Friday, July 13, 2018

A Personal Magic Kingdom Wish List

One of the troubles with writing a blog like this is that although the posts that I push out onto it stay there to be read in the future, one can't go back even a few years without immediately starting to find ideas and assumptions that I wouldn't make today. Passport to Dreams has been a terrific forum for me to clarify thoughts and reach conclusions about things, but the whole trouble is that the more you know, the more you're positive that you don't know, and I think anything written before around 2010 or 2011 these days is a little suspect.

For example, talking to others and doing my own research into the Walt Disney World of the past has permanently undermined my faith in personal nostalgia. It doesn't take too much digging to find opinions of those fans that preceded you that undermine your own; the vocal supporters of If You Had Wings have all but buried the internet legacy of Delta Dreamflight, an attraction I thought highly enough of to make lyrics from it the very title of this blog. But once you start going back even further, to previous generations of fans, the waters become even murkier; how do you reconcile the fact that there are those who feel that the removal of Nature's Wonderland and installation of Big Thunder Mountain permanently ruined Disneyland? There are, presumably, even older fans than that who felt that Disneyland really started to go downhill when comedy elephants were added to the Jungle Cruise.

"I WILL NOT REST UNTIL THE FOUNTAIN AT
THE BASE OF THE SKYWAY PYLON
IS RESTORED" - me in 2003
And yet, and yet. At the same time, I'm now seeing what's happening to the fans of the stuff that came after my glory years. There are those nostalgic for the 1994 Tomorrowland Transit Authority narration, gone since 2009 and which I personally hated. There was, believe it or not, an online furor over the removal of the gaudy 90s decorations inside World of Disney. But it's hard not to look upon such things with a generous eye; after all, I hated when my stuff was removed, and the generations before me hated when their stuff was removed.

And so this post is something I maybe might have written in the early days of this blog in a radically different way. I've been putting it off for years for just such a reason, and only recently have I finally felt like I've made peace with the fact that all of the stuff that was so sacred to my childhood wasn't necessarily integral to that of others', never mind those who are children right now - today (Star Wars fans take note).

Which itself is a long winded way of saying that I feel like I'm finally ready to make this list something other than a long list of demands for the return of every last thing removed from Magic Kingdom since 1990. That is almost certainly what it would have been in 2007, and possibly in 2011. I've seen similar lists from younger folks who want, say, every single thing done to Fantasyland to be recalled and see the clocks turned back nearly exactly as possible to 1971. There are, to be sure, a good smattering of pet peeves to be found, but hopefully balanced with a good amount of experience and a healthy skepticism that not all changes are by definition terrible even if they are not per se terrific.

The one stipulation I've placed is to consign myself to the realm of the reasonably practical with the park as it exists right now. If I were given carte blanche and a limitless budget, I certainly would love to bring back every quaint shop and attraction of Main Street, but I'm also not convinced that would be anything but a largely symbolic victory. Fifty years changes a place and a culture, and it is not my job here to rail against that. So instead I've presented a list of nine reasonably possible alterations that I feel would tangibly improve the Magic Kingdom of 2018.

Tomorrowland Theater Problem

So one of the big problems inherent in the design of Magic Kingdom is that they radically underestimated who would actually show up to the darn thing. Despite the success of Disneyland and the test balloon of the World's Fair, in the end Disney erred on the side of elaborate theater attractions, predicting that Magic Kingdom would attract an older crowd that just wanted to get out of the damn sun.

That's not quite what happened. In order to close the gap between what was on offer and who was there, in the years between 1972 and 1975 Disney promoted some pretty odd things as "thrill" attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Star Jets. The problem wouldn't be fully resolved until the 1980 opening of Big Thunder Mountain.

One odd result of of this miscalculation in the 60s is that every single Magic Kingdom area except for Adventureland has a massive theater right at its entrance. This isn't so obvious now, but perhaps no other area is as burdened by this as Tomorrowland. Since the 70s, guests have had to keep walking past two variously unappealing theatre shows to get to the good stuff. Disneyland has always had two similar buildings at its entrance, but at least one of them has always been some sort of ride!

The Circle-vision theater is a bit more flexible due to its size, but the Flight to the Moon space to the north has always been more problematic. Redoing the space into Alien Encounter and then Stitch did not solve the problem, and Disneyland opted out of the whole mess by shuttering their twin theaters and then turning them into a pizza parlor.

After 50 years it's time to admit that enough is enough and abandon the theater concept at the front of Tomorrowland. While the Alien/Stitch building isn't large enough to accommodate a dark ride, what it could accommodate is a lengthy queue, dark ride boarding area, and a few scenes. From there, Disney could wall off the front of Tomorrowland and dig a tunnel connecting the two show buildings, allowing vehicles to travel to the much larger Circle-vision theater space for the bulk of the ride. Riders could enter thru the Stitch building and exit thru the Circle-vision building, which would be pretty cool, I think.

And while we're at it, it's probably time to close the 20-year-old Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin around the corner. As the oldest and worst of all of the Buzz shooting rides, it's out of place and there's already a Toy Story shooting ride in another park. I'd close and gut the whole thing, perhaps splitting the difference between the Circle-vision space for the two rides.

There could even be a room where the two rides share a show scene - how cool would that be? Imagine seeing two different dark rides interacting with the Peoplemover running above them.

To be clear, I'm not expecting a great new concept dark ride here, but simply any kind of ride would be a better use of the space that what they have now. Have a cute Stitch ride on one side and a Big Hero Six ride on the other. Or perhaps The Cat From Outer Space. Um.... Unidentified Flying Oddball maybe? ....Disney really kinda sucks at creating sci-fi movies, y'know?

Grizzly Hall Rescue

Disney does not know what to do with Country Bear Jamboree, and this is a problem.

Bear Band has always been one of those "you get it or you don't" things, and the fact that things have gotten this bad is not all that surprising. In the days when Disney heavily marketed Country Bears, inside the park and out, the show could make a respectable showing, but now that it's competing with two of the biggest attractions in the park just down the street, people no longer feel like they have time to discover Country Bear Jamboree. Everybody reading this blog probably knows (or has been in the past) one of those people who walked clear by it, never giving it a second thought. When I tell many people that Country Bear Jamboree is one of my favorite things, the incredulous look I get speaks volumes.

But the fact is that those who do go in to see it tend to enjoy it more often than not, and having sat through probably hundreds of showings of the bears, I'm here to tell you: especially in the original 15 minute version, the show flat out works. It's weird for a few minutes, but when audiences finally surrender to its weirdo charms, it always brings down the house. Al Bertino and Marc Davis really knew their stuff. This, coupled with the recent cultural shift away from irony, places CBJ in a position to continue to be a minor favorite.

Notice those words: minor favorite. Disney, for their part, has decided that the problem with Country Bear Jamboree is Country Bear Jamboree, and various efforts have been initiated in the past 15 years to introduce newer country music, or have the bears sing Disney songs, or turn the thing into "American Idol".

But here's the thing, is that you can't make Country Bear Jamboree into the afternoon parade. It's never going to be a massive crowd pleaser, because by its very nature it's very, very weird. Country Bear Jamboree is a cult favorite, except Disney insists on treating it as a box office disappointment. The problem here isn't Country Bear Jamboree, but Disney.

Specifically it's the Disney who has insisted, more and more, that guests turn themselves into type A psychopaths, planning meals, lodging, and even attraction times down to the smallest detail. Given how stressed they've made everyone, and given that the attraction always was sort of a cult item, fewer and fewer guests are going to be in a position to give it a chance.

Disney already tried to fix the problem, by cutting down the show - from 15 minutes to a measly 10. This ignores the problem totally, because it again assumes there this is some wide, popular appear to be extracted from a cult attraction. There isn't, and those who liked it fine as it was are now less likely to stop by, while doing nothing relevant to draw in those new viewers it needs. Given that Disney is now looking at messing with the show again, more catastrophically, it obviously didn't work. It's time to save Grizzly Hall.

Country Bear Jamboree is never going to be the headliner attraction Disney wants it to be, and any further changes risk messing it up even worse than it is already - they don't make Disney like this anymore, and nobody has ever improved on a Marc Davis anything by changing it. Ever. So what if, instead of trying to turn the show into something it isn't, we found a way to change the conversation around it?

If people aren't willing to take the time to see Country Bear Jamboree, then what needs to be addressed is its role as a "value proposition". It's a 10 minute show, inside in the air conditioning, which is a fraction of the time the average guests spends standing outside having a nervous breakdown in the July heat. If they don't see the value proposition in getting out of the heat for any reason, then perhaps they need added incentive.

So my idea is to turn Grizzly Hall into an ice cream parlor.

No, seriously. Imagine taking out the back wall of the lobby so when you enter, you can see into the theater. There's now an old-fashioned saloon bar dispensing soda and ice-cream, and the seating area is the theater. Rip out all of the benches, and have multiple tiers of big comfortable booths with charging stations facing the stage. Oh, and every 30 minutes or so, the show begins!

This way everyone could have everything. Those not interested in the show can come and go as they wish, but those who would enjoy the show but would never otherwise made the time to see it can discover it as an added value to relaxing indoors with some ice cream. And those of us who love the show can "Rent Space" in the theater by buying some food. And, most importantly, the show would finally be turning an actual profit and pulling its weight in the park.

Who knows, maybe with all of those positives we can even get a longer version of the show back.

Ghostly Grievances

Okay, here's some petty stuff. I said I had some, so let's get detailed!

I think the 2007 Haunted Mansion refurb is one of the best Disney attraction redos ever, and secured a future for this beloved attraction. But that doesn't mean everything's exactly perfect. And here are a few of my pet peeves I'd personally love the address about my home away from home.

The first isn't so much a peeve as it is just something I still don't understand. In 2007, the Graveyard vocals were finally fixed and synchronized after about 15 years of being all over the place, which was great. But for some reason, they replaced most of the vocal tracks with new ones!

I don't think the new vocals are awful or anything, but I still don't understand why this was done. I don't even think it dramatically changes the ride experience, but the sheer weirdness of even thinking of doing something like that still just nags at me.

