First up, Brandon S. writes in to say:
I love listening to the Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish podcasts with you and Len Testa. Even when you guys are touring the resorts and not just the Theme Parks its really cool to here all the stories about how things came to be. One question I always have when looking at a map of WDW or visiting the resort is why Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is NOT on the monorail loop since it is really very close to it? It seems like if it was on the monorail it would be even easier to get people into this ‘Deluxe’ Resort.
Thanks! And do you guys plan to keep doing new podcasts? I would love to hear your thoughts about the new Fantasy Land addition. Thanks!!
Brandon S.Chicago, IL
Concept art for Disney World's never-built Cypress Point Resort. CopyrightDisney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Even back in the 1970s, when the then-named Cypress Point project was one of four hotels that were supposed to be built as part of Walt Disney World's Phase Two (FYI: The other three were the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian Resorts), the Imagineers never had any plans to have the monorail make a stop at this wilderness-themed hotel.If anything, the very idea of having an ultra-sleek, modern transportation system making regular stops at Cypress Point's front door kind of undermined the sort of story that WED was looking to tell with this particular hotel. Which was: You're out at this remote spot in the woods. The whole point of booking a stay at Cypress Point was that you were looking to disconnect from the hectic, modern world and then reconnect with nature.
That kind of explains one of the initial design conceits of Cypress Point. That -- in addition to the 550 rooms which would be available for rent within the central core complex of this wilderness-themed hotel -- the Imagineers also planned on building 20 rustic cabins out along the shore of Bay Lake for those WDW visitors who really were looking to " ... get away from it all."
Disney Legend Dick Nunis
Of course, by the mid-1970s, Walt Disney World officials were refocusing all their efforts on trying to find some way to deliver on the promise of EPCOT. So plans for Cypress Point -- along with the Asian, Venetian and Persian Hotels -- got tabled for a time. But as work on EPCOT Center was well underway in the Fall of 1981, Dick Nunis -- the then-executive vice president of Disneyland and Walt Disney World -- realized that demand for on-property hotel rooms would radically increase once this futuristic theme park officially opened on October 1, 1982. So Dick had the Imagineers dig out some of their original hotel plans for the WDW Resort for review. And the project that Nunis then decided to revive was Cypress Point.
"Why Cypress Point?," you ask,"And not the Venetian or the Persian? Or especially the Asian, whose prepped-and-ready construction site had been jutting out into Seven Seas Lagoon ever since the Resort had first opened back in October of 1971?" To be blunt, Nunis was looking for a hotel that could be built in the Magic Kingdom area that then would have the least day-to-day operational impact on that theme park during that hotel's construction phase. And had the Imagineers opted to go ahead with construction of the Asian instead ... Well, that would have meant disruptions of the Magic Kingdom's monorail service as they built that hotel's covered-and-connected Monorail station. And that really wasn't what Dick was looking for. He wanted a hotel that could be built which would then have little or no impact of the Guest experience of the tens of thousands of people who were staying out in Kissimmee and driving up 192 to come spend the day at the Magic Kingdom & the soon-to-open EPCOT Center.That was what was kind of unusual about Dick Nunis. While he was running Walt Disney World, he prided himself on being a good neighbor. Dick didn't view the people and/or the companies who ran all of those off-property hotels, motels & restaurants as the enemy. Nunis figured that ... Well, given that the Mouse made so much money off of the tourists who visited the Company's Central Florida resort during the day, it really wasn't necessary to chase after every single nickel which rolled off of Disney's table. Which is why -- when Dick talked about building new on-property hotels -- he wasn't all that enthusiastic about 1920 - 2112 room behemoths like Disney's All-Star Sports or the Caribbean Beach Resort. Nunis was more of a "share-the-wealth" guy. Which is why he favored smaller, low capacity resorts like the 550 room Cypress Point project that was supposed to be built along the shore of Bay Lake.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Mind you, as the cost of building EPCOT Center ballooned from WED's initial estimates of $400 million to $800 million (with the final price tag for this futuristic theme park winding up being just shy of $1.2 billion), Dick wound up having to put off the start of construction on Cypress Point. And then when EPCOT Center failed to meet its initial attendance projections during that theme park's first full year of operations ... Well, that then caused the price of shares in Walt Disney Productions stock to tank. Which then left the Company vulnerable to attack by greenmailers like Saul P. Steinberg & Ivan Boesky. And it was the resulting uncertainty about Walt Disney Productions' financial future that resulted in a management change at the Mouse House in September 1984. With Ron Miller being forced out and Michael Eisner then being appointed as Disney's new chief executive officer.
