Disney Mountains Book Video Review

Disney Mountains Video Book Review

Love the Disney Mountains?

Does the idea of tackling Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain make you strap on your Disney lederhosen for a fun day at the parks?

What about Matterhorn Mountain? Or Mount Mayday or Mount Gushmore? Have you ever experienced Mount Prometheus? And don’t forget about Grizzly Peak orExpedition Everest.

And if you want learn everything there is about the Disney Mountains from all of the Disney Parks worldwide…where you look?

Check out my Video Review of The Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell

What’s Your Favorite Disney Mountain?


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Essential Walt Disney World Books

Essential Walt Disney World Books

There are a few essential Walt Disney World books. Especially if you’re doing any serious research about Walt Disney World. Or even if you’re the world’s biggest Walt Disney World fan. I’ve been collecting Disney-related books for 30 years and I’ve amassed over a 1000 individual titles in my personal library. I’ve published a fairly complete Walt Disney World bibliography but I wanted to offer a more concise list of Walt Disney World books that everyone should own.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – The First 25 Years by Jeff Kurtti

I wax about this book at every opportunity. It’s the only official history of Walt Disney World and covers the first 25 years. To me, this represents the one book that all Walt Disney World enthusiasts, researchers and fans should own. Jeff’s book takes us on a fantastic overview of the Florida property and he’s able to dispense such a large history into a single volume. There were hopes that Disney would update this title for the 40th Anniversary but there wasn’t an interest from Disney. Let’s hope for a 50th Anniversary edition although this might need to be an independent publication.

Essential Walt Disney World Books:  Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia by Dave Smith (2006)

This is a must have for anyone researching Disney. I have all three editions, but the third one (2006) is the preferred title. Dave’s encyclopedia offers short entries detailing the opening, closing and general history of parks, resorts, restaurants and attractions. I’ve run across a few discrepancies in the book, but overall, it’s the go to resource for quick information and for finding out those small details. In case you didn’t know, Dave did start the Walt Disney Archives and is pretty much the de facto authority on Disney history. There is a fourth edition available exclusively from Sam’s Club.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow By Richard Beard (1982)

This book is pretty indescribable. If you love Epcot Center, then you need this book. It’s 240 pages dedicated to Epcot. The concept artwork is incredible and the narrative behind each pavilion is eye-opening. Disney had a hard time explaining the concept of Epcot Center to the world so this book was part of the PR campaign, so to speak. It’s a one-of-a-kind resource; Disney hasn’t published anything like it before and probably never will again. There are at least four different versions of the book, as well (You can read about three of the different editions, here).

Essential Walt Disney World Books: The Art of Walt Disney World by Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti (2009)

This is one of the more expensive Walt Disney World books, and with good reason. When it was released, it was a theme park exclusive, so it had a limited run and few people picked it up. This book is amazing and offers some of the most incredible artwork anywhere. Jeff looks at each of the artists, as well, and offers insight into the creation of the work. Most of the images center around pre-opening and the 1970s Vacation Kingdom of the World. If you can find it, grab a copy.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Then, Now, And Forever by Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti (2007)

This is almost a follow-up to Since the World Began, but not quite. It’s a general look at what makes Walt Disney World  such a special place. Jeff and Bruce, well known to Disney book fans, offer a look at Walt Disney World through the years, including sections on long gone attractions and what replaced them. It’s a great addition to your collection. This one is geared more to the casual fan but it’s still a fantastic book.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America by Stephen Fjellman (1992)

This is a sociological treatise on Walt Disney World. Stephen spent a lot of time doing in-park research and offers insight into how Disney looks at Americana and how American society reacts to Disney in a theme park setting. At times the book can be fairly dense but what are the shining jewels of the title, simply, are the attraction walk-throughs from the author. It’s an amazing time capsule of the attractions from 1989-1991 Walt Disney World. As far as insight into these attractions, there’s nothing better.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort: A photographic tour of the themed gardens of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and other resort areas by Dee Hannaford (1988)

This book has always been one of my favorites. Before the days of digital film and the interwebz, there wasn’t a place where you could spend months on end just looking at photographs of Disney parks. This book offers stunning images of Walt Disney World pre-1988. These full-page (and larger) images showcase the resort and what a vacation was like before the expansion of the Disney Decade. Not a lot of historical information but the photographs do show a lot of areas of the parks that are gone or have changed. I love this book.

