I ran across almost one hundred rare Walt Disney World Construction photos in my files. I’d forgotten that I even had them. Most of these images are from 1967 to 1971 and I’ve rarely seen them used anywhere else. I knew what some of the Walt Disney World Construction photos were, but most of them, I couldn’t identify. Can you help?
Check out the video and let me know!
Rare Walt Disney World Construction Photos Video
There are photos of Bay Lake, Seven Seas Lagoon, the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and so much more. You can get glimpses of the Contemporary Resort, the parking lot, Discovery Island (Raz Island), the US Steel Fabrication Center and a lot of backstage areas. There are even a few early shots of Interstate 4 as it makes its way around the boundaries of the property. The end of the video features photos of either the Southern Seas or the Ports-O-Call. These were two early Walt Disney World cruise ships that were used for ferrying guests to Discovery Island and for the World cruises.
Are you able to identify any of the images? Leave a comment and let me know!
Don’t forget to head over and subscribe to my Youtube channel for more videos about Walt Disney World, roller coasters, Dollywood, Carowinds and so much more! I’ll be uploading videos on the construction of the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort and the Magic Kingdom!
One thing that’s always set Walt Disney World apart from Disneyland and other theme parks (well, besides the sheer size, of course) is the use of water and water-based transportation. My obsession with Bob-A-Round (and Bob-A-Long) boats is well-documented but there are other Vacation Kingdom of the World-era watercraft that still need research and photographic evidence.
The Southern Seas and Ports-O-Call were two Osceola-Class Sidewheelers (a term Disney created). The ships were a little over 100 feet long and had a steam boiler operating a genuine “Gallows A- Frame Walking Beam Engine”. Modeled after the type found on the steamer “Francis Skiddy” of the gold rush era, circa 1900′s (http://www.wcdept478.com/AboutPorts.htm). Both were built in 1969. The Ports-O-Call was in service until 1982 and scrapped in 1984. The Southern Seas was in service until 1975 (scrapped in 1977) and the Southern Seas II was built in 1977 (it used a steam engines, which was more reliable) and remained in some sort of service (mostly convention-based traffic) until it was dry-docked and scrapped in 1997.
A good friend of mine was able to provide these scans of photos he took in the late 1970s of the cruise ships in action. He provided some commentary, as well!
Loved them, the side wheels were unique, you could walk to either side and behind them, much closer than the River Boats. I think it was the two originals that would shudder a bit to get started. I heard they had to stop the wheels at the half way point in the piston travel to avoid locking up the wheels would then have to be manually rotated so the piston could push/pull. The Boiler Rooms were glassed in so you could see the boiler and the mighty piston that made the wheels turn and talk to the engineer who operated it.
I took many trips to Discovery Island, it was like going to a faraway special place.
The Southern Seas II was my favorite, loaded with beautiful wood decks, railings, bright brass fixtures, bigger and better, a dance floor, bar and bathrooms.
One special trip, I was as a guest for a evening corporate party on the Southern Seas, with live music and drinks. Totally magic with all the lights to see and the Water Pageant. I remember thinking the Pageant was so much louder up close. I was surprised by the water reflections from the surrounding sights and the moon, just beautiful.
It was heart breaking they let the Southern Seas II go. I think today besides convention rentals, a reservation moonlight cruise a few times a week it could’ve been successful today. Even as a cocktail party transportation for a new Pirate dinner show on Discovery Island would be unique.
Do you have any memories, anecdotes or photos of the Walt Disney World Cruise Ships: Ports-O-Call, Southern Seas (I and II) or the World Cruise? Did you ever get to experience these cruise ships?
Fort Wilderness camping? Let’s take a look at what a week-long stay at Fort Wilderness was like in 1973.
