Wednesday, June 29, 2011

History of WDW: River Country

Known as the first water park ever created by the Walt Disney Company, River Country opened on June 20, 1976. As water parks go, it was based on the "old swimming hole" theme, and based on its look and feel Disney definitely nailed it.

River Country was (and is ironically still) located on the Bay Lake shores, it was close to another abandoned Disney attraction of the 1970's and 80's Discovery Island (or Treasure Island depending on when you visited the resort.) This water park fit right into the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds that it became a part of.

River Country was made up of roughly four water attractions and one walking trail. It was not known as a rather large water park, compared to Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach and therefore was known to have a far cheaper admission price. Its claim to fame was the Whoop 'n' Holler Hallow which was a pair of water slides that emptied into what was known as Bay Cove. One of the most interesting parts of this water park was that it essentially was a part of Bay Lake. Though Disney filtered and cleaned the water being used in the slides and coves, it was nothing more than cleaned up Bay Lake water. This helped the watering hole theme. Bay Cove was also a sand bottomed lake area that had things like a tire swing among other attractions within. The park was a modern marvel in the way it was designed and created. There were very little steel holding the slides up, as Disney did not want to ruin theming so they created rock formations that could hold the slides and made the park seem more rustic.

River Country closed on November 2, 2001. It was reported that it would be undergoing renovations. This rumor continued until January 20, 2005 when Disney announced that the park would remain closed. This permanent decision sparked many questions as to the reasoning for it. Many have speculated over the years, and no one answer is given. One says that the water in Bay Lake actually became a health hazard to guests, but I am not sure that is a viable reason. The other "more" believable rumors is that Disney felt that it was not worth keeping open as a small park with Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard 
Beach packing in guests. Still another rumor is that Florida regulations on water parks changed and forced parks to use "municipal" water. This means the water must come from city wells and filtered by the local town and city water. River Country filtered the water from Bay Lake. This apparently was against new regulations and the cost to use municipal water was too great. 

Today River Country is in a state of ruin and decay. The park was abandoned, and few have seen it since. If you google the name you will find some snapshots of what River Country looks like now. What you will find is a once proud water park overgrown and falling apart. Sadly, this seems to be the future of this famous and groundbreaking attraction.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It is a great feeling...!

It certainly is a good feeling when a rumor is reported and it becomes true. In February I reported (citing my many sources across the web) that WDI was contemplating returning the Tropical Serenade to its original state in Magic Kingdom. Turns out that this information was true and it was made official via the Disney Parks Blog on May 15. It will be a nostalgic return of a beloved attraction that had Walt Disney's hands all over it. One can only imagine what it will be like to walk into the attraction and not have to hear a certain birds voice (considering he also does not voice a particular duck on tv anymore either)

Slated to open somewhere around August 16 (just in time for my next WDW vacation) stay tuned for a ride review around that time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Disney That Never Was: Great Gonzo's Pandemonium Pizza Parlor

Every once in a while a concept comes by that makes you want to shout, "why didn't they do this...?" Seeing photos, concept plans, and even blueprints tend to make these voices yell even louder. I find myself in the position of standing on a platform screaming when I think of the Pandemonium Pizza Parlor. I would tend to guess that 8/10 people probably have no idea what exactly I am talking about, but those who do would probably be lined up right next to me.

In the mid 1980's Jim Henson was in the midst of selling the Muppets, as well as Jim Henson Productions (with the exception of the Sesame Workshop) to the Walt Disney Company. While this sale was picking up steam, so was the idea of a land within the newly created Disney/MGM Studio. Included in the land would be a 3D attraction (Eventually MuppetVision 3D) as well as a Muppet Movie Ride (a satire of the attraction that resides in the Chinese Theater) and a restaurant. Sadly, Jim Henson's passing led to major issues between Disney and Henson Productions that would not be rectified until 2004. The only remnants of the planned land is the MuppetVision attraction and the nearby studio shop.

The original plan for the Great Gonzo Pandemonium Pizza Parlor called for the creation of audio animtronic rats. Led by Rizzo, they would deliver food to all the guests via a train track system. This coupled with speakers projecting Gonzo's voice from above, with pounding and stomping sounds would create the illusion that Gonzo was somehow stuck in the duct work above. Other plans also had the Swedish Chef popping out through the kitchen doors on occasion, as well as commotion coming from the kitchen as guests ate. Many screens depicting famous scenes from the Muppet Show throughout the restaurant. The location of this restaurant may have been in the current locations of either Pizza Planet, or Mama Melrose.

Looking back on such plans show us what could have been in and around the MuppetVision attraction. Where it is now an area without much identity, we could be looking at a well themed and well designed area to the park. This would have added to the Disney/MGM Studio experience that was really missing until the late 1990's. As we look to the future of both this area and the Muppet franchise, one cannot help but look to the upcoming Muppets film as the last hope of seeing a larger Muppet presence within the Disney parks. A good showing may bring this concept back onto the table, and replace a restaurant in that area the desperately needs to be updates.