And Eisner? Well, he had a very different attitude than Dick Nunis' when it came to Walt Disney World. Michael wasn't interested in being a good neighbor to all of the hotel, motel & restaurant operators out along 192. His main goal was to maximize the profit potential of the Florida property. Which is why -- during the 20+ years that Eisner was calling the shots at the Mouse House -- there was almost continuous construction on those 43 square miles of land that the Company owned in Orange & Osceola County. As Michael turned Walt Disney World into this virtual walled city in his effort to make sure that not a single dollar was left on the table.
This is why the 550 room Cypress Point hotel that Dick Nunis initially wanted to build alongside Bay Lake eventually got turned into the 730 room Wilderness Lodge Resort. More to the point, once this WDW hotel opened in May of 1994 and proved to be a huge success with Disney World visitors, the Company immediately began looking for ways to expand the footprint of this super-popular resort. They were eventually able to add an additional 137 units to this property in November of 2000 by building a brand new DVC -- the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge -- right next door to the main lodge building.
Getting back to your transportation-related question now, Brandon ... It may interest you to know that -- while Cypress Point / Wilderness Lodge was never intended to be connected to the Magic Kingdom Resorts monorail loop -- the Imagineers did initially plan on this wilderness-themed resort having its own unique internal transportation system.
Take a look at the 1994 era site plan that the Urban Design Group (i.e. the architectural firm that Michael Eisner tapped in 1989 to create a National Parks-inspired hotel for this 100-acre site) came up with for the overall Wilderness Lodge / Fort Wilderness campground area. Do you see that proposed rail loop in the center of this image?
Well, if Peter H. Dominick -- the lead architect on this project -- had had his way, the Fort Wilderness Railroad (which provided somewhat reliable transportation for Guests staying at the Fort Wilderness campground between the years of 1973 & 1977) would have been resurrected in a far hardier form. And this time around, that steam train would have taken people who were staying at Wilderness Lodge over to Fort Wilderness Junction. Where they could have caught a performance of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, had a meal or gone shopping in the new western-themed village that Dominick was looking to build next to Clementine Beach (i.e. that strip of sand to the right of River Country where Fort Wilderness visitors used to be able to swim. Until WDW officials began discouraging people from bathing in Bay Lake, that is).
Interesting enough, this adding-a-western-themed-village-at-Fort-Wilderness idea actually dates back to the early, early days of WDW's campground. According to what Gary Goddard once told me in a 2008 interview, the Imagineers were already talking about seriously expanding this corner of the Resort as far back as 1974. And then ...
EDITOR'S NOTE: I had reached this point in writing last week's Why For column last Friday morning when the news began to break about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Which kind of knocked me for a loop for a while there. Given that -- over the past three years -- I've made three separate trips to Newtown, CT. And all of them for Disney-related reasons.
To explain: My significant other -- Nancy Stadler -- is a huge ABC soaps fan. And when Disney's Hollywood Studios cancelled its annual Super Soap Weekend in 2009, Nancy took that kind of hard. Which is why we then began casting around for some sort of replacement event.
And as it turns out, in 2010, Treehouse Comedy Productions began staging ABC Soap-related events at Edmond Town Hall. Which is this 80 year-old theater located right in the heart of a picturesque small town in southwestern Connecticut. Which is why on two separate occasions (September 10, 2010 and June 24, 2011 to be exact) we made the 3 1/2 hour drive down from New Boston, NH to Newtown, CT. Just so Nancy & friends could then see Port Chuck (which is this band made up of four actors from "General Hospital") & Maurice Bernard (who plays Sonny Corinthos on that same ABC soap).And since I'm really not all that much of a soap opera fan, while Nancy & Co. were inside Edmond Town Hall enjoying performances by Port Chuck & Mr. Bernard, I killed time by exploring Newtown. Which is very much like New Boston. Right down to the old-fashioned general store in the center of town which has this really great deli hidden in the back. I got a terrific turkey wrap at the Newtown General Store right before that store closed at 5 p.m. Which -- I know -- might seen kind of a pretty early time for a general store to close. But that's the way things are in small New England towns. Once people are settled into their houses, safe & snug for the night, you're really not going to do all that much more business. So what's the point of staying open longer than you have to?