Walt Disney World Vacationland was a magazine published three times a year and distributed throughout hotels, motels and restaurants in Georgia, Alabama. Louisiana and Florida. Although it was a Disney publication, they presented articles and advertisements from other Central Florida attractions like GatorWorld and the Kennedy Space Center. Vacationland is an amazing resource for researching the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
When I was leafing through the Spring 1973 edition of Vacationland, I ran across a fantastic article about Fort Wilderness camping. The purpose of the Vacationland titles was to promote everything you could do during a week-long vacation at Walt Disney World. At the time, this was a completely different type of vacation and Disney had an interesting time promoting it. I’ve presented the entire article and added my own comments to talk about the changes and differences over the years. The article, although presented as a diary, is simply a way of showing potential visitors the plethora of activities available during Fort Wilderness camping.
It’s a diary of a week-long visit, from Sunday to Sunday. I know that most modern vacationers to Walt Disney World will make a beeline to the Magic Kingdom or their favorite theme park on their first day. Not this trip. Not when you’re at Fort Wilderness camping!
Fort Wilderness Camping: Seven Leaves from a Wilderness Diary
Arrived early this morning for seven days of camping at Fort Wilderness-Walt Disney World’s 600-acre campground. After checking in at the Reception Outpost, a Disney hostess guided us to our campsite. Hard to believe that there are more than 700 campsites, as each site is hidden among stands of cypress, bay, and pine. Our “home” for the next week is complete with a barbecue pit, picnic table, electrical outlet, water system, sanitary disposal unit, and an audacious squirrel who looked us over and seemed to approve, as he chattered continuously as we unloaded our camper.
Decided to stretch our legs after setting up camp. Walked to the beach and watched the boats bobbing about on Bay Lake. Although private boats aren’t allowed at Fort Wilderness, sailors shouldn’t mind as every conceivable type of boat can be rented at the campground dock.
I love the subtle mention of the Bob-A-Round boats. It’s interesting that Disney would feel the need to mention specifically that private boats aren’t allowed. I’m assuming that people assumed they could bring their own boat to a campground.
Stopped for a delicatessen sandwich at the Trading Post- an old-fashioned country store near the beach which stocks almost everything. Bought Mickey Mouse sweatshirts to get into the “spirit” of things.
Learned that there are comfort stations located at strategic places throughout the campground. All are air-conditioned with showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities.
This must be the only campground in the world with a genuine, old-fashioned, narrow-gauge steam-powered train! Took a free trip for several miles around the perimeter of the campground. The engineer told us that eventually it will carry guests to a western town complete with “themed” dining, shopping, and entertainment facilities.
There’s not a lot of research about the “western town” that would have bordered Fort Wilderness. In the mid-1970s, we would see concept artwork for Cypress Point, which would be between Fort Wilderness and the Contemporary Resort (sort of where the Wilderness Lodge is located). You can even find mentions of Buffalo Junction project of the early 1990s but very little about the “western town.”
Up early to watch the sun rise over the lake. Walked quite a distance down the deserted beach to where stands of shaggy cypress marked the path leading to the Fishin’ Hole. Caught several good-sized fingerling bass for breakfast. Noticed a sign marking a nature trail will investigate that later.
There are so many ways to get around at the campground other than shank’s mare. Canoes, bicycles, electric boats, horses- and seldom is a car ever seen, which is pleasant indeed.
Catching your own breakfast? I definitely don’t see that as an option on My Disney Experience.
We rented a tandem bicycle at the Bicycle Barn and spent the afternoon exploring the wilderness on special trails Also pedaled to the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, adjacent to the campground, to look at the western saddlehorses. A Disney “cowboy” told us that there are more than 60 horses available for guided trail rides. Got a kick watching some tiny riders on the Shetland Pony Ride. Fed a persistent African pygmy goat at the Petting Farm and then headed back to return the bikes.
Tandem bicycles could be rented for $2.00 an hour or $6.00 for the entire day.
Tonight we are going to the nightly campfire program to get acquainted with our fellow campers and to enjoy some “live” entertainment.
I’m not sure why there are quotation marks on the word live. I’m assuming they’re talking about the fact that you could have a sing-a-long and a movie. Maybe?