My second grievance is at the start of the attraction. Until 2007, Haunted Mansion kicked off with a slow crawl past some creepy portraits with follow-you eyes. I loved this introduction to the ride, setting to my mind the perfect tone of the house being alive and watching you. I don't think the replacement scene is bad, but what puzzles me is that the portraits were relocated to the barren Load area but the eyes were covered up!

I think if anything the effect would be even better on foot, and give people something to really enjoy while in line to get on the cars. I'm positive that this one isn't WDI's fault, though - I suspect that Operations requested the effect be axed under the belief that such an interactive effect would cause a bottleneck. I'd like to point out that such an effect has worked fine at Disneyland since August 1969 without causing a bottleneck, but given that Ops themselves insist on running the attraction improperly, stuffing far too many people into each Stretch Room and therefore causing a bottleneck, perhaps their wishes shouldn't carry so much weight.

My final gripe is a bigger one, and it has to do with something that I do think negatively affects the attraction. In 1969, Claude Coats was given a chance to re-think the Mansion for Florida, and made a number of improvements which I think make the MK model the definitive version of the attraction.

One of the biggest changes was in the Corridor of Doors, which dramatically improved the impact of the scene. Now lit in oppressive red, the scene was given a visually improved breathing door effect and a new climax, as a dead looking pair of hands are prying the top of the final door off its hinges. To my young mind this was an iconographic high point of the attraction, a moment where it really felt like the Haunted Mansion was a direct and immediate threat.


It also greatly improves the end of the scene. At Disneyland, few guests notice the last breathing door on the left because their attention has been directed off to the right. When the Doombuggies pivot past the final door and turn to face the clock, most people naturally keep looking straight ahead instead off looking down to see the bulging effect. Moving the main punctuation up to the top of the door simply stages the effect where most are prepared to see it, and also prepares you to be looking up in time to see the clock. The effect was a sudden, startling flash as you realize that the ghosts are getting ever nearer to you.

Well, in 2007 they removed the red lights - and they removed the hands. I was told at the time that an executive inside WDI decreed that no ghosts should be seen before Madame Leota summons them, to which I say fine - but that also means you've gotta take the hands off the coffin a few feet away. Personally I think the hands were a great touch, and as something drawn by Marc Davis and okayed by Claude Coats, I trust the opinions of those guys more than anyone else. I'm resigned to never seeing the blood red lighting again, but let's bring back the hands, please?

Tokyo's version shows how the gag looked in context, video by LMG_Vids

Oh, and you know the changing portrait in the Foyer? It's projected from the rear, and bounced off a mirror, meaning it's flipped twice and is seen from the right way around from the guest side. In 2007, somebody forgot about this, and flipped it to account for the rear projection, but not the mirror. He's been facing the wrong way for 11 years.

Pirates' Slow Slide Into Incoherence

One thing that I feel gets short attention in Disney circles is the role of Walt Disney and his studio in the cycle of American art we retrospectively call the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many elements of this man's career that seem incomprehensible to those of us looking back eight decades later are rather typical if we compare him to the likes of Daryl Zanuck or Louis B Mayer. The thing is, without certain contexts, we run the risk of making too much hay out of something that the larger culture of the era took for granted. And one of those facts of life of making movies once upon a time was the Production Code.

The Production Code was the result of one of those times where society is struggling with the normative changes brought about by a booming but still young Industry. Because Cinema was a media form that could reach such groups as women, children, and immigrants, the result was a morals panic in 1922 and again in 1934, each time bringing new standards for motion picture producers to abide by and increasingly strict controls.

Because Disney produced animated cartoons - not musicals and crime pictures - the influence of the Code is rarely discussed in relationship to his productions. But it was such a pervasive influence on popular culture that it created norms which would have seemed so obvious to not even be worthy of mention. And in the case of criminal behavior, the Production Code is entirely clear: if you break the law, you've got to pay the consequences. Usually this simply meant killing off the villain at the film's end in a way which seemed either accidental or coming about of their own doing. This is why so many classic Disney villains fall to their deaths: the hero really couldn't just outright kill them without needing to, under the Code, be killed off themselves.

Which is really one way of saying that the Morality Play construct of Pirates of the Caribbean, rather than being some grand artistic statement as it's been made out to be by writers such as this one here, may not have even been a consideration in 1966. Pirates were bad guys, so they must come to a bad end. And for audiences and storytellers who grew up during the enforcement of the code, it would have been simply a matter of course to be concerned with depicting this: of course the pirates must die, it's simply the way it is done!

But that's only half of the story. Come now and let's jump forward in time about forty years, when a new Pirates of the Caribbean is being created that caters to the expectations of a new audience.

This audience has grown up accustomed to films where the main characters may be not all that sympathetic and where evil is not always punished. For this audience, it makes sense to present pirates not as criminals, but as fantastical creatures from a storybook come to life. But more than anything there's one concept which the entirety of this new Pirates will be staked on: the notion of the anti-hero - a character type not seen in a single Disney film of the classic era.

And that, more than anything, is the thing which totally disrupts Pirates of the Caribbean, and why Jack Sparrow seems to so totally change the meaning of the attraction. The entire concept of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is that piracy is bad and immoral and crimes will be punished, whether that be exploding in a burning warehouse, being stabbed over a treasure chest, or slowly dying in a cave full of pilfered treasure. But the mere existence of Captain Jack Sparrow suddenly turns a clean, clear group of villains into a group of villains where... some of them? Aren't bad either?

Add to this the fact that Barbossa, a fairly clear cut bad guy in the first film, himself returned in later films as a Jack Sparrow-esque antihero and is depicted as actually leading the band of Pirates that attack the town on-ride. Instead of getting the feeling that these crimes are being created by a disrupting force, identifying characters audiences have already accepted in other media forms as the driving characters in the story necessarily changes the inflection of the actions.

And then there's the merchandising, which regrettably plays a role in all of this too. Now to be clear, it's not like Disney hasn't always been selling pirate hats and swords and letting children buy them and run around the park pretending to stab each other. I was purchased a tiny metal pirate gun when I was five and I used it to shoot all of the animals on the Jungle Cruise. Kids will be kids. However, for a long time Disney has really been pushing the angle of "join the crew", no more so that at The Pirate's League, where boys and girls can be made up into pirates and pirate-princesses or mermaids. There's also an interactive Adventureland game where you band together with Jack Sparrow to search for treasure. The emphasis, time and time and time again, is on joining the crew, the same crew that we can see on the ride burning down a city!

The moment you back away from the position that the ride was designed under - that pirates are bad news - is the moment when you then open up the possibility for debate of "well if the Pirates are such fascinating fantastical beings, then why are they doing such awful things?" and that's when you start losing the heart of the ride. Are we supposed to admire the pirates? Are they heroes or villains?

It's clear that WDI's position is that instead of a morality play, Pirates of the Caribbean is an action-adventure, an action-adventure to fit with the popular action-adventure films of its era. Jack Sparrow is like a layer of sweet frosting plopped on top of this brooding atmospheric rock. It may make it more fun, but it doesn't mean its a cupcake.

I think the Magic Kingdom version is nearer to that action-adventure than the others, and pretty much always has been. But if they're going to commit to that tone, then more work needs to be done not only to clarify who exactly is supposed to be the good guys and who is supposed to be the bad guys, but how all of this fits together.

I'd do this by bringing back a new version of the Blackbeard captain in Bombardment Bay and losing all of the mentions of Jack Sparrow in the well scene. You can then take Jack Sparrow out of the well scene and move him upstairs, near the start of the ride, where he can establish that he's looking for the gold - a motivation consistent with his character in the films - and perhaps hint that the caverns are haunted. If the queue were then re-worked to make it clear that you are in a fort and the pirates are coming to attack the town, then we could have an unbroken chain of action from the start of the ride to the end. Add some exciting music to the exit and you've got an action ride.

Of course the real question is whether at this point it's worth redoing the ride to better present the film material at all. Prior to the 2006 reform, Jack Sparrow mania was at a fever pitch, but already the films have receded from the public eye. WDI removed the Davy Jones waterfall from Disneyland this past year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see most of the film materials slowly being phased out over the next decade. It may seem like commerce beats art more often than not, but one nice thing about art is that it tends to last and last while profits fade.

At a bare minimum, MK Pirates needs help on its setup. The current attraction gives no real hint that you're supposed to be entering a fort being attacked by pirates, and the loss of the firing roof cannons does nothing to help this. Additionally, the queue was redone in 2006 and the Glendale-based design team slapped the Pirates Overture music all over the entire queue, totally messing up the creepy tone that had been established since opening day and drowning out the dialogue establishing that the pirates are coming to attack further into the queue. Since the roof cannons were refurbished to make them part of the Jack Sparrow game, turning those on a constant loop, returning the "Pirates Arcade" music to just the entrance tunnel, and turning up the volume of the queue dialogue are three 100% free things WDI could do tomorrow to improve the front part of that attraction.

Consider the Background

Given that I'm pretty well known for this these days maybe this isn't so surprising but I really wish somebody would sit down and rethink the area music at Magic Kingdom from the ground up. I don't think parks per se need to constantly be evaluating their musical background, but Magic Kingdom has overall made fairly few changes to the locations and kinds of music they play since the 1990s, and I think this can lead to bad "legacy" changes sticking around longer than necessary.

For instance, all of watercraft that ply Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon are trapped in the early-00s "Radio Disney" mode, and the result is I think fairly embarrassing. Relaxed instrumentals and perhaps ocean-going music really would do a better job setting the atmosphere for these minor vehicles. Similarly, especially given that new ones are supposedly en route, not playing up-tempo music on the monorails is really a lost opportunity. These sort of minor improvements can really help set expectations and pace the experience, so you don't have the absurd juxtaposition of, say, playing 90s pop covers on a ferry boat that moves at a snail's pace.

