eye. The session lasts one and a half hours.


Near the Bike Barn is Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Open 7am to 12 midnight, this pool is the perfect spot to cool down with a dip during the hot Florida summer. Numerous lounge chairs are available for you to sunbathe (don't forget your sunscreen) as are tables for games and conversation. Lifeguard hours vary. Check the posted sign for current times.

Meadow Swimmin' Pool

Meadow Swimmin' Pool

In an effort to pay homage to past Fort Wilderness attractions, the Imagineers designed the water slide at Meadow Swimmin' Pool with something special. The large barrel that anchors the slide used to welcome guests arriving at River Country. In addition, the Imagineers have repainted the barrel to sport the logo from the old Fort Wilderness Railroad.

Meadow Swimmin' Pool Slide

River Country Entrance

Fort Wilderness Railroad Logo

One of the best kiddie pools at Walt Disney World can be found at the Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Two slides, water spouts, geysers, cascading buckets, and more entertain those too young to venture into deeper waters.

Meadow Swimmin' Pool Kiddie Pool

Hungry? Meadow Snack Bar offers hotdogs, flatbreads, salads, and sandwiches. Soft drinks, beer, and a limited selection of cocktails will help quench your thirst. A number of picnic tables are nearby. This spot is open for lunch only.

Meadow Snack Bar

Next to the snack bar is Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade. Open daily from 7:30am to 10pm, this is the spot to put your hand/eye coordination to the test with electronic wizardry.

Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade

Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade

Also in The Meadow area is Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long. This is a Fort Wilderness tradition and a must-attend for families with little ones.

Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long

Each evening around dusk, a campfire is started. At the nearby chuck wagon, marshmallows and hotdogs can be purchased for roasting over the open fire. Even S'mores kits are for sale. It's a hoot to watch the young'uns attempt to roast their marshmallows without setting them ablaze.

Chuck Wagon

Chuck Wagon


As the evening's guests begin to settle in, a singing cowboy, joined by Chip & Dale, take the stage and encourage the audience to join them in song. Old standards like "Home on the Range" and "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" are the songs du jour. These are melodies that everyone knows the words and can easily join in. Even the "Hokey Pokey" is performed with participants putting their left leg in and their left leg out. There is nothing sophisticated about this sing-a-long.

Singing Cowboy and Chip & Dale

When the melodies come to an end, the movie begins. Each evening, a different Disney classic film is shown under the stars. Check the campground information guides for times and movies.

I do need to warn you, the log benches leave a lot to be desired when it comes to comfort. The evening I attended, one seasoned couple brought their own folding chairs.

Movie Screen

The Meadow is a great recreational area. I've tried to discuss most of the activities, but I know I've forgotten a few. In my opinion, The Meadow is the heart of Fort Wilderness.

Now let's move north to The Settlement. The Settlement lies on the banks of Bay Lake and this is where guests can catch boats to Wilderness Lodge, the Contemporary Resort, and the Magic Kingdom.

Boat to Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary Resort

Boat to the Magic Kingdom

Boat Direction Sign

Near the boat dock is the Fort Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals. Here you can rent one of the speedy Sea Racers or a more leisurely pontoon boat. This is also the spot where you can arrange for a two hour fishing trip out on Bay Lake. An experienced guide and fishing equipment are included in the package so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the experience.

Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals

Sea Racers

Poontoon Boats

On the white sandy beach are dozens of lounge chairs, tetherball poles, and volleyball nets. This is a great spot to relax in the shade of the nearby trees or bask in the sun. Note, swimming is not allowed in Bay Lake.

Sandy Beach and Volleyball


A short walk from the beach is a Fort Wilderness oddity, the Lawnmower Tree. Discovered here when Disney bought the property is an old push-style lawn mower that was left leaning against a tree. As the years passed, the tree began to grow around the equipment. In the early years of Fort Wilderness, the lawnmower was easy to see. But as time marched on, more and more of the metal was obscured by the growing tree. A few years ago, Disney cut most of the tree down. I don't know if this was because the tree was diseased or if this was an effort to stop the eventual total consumption of the lawnmower. But the remains of the tree and lawnmower are still on view today.