Seriously, it is amazing.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire by Bob Thomas (1998)

This official company biography of Roy O. Disney really shares a lot about the creation of Walt Disney World from the perspective of Walt’s older brother. Bob interviewed many company officials and people that were directly involved with building Walt Disney World. Beyond the Walt Disney World history, it’s a great book about Roy and all of the amazing contributions of the more silent partner of the company.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig (2007, 2014)

David is well-known in Disney circles. He’s a journalist who’s written a lot about Disneyland (re: Mouse Tales). In Realityland, David looks at the first 20 years of Walt Disney World with the creation of the Vacation Kingdom and Epcot Center. He interviews many cast members from all levels and presents some amazing anecdotes. David is not a fan of Eisner and it’s apparent in this book. Again, it’s a work that seems to stop in the late 1980s leaving us with gaps from the 1990s and 2000s that need to be filled in. It’s a definite for your collection and has a great notes section.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Story of Walt Disney World Commemorative Edition (Various Years 1971-1982)

A lot of people remember this book fondly and I know that it inspired a few current Imagineers to follow their dreams and work for the company. This is a rare look at the construction of the Vacation Kingdom and offers some amazing photos of the the property, resorts and attractions being built. There are two versions (almost identical) that offer different fun-style maps of Walt Disney World.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World the First Decade (1982)

A fascinating book from Disney that covers the first ten years of the Vacation Kingdom. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes information and some amazing photos of attractions and lands. Unlike the current souvenir guides, Disney shared a lot of more random photos and more information detailing the attractions. There are also fifteen- and twenty-year titles but the First Decade one is my favorite and offers more information on 1970s Walt Disney World. Epcot fans will want to pick up the fifteen-year title, too.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes by Kevin Yee (2014)

Kevin is one of the more prolific independent authors. Hidden History is a good look at the hidden (or unfamiliar) details at the parks. Kevin also looks at tributes of former attractions that can be found today. It’s a quick and easy read and is sure to increase your nerdy status with all of your friends. Kevin visits Walt Disney World on a weekly basis and this work helps to document a lot of the changes over the years.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell (2007)

This book covers the nine mountains at Disney parks around the world and focuses on their history and development. Six of the mountains are at Walt Disney World and offer tremendous insight into the attractions and their differences. Lots of great artwork abounds.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (2015); From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (2009 Updated Edition) and Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (2005) by Jason Surrell

Jason writes the unparalleled histories of these two vaunted and inspiring theme park attractions. Covering the earliest concept artwork and inklings of the attraction, Jason shares how the attractions evolved and the Imagineers that worked on them. The spectacular feature of the books is the scene-by-scene narrative of the attractions and the differences between the version in each park. Jason covers the films, as well, but they offer little insight into the theme park attractions. Great for fans of the attractions and for researchers wanting more information on the development of the attractions. There have been three editions of the Haunted Mansion book. I recommend getting the 2009 and 2015 editions.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad and Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad Gallery Companion by David Leaphart. (2010)

I’m including this two-volume set by David because it’s an area that not many people have covered, especially not at this level of detail. The amount of photographs (mostly from the 1970s) and the maps that David shares is unprecedented. It’s an expensive set, based on it’s size, but the information presented is fairly unique. Sadly, it’s a LuLu imprint so you have to order it directly from them. If you’re a serious historian, then you need to own it, otherwise it’s a little too expensive. Read my full review, here. There has been an updated version, but I have not had the chance to review them.


I could have included at least 20 more titles in this list. To me, these are the most crucial and offer the most information about Walt Disney World.

What’s your favorite of the essential Walt Disney World books? Is there just one must-have book?

The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (From the Magic Kingdom), book review

The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (From the Magic Kingdom) by Jason Surrell, a book review

George: Let’s check out the latest release of Jason Surrell’s Haunted Mansion book entitled: The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (From the Magic Kingdom).  It was released on September 2, 2015 and comes in at 128 p. This is the third edition, sort of. The first version was in 2003 and the second in 2009. Theoretically, it does have a different title and is four pages less than the 2009 edition.