Similarly, I think Magic Kingdom overall needs a total rethink in the sound department. Some areas, like Liberty Square, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, or the Tangled bathrooms, are perfectly fine, while others I think really could be improved with new music selections. Given that the expanded Hub area seems to belong as much to Fantasyland as Main Street, stately music would go a long way towards improving the feeling of that area. Similarly, Cinderella Castle has been playing the Disneyland Paris castle area loop since at least the mid-90s, and for that castle the choice is entirely wrong. For the first 20 years, Cinderella Castle played a short vocal version of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes", and all it takes is a trip to Tokyo Disneyland to hear what an impact that track has in situ.

In other cases, I think less music would be just as effective. Frontierland can keep its upbeat Western music around the entrance, but there's an opportunity here to create a more dynamic soundscape, perhaps with plunked banjos or honky tonk pianos coming from upstairs windows. How cool would it be to walk along the Rivers of America at night and hear the crickets and frogs of the Mississippi instead of the hum of Florida cicadas?

Similarly, Adventureland has been playing upbeat drumming and steel drum music since 1993, another track taken over wholesale from Disneyland Paris, and it does nothing to set the tone. Languid exotica music as well as some strategically placed speakers on the landscaped hill across the moat playing jungle bird calls would really bring the area to life, setting the correct mood of mystery that's being missed right now.

To be abundantly clear here, I don't think every track needs to be changed at Magic Kingdom, never mind changed back to what it was in the 70s and 80s. There's plenty of places where what's playing there now is as good or better than what was used there before, such as Tomorrowland. And while I'd jump at a chance to return the WEDway music to its ride, I think the 2003 Tomorrowland music does such a good job setting the correct tone that there's no need to change it again. But there's other areas of the park where the design of the area says one thing and the music says another, and I think bringing those into closer harmony would really improve things for everybody.

To give just one more example, MGM / Hollywood Studios recently had the entire entrance of that park totally redone from a musical perspective with an integrated "vision", and the effort made a huge difference. Music can improve or detract even when the design of a park remains static, but I think Magic Kingdom feels like a very different place than it did even ten years ago, so there's a real opportunity to improve here.

That Dumb Hub Stage

Yes, it's back. Already my number one remaining complaint about this park, I still think the Hub Stage is a terrible, terrible decision, and on top of that, doesn't even make much sense for the theme park built in Florida. Do people really enjoy standing in the absolutely merciless sun to watch the 30 minute long shows that happen here?

A few years back, Disney announced they were going to build a new indoor theater off Main Street, a decision I applauded. The project hasn't moved forward, leading to online rumors of cancellation. I really do think that, given the choice between standing out in the sun and sitting indoors to watch a Mickey Mouse show, most guests will choose the latter. Given all of this, I'm hopeful that the Main Street Theater is simply delayed, or will return in a better form, and that once open it will start reducing Entertainment's absurd reliance on a hub stage. I think the hub stage would be a nice venue for band performances, or seasonal events, but it's time to stop pretending that this dreary slab of fiberglass is remotely an appropriate location for staging increasingly long and elaborate shows.

If nothing else, if the number of shows on the Hub stage were even at a bare minimum halved, this would allow time for Operations to bring out those Main Street Vehicles, which Magic Kingdom's Main Street hurts for badly. If it were up to me to start from scratch I'd lose the Hub stage permanently and build a theater facing the castle where the poorly-utilized Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station is, but really any move forward on this totally senseless arrangement is a good one.

Restore the Peddlar's Passage

Did you know that Liberty Square had two of its buildings cut fairly late in the game? They were right across from each other, near the Riverboat Landing, and while one of these has received its very own write-up on this blog nearly ten (ack) years ago, it's the one across the way that I'd like to focus on here.



The north side lost building of Liberty Square (above) was originally intended to feature artisan crafts like woodworking and blacksmithing, and when it was cut, designers replaced it with a short-lived open green space. This stuck around for maybe a full year total, when the constant out of control queue for the Hall of Presidents required that the south half of it be turned into a covered queue for the attraction. It stayed like this for some time until the grass was paved over and replaced with a bunch of circular planters, which is the arrangement that's still there to this day. Over the years it's hosted various popcorn wagons and merchandise options, before settling into its current role as an outdoor food market circa 2002.

So here's an situation where Magic Kingdom has been utilizing a building they have no real need of, a covered queue with an open air network of umbrellas and random tables, for a perfectly good purpose, but due to the very nature of its temporary setup, not doing it as well as it could be done. And here's the thing: there's already a 100% attractive structure that was designed 50 years ago by John Hench and Herbert Ryman that's just sitting in their archives unused.

So what I'd do is pull the blueprints, make the necessary adjustments for modern accessibility, and put it up on the spot of the old queue and circular planters. The same food options can be offered in the interior space, with the added benefit of not needing to operate at reduced capacity when it rains every day.


Oh, but the thing is that the design benefits to Liberty Square would be huge. Designed to resemble a charming series of colonial cottages very much like the ones behind the Liberty Tree, it would restore one of the biggest cuts to the design of Liberty Square when the building got the axe: the narrow, atmospheric alley that was supposed to run between the side of the building and the Hall of Presidents, an area called the Peddlar's Passage. Liberty Square has always been charming, but imagine an opportunity to bring back an intimate alley from the designers of New Orleans Square that was lost for 50 years while also serving to improve an existing problem area in a way that Disney is actually honestly prepared to spend money on these days. The blueprints exist in the Archives in Glendale. This could be real.

The Rivers of America and Railroad

I long ago decided that I really have no interest in working for Imagineering, so for those of you who do and are fighting the good fight: I salute you. But if I could join and do just one thing, one single thing I'm absolutely chomping at the bit to redesign isn't a new Horizons or Mr Toad or Journey Into Imagination, it's the Rivers of America and Walt Disney World Railroad at Magic Kingdom.

The Railroad in particular has always been a real wasted opportunity at Walt Disney World, although I do prefer it to the slightly more elaborate Railroad in Paris, which never quite creates the feeling of removal that makes the WDWRR so interesting. Pretty much all of the railroad rides except for Florida's is landlocked, and as a longtime Magic Kingdom rider I find something evocative about riding the rails at night, where the forest surrounding the back of the park really feels endless. As a result my redesign of the Railroad would probably be vastly simpler than most: just a few simple gags here and there to keep interest high without spoiling the atmosphere. I'd for sure send the train through a new tunnel which would block out that terrible overpass on the edge of Fantasyland, I'd also theme the rear of the Pirates of the Caribbean show building that everybody sees plain as day before the tunnel, but the rest would be simple atmosphere building stuff.

For instance, it would be nice to see a jungle animal or two as we pass through the "outskirts of Adventureland", and I think Disney missed a huge opportunity when they cut up the plane from The Great Movie Ride into pieces and tossed it out instead of moving it to sit alongside the railroad tracks for clever visitors to ride the Jungle Cruise and finds its rear half.

The back stretch of Magic Kingdom has always just been sort of a nothing area, and in the early days this was even presented as "a view of untouched Florida". Today it's seen more as "the outskirts of Fantasyland", which is absurd, but if that's what it is, that's what it should look like. I'd move the rattlesnake and frog-on-a-stump vignettes to be nearer to the Frontierland area, nearer to the Indian village, and do something with the idea that Fantasyland is somehow supposed to be nearby. Perhaps some fantastical boats plying the retention pond, or, to play into the idea that this its way outside the "nice" areas of Fantasyland, some crumbling castle walls would add a sense of romance and mystery.

The tunnel that goes under the overpass could be claimed to be part of the mine of the Seven Dwarfs, and have a jeweled forced perspective tunnel that leads off in the direction of the new coaster. Another approach that would be interesting is to imply that the villains hang out way outside here; Stromboli's wagon parked alongside the river or Prince John's carriage from Robin Hood would be a cool touch. Honestly, the area's so green and underpopulated that it would be super cool to pass by Robin and Little John hanging out around their camp.

Past Tomorrowland, the Railroad provides views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Contemporary, making it the only castle park to really try to integrate the railroad, park, and resort area into one scenic view, but I've always thought more of an effort to imply that we're getting closer to Main Street, and that the Main Street Citizens come hang out here, would be cool. It can be something as simple as a Model T Ford parked underneath a tree with a picnic set up.

Nice shot of the boat, but don't forget the "dangerous" floating logs!
I feel that the Rivers of America needs far less work, although an extensive re-landscaping would be great. The real trouble with the Rivers of America is that a "hazard" scene was removed in 1972, although the ride has continued to pretend that this part of the River is somehow dangerous. Originally the scene was a bunch of branches sticking up out of the river (left), a detail lifted from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. The branches went away almost immediately, and since then they're been pretending that underwater shoals are the reason we're supposed to be concerned. The trouble is that underwater shoals look like nothing, whereas branches are at least a good visual indicator of a threat, so the scene doesn't work at all. Something needs to be installed to look at between the Burial Ground and Pirate's Cave, and additionally I've always felt that expanded propping along the shoreline of the Haunted Mansion was a missed and obvious opportunity.

Another thing I'd like to do is install a number a "show" boats in the river alongside Liberty square, to better carry the idea that it and Frontierland and supposed to be bustling port towns. This idea went away when the Keelboats did, but some prop tall-masted ships sitting alongside the docks of Liberty Square would really tie together the north part of the land. Oh, and of course, something needs to be done about that burning cabin. I don't care if it never burns again, but it needs to be fixed up and turned into something attractive to look at if that's the case.

This has been a longwinded and fanciful ramble, perhaps more than any other in this list but I think it's nice to point out that even without a Primeval World diorama and fancy Star War-blocking waterfalls, there's no reason why simple additions couldn't turn both of these attractions into real winners.

And One Last

Okay, one last petty one. I love Magic Kingdom Small World, and I don't care if you don't like it, or think that Disneyland's is better. I love this ride. But in the otherwise excellent 2005 refurbishment, why on earth would they remove this absolute masterpiece of a visual gag from the final scene?



You laughed, admit it. It's still funny. Bring it back.

If you enjoy long winded design essays like these, then you should check out our Theme Park Theory Hub Page, where there's a lot more like this. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Marc Davis' Adventure House

You don't often get to break the news on genuine lost classic attractions. Although unbuilt concepts are still a matter of particular interest for certain Disney fans, the deeper you dig, the more often it seems that there was less there than meets the eye, or that the information usually presented about these things online is less than accurate. If this information has been circulating unchecked for many years, more often than not that information is more fiction than fact, which is one reason I spent so much space clearing up misconceptions in my piece on Western River Expedition.