Lawnmower Tree

Lawnmower Tree

Near the Lawnmower Tree is the Settlement Trading Post. Like its sister store located at The Meadow, this spot sells Disney souvenirs, Fort Wilderness exclusive merchandise, and groceries.

Settlement Trading Post

I have never attended Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show, so I cannot offer any firsthand information, but here's what Disney says:

Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-care-to-eat Disney Character dance party with live entertainment. Frolic with Mickey, Minnie and Friends at this neighborly outdoor picnic in the middle of the covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness. With foot-stomping music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and kid-friendly fun, you won't sit still for a second. Little ones can even dance a jig with their favorite Disney Characters on the dance floor! Enjoy a delectable buffet featuring all your beloved country vittles: barbeque smoked ribs, smoked chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs with all the trimmings, corn on the cob, watermelon and more. It's a mouth-watering, knee-slapping good time!

Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Pioneer Hall offers three treats: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, Trail's End/Crockett's Tavern, and Rocking Chairs.

Pioneer Hall

Let's start with the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. For me, this is one of the best experiences to be had at Walt Disney World. I absolutely love this show. Every time I see it, tears run down my cheeks I laugh so hard at the corny jokes. This show offers something for everyone. However, since I've written an entire blog on this subject, I'm not going to go into detail here. To read my complete review, click here.

I do want to mention, the title song, "Hoop-Dee-Doo Polka" has been replaced by a new number. From what I understand, Disney did not have the rights to use the song and a replacement was needed.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Trail's End offers a buffet breakfast and dinner and menu-service at lunch. At one time, lunch was also a buffet, but this eatery is so sparsely attended mid-day that Disney found it financially impractical to maintain the buffet at this time.

I like Trail's End, especially at dinner. The buffet offers a decent salad bar including peel-your-own shrimp. For entrees there are fried chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, a nightly carving item, fish, several vegetables, potatoes, and great chili. Dessert includes soft-serve ice cream, cobbler, cake, cookies, and pecan pie.

There is nothing fancy about Trail's End. The surroundings are rustic and the food uncomplicated. But everything tastes great and the service is friendly. I highly recommend this spot for your evening meal.

Trail's End

Trail's End

Trail's End

I saved the best for last - rocking chairs. Lining the porch of Pioneer Hall is a number of rocking chairs. For me, sitting here and enjoying the atmosphere is a fantastic experience. Once, I literally sat here for over an hour with my brother and sister-in-law who were vacationing from California. This was the perfect spot to reconnect after a long time between visits. Crockett's Tavern offers nearby window service in the afternoon/evening so a refreshing beverage is also close at hand while rocking away the hours.

Rocking Chairs

Crockett's Tavern

In the evening, 45 minute Wagon Rides are offered which take you on a leisurely jaunt through Fort Wilderness. And if you're in the mood for something a little more romantic, private Carriage Rides are also available.

Wagon Rides

Private Carriage Rides

Have you ever wondered where the horses that pull the trolleys on Main Street go when their shift is over? Well, they live at Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch (The Settlement). By the way, have you noticed the "tri-circle" creates Mickey Mouse?

Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch

A large barn, which is open to guests, can be visited during the day and you can have a peek at the living conditions these four-legged cast members are provided.




Horse Name Tag

Outside the barn you'll often find the white Shetland ponies that are used to pull Cinderella's glass coach for weddings and parades. The ponies are also available for rides for the younger set. Children must be at least 2 years old, weigh less than 80 pounds, be under 48" and led by an adult around the small course.

Shetland Pony

Pony Rides

Also at the ranch is a real blacksmith. This is one of the rarer cast member designations. If you time your visit right, you can see him shoeing a horse or fixing a wagon wheel.