A perfect day for swimming, sunning, and sailing! Spent most of the morning stretched out on the beach and then rented a speedy, little Aqua Lark and cruised around Walt Disney World on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. A splendid way to see the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village, and the Magic Kingdom for the first time.
The Aqua Lark was $6.00 per half hour in 1973 which is about $32.00 in 2014 dollars. When’s the last time that you rented a water craft at Walt Disney World?
Tonight we cruise the same waters but on the deck of an authentic, paddlewheel steamboat which stops twice nightly at the campground dock. Dixieland music onboard and beverages! Tomorrow we visit the Magic Kingdom for a full day of exciting adventures.
Wait. They waited four full days before visiting the Magic Kingdom?!?!
Pleasantly exhausted after a day visiting shops, attractions, and enchanting restaurants in the six “themed” lands of the Magic Kingdom. Certainly intend to return again and again before we leave- there’s just too much to see and to do in one visit. Campers are provided with free transportation to the Magic Kingdom, as well as to the two resort hotels. As this includes monorails, steam launches, trams, and minibusses, “getting there” is half the fun.
Within Disney’s literature, the minibuses were touted as having air-condition. How novel, eh?
Tonight we go on a wildlife excursion in a swamp buggy of all things!
From the January, 1973 WDW News:
Wilderness Night Wildlife Excursions in four-wheel drive vehicles leave the campground each evening at 8:30 to explore the surrounding woodland. The trip lasts two hours and affords guests an opportunity to see a variety of wild creatures in their natural state. The cost is $3.00 per person.
So the wildlife excursion was completely new to me. When I looked at WDW News from months before and after the January edition, I found no mention of it. Do you have any details of the Wilderness Night Wildlife Excursion?
The wildlife excursion last night was quite incredible. We all wore a sort of miner’s hat with an attached light, and as we went deep into unexplored areas, we saw several deer, heard a strange cry that our guide said was a bobcat, and caught a glimpse of two, bright-red eyes belonging to an alligator. An exciting voyage into a wildlife habitat.
Horseback riding today and, perhaps later, an archery lesson. Also intend to cross the water to the hotels and browse in the shops. Tonight, if the weather is good, we are going to our first South Seas luau on the beach of the Polynesian Village.
Horseback riding cost $5.00 per person and it looks like they had rides in the morning and afternoon. The luau was $10.00 for adults, $7.50 for juniors (12-17) and $5.00 for children (3-11).
One lesson a camper learns at Fort Wilderness- it just isn’t possible to do everything in seven days. Volleyball, tetherball, horseshoes, croquet, swimming, fishing, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, horseback riding, archery-there’s something for everyone to do every second of the day. Also, campers are welcome to use all the recreational facilities at the resort hotels.
Today we pay our final visit to the Magic Kingdom and tonight we dress up for dinner and dancing at The Top of the World at the Contemporary Resort.
It’s so hard to believe that they only spent two days at the Magic Kingdom. Although, the Magic Kingdom was open from 9-8 most Fridays and Saturdays in the late spring of 1973. Also, there was no Pirates or Space Mountain at the time. With the paper ticketing system regulating queues, it might have been easier to spend a whole day and actually see everything.
Hard to believe that our week is almost over- tomorrow we return to civilization and leave our wilderness home behind. Today will be spent visiting special spots we’ve made our own, perhaps drifting on the lake or wandering on the Nature Trail, making certain that our memories are stored with impressions to share with each other in the future.
And tonight? Tonight we will gather with friends on the beach to watch the Electrical Water Pageant for the last time and to say, with sadness, “Good-bye’ til the next time.”
It’s hard to imagine a Walt Disney World vacation that’s not full of fast passes, ADRs and shopping. What part of this vacation would you like to experience today?
What do you think about this Fort Wilderness camping “diary” from 1973?
Looking for a great book on the first few years of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World?
Congratulations to Finance Division’s AI Weiss, whose skill at “juggling” figures paid off with his juggling a table tennis ball to reign supreme at Walt Disney World in the Singles Table Tennis Advanced Division, winning champion honors by downing Finance Division’s Jim Morris 16-21, 21-19, 21-15 and 21- 14.