But what if there were a lost attraction that was not only compelling, but conceptually fairly complete and mostly unknown? Wouldn't that be really worth the effort to dig into, the make its secrets public?

About five years ago, I first began to hear about a Marc Davis walk-through attraction intended for Fort Wilderness called Adventure House. I began to gather information and what loose scraps of art I could track, not certain if I would ever be able to share anything about this attraction, until last year I was finally able to obtain at auction what turned out to be an early outline draft of the project. From there, pieces began to fall into place and the forgotten story of Adventure House could now be told.

In the years since, a few pieces of information have become available through the various fan events and Disney history sources, but I don't believe that anybody has yet done justice to this fascinating design concept. So, after much research and patience, I'm proud to present a look at one of the most singular efforts of one of Disney's best and brightest. It's time to welcome Adventure House into the fold.

Fort Wilderness' Frontier Town

The year was 1976, and Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World was riding high.

The Bicentennial years of 1975 and 1976 had been red letter years for Disney following the tourism downturn spurred by the 1973 oil crisis. The hotels were full, the parks were busy - it was those years that allowed Disney to move forward on Epcot. 1974 at Fort Wilderness had seen the debut of Pioneer Hall and the wildly successful Hoop De Doo Revue. The Fort Wilderness Railroad had been up and running for a few years, and the crown jewel of Fort Wilderness had debuted in 1975 - River Country, an innovative and richly themed water playground for its day.

In other words, as much as the Contemporary and the Polynesian, Fort Wilderness was growing into its own unique destination, with its own set of recreations and attractions for vacationers. While side wheel steamboats brought boat loads of visitors to Treasure Island across the way, plans at WED were stirring to add even more unique offerings to Fort Wilderness to eat 70s guest time and dollars.

In truth, such plans had existed long before. As far back As 1972, Disney was trumpeting plans to expand the northern section of Fort Wilderness, which had always been called "Settlement" but which hosted little besides a beach, petting zoo and boat dock. The 1972 Annual Report goes into the most detail:
"Early in 1973, a narrow-gauge steam railroad with Victorian-style open air cars will begin transporting guests along a three mile loop of track between their campsites and the campground's reception, recreation and entertainment areas. By next summer, the steam train will also connect with the new Fort Wilderness Stockade and Western Town where complete, dining, shopping, and entertainment facilities are being built in phases."
It shows just how much potential Disney saw in the fairly underdeveloped and remote Fort Wilderness that scarcely a single Annual Report passed in the duration of the 70s where they did not mention elaborate plans for the area. In 1974, they speak of the possibility of developing a ticket book for the campground attractions, and in 1975 they report:
"118 additional campsites will be constructed during the coming years which will bring the total available to 832 by June, 1976. That same month, a major extensive themed area for water recreation will open at Fort Wilderness. This will enable the company to establish a new revenue center at Walt Disney World. A variety of new admission ticket is being developed, which should also stimulate additional use of the Fort Wilderness Steam Trains, Treasure Island, and the other recreational facilities at Fort Wilderness. These will be available not only to guests of the campgrounds, but to hotel guests and others from all over Central Florida."
In 1976, Disney's still beating the drum for the Fort:
"Already the company's 'Imagineers' are at work designing new attractions for River Country, possibly to include more water slides, an additional raft ride or a two-man boat ride. Ft Wilderness itself is slated for further expansion in the near future. Plans call for a Frontiertown, a new recreational complex and still more campsites."
It's not tough to read between the lines and conclude that WDP saw the possibility to add an extra day to the vacations of visitors, a major concern through the 70s and 80s and something that the Lake Buena Vista complex was only halfway successful at doing. They were looking for ideas, and at some point, Marc Davis began suggesting them. His idea was to build a fun house.

The Roost

The initial proposal was for a massive red barn, which is easy to see sitting in well with the down-home atmosphere for Fort Wilderness. The caption of the art is "A kind of indoor 'Tom Sawyer Island'", which is as fair a pitch as I've seen. By 1976, the red barn was gone, and the concept for what would soon become known as Adventure House would be much more developed.


Assisting the core team of Marc Davis, Al Bertino and Wathel Rogers was WED newcomer Gary Goddard, who typed the June 1976 memos which outline the status of the project. It is through these memos that we have insight into the initial ideas for Adventure House.

Hotel Name: The Roost 
Suggested Exterior Appearance: a wilderness attempt at a fine hotel. A conglomeration of several architectural styles of the times, with certain sections almost out of place with the others. A lot of "units" that give the silhouette a look of many towers and additions to the main structure. Three stories high, it is covered with whirligigs and weather-vanes that make the entire structure a constant show 
Characters: Our hosts are the original builders of the hotel, Jasper and Maude. Jasper is meek and mild mannered and a "tinkerer" who has created many of his own "inventions" and additions to the hotel, including the whirligigs that abound on the roof of the building. 
Maude is a heavy-set, strong lady who likes her pet chickens very much, and is a hero-worshiper who has named many hotel rooms after her idols. 
Themeing Overall: The entire hotel is filled with Maude's chickens who rooster wherever they feel like it. These chickens cluck, squawk, sing and talk - depending on their mood. All over the hotel, these hens provide gags and comments on the various experiences. 
Theming - Individual Rooms: Each room has its own character in terms of the design and function within the hotel. In addition, a number of rooms are named after Maude's famous guests, Paul Bunyan, Ichabod Crane, Johnny Appleseed, etc. 
The overall feeling of the hotel is that there was a genuine attempt at creating the best hotel ever - but that in the building of it, things were not completed to exacting specifications. If it looked good to Jasper and Maude, they nailed it down and painted it.

We're in Marc Davis territory here for sure. Jasper and Maude are nothing but the latest version of Marc's beloved henpecked husband jokes that were the basis for so much of The Haunted Mansion, except in this case with a twist on the story of Jack Spratt. And yet other details here are suggestive as well - the eccentric architecture, for one. It's easy to imagine a high victorian interior somewhere between Grizzly Hall and The Haunted Mansion, with the eccentricity of a low budget Winchester Mansion. The chickens, too, bring to mind the aborted idea to have a raven narrate the Haunted Mansion.

But just as worth noting here is the preoccupation with American folk stories, which is as significant a signpost for late Marc Davis material as any. After America Sings, Marc went all in on Americana at WED, and the result was some of his most intriguing work. In the early planning for EPCOT, he had created a concept for an attraction at the United States pavilion, based on characters such as John Henry, Ichabod Crane, and Captain Ahab. A later version of this attraction used noteworthy historical Americans, and under a different team would mutate into The American Adventure.

And of course, we need look no further than Western River Expedition and the proposed "Land of Legends" at Disneyland for the connections to Adventure House to run deep. For more on both of those, see my article here.


Guests entering what was then known as The Roost would be greeted by the ghosts of Jasper and Maude on a balcony above the Registration Desk, setting the scene and backstory for the attraction to come. The project memos include a long script for this gag, of which this excerpt will be enough to give an idea of it:
(Maude is seated in a rocking chair with a pet rooster on her lap, which she pets as she speaks. Both Maude and Jasper appear and disappear as Pepper's Ghost illusions) 
Maude: You might be wondering' 'bout all these here chickens.. well, when we first moved out here, all them wilderness varmints outside wanted to sink their teeth in our hens ... so we just moved 'em inside to be safe and they been here ever since ... I even lost count count of all them cluckers... but anyway, that's why we call this place 'The Hotel Roost'. 
(She pats the Rooster's head) 
Maude: Tiger here is my pet and he's the great, great Grandfather of the whole flock... Say 'Hello' to the people, Tiger! 
(Tiger roars like a lion)
(Jasper reappears) 
Jasper: Did you call, dear?
Once through the pre-show, guests were to be unleashed on a variety of interactive walking attractions, such as Maude's Kitchen (slanting room), Hall of Doors, Earthquake Room, Mirror Maze, Dosi-Doe Balcony (an exterior balcony with a shaking floor), The "Prairie Schooner Hall" which would sway from side to side, Jasper's Attic, a laundry-chute slide, and an upside-down dining room. Several of these are tentatively outlined in the memos, including:

Maude's Kitchen, where hens lay eggs into Jasper's "egg mover" and appear to roll uphill, another gag where water runs uphill, and two chairs that are actually boxes and thus are impossible to get out of. This strongly suggests that Marc was very familiar with the Haunted Shack at Knott's, and is also confirmation that he had a hand in the design of the Mystery Mine on Tom Sawyer Island.

The Barrel Room, with barrel tops spinning on the floor and teetering barrels on the walls. The central area includes a large spinning floor with a stack of barrels topped by a drunken chicken who sings. Various barrels have sound effects from inside them such of gurgling or hiccups.

Paul Bunyan's Bedroom, a tall room where the entire floor is a "quilt" - and a huge bounce mattress. On the wall are three huge paintings of Paul, Babe the Blue Ox, and his axe.

The Hall of Doors was to be the main showcase of Wathel Rogers' projection screen technology, where various doors would open onto gags, such as a door marked "Exit" that would appear to open onto an oncoming train, or Rain and Thunder behind a door marked "Florida Room". Another door marked "Rest Room" would open onto a single chair, and one labeled "No Smoking" would have the figure of a man who sprays water at the viewer - presumably, behind a glass panel. At the end of the hall were to be two elevators that would appear to take viewers up or down but actually go nowhere.

Windwagon Smith's Nautical Quarter, a circular room with windows looking out onto Frontier Town, with various cranks and levers that would spin and rotate the weather vanes on the exterior of the house.


Other rooms were already running into issues or seemed to be conceptual dead ends. A mirror maze was to have two dead-end areas where projections of fluttering bats and the headless horseman throwing his pumpkin were to be triggered, and another, the Dark Maze, to be experienced entirely through touch, is exactly the sort of thing that theme parks can't do. Memos also indicate that in mock-ups they were having trouble with the first illusion room, the Perspective Hallway. There's no real hint as to what it's intended to be, but my guess is it's some kind of spin on the "diminishing mine shaft" on Tom Sawyer Island.

