The Walt Disney World Transportation System That Few People Know Much About

Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with three places people could stay. There were the Polynesian Village Resort and the Disney’s Contemporary Resort that were both there on opening day and were standard hotels on the monorail line.

1971map
Early map of Walt Disney World

Fort Wilderness Campground opened about a month and change later, and it was available for those who preferred to sleep in campers, tents or in the wilderness homes that people could rent.

ABOVE: Rare photos of Wilderness Homes at Fort Wilderness. They began to be replaced with “log cabins” (they’re still just single wide trailers) in the late 1990s.
PC: home.hiwaay.net

Back in the very early days of the resort, you could only navigate Fort Wilderness’ 700 acres by walking, or guests staying at the campground could rent a golf cart. But just a couple of years later, people could also take a steam powered train, the Fort Wilderness Railroad, on a 3-1/2 mile ride through the fields and wilderness, and over trestles, to get them from the main entrance to Pioneer Hall, the now-defunct River Country (they simply abandoned that one. Click here to see what River Country looked like in its later years), and all of the camping loops in between.

Here’s what the official Disney blog had to say about the Fort Wilderness Railroad in 2011:

“…The system featured four stream trains that circulated through the campground on a 3½-mile track. The trains’ cars were themed after “plantation locomotives,” a specific style of open-air cars that shuttled consumables, like sugar cane and pineapples, around Hawaiian islands.

“Each of the four trains – decorated in forest green, red, and gold colors – measured just under 115 feet and could seat 90 guests.”

The Fort Wilderness Railroad only ran regularly from 1973 to 1977, and on special occasions from 1977 to 1980. Its full history, including its start up, the multiple reasons why the project was abandoned, and how/why it was almost revived, and then not, is pretty fascinating. Take a look…

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Disney Homage or Ripoff? You Decide. Nara Dreamland Theme Park: The Lost Video Footage

Several months back, I wrote a #TBT post about our visit to Nara Dreamland, which was a theme park in Nara, Japan that opened in the 1960s. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Disneyland should have been very flattered, because Nara Dreamland was an obvious knockoff of (or shall we say “was very much inspired by”) the famous park in Anaheim, CA. As the story goes, the people who were going to build Nara Dreamland were in negotiations with Disney and then…weren’t. But they still kept the Disneyesque look of the park.

Thanks to the building and growth of Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea and Universal Studios Japan, the years hadn’t been kind to Nara Dreamland and by the time we got there in April 2005, it was obviously on its last legs. The park closed in August of 2006 and after sitting abandoned for more than a decade, demolition of the property began in October, 2016.

I had mentioned in my #TBT report that Joe was positive we had video footage of our visit. Well, guess what? We found it!

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A Modern Day Look at Walt Disney World’s (Abandoned) Discovery Island

Between 1974 and 1999, Discovery Island was an island (duh!) that was open as a hard ticket attraction in Walt Disney World’s Bay Lake, located roughly between the Contemporary Resort Hotel and the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness. The highlight of the island was that guests could observe its many species of animals and birds.  After 25 years of success, it closed to guests shortly after Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened and, a few months later, was virtually abandoned after all the resident animals has been transferred to Animal Kingdom.

I visited Discovery Island as a kid in the 1970s. My memories of it are pretty vague,
partially because it was more years ago than I care to think about, but also because, well,

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A Modern Day Look At WDW’s (Abandoned) River Country

Disney’s River Country opened in June 1976. Fashioned with an “ol’ swimmin’ hole” theme, it was Walt Disney World’s (WDW’s) first water park. Housed at the far end of Fort Wilderness, not far from Pioneer Hall and just steps away from the current-day Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, it featured a lake with a sandy bottom and a unique water filtering system that used confluent water from the adjacent Bay Lake (which was dammed off), creating a natural-looking man-made lagoon. The park’s water was at a higher level than the lake’s, which was an effort to prevent lake water from going directly into the park.

RCRiver Country had 12 attractions:

  • Upstream Plunge, a kidney shaped clean-water pool.
  • Slippery Slide Falls, two water slides that emptied into Upstream Plunge.
  • Kiddie Cove, a kids zone with two large water slides and a cove. This area was targeted toward preteens.
  • Barrel Bridge, a bumpy bridge with barrels under it, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.
  • White Water Rapids, a 330-foot (100 m) long inner tube ride.
  • Bay Cove, a half-acre (2,000 m²) sand-bottom lake which featured a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, and T-bar drop.
    • Boom Swing
    • Cable Ride
    • Tire Swing
  • Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, two water slides, 260 ft (79 m) and 160 ft (49 m) long, that emptied into Bay Cove.
  • Bay Bridge
  • Indian Springs, a very small splash zone with fountains that sprayed kids. This area was mainly designed for guests under age 8.
  • Cypress Point Nature Trail, a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.
  • Pony Rides
  • Mercury WaterMouse Rental
RC77.jpg
River Country circa 1977 (author unknown, public domain)

With the advent of the opening of two larger, more modern water parks at WDW, Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995, River Country’s days were surely numbered and indeed, after the closing of the 2001 season (WDW’s water parks traditionally close in the wintertime, one at a time, to allow for maintenance and refurbishment), the park never reopened. They simply fenced it off and put up No Trespassing signs.

 

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