Jeff: Four pages less?! You mean they took some of the information out?! Where else am I going to get my treasure trove of knowledge?! Was there a map to a hidden treasure encoded onto those pages?! I NEED TO GO BACK AND COMPARE!

George: The Haunted Mansion book is broken down into two main sections; thank goodness the Haunted Mansion movie was dropped. The first section looks at the history and evolution of the Disneyland spooky house in great and exhaustive detail. There is so much concept artwork, including a few items I’ve never seen before and some great anecdotes from Imagineers.

Jeff: I’ve always hated the section on the movie. Despite it having some cool artwork and a little but of insight, the film never played well for me (or anyone) so I’m glad they exorcised it…much like we are trying to do with it in our minds.

George: Surrell then delves into the creation of the other four Haunted Mansions around the world, including Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. Surrell offers wonderful insight into where the mansions were located (and why) as well as the rationale behind the choices. Surrell does discuss why the Disneyland Paris Mansion is so dilapidated and why Mystic Manor is considered a Mansion.

Jeff: The hot ticket here is obviously the information on Mystic Manor. While not a mansion in a traditional sense, it still fits quite well within the Mansion Mold. I won’t be able to get to it anytime soon, so having Surrell divulge lve some information on it here was a real treat.

George: The last half of the book is a complete walkthrough, scene-by-scene of the four Mansions that are based on the Disneyland attraction. Whenever the Florida, Tokyo or Paris versions veer off track, Surrell covers the differences and changes. He also covers a lot of the enhancements at all the mansions, including the interactive queue at WDW and the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay at Disneyland and Tokyo.

Jeff: Again, seeing the Haunted Mansion Holiday every year, these bits gave me a little more information on the process it takes to make it happen. If anything, I appreciate it even more now, and don’t start disliking it until at LEAST December 15th now.

George: Yes, this is a definite purchase, even if you own either of the previous editions. Plus, it has a glow in the dark cover!

Are you going to pick up The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (From the Magic Kingdom)? Which haunted Mansion is your favorite?


Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell, a book review

Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell, a book review

Wearing your lederhosen? We’re going to climb some Disney Mountains!

The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak was published in September 2007 and has 128 pages. Jason Surrell might be a familiar name to most cadets. He also wrote the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean books—the ones that have the subtitle From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies! (They’re pretty amazing and the de facto histories of those attractions.) He was an Imagineer in Florida and currently works for Universal Creative.

This book is one of my favorites. I know, I say that often, but it’s true! Basically, Jason looks at all of the Disney mountains, their history, how they transformed Disney parks and theme parks worldwide and their litany within the company.

The first mountain is Matterhorn Mountain at Disneyland. Jason spends a lot of time on this section and with good reason. The Matterhorn was the first in so many areas. We learn about the initial spark for the mountain, how it was built and the changes throughout the years. We start the journey with Walt’s need to fill an empty spot at Disneyland that was created by removing dirt from the moat around the castle. Originally named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, not only was it an eyesore, but the Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out for some of the park’s more brazen guests. Unofficially, the area became known as lover’s lane. After a trip to Switzerland to oversee the filming of Third Man on the Mountain, Walt fell in love with the Matterhorn. Thus began Walt’s quest to build a mountain at Disneyland.

Through each chapter we’re introduced to the Disney legends and Imagineers that made these mountains real. There’s concept art, drawings and stellar paintings—my favorites are the ones from the different Splash Mountains all over the world. Jason interviewed a lot of Imagineers and the stories shared are wonderful. There’s not another resource that looks at the Disney mountains in such an in depth manner.

So, here’s the list of the mountains covered: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Typhoon Lagoon (Mount Mayday) and Blizzard Beach (Mount Gushmore), Splash, Grizzly Peak, Mount Prometheus and Expedition Everest. There’s even a few pages dedicated to Candy Mountain, which had been shown at Disney California Adventure.