In any case, it seems clear that these and other concerns caused Marc and Al to do a radical re-think of the concept for The Roost, which led to some of Marc's finest and craziest ideas for WED.

Adventure House

The largest distinction between the Adventure House and Roost version of the attractions comes down largely to interactivity. A lot of The Roost was the kind of classic fun house attraction that was already dying out, with shaking stairs, rocker panel floors, and crazy mirrors. Marc's final concepts seem to ditch the hotel theme and double down on the weirdness - gags and illusions in the style of the Haunted Mansion.

This was a long time coming and a return to form for Marc. He had always kept a torch burning for the walk-through version of the Haunted Mansion, having been sufficiently impressed by Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey's ghostly sea captain vignette to find ways to insert the character into the final attraction. Marc even wrote several drafts of a walk-through version of the Haunted Mansion, the version where "The most dangerous ghost in the Mansion" turns out to be the host.

Later, Marc developed a huge number of gags for Tom Sawyer Island at Magic Kingdom, most of which were very interactive in nature - slides, trees to climb, etc. His influence in the final product is most keenly felt in Injun Joe's Cave and the Mystery Mine, although I've never been able to determine if he actually oversaw these.

So Adventure House is a fascinating look into ideas that one of WED's best designers had been ruminating on for years. Let's go inside, shall we?



The waiting area carries over Marc's roosting hens, this time as a sort of time piece - each time a hen lays an egg, it drops into a basket and the bell rings. When one of them plays three eggs, the bell begins ringing rapidly and the portrait of Maude and Jasper comes to life for the pre-show!

Note the benches here that expand or sink - another one of Marc's clever re-utilizations of an existing WED effect, in this case the inflating seats from Flight to the Moon. It's also a premonition of the Adventurer's Club, of course.

After the pre-show, groups are admitted to the Library, where presumably a Cast Member will give a short safety spiel, before releasing them into the attraction through a door at the back of the room. Notice that the "perspective hallway" has been abandoned, and that the "prairie schooner hall" is now the introductory effect of the attraction, viewed from the stationary hallway outside. Unlike at the Haunted Mansion, this hallway is truly endless!



Between each major scene, Marc designed short hallways to link the experiences, some of them fairly simple, others truly strange and baroque. He specified that each hall be treated with sound-proofing material, to give the effect of going from very loud gag rooms to dead silent hallways. It seems likely that as guests wind through Adventure House, the linking hallways would become increasingly abstract, until the walls and floor were painted in Escher-like patterns in eye-popping red and black.

The room sequence here is nothing but a good guess, by the way. If a document exists specifying order and layout for this version of the show, it has not yet surfaced.



The first scene seems to still be the Dining Room, but instead of a tilt room it's now a visual gag where an overhead bucket system carries food above the dining room table while model trains on the table top carry platters of food in and out of the kitchen. This was to followed up by a Kitchen scene where the buckets appear to glide out of an old-fashioned larder cabinet, heading out to the Dining Room full of food and returning empty! Nearby, a water pump pumps water by itself and kettles rattled on the stove - effects recycled from the Carousel of Progress, and which Marc first attempted to re-use in the Haunted Mansion.

Marc specified that the model trains should make the same sound as full-sized locomotives, by the way!


Next, guests would descend into the greenhouse, full of goofy and leering "man-eating plants". The floor here was intended to be a soft material, and covered by a low layer of fog! Again, the links both to the Tiki Rom, Haunted Mansion, and Jungle Cruise are unmistakeable - Marc even designed a belching man-eating plant for the Florida Jungle Cruise that didn't make the final cut.



Upstairs now to Jasper's Den, the new tilt room illusion. The centerpiece of the room is now a billiards table where the balls appear to roll uphill. Note the fish tank with a full-size shark swimming inside - not only a vestige of Wathel Rogers' projection scenes which once were a key part of The Roost, but a good example of Marc's problem solving ability. No doubt through testing and application of the screens in attractions like If You Had Wings, Marc was keen to find a way to make the technology appear more "real". Placing the screen behind an aquarium filled with seaweed and bubbles would diffuse the image just enough to turn it from yet another obvious screen into a real illusion.

The other gags in here are decent, such as the cat terrified of the bear rug. The cat is direct from Pirates of the Caribbean, and another example of cost-saving measures designed into the attraction. The clock pendulum is supposed to animate at an angle that implies the room is tilting the opposite direction of the way it is, which is a nice touch.



More total weirdness, the Photography Studio has cameras set up on each side of room, alternately flashing. Each time they flash, the "shadows" of various ghouls illuminate the walls, slowly fading out. This was likely intended to be a simple effect achieved with slides or cutouts mounted behind scrim walls on the left and right - dead simple, but very interesting.

Here's two of my favorite Marc gags of all time. Not everything the man came up with was a winner, but if anybody ever claims he wasn't as sharp at the end of his career at WED as he was at the start, you have my permission to wave these under their noses. Let's take a peek inside the Guest Room at Adventure House.

Guests entering immediately hear loud snoring and spot a huge shape asleep under the covers - it's a bear! His huge expanding belly and paws can be seen, moving in time with the snoring. The sound is so severe that every time he inhales, the room's ceiling pulls down, and every time he exhales, it shoots up away from the floor!



A nearby chest of drawers opens and closes in time with the snoring, as well as a swivel mirror that is pulled towards and away from the bed. A cross-stitch sampler above the bed reads "MANY BRAVE SOULS ARE ASLEEP IN THE DEEP".


Did you see it? Did you make the connection? It's the Stretch Room.

One thing that impresses me so much about this gag is the the Stretch Room is one of those things that's so iconic, so memorable, that nearly everybody who attempts to do a spin on the illusion just ends up repeating it. You can spot a stretch room knockoff immediately.

But here's a spin on the basic illusion that has nothing to do with changing portraits or vanishing ceilings. Marc is, as far as I know, the only person to ever come up with a viable alternative on the illusion that actually brings something new to the table. Oh, and it's really funny to boot.

From there, guests walk into the Bathroom. On their left is a bath tub with a curtain drawn around it; a dress hangs on the curtain and we can hear high, opera singing coming from the tub. The path bends around the tub to the left and reveals:



Again, the staging here is simply superb. Marc had really been digging into how to direct guests through theme park spaces throughout the 70s, and his use of a Claude Coats-style "reveal space" here is extremely effective. Budding and current theme park designers take note: this is the way you set up and pay off a joke.


Here's an odd concept for a library with tilting walls; as the walls tilt forward, books slide out of the shelves and stop, then slide back in as the wall tilts away. Not nearly as effective as the "Prairie Schooner Hall" and Guest Bedroom gags, but still interesting.

There's also an updated take on the mirror maze, with Maude, Jasper, and Tiger appearing and disappearing through the maze:



The final room appears to be an Attic, with a hooting owl, player piano, and busts that come alive and talk. In this case, the idea is pretty much identical to a scene in the old outline, which reads:
"The effect of the room is to be a feeling of crawling in, around, over and through various articles of furniture, props and assorted units. The room should be designed with primarily younger ages in mind, but structurally it should support the weight of whoever might want to make their way thru it. [...] Basic experience is to enter the "obstacle course" by entering the open front of a trunk and then proceeding through a multilevel series of tunnels, bridges and platforms [...] Last effect is a short, straight slide into a pile of plastic eggs (chickens are above, squawking)."
Yes, it's a kid's playground. You can see the trunk entrance to the left and the adult walkway off to the right. Presumably all of the other various illusions would be present to keep the adults amused. Next time Disney opens a pedestrian play area in one of their parks, remember that Adventure House found a way to make it unique.



The End of Adventure House

It's hard to know exactly why projects never get off the ground at Disney, even less so back in the 70s when all we have left is art. Adventure House seems to at least had the support of some in WED, enough for Marc and Al Bertino to be mocking up sets and mazes and running tests on effects, which is nearer to actual realization than something like, say the Snow Palace came.

It's easy to see what the thinking was. A trip to Discovery Island, River Country, and a lap through Adventure House and dinner at the Hoop-De-Doo is a full day for anyone, and the notion of there being an actual Disney-style full attraction to take in may have just been the thing to start diverting traffic in that direction that turned the combination River Country / Island ticket into an actual full day draw.

Personally, I think something like Adventure House still has a place at Walt Disney World. Any modern version would need to have a wheelchair route that goes around the most significant obstacles, but that seems to have been the plan anyway - early memos mention a "chicken route", marked with statues of pointing chickens, for those who preferred to watch but not interact. In almost every other way the idea makes sense: the illusions are low-maintainence, and there's no ride vehicles to break down. I could see this attraction doing very well at Disney Springs, where some families seem to be at a loss for things to do. If it cost, say, $5 a person to go into Adventure House, it could be a low operational cost, high-profit attraction.

As for Marc, Adventure House was near the end of his career for WED before his retirement in 1978. Towards the end of his career, Marc's ability to get new projects off the ground was dramatically compromised, which must have been a frustration for a gifted designer who once had Walt Disney's ear. Although brought back after retirement to help design Tokyo Disneyland, his last significant new project for Disney was The World of Motion, which was publicly credited only to Ward Kimball  until fairly recently.

And just like that, the man who put more "Disney" into Disney than probably anyone other than Walt Disney was gone. When you consider exactly how much the humor and characters Marc worked on still defines what Disney is - from Thumper to Cinderella to Tinker Bell and Maleficent onto the Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, his influence is still huge and unavoidable.

Since I first found out about Adventure House I've been working diligently to make this material as public as possible. I would not have been able to succeed without the help of those in "The Chummery", Mike Lee, J.M. Jr., "OrangeBird517", "WDWSkip01", and more. Thank you everyone!

Ready for more WDW History? Check out our hub page, covering all sorts of forgotten Walt Disney World obscurities.

For more Marc Davis check out our individual hub pages on The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Jungle Cruise. Happy adventuring!

