Saturday, May 10, 2014

So... River Country?

     Here is my obligatory occasional post about Disney mystery and urban exploring that I have very legally taken part in. During my last trip to Walt Disney World, I was on a kick of learning about some abandoned places in the World. One of high intrigue for me was River Country, located over by Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. I would like to first emphasize that I did not trespass on any property on which I should not have been! Everything I learned and saw was part the resort where guests are welcome to be!
    River Country opened in 1976, five years after Walt Disney World. It was the first water park made by Disney, and was themed as a down home in the south kind of family adventure locale. It used water from Bay Lake to feed the slides and pools, and therefore felt very natural and part of the landscape; cool! Well in 2001, Disney closed the park. There are many theories as to why this is, but the one I believe is that Florida passed a new 'Water Use Ordinance' which required all water for water parks to come from man-made and filtered sources. This kind of ruined the whole idea of River Country. Consequently, Disney closed River Country, and later announced that it would not reopen. The weird part, however, is that Disney did not demolish the park... at all. In fact, the lights at the entrance to the park still light up and look alive each night. Even weirder is the part of River Country that I saw and explored.

     If you head from the boat dock at the Wilderness Lodge toward River Country, you arrive eventually at a BBQ area, surrounded by a green fence. This is clearly a place where guests are welcome, but it is an eerie place. First of all, there is no music playing in the background. Second, I saw no cast members or movement of any kind in any direction from where I stood. I very much got the feeling that Disney didn't want people over there.
     Now there are two ways to experience a little bit of River Country today. First, you can use the restroom! The restrooms still have the faded and creepy "pool rules" posted on the outside of them. You can walk in, look around at the facilities, and I almost guarantee you will not see anyone else there during the day. Second, you can look at River Country. If you exit the restroom and stand on the rock in the garden area, you can get a nice view of what is left of that pool. It is very... apocalyptic and looks like something out of a zombie movie. If you're into that kind of thing, take a look!
     River Country was a big part of my childhood, and it is very surreal to go there today and look at what is left. Posted in "Will's Pics" is a picture that I took from on top of the above-described rock. Do you have any River Country experiences? Tell me about them below!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking Walt to Epcot

     For this post, I will stray briefly from my theme of lists or countdowns. Instead, I want to share one of my thoughts about Walt Disney himself. I recently listened to Lou Mongello on his WDW Radio Podcast, and he asked for responses to a question, as he is wont to do. This episode, he asked for places where we would want to take Walt in Walt Disney World. My immediate response is the same as their conclusion: Epcot.
    There are many out there who view Walt's Florida project video, and cannot help but feel that today's Epcot is a shadow of, and not a conceptual realization of his original Epcot idea. It was supposed to be a city! Right? Walt had planned an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). Walt had a huge imagination, but also managed to accomplish an incredible number of his wild and crazy plans. Disneyland, anyone? I say this because, as Lou Mongello pointed out, Walt was a realist. When the Imagineers sat down together after Walt's death to look at building Epcot, they ran across too many problems to make the "city" of Epcot a reality. Lou's feeling, and mine, is that Walt would have changed direction with the project, and done something with it that made sense and was of maximum benefit to the world. He wanted to make a place that was a "model". He said that! He said he wanted Epcot to be a model for the world to follow.
    This is where my bit comes in. I have an additional idea for my event to which I would take Walt. I hope, during your stays at Walt Disney World, that you have witnessed my favorite thing in the entire world; the event that brings me to tears each time I am a part of it, and makes me believe in the good of the world: Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. With a musical score that will leave you speechless, pyrotechnics perfectly timed with that score, lasers, fire, and water, Illuminations is the culmination of the Disney company in my mind. The eleven countries lit around the lagoon, each playing an integral role in the story of the history of earth, is without a doubt the most powerful show of any kind I have seen in my life. See it!
     All this to say, I would bring Walt to Illuminations. Although Epcot didn't turn into a city, it did turn into the perfect model of a society. In this model, each country celebrates the other, and celebrates what makes their own pavilion unique. I would turn to Walt before the show, and tell him simply that the world has not solved all of its problems, and countries are still constantly fighting. But I would tell him to watch and appreciate what the company he founded is doing as a beacon for the world, and a model for society.