There is always so much to do here...some things are still around, horseback and the water sprites. What about the Bob-along boats and other memories of those sun filled days.
With our recent restoration of the River Country home movie from 1978 (http://www.retrodisneyworld.com/imageworks/films/river-country-78) we recieved a few comments from our followers - on in particular was BJ Major, and we asked her to wite a short story about the Cast Member Preview weekend for RC back in 1976. We thank her for sharing her memory with us! Here is what she had to say:
Hello, my name is B.J. Major and I was asked to write and comment about my experience as a Cast Member attending the special Preview Weekend opening of River Country in Fort Wilderness. I had only been working for a few weeks as a new hire at Walt Disney World in the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village when this opening weekend occurred. My roommate Debbie and I (we both worked at the "Lite Bite" in the Village) were very excited to attend the opening. In actuality, it had been the first water park experience I had ever had.
Please understand that this experience for me was as a 22 year old, 39 years ago; I'm obviously a lot older now and all of the details aren't as recallable as they once were. But I do remember that it was a very fun day; everything in the new water park was working just fine and being the obsessive that I am about theming at Disney, I loved everything that was made to look old and rustic in order to recreate the experience of an old fashioned swimming hole. I'm pretty sure I got as much out of that as I did enjoying the water attractions. I liked the "cove" feeling of the park; you were right there on Bay Lake but just secluded enough to feel separate from everything else going on. Fort Wilderness was always one of my favorite WDW areas and at this time, even the Fort Wilderness steam trains were still running.
I also remember that the chocolate chip cookies at Pop's Place (the River Country snack bar) were simply amazing. I'm surprised that I remember this, but I do. If I recall correctly, only our photo WDW ID cards were required for entrance that weekend, I don't think it required special tickets of any kind. The employee newsletter, "The Eyes and Ears of Walt Disney World" had the Cast Member Preview Weekend as its front page story with the headline "The World Has A New Country, River Country!". Some of the Disney characters were there in costume also, appropriately attired for the occasion (Goofy in a one-piece old fashioned bathing suit, etc.)
There were some River Country photos taken of Debbie and myself that day; unfortunately, they did not survive my cross-country moves until I could digitize them. I do attach here a photo of Debbie (blonde on the right) and myself outside the Lite Bite restaurant as one of the few that I have which did survive from that era. I do collect certain Disney pins and I made sure to get the commemorative River Country pin that was made a couple years ago. I have strong opinions about the neglect that River Country has received since its unfortunate closure. If anyone would like to read that, it's an editorial entitled "Upholding Walt Disney's Standards" on my Disney music discography at the address below.
When looking around the web, I am always drawn in by the vintage and retro photos people have of WDW. If you really think about it, the entire complex is photographed so often and even when cameras were "tougher" to use, people still took tons of photos at Disney World. With that being said, the amount of unpublished and even un-digitized photos has to be huge. This collection we came across is no exception. These were found on the FortFiends.net forum, which is a great source for all things Fort Wilderness. They always have people updating what is going on at Fort Wilderness and also discussing the good old days. We were given permission to share this great photo collection of River Country in 1989. They are all located in the special collections area, but these are just a few of the great photos that were shared with us. I grabbed some of our Abandonedland photos as well for a comparison, just for fun. FortFiends sent us a total of ten images, so be sure to check them all out here: http://www.retrodisneyworld.com/Pictorial-Souvenir/special-collections/gwen.html
When I started looking through the Bill Cotter photos, I was just amazed at how many gems and awesome photos are included. The content and history is amazing and I almost don't even know where to start! Well I think I have found a solid topic that I'd like more info on, and will be doing some more research like usual. The infamous WDW Water Ski Show. Some people may not know this even existed, but according to legend there was a choreographed ski show that took place on the lakes: Bay Lake & Seven Seas Lagoon. This was to entertain people at the different resorts and I'm sure it did. I do believe this is where we get those famous images of Goofy and other characters skiing behind a boat and hanging on for dear life. I have posted four Bill Cotter photos of what looks like setting up for the ski show, Pluto zipping by at night, Donald cheering on some other night skiers, and some super safe no life jacket skiing. I also found a quick clip on YouTube that looks perfect for our favorite era of Disney Entertainment.
My questions are simple, and maybe our readers can help with the search. What years did this run? Was it performed on both lakes? Why did it shut down? Finally, what in the world is with the night skiing? Did they perform a ski show in the middle of the night for some reason? That one really has me confused, but I hope you enjoy the photos. Post a comment or link below if you find some interesting facts, pictures, or even film of the infamous WDW Water Ski Show.
One thing that always nags me about missing the old days, is how much has changed on Bay Lake & The Seven Seas Lagoon. I am more of a Bay Lake/Seven Seas Lagoon kinda guy - just spent most of my time swimming, ferry boating, Water Spriting, and anything else starting out on the original two lakes. When I look now, it is literally a ghost town. Short of the small and large ferries driving back and forth, not much else seems to be going on. I see the occasional Sea Raycer and sometimes a parasailer, but other than those items, I find it pretty lame anymore. Sammy Duvall seems to be showing some signs of life, but they aren't "Disney" really.
I found this YouTube video today, which is mostly River Country, but it does show what I am talking about. Bay Lake almost looked downright dangerous with all the boat traffic and such. Maybe I just answered my own question. The danger and liability of such a bustling place at the hands of simple vacationers might have proven time and time again that bad things can happen. I don't know about you, but watching this footage just blows my mind more people didn't drown or crash with all of the activities Bay Lake had to offer. The paddle boats, sail boats, and water sprites all negotiating the same area looks scary to me, especially if you were in a paddle boat. Is there a list somewhere of all the different watercraft that was available for vacationers to try out?
River Country is another one that amazes me each time I view these old films. Rules seem very relaxed and it looks kind of like a free-for-all (Ted Nugent). Does anybody agree with me that in our lawsuit loving society, this type of Walt Disney World will never exist again? Is the old Bay Lake gone forever? Watch the movie and see what you think. Leave a comment or tweet with your thoughts. Also, check out the crowd getting filmed for the 10th Anniversary special, very cool! Enjoy!
The temperature is starting to rise in Ohio... This gets me thinking Summer! Finally! Well, this little pamphlet fits that thought perfectly. This is a short little guide to the All American Summer 1986 that took place in the Disney Village Shopping Area. I recently got a large quantity of great retro pamphlets, books, and random things. This is the first one I will be writing about. As you can see though, it may be only a small piece of paper, but it was packed with exciting events. The Disney Village had beach parties, evening entertainment, street dancing, vendor wagons of food, and even a ten foot tall Statue of Liberty. Enjoy this trip back to 1986 and let us know if you have anything to add to this era. Any photos of these festivities? I'd love to see the replica Statue of Liberty! Click to show the full image -
I came across this Discovery Island brochure from 1985. This 11.5 acre island sits in Bay Lake. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the island was undeveloped, but was called Blackbeard’s Island. In 1974, the island was opened to guests under the new name Treasure Island. In 1976, the island underwent a major renovation and became an official zoological park. Once again the name changed - this time to Discovery Island. In 1999, the island was closed and all of the animals were relocated to new homes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.