A majority of the book is dedicated to concept artwork instead of behind-the-secenes or narrative-style information about the Disney mountains. It makes sense in this case, simply because Surrell has to cover so many Disney mountains in so many Disney parks. The concept art is simply amazing. Works by John Hench, Herb Ryman, Mary Blair, Tony Baxter, Clem Hall and Dan Goozee are scattered throughout the book. The original concept art for Space Mountain called for parts of the track to circle outside the lower part of the building and near the spires. Mainly to entice people to ride it. The Imagineers feared that people would shy away from the ride if they didn’t know what to expect. The ride tracks at the top would have simply been a smaller version of the ride tracks and vehicles with small dummies in them. Weather, costs and engineering kept the original idea from fruition.

It’s a great title and one that I’d like to see Disney (or another publisher) do more of. Jason is a natural storyteller and highlights a lot of the anecdotes from the Imagineers that show how special the Disney mountains are. That’s what makes this book so entertaining. Not only are you learning Disney history, but you’re enjoying yourself, too! Just like listening to Communicore Weekly (the Greatest Online Show).

This is a definite must have and should be part of every cadet’s library. It is out-of-print, so it’s fairly expensive on the second-hand market.

Do you own this book? Which one of the Disney mountains is your favorite?


Daily Figment 62: Book Review: The Disney Mountains

I just finished The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell.

What a great read. No, strike that. What an amazing read!

Concept art, stories, ride photographs and some great insider (re: Imagineer) information. You will read how the Imagineers started the Mountain concept and how the art of storytelling through the actual rides became what it is today.

We start the journey with Walt’s need to fill an empty spot at Disneyland that was created by removing dirt from the moat around the castle. Originally named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, not only was it an eyesore, but the Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out for some of the park’s more brazen guests. Unofficially, the area became known as lover’s lane. After a trip to Switzerland to oversee the filming of Third Man on the Mountain, Walt fell in love with the Matterhorn. Thus began Walt’s quest to build a mountain at Disneyland

The book focuses on every Disney Mountain ever created, but most of the book is spent on the big five: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Splash and Everest. Sandwiched between Matterhorn and Expedition Everest are sixteen other mountains (counting each one at all of the parks); including Candy Mountain–the Mountain that never was.

The concept art is simply amazing. Works by John Hench, Herb Ryman, Mary Blair, Tony Baxter, Clem Hall and Dan Goozee are scattered throughout the book. The original concept art for Space Mountain called for parts of the track to circle outside the lower part of the building and near the spires. Mainly to entice people to ride it. The Imagineers feared that people would shy away from the ride if they didn’t know what to expect. The ride tracks at the top would have simply been a smaller version of the ride tracks and vehicles with small dummies in them. Weather, costs and engineering kept the original idea from fruition.

In addition to discussing Candy Mountain, a good section of the book is devoted to Imagineer Marc Davis’ swan song concept for the Western River Expedition. Marc, much like Walt, never wanted to repeat himself. He agreed that Walt Disney World should not have a Pirates attraction and he began to devote a lot of his time to the creation of the Western River Expedition.

…An audio-animatronics extravaganza that would outdazzle Pirates in every respect. The water ride was to be the centerpiece of Thunder Mesa, an expansive show complex that would also be home to hiking trails and pack-mule rides along its slopes and ridges, and a runway mine train ride down its hills and through its valleys.

Western River Expedition would be a wild and woolly musical adventure starring cowboys and Indians, masked banditos, and high-kicking cancan dancers, culminating with a raging forest fire and a final, dizzying plunge down a waterfall to the shores of the Rivers of America.

p. 61.The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak

Of course, you will need to read the book to see what eventually happened with Thunder Mesa.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Splash Mountain section. Being the Disney Geeks very favorite ride at Walt Disney World, I was happy to see fifteen pages dedicated to the most awesome and incredible ride ever. Even though the concept is from 1983 (yay, Tony Baxter), the ride has its roots much earlier. Marc Davis created the 103 animatronics in Splash for the America Sings attraction in 1976. X Atencio also had a hand in designing one of the characters.

Beautiful paintings, at times, cover the entire fold. There are pictures of the Imagineers working on scale models, standing in front of humongous concept art and working on the Mountains. Jason Surrell relates wonderful stories from Imagineers spanning almost 50 years of designing and building the Disney Mountains.

You need this book!

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