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Secret Recording Career of George Bruns

One of the troubles with being canonized as a Disney Legend is that all of the rest of your life's output tends to become a sidenote to that studio in Burbank. There's a handful of artists like Rolly Crump and Walt Peregoy who were busy enough and rebellious enough to avoid total identification, but it's no coincidence that when we think of Disney Legends from Walt's time, we're thinking mostly of loyal Disney lifers like Frank Thomas and John Hench.

And then there's George Bruns, who probably ranks third in the Disney pantheon behind Charles Wolcott and the Sherman Brothers in establishing what Disney "sounds like". He wrote The Ballad of Davy Crockett, the bass inflected soundtrack to 101 Dalmatians, and the soothing, mysterious music heard in The Jungle Book. He wrote the original score heard in Pirates of the Caribbean, which to these ears may be the finest attraction soundtrack ever. His jazzy inflection of bluegrass means that his layered, toe-tapping orchestrations for Country Bear Jamboree haven't dated a lick in a half century.

But what isn't well known is that George continued to record other material before, during, and after his career at Disney. It may not be well known, but it's out there. So this time at Passport to Dreams we're going to be looking at and listening to the unknown recording career of George Bruns.

Early Life and Dixieland

Born in Oregon in 1914, the earliest places you can hear George Bruns doing his stuff is in Dixieland and Jazz recordings from the 1940s. The group he seems to have been most associated with was The Famous Castle Jazz Band, where he played lead trombone. The Castle Club was a nightclub south of Portland, and seems to have been famous and popular as a location for great jazz. Here's George on trombone in a 1949 recording:



He also seems to have appeared with jazz legend Turk Murphy on a handful of recordings around the same time, sometimes on bass and sometimes on trombone.

It seems fairly clear that before Castle Club, George had organized his own group of musicians as "George Bruns and His Jazz Band", and they had recorded a number of tracks for the famous Commodore jazz label out of New York. I can't find any evidence that these recordings were actually released at the time, and the only reason we know they exist is due to a pricey and out of print 60 LP (!) reissue of Commodore's entire library in 1990. George appears in Volume III of the set, which means he made the recordings sometime between 1938 and 1943. I tried to track down a library copy of this set to heard these recordings, but it seems that somebody with more patience or deeper pockets than I will have to be up to the task.

Which brings us to our first recovered recording, and the sad fact is that I have no idea when or where it was made, however it makes more sense to group it with these early Jazz recordings than the later ones, as we'll soon see. But first I have to explain how the heck we even have it.

In the mid-60s, Reader's Digest got into the business of promoting and selling huge boxes of LPs all under a certain theme. The original examples, such as a box devoted to Swing music or light classical music, were actually produced by other companies and sold by Reader's Digest through a mail-in voucher. They were enough of a success that Reader's Digest was producing several "theme" sets a year, and continued to do so well into the 80s on LP, 8-track, cassette, and eventually CD.

The company Readers Digest eventually settled on contracting to create these sets was RCA. RCA already had a massive back catalog of releases because they operated a program in the 50s and 60s very similar to the Columbia House CD programs of the 90s - where new albums would be sent to you directly, monthly. As a result RCA recorded a lot of albums that never saw general release outside of special "RCA Music Service" shipments, and probably sat on many more without ever releasing them. It was primarily this back catalog of recorded music that filled out the Reader's Digest "theme" LP sets, especially the early ones.

Which is how George Bruns managed to appear in a Reader's Digest compilation album, Gaslight Varieties, released in 1969.


1. The Cakewalk in the Sky 00:00
2. Down South 02:44
3. Any Rags? 05:32
4. Kentucky Babe 08:06
5. I Love My Baby 10:40
6. At A Georgia Camp Meeting 13:30

Gaslight Varieties is pretty interesting to Disney fans - besides the Bruns tracks, there's a lot of Thurl Ravenscroft and Mellomen tracks throughout - but interesting isn't the same as actually being very good. RCA tended to use second best options when compiling these sets to keep costs down, and the result is albums that quickly wear out their novelty and have no real sense of progression.

Because of the way RCA structured these albums, we have only one side of one record of Bruns playing Ragtime music - the other side was never released. It's impossible to tell when this was recorded, and there are no personnel credits besides "George Bruns and his Rag-A-Muffins". We're not even sure what the album was supposed to be called, although RCA named that side of the record "Ragtime, Yessir!"

But at least get have six good tracks of previously unheard George Bruns music out of it! It's good stuff, wonderfully "hot" jazz similar to his work with the Wonderland Jazz Band on the famous "Deep In The Heart of Dixieland" Disneyland LP.

To The Tropics

George eventually provided jazzy music to several UPA cartoons before being scooped up by Disney and embarking on the recording career we know him for today. And despite his busy career writing music for dozens of Disney projects, he found the time to produce and record a tropical easy listening record!

As part of the background music for the Ford Magic Skyway at the 1964 World's Fair, George recorded a piece of music called "Moonlight Time In Old Hawaii", which he later expanded out to a full size album, released by Vault Records in 1969 or 1970.

This record is at least somewhat famous in Disney circles today for its use at the Adventureland Veranda in the 80s. It's also tough to say if it was really ever properly released at all - Vault, as a record label, was floundering in the late 60s, and ever copy of "Moonlight Time" that I've ever seen has its "Promotional Copy" sticker still attached. This scarcity and its mild fame in Disney circles has driven up its prices on the secondary market. Thankfully, Chris Lyndon beautifully restored a transfer of my copy, so now you can enjoy it whenever you like:


Side A
1. South Seas Island Magic (0:00)
2. Hawaiian Paradise (2:52)
3. Moonlight and Shadows (5:40)
4. To You, Sweetheart, Aloha (8:28)
5. Paradise Isle (11:24)
6. Song of Old Hawaii (14:36)

Side B
7. Blue Hawaii (17:04)
8. Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii (20:01)
9. Sweet Lelani (23.:24)
10. Aloha Nui Hawaii (26:38)
11. My Tane (29:30)
12. Ka Pua (The Flower) (33:16)

Now, I may be biased, because I obviously liked this well enough to seek out a copy and have it preserved, and I also have a weakness for atmosphere music, but I think this is a terrific exotica record. There's nothing quite like the soothing strings and languid pace of this music to make you slow down and relax when you need it. It's a shame it never got a real release of any kind, and that its one release has a cheap stock photograph from Pan American for a cover.

The world may have whipped clear past Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii, but I'm pleased to have helped it continue to weave its spell over listeners in the digital age.

Retirement and Beyond

Our final record is a treat, and one I'm very pleased to have been able to "rescue" for posterity. After his retirement from Disney in 1976, George moved back to Oregon and taught at a local college part time. And he recorded one last record, the delightfully titled "Have A Good Time With Big George Bruns".

It's tough to say if George explicitly intended this to be a testament record, but that's what it plays as: a summation of his whole career, mixing hot Dixieland jazz riffs with Disney tracks in equal measure. The albums begins with "Happy Rag", familiar from a million Disney promotional films, and ends with the theme music to The Love Bug. Throughout, he includes such deep selections as "Inky the Crow" and "Ah, See the Moon", a total nonsense song he wrote with Ward Kimball for Ludwig Von Drake!

But the real stand out aspects to Have A Good Time are its inclusion of an electric organ and Lou Norris - a jazz singer who adds a lot to the "throwback" numbers on the record. I can't determine if Miss Norris ever made another recording, so it's more likely that George met her locally at Sandy Hook. But she has a terrific voice, and it's easy to see why Bruns included a prominent credit (and caricature) of her on the cover.

That cover was drawn by famous cartoonist Virgil Partch, by the way, who is miscredited on the album sleeve as "Virgil Parks".


Side A
1. Happy Rag (Bruns) 00:00
2. You’re Gonna Be Sorry (Bruns) 02:57
3. Inky the Crow (Bruns) 05:53
4. Please Come Back Big Daddy (Hilton-Bruns) 09:00
5. Have A Good Time (Bryant-Bryant) 11:59
6. Ah, See The Moon (Bruns-Kimball) 14:57

Side B
7. When You’re Gambling (Fisher-Goodwin-Shay) 18:04
8. Where Has The Melody Gone (Hilton-Bruns) 21:04
9. Wabash Blues (Meinken-Ringle) 23:41
10. Mama’s Gone Goodbye (Bocage-Piron) 26:44
11. Uptown Downtown Man (Hilton-Bruns) 30:02
12. Herbie (Bruns) 33:20

As with everything George Bruns left us, it's a spritely, upbeat listen - craft and entertainment value seamlessly blended. Like all three of the albums we've looked at here, it received a minor and local release, if any at all, and coming across a copy isn't easy.

So give these albums a listen, and I'm sure Mr. Bruns will be smiling somewhere knowing that people are still enjoying his efforts five decades later. Here's to you, Big George.

Do you love theme park and atmosphere music? Then hop on over to our Music Hub, where dozens of obscure tracks - and the stories behind them - are preserved!

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Forgotten Shops of Adventureland

One of the main attractions that Disneyland pioneered was the concept of themed merchandise; that an area which appeared to be the Old West should sell leather goods, coon skin caps, and toy rifles. Although the masterpiece of such theming is probably New Orleans Square, one early and elaborate effort, the one that probably more than any other made the idea stick, was the Adventureland Bazaar across from the Jungle Cruise. Like Tomorrowland's Art Corner or New Orleans Square's One-of-a-Kind shop, the Bazaar was as much an interactive exhibit as it was a shopping experience, a chance to see some unique items and immerse in an environment. Featured areas included Polynesia (hawaiian shirts and dresses), India (etched brass), Asia (exotic imported items), and the Guatemalan Weavers.

Magic Kingdom would both expand and repeat much of the success of these Disneyland shops, and indeed had its own Adventureland Bazaar and more. But the Bazaar still stands at Disneyland - or, at least, the shell of it is still there, although it's now filled with the same Disney stuff everywhere else sells. But the Bazaar, and practically all of the original Adventureland shops at Magic Kingdom are gone, and have been gone for nearly two decades now. That's a long time, long enough for many fans who never set foot inside the House of Treasure to grow to adulthood.