I said earlier that I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. Yet, I still love Fort Wilderness Campground. This is a wonderful spot that seems miles away from the hectic theme parks. I love to walk the sidewalks and trails here and inhale the rich scent of pine. This area clears the cobwebs out of my brain.

I have tried to touch on the highlights of this wonderful resort, but there is no way I could adequately describe all the activities there are to enjoy here. And remember, with the exception of the swimming pools, the rest of these offerings are open to everyone. Just because you're staying at the Grand Floridian doesn't mean you can't come over to Fort Wilderness for some archery or bike riding or a meal at Trail's End. So on your next trip to WDW, take the time and spend an afternoon poking around this wonderful retreat. You'll be glad you did.

For a more detailed look at Fort Wilderness, check out the AllEars Fact Sheet.

As always, I have created a video highlighting the various activities found at Fort Wilderness Campground. Enjoy.

March 26, 2012

Slow Down and Smell the Roses

Jack Spence Masthead

Where in the Magic Kingdom can you find a reference to former First Lady Barbara Bush?

Barbara Bush

If you answered "Hall of Presidents," you'd be wrong. However, the title of this blog should have been a clue. You see, a rose has been named for Barbara Bush and it can be found in the Plaza Rose Garden located on The Hub of the Magic Kingdom.

Plaza Rose Garden Entrance

Barbara Bush Rose Plaque

Barbara Bush Rose

The Plaza Rose Garden is an often overlooked spot by guests, and this is a shame. There are few areas at Walt Disney World as lovely. Located on a winding pathway that meanders between the Tomorrowland entrance and a walkway leading to Fantasyland, this area is filled with hundreds of rose bushes and dozens of varieties. So beautiful is this spot that the All-American Rose Selections group awarded this park the Public Rose Garden Award in 1985.

Plaza Rose Garden

Plaza Rose Garden

Plaza Rose Garden

Plaza Rose Garden

Public Rose Garden Award

Here are few pictures I snapped in February (2012).









Some very artistic photographs of roses and Cinderella Castle can be taken from the pathway. Try crouching down to maximize your shot.

Artistic Rose & Castle Photograph

Artistic Rose & Castle Photograph

Artistic Rose & Castle Photograph

Artistic Rose & Castle Photograph

At the entrance to the Plaza Rose Garden, a Disney photographer is usually on hand to take your picture. He will be more than happy to snap a photo using his professional equipment or your own camera. Here is a shot of me posing with Cinderella Castle in the background.

Jack Having His Picture Taken

In this same area is perhaps the most famous topiaries of all. This is another fantastic photo op.

Mickey and Minnie Topiaries

The pavilion, located along the path, is the former queue and boarding area for the Swan Boats. This is a perfect spot to sit, relax, and unwind.

Rose Garden Pavilion

Rose Garden Pavilion

Rose Garden Pavilion

Swan Boats

The Plaza Swan Boats operated seasonally from May 20, 1974 to August 1983. The attraction required a D ticket. The ride lasted 17 minutes and each vessel held 26 passengers. The boats took guests on a leisurely trip around The Hub and even circled Swiss Family Treehouse. The attraction was discontinued for a variety of reasons - money, upkeep, and a changing public attitude. As other Disney attractions were added to the Magic Kingdom, "modern" guests found the Swan Boats to be a little too slow paced for their taste.

A similar attitude killed the Discovery River Boats (April 22, 1998 to August 21, 1999) that once circled Safari Village (now Discovery Island) at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Disney made several attempts to spice up this relaxed ride, but guests complained there was nothing to see along the way and they were bored.

Discovery River Boats

The Plaza Rose Garden will never compete with the likes of Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, but it is a wonderful escape from the frenzied atmosphere of the rest of the Magic Kingdom. On your next trip, take 10 minutes and stroll through this garden. Take the time to stop and smell the roses. You'll be glad you did.

I once heard a proverb which said, "You can be sad that rose bushes have thorns, or you can be happy that thorn bushes have roses."

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About March 2012

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in March 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2012 is the previous archive.

April 2012 is the next archive.

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