Newtown General Store decorated for the holidays
Anyway ... I really enjoyed what I saw of Newtown, CT during my two visits there. It seemed like this very tight little community. By that I mean: When I was parked in the lot directly below Edmond Town Hall, I had this clear view of the volunteer fire department. And when a call came in that damp June night, I watched as all sorts of locals came tearing into the parking lot with their cars & SUVs. They quickly pulled on their fire gear and then fearlessly climbed up on that truck, willing to do whatever they had ro in order to help their neighbors.
Of course, it's one thing to help a single family deal with the aftermath of a house fire. It's quite another to help 20 different families deal with the sudden, brutal loss of a child.
Anywho ... My most recent trip to Newtown wasn't even a planned thing. Earlier this Spring, Nancy and I were driving through Connecticut on our way back home from Georgia. We had been down in Carnesville, GA dealing with her Dad's estate and had just a few hours of driving to go before when we'd make it back home to New Boston. And as the two of us were driving up 84, I suddenly realized that I had a phone interview scheduled with Elijah Wood (who voices the character of Beck on Disney XD's "TRON Uprising") which was supposed to begin shortly.
So I took the very next exit off of 84. And where did we wind up totally by chance? Newtown, CT. Again. And I sat in the parking lot of the Blue Colony Diner talking with Mr. Wood (who's a very nice guy, by the way), I couldn't help but think how happy I was to be back in this place once more. I mean -- while so much of Connecticut now feels like an extended bedroom community for all of the bigger cities in that state like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven -- Newtown really has an identity that's all its own. It looks like this really great place to live. A place where you can sit out in front of the General Store and have total strangers say "Hello" to you as they walk by on Main Street.
"Why exactly are you telling me this, Jim?," you ask. "I don't want to hear about Main Street in Newtown, CT. I want to hear about Main Street, U.S.A. at one of the Disney theme parks." The reason that I'm sharing these stories with JHM readers is -- just like you -- I've been watching all of the coverage coming out of Newtown, CT this past weekend. Where people like Geraldo Rivera stand in front of this small town's high school football field and then attempt to be profound. Talking about what this senseless, brutal tragedy says about America. Who we are as a nation. Who we are as a people.
And I just want to remind you that -- if you can just look past all of those satellite trucks and those slickly produced news segments with their solemn musical underscores -- Newtown, CT is a real place with real people who are still reeling. All because some animal with an automatic weapon shot his way into an elementary school last Friday morning and then -- for whatever reason -- decided to turn a group of heroic teachers and their terrified students into targets.
As a parent and coming from a family of educators as I do (My mother was a teacher. My father was a principal. My brother & my sister are principals today. My sister-in-law is also an educator), that something like this could happen to little kids & their teachers in the one place that they were all supposed to be safe just sickens me. Then factor in that this shooting happened in Newtown, CT. Which really is the sort of place that Norman Rockwell used to make his paintings about ... just escalates this tragedy to unimaginable heights.
But since this is America that we're talking about here ... By this time next week, once the first wave of the memorial services are over, there'll be some other tragedy that'll comes along which will then immediately grab our attention. And Geraldo & all those satellite trucks will pull up stakes and move on to that story. Finally leaving the residents of this small southwestern Connecticut town alone to mourn their own in their own way.
Last night outside of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, CT. Copyright AmericanBroadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
But before that happened ... I just wanted to talk about the real Newtown, CT. Which is more than just that high school football field or those candlelight vigils in front of St. Rose of Lima Church that you keep seeing over & over & over again on television. I'm just hoping that -- after all of the tears & the anger & the mourning -- that the good people who actually live in this quiet corner of Fairfield County find a way to heal. That these folks can somehow find their way to being the sort of community where you immediately begin chatting up a complete stranger when they sit themselves down at the counter of the Blue Colony Diner. Or just automatically say "Hello" to someone who's seated out in front of the Newtown General Store because it's the polite thing to do.