We are dedicated as always to attempting the stem the tide of forgetting on this blog, and having been made aware that many not too much younger than I don't even know what the shape of these original Adventureland pseudo-attractions were like, the time to assemble and preserve this information was upon us. So set your time machines to the early 70s and let's discover those forgotten shops of Adventureland!

The Bazaar Complex

We're going to begin with the most difficult of these areas to mentally reconstruct, which was the central Adventureland Bazaar, in the center of Adventureland near the Sunshine Tree Terrace. This area was destroyed for good back in 2001 when The Magic Carpets of Aladdin was installed, totally changing the relaxed vibe of central Adventureland. The Bazaar complex was made up of five shops surrounding a central open air courtyard.

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Also included was a tall, pink covered area very much like the glass canopy over by the Adventureland Veranda that today acts as the entrance area to the Skipper Canteen. This was the original home of J.P. and the Silver Stars, Adventureland's steel drum band. When the drums were not set up, this was the de facto entrance to the Bazaar courtyard. In later years, as the steel drum band was more frequently seen in Caribbean Plaza, this area became home to exotic bird displays and, inevitably, merchandise.

Here's J.P. and the Silver Stars doing their thing in 1971. This is the Band Stand / Gazebo on the left of the picture above. Check out the awesome chandelier above them.

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Alternate access to the central courtyard could also be achieved through a narrow covered passage that squeezed between the Band Stand and the Tiki Tropic Shop, seen here in a 1974 view.


Or by walking straight through Traders of Timbuktu.


Inside the central courtyard, moving from West (Tiki Room side) to East (Swiss Family Treehouse side) were three doors leading into the various rear shops. Starting near the breezeway, we have the other entrance door to the Tiki Tropic Shop:

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(That little covered area between the two potted plants has an ornate door below it, which leads to a small backstage hallway that connects the Tiki Tropic Shop and Magic Carpet, as well as an elevator that can take you down to the Utilidor and stock rooms.)

Next to that is the main entrance to The Magic Carpet, with its impressive tower and moorish window:


Here's some guy checking out the weird little animal figures in the window from the 1972 Pictorial Souvenir:


Here's the view he would have had, looking from the Magic Carpet into the courtyard, towards the rear entrance to Traders of Timbuktu. This is the same door we were inside, four pictures up.


Just past the main entrance to Magic Carpet was another entrance, although it led to a part of the shop more correctly known as Oriental Traders, Ltd:

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Here's a map to help you visualize all of this:


Island Supply pretty much still exists, and the patio that once connected it to Tropic Toppers is still there. Most of Tropic Toppers has been walled up, and the bit that still remains spits you out into what was once the side entrance to Traders of Timbuktu instead of allowing you to continue into Oriental Imports as it once did.

So now that we know what we're talking about, let's take a closer look!

The Forgotten Shops of Adventureland

Tropic Toppers
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1988
Became: Zanzibar Shell Company

This sunny patio mostly specialized in hats and toy jungle animals, appropriate to the Jungle Cruise entrance, which it pretty much directly faced. Disney had a LOT of hat shops prior to the 90s, and this was Adventureland's. Hats!


Oriental Imports, Ltd.
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1987
Became: Elephant Tales

The first of the rear complex of shops, Oriental Imports was a showcase of eastern silks and inlaid woods, and pretty much anything that could be manufactured in Japan or China. Steve Birnbaum writes in 1982: "This shop, hung with silk-tasseled oriental lanterns, stocks the sort of goods that merchants in Hong Kong sell in quantity: lovely satin change purses and eyeglass cases [...] and hand-gilded and engraved copper plates."

The shop was accessed by a ramp from the rear of Tropic Toppers down into the central sunken area; note the elevated area behind the half-wall on the right of this photo. Actually, note the half-wall on the right of this photo generally, because we'll be seeing it again.


The Magic Carpet
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1987
Became: Elephant Tales

Flowing from Oriental Imports and through a door, The Magic Carpet, despite its name, offered very few carpets and more brass and inlaid pearl items, including a huge Taj Mahal music box. Here's some folks enjoying it in 1972 - notice the nearly identical merchandise display fixtures that we saw in Oriental Imports above, as well was the return of our odd painted animals from the Moorish window.


Traders of Timbuktu
Opened: October 1971
Closed: Late 2000
Demolished

The most distinctive of the original shops, Traders of Timbuktu housed African wares under a rich green hexagonal dome.


Consisting of two rooms, a flow-through larger room and a smaller cash wrap room pictured above, the store was stocked with the sort of merchandise you find everywhere at Animal Kingdom these days.


This part of the structure, as well as the Band Stand and breezeway alongside the Tiki Tropic Shop, were totally demolished as part of the construction of Magic Carpets of Aladdin, seriously compromising the intended aesthetics of Adventureland.

Here's a shot by Mike Lee in 1994 showing the later incarnation of Traders of Timbuktu with a good deal more bric-a-brak nailed to the walls.



Tiki Tropic Shop
Opened: October 1971
Closed: Late 2000
Became: Backstage Office

Surprisingly given its microscopic size, one of the longest lived of the Adventureland shops was the Tiki Tropic Shop, which sold Polynesian and Hawaiian shirts and dresses, similar to shops at the Polynesian Village.

I will warn you first that much as everything else at Magic Kingdom, the 90s were not kind to the Adventureland shops. By late in the decade, the once vibrant paint has been faded to dull colors and the merchandise had begun to slide into increasingly suspicious directions. Here's a shot of the Bazaar complex in 1994 and you'll see what I mean:


I bring this downer up here because the only photos I have of the Tiki Tropic Shop are from the same era, and to put it lightly this is not a pretty sight.


If you replace the gaudy 90s shirts with aloha shirts and leilani dresses and subtract the 90s "beach bum" props, you can get an idea of what this used to look like.


The chandeliers are the same beautiful brass lotuses that hang outside the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Tiki Tropic continued peddling garish 90s 'tude until the Bazaar complex was demolished to make way for Magic Carpets of Aladdin. The exterior door facing the Tiki Room was walled up and converted to a planter, the side door became a merchandise shelf. This left only the interior cast member access door seen in the first photo here, which led to the backstage hallway that connected Tiki Tropic, Magic Carpet, and the Utilidor. The room was gutted, repainted blue, and became a computer office for Merchandise managers.

That's all of the original Bazaar shops, but our story doesn't end here, because in the 80s a few of the shops changed theme.

The Zanzibar Shell Company
Opened: 1988
Closed: 2000
Became: Zanzibar Trading Company

A conversion of Tropic Toppers, Zanzibar Shell Company came into being with the retirement of ticket books at Magic Kingdom and the conversion of the Adventureland ticket booth into a shop selling all of the Jungle Cruise-related hats and wares that Tropic Toppers used to specialize in. Instead, shells and shell-based jewelry and wind chimes became this shop's stock in trade.


Here's our only good view of the original interior, probably only lightly changed from its days as Tropic Toppers.


In the late 90s with the rise of Paul Pressler and the then-new insistence that every part of Magic Kingdom individually turn a profit, out of the way shops like Zanzibar Shell Traders were converted into merchandise stock rooms. The existing merchandise was pushed out onto the shaded porch area of Traders, and the rear room became an offstage space. This new incarnation was called Zanzibar Traders and continued in operation until fairly recently, when it was turned entirely into shaded seating.

Elephant Tales
Opened: 1987
Closed: Early 2000
Became: Merchandise Stockroom

In the 80s, Oriental Imports and The Magic Carpet were combined into the more explicitly safari-themed Elephant Tales. This mostly involved hanging props from the ceiling, converting the more modernistic light fixtures to a hodgepodge of "themed" ones, taking down the wall between the two shops, and stocking more of what Traders of Timbuktu was already selling.

By the 90s, Elephant Tales had morphed into a catchall shop, selling Princess dresses and lots and lots of Aladdin and Lion King toys. Here's a shot Mike Lee took in 1994, taken from NEARLY the same location as the shot of Oriental Imports:


You can see that some of Oriental Imports' old merchandise has been repurposed. You can also see the elevated area behind the half-wall I pointed out to you earlier. Off to the right is the ramp down into the shop. If you squint close, at the top of the ramp you can see a painted mural of a tropical scene that's still visible today at Magic Kingdom:


Up in Elephant Tales' raised area, notice all of the leftover Magic Carpet stock.. this was in 1994, so this brass stuff had been hanging around for six or seven years by now!


This was the former Magic Carpet area, nearer the Moorish window. Magic Kingdom really began to take down walls in their retail locations in the mid 80s, bringing them closer in look to the Department Store style favored by the EPCOT Center shops. The Emporium had all of its interior walls removed around the same time, too:


Elephant Tales hung in, on and off, until it was shuttered and became a stock room for the new Argrabah Market built in 2001 to accommodate The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

Colonel Hathi's Safari Club / Island Supply
Opened: Late 1972
Became: Island Supply, Ltd

As documented by Mike Lee, the Safari Club was originally intended to be Adventureland's Arcade - and it was, for less than a year, until it was abruptly closed and reopened as a shop in late 1972 or early 1973. Birnbaum describes the shop in 1982 as being "summer stuff", and by the early 90s when I remember it it was selling rainforest-themed items and small garden fountains. By the late 90s it had switched to selling swimwear and "beach" themed items.

The shop did receive the same ludicrous "beach" overlay that Tiki Tropic did, included the well-remembered game of hopscotch printed on the floor called "Island Hop". With the exception of the blue ceiling and beach theme, this interior was basically unchanged since its days as an arcade:


In early 2015, Island Supply was converted into a Sunglass Hut location. As we've seen earlier in this article, selling vaguely themed "beach" stuff is not a new concept in Adventureland. The interior is still basically the same as it always was.

Bwana Bob's
Opened: 1985
Closed: 2000
Relocated Elsewhere

The original Adventureland ticket booth, Bwana Bob's was repurposed in the 80s to sell vaguely Jungle Cruise-related knick-knacks. Here it is as a ticket booth in the early 80s:


And as Bwana Bob's in 1988, thanks to Mike Lee:


Bob's also makes a quick appearance in the 1990 A Day at the Magic Kingdom souvenir VHS:

"Don't worry dad it's only a fake snake!"