Here's hoping that things someday get back to normal in this small New England town. Though -- right now -- I don't see how that could ever be possible.
Hi Jim - I've enjoyed reading your articles for years - thanks for your time and talent. The Why For articles have always been a personal favorite.
Interesting comments about good neighbor approach that Dick Nunis too with the 192/Kissimmee crowd. I heard a different tale of the what Disney management thought of the Kissimmee motels, restaurants, and counter-atrractions.
A little background first. I visited WDW on a family vacation in 1972 and was completely hooked by the magic of the property. Following that trip, I read everything I could find about the contsruction of the park and desperately to see the utlildors. And I wanted answers to how the Imagineers created all of the special effects in the attractions.
In 1976, at the age of 14, my father told me that if I saved enough money to pay for airfare, Disney tickets, and half of a cheap hotel room, he would take me to Disney World again. Save I did, and that summer, the two of us headed for Orlando. Unbeknownst to me, my father had written a letter to a general Disney address, requesting a backstage tour for his Disney geek son. Amazingly, he received a positive response while we were actually in Orlando. My mother read the letter a Disney representative sent to my father over the phone while we were sitting in our hotel room; we were to call the cast member, Jerry Van Dyke, to set up an appointment for a backstage tour.
Jerry Van Dyke was an Orlnado transplant from Disneyland. He was one of the original WDW opening day supervisors in Liberty Square - one of my guidebooks has a photo of Jerry with some of his Liberty Square crew in costume. In 1976, he had been given a new job as training supervisor. My father's letter requesting a backstage tour had somehow made it to his desk and, in his new position, he decided to make an exception to grant a tour.
My father and I met Jerry at the TTC where we were ushered into a small break room. Before the private tour started, Jerry wanted to give us an overview of Disney property, including future plans for all of the undeveloped land. One statement he made has stuck with me all of these years: "From the beginning of construction of the Florida park and two hotels, we told all of the mom & pop hotels and restaurants in Kissimmee to enjoy their profits in these early years. Because (Disney) intends to keep building enough hotels that will eventually put them out of business. Tourists will have no reason to ever leave Disney property and we want them to stay right here." Not quite the friendly neighbor approach that Dick Nunis espoused, huh?
The next three hours were spent visiting the utilidors, standing behind set pieces of attractions, and peeking through the second floor windows along Main Street. A dream come true. But the tour is another story. Funny to think people now pay for a similar tour.
Five years later, Jerry helped me get a summer job, driving submarines in Fantasyland. I returned after college to work full time for the Mouse and eventually met my wife working at Epcot. Although we no longer live in Central Florida, we still visit WDW once or twice a year. And I will always remember the kindness of Jerry Van Dyke who made an exception for a bona-fide Disney geek.
Thanks for a great Why for? article but the ending of this was really heart felt I too hope that the small town can return back to being the way it was. Bless all those whp live there
Thanks Jim for your tribute to my amazing town. Next time you are by let me know and I'll take you for lunch at the general store, and I'd be happy to share more of my wonderful hometown.
Hello Jim, Enjoyed your story on the Wilderness Lodge and what could have been connected to River Country and Pioneer Hall by the then running steam trains which guests so enjoyed. Dick Nunis was a great supporter of River country and Fort Wilderness with Pioneer Hall back then when it was all operational. It was a great area to forget your troubles and settle back in with nature. It would be great to see Disney and WDI Imagineering rethink all this and get the whole package going again along with the steam train connections and River Country, where Wilderness Lodge guests could visit and stay out of the Monorail headlights. The 2 steam trains are still around if Disney wanted to call them back.
I'm with Rusty - I'd love to see Disney bring back the Fort Wilderness Railroad ( but then Ilove steam trains - no surprise there). IIRC, the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society stepped up and saved the engines and the remaining cars; they're being cared for by members. A couple of the cars are gone - they were repurposed as Pleasure Island ticket booths. I can't remember if they're still there or were replaced by new booths of a similar design.
I heard the cars used for ticket booths were no longer there at Pleasure Island. Dick would test the River Country slides quite often and report back to the WED Fronteirland design team for adjustments quite often. It would be a big plus for the Wilderness Lodge to put back the steam trains and upgrade River Country to its former but much improved self. You could have Dick cut the reopening ribbon.