The original structure was demolished to make way for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and in the process "moved" nearer the Adventureland Bridge in the early 2000s.

The Forgotten Shops of Caribbean Plaza

Caribbean Plaza opened in 1973 with a much reduced version of its central anchoring ride, but in many other ways it was attempting to be as fully realized an area as New Orleans Square at Disneyland, containing five trickling tile fountains, three secluded courtyards, and a number of exotic shops to wander through. A lot of this has been chipped away today and many have forgotten how nice Caribbean Plaza was supposed to be, so let's move on from Adventureland to its neighbor for a quick look at what was there originally.

Plaza Del Sol Caribe
Opened: 1973
Still in Operation

The Plaza Del Sol, today simply known as the "Pirates Shop", may have been the original gift shop that an attraction exited into, but it was once quite different than it is today. Originally as much of an atmospheric area as a gift shop, it sold Sombreros, silk flowers, pirate heads carved into coconuts, pirate swords, hats, as well as wind chimes and other "patio" pieces.

There were very few freestanding merchandise display racks, with the merchandise overflowing from carts, similar to the visual presentation of the Plaza De Los Amigos at EPCOT Center. Indeed, the overall impression was as much an inviting plaza, similar to the one the attraction enters through, as it was a gift shop.


Inevitably, this could not last forever, and by the time the 90s has rolled around, the Plaza shop was becoming increasingly cluttered with both Pirate and faux "caribbean" items, making it more of a true shop and less of an atmospheric walk past a trickling fountain. The writing was on the wall...


The House of Treasure
Opened: 1973
Closed: 2001
Became: The Pirates League

Originally, if you wanted to buy Pirates of the Caribbean stuff, you had to go into the House of Treasure. This high ceilinged, atmospheric shop had three entrances: the high traffic one from the Plaza Del Sol Caribe, one facing north that spit out by the Caribbean Plaza pay phones and a shaded porch, and a rear exit that flowed into the secluded courtyard alongside the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, with the Fuente de Cielo azul.



When it was in operation, this was probably my favorite shop in Magic Kingdom. With walls lined with Spanish royal flags and decorative shelves stocked with pirate treasure, it reminded me of being inside the treasury room that appeared at the end of the attraction.



House of Treasure was shuttered following the 2001 recession, and by 2003 its main entrance has ominously become home to a dressing room, sealing off the rest of the area. It never returned. In 2009, the space become the pirate-themed version of Fantasyland's popular Princess makeover experience, The Bippity Boppity Boutique.


The Pirate's League, although beautifully themed, has never found the widespread success the Bippity Boppity Boutique has. When Disney closed the House of Treasure, they tore out the heart of Caribbean Plaza, and it's never quite been the same. I await the day when somebody in merchandise with real vision will turn this back into a shop that's accessible to everyone. Given that asking Disney to open a shop is something they'll happily do at any time, this evocative space shouldn't be closed off the way it is today.

The Pirates Arcade / Laffite's Portrait Deck
Opened: Late 1974
Closed: Late 90s
Became: Merchandise Stock Room

Many of you know about or remember the House of Treasure, but have you thought of the gift shop on the other side of the Plaza recently? In late 1974, this small space, tucked between the main walkway of Caribbean Plaza and the restrooms, had replaced The Safari Club and become Adventureland's main arcade. Around 1978, the Pirate Arcade changed names, and was now known as Caverna De Los Pirates. By 1980, the arcade games were cleared out.


What replaced it was an uncharge experience where guests could don pirate garb and get their photos taken in front of two backdrops: a tropical beach overflowing with treasure, or the deck of a sailing galleon. Similar to a photo experience on Main Street and frankly probably "inspired" by Knott's Berry Farm, Lafitte's Portrait Deck hung around at least until the early 90s.

Originally featuring sculpted pirates, the location later began printing cartoon characters on top of photos, such a pirate Mickey and the Little Mermaid.


By the mid-90s, Lafitte's Portrait Deck had become an unnamed side-adjunct to the Plaza Del Sol Caribe, selling pirate swords, hats, and other stuff. In the late 90s, it was closed and became a merchandise stock room.

The Crow's Nest
Opened: 1988
Closed: 2010
Became: A Pirate's Adventure Game

A tiny little shop that opened next to the Frontierland Train Station and survived its demolition and relocation, The  Crow's Nest offered film and disposable cameras, as well as being a drop-off spot for the park's in-house express photo developing service (such things did exist!).

Main Street Gazette

It had a tiny interior, with a register on the rear wall in front of a number of backlit photos of Magic Kingdom such as the castle and Splash Mountain. With the decline of film cameras and the exit of Kodak from the park as sponsors, the little hut became a quick stop for autograph books, toys, and toy guns. In 2010 it closed and became the "headquarters" for a Jack Sparrow themed interactive game, A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.

The Golden Galleon & La Princesa de Cristal
Opened: Early 1974
Closed: 1998
Became: El Pirata Y El Perico Seating

The two most obscure Caribbean Plaza shops may be so for good reason. The area across from Pirates of the Caribbean was originally intended to be a shopping complex with a snack bar in front; the snack bar would eventually grow to take over its neighboring shops. In 1982, Steve Birnbaum describes El Pirata Y El Perico as offering "ham and cheese submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, burritos, hot pretzels, brownies, and ice-cream bars" - fairly standard for Disney snack stands of the era, where everything came directly out of a fridge or warming tray.

Just past the main entrance to El Pirata, near the large arch that anchors the rear of Caribbean Plaza, is a large planter with walkways on either side of it as well as an open space that leads directly back towards an isolated courtyard that sits between the original locations of The Golden Galleon and La Princesa de Cristal. Today, this space is jam packed with tables, but imagine for a moment if instead it was an open space, with signs in the planter directing you back to the courtyard where you would discover yet more quaint and interesting shops. This is how it was in 1973, and how it remained until, along with so many other interesting features of Walt Disney World, was tossed out unceremoniously in the late 90s.

The shop on the left was the Golden Galleon, home to gold, brass, and jeweled decorative fixtures. Anchored by an antique diver's helmet, the shop sold brass fittings, door stops, wall plaques, mirrors, ship's wheels, and spyglasses. It also featured a large number of authentic ships in bottles and, at least in the early 70s, was home to a large collection of authentic and reproduction scrimshaw!


Across the way, La Princesa de Cristal was another Arribas Brothers location, very much like the ones that still exist on Main Street, in the Mexico Pavilion, and elsewhere. La Princesa was notable for specializing in crystal reproductions of sailing ships, ranging in size from a few inches to a few feet long. I haven't ever found anybody who took a photo of this location.

Here's a view looking into Golden Galleon:


That door and arch still exists, below the Caribbean Plaza arch. Modern park goers will be confused by a sunlight coming in the rear of the shop, but the 1998 expansion of Pecos Bill in Frontierland swallowed up a sunny courtyard that used to sit between Frontierland and Caribbean Plaza.

That 1998 expansion of Pecos Bill is what finally sealed the fate of Golden Galleon & La Princesa. Foods took over pretty much the entire western end of the west side of Magic Kingdom, filling in all of the space surrounding Pecos Bill which used to be open patio seating, and pushing into The Mile Long Bar at the exit of Country Bear Jamboree in the process. La Princesa was "upgraded" to a green-fringed cart which sat just outside its former digs, while El Pirata expanded to fill what was previously two shops. The crystal shop became home to a topping bar and restrooms, and Golden Galleon was converted to seating and connected directly to Pecos Bill via a ramp.

The timing of the conversion for El Pirata was not fortuitous. Park attendance was already slipping following years of eroding fan goodwill during the 90s, and the opening of Animal Kingdom did not grow attendance as expected but instead cannibalized the other three parks. Following the dip in tourism following the 2001 terror attacks, El Pirata went on seasonal operation and has never really came back.

In late 2005, Magic Kingdom toyed with offering El Pirata as a buffet location. Catered by the Contemporary, the buffet was operated for a few weekends. The topping bar was cleared out of the La Princesa space, hot food was brought in, and steaks were grilled in the courtyard. It never returned.



In February 2011, El Pirata Y El Perico received a name change and new theme: Tortuga Tavern, with a vaguely defined tie-in with a line of Captain Jack Sparrow young adult novels being published at the time. The cosmetic overhaul did nothing to change the location's fortunes. This "restaurant" has rarely been open two months out of the year for nearly 20 years now.



There's no reason that Disney needs to waste all of this valuable real estate - it's hard to imagine that clearing out The Pirate's League and reopening it as a store would make that location any less profitable than it is now. La Princessa de Cristal is never coming back, given that it now houses two restrooms, but the former The Golden Galleon space sometimes isn't even open when Tortuga Tavern is. Merchandise across Walt Disney World has been experiencing something of a renaissance lately, and specialty shops like Memento Mori or the Dress Shop regularly set social media ablaze with new and exclusive merchandise offerings.

It's hard to see that a new line of Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise offered in either of those two spaces wouldn't do well. More importantly, reclaiming House of Treasure and Lafitte's for merchandise sales would both help traffic move through the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean and restore much of the charm of the area that's been lost.

As for the Adventureland Bazaar, it's safe to say that for now removal of the Magic Carpets of Aladdin is unlikely. However, there's still the old Magic Carpet / Elephant Tales space sitting right behind and connected to the operating Adventureland shops. Again, an exclusive line of Jungle Cruise and Tiki Rom merchandise in this location could do well, adding some prestige to this very compromised area and the semi-hidden nature of the location wouldn't matter much in the era of social media marketing.

Given that Disney just spent the better part of a decade rebuilding Downtown Disney into the high-end retail mecca of Disney Springs, it seems strange that so little attention is being paid to underutilized areas of their keystone park that were intended to offer the kind of varied, exclusive, themed shopping experience that Disney can deliver. These spaces are sitting there, just waiting for somebody to come along with the imagination to use them properly.

Special thanks to Mike Lee, Todd McCartney, Whit Elam, and many others who contributed to this article.

Want more vintage Walt Disney World history? We have an entire indexed archive of that, right here on the WDW History Hub!