Congratulations to Al for the trophy and his pants!
Selling the Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses
We’ve become used to Disney’s Best Kept Secret: the Disney Vacation Club; especially the fairly heavy presence of the DVC kiosks in the parks and the resorts. Let’s take a look at a much different time in Walt Disney World’s history, when they were trying to sell the Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses.
That’s right: they tried to sell the Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses!
The original plans for the Lake Buena Vista area was, like most everything at Walt Disney World, vastly different from what we see today. It was planned as more of a residential/vacationing area in which people could stay for extended periods but still not be permanent residents. The focus was on creating four themed areas that would connect to the business center (the SunTrust bank area) and the theme park area.
Most of the construction took place in 1974 and 1975. I scanned the images and text from a 1976 brochure that Disney created to promote the villas and treehouses. Let’s take a look at how Disney promoted and marketed the Lake Buena Vista area.
Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses
Imagine entertaining friends in your rustic Treehouse overlooking a fairway. Or vacationing with your family in a luxurious. spacious Vacation Villa. Or discussing business in an Oyster Bar that juts out over a blue lagoon. Finally, let’s add that there’s a Magic Kingdom in your backyard.
Sound exciting? It’s all part of the daily lifestyle found at Lake Buena Vista, a very special side of Walt Disney World.
Besides being close to the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World resorts, Lake Buena Vista features an 18-hole championship golf course. A Club for tennis, swimming, cocktails and dining. A Shopping Village of 33 shops and restaurants with merchandise from around the world. And a Hotel Plaza offering some of Florida’s finest convention and meeting facilities.
Connecting all of Lake Buena Vista to your Vacation Villa or Treehouse are winding electric car and foot-paths. Traffic problems do not mar the peaceful woods and water atmosphere of Lake Buena Vista.
If this sounds like the ideal location for your next vacation or business retreat, then read on.
Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses: The Villa
A lot of the early marketing for the Lake Buena Vista area focused on ways for businesses to use the villas as ways to reward salespeople or for opportunites for corporate retreats. Disney learned from Disneyland and the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair that businesses would be willing to pony up money for exclusives areas (like VIP lounges) to entertain clients and employees. It was seen as an easier way to make sure that the villas were leased/rented more often.
Hidden in the woods bordering the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course and waterways, our two bedroom Treehouses make for a most extraordinary retreat. Each come with all the modern appliances, a spectacular view, and almost total isolation from civilization.
For families and groups, the spacious one, two- and three-bedroom Vacation Villas provide plenty of room. Each is elegantly furnished and includes all the conveniences – kitchenware, color TV, linens, and daily housekeeping service.
Both types of Lake Buena Vista Villas offer an ideal site for all kinds of adventures. Family vacations. Executive retreats. Honeymoons. Corporate incentive programs. Weekend Hideaways. Board meetings. All become unforgettable successes when they take place amidst the rustic atmosphere of Lake Buena Vista.
Check out these two articles about the Lake Buena Vista area and the Treehouses:
Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses: The Village
A very popular destination for both wives and their husbands is the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Of Course, the Village is no ordinary shopping center. Rather, it’s 33 European-style shops and restaurants clustered along the banks of a blue lagoon. Flowers and trees have replaced the chrome and concrete of most traditional shopping centers. Here, weathered brick, warm wood, cedar shingles, and a friendly atmosphere are the rule.
Old World craftsmen, fine fashions, and one of-a-kind merchandise are found throughout the Village. Guests can examine the latest New York fashions. Sample fine wines.
Many guests like to talk about old times over Strawberry Margaritas at Cap’n Jack’s Oyster Bar. While others frequently find themselves swapping golf tales as they dive into a thick roast beef sandwich at Heidelberger’s Deli.
And for stocking their Villa’s kitchen shelves, the Gourmet Pantry carries everything from hot dogs to Delmonicos to imported caviar.
Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses: The Club
The center for recreation at Lake Buena Vista is the Club.
Anyone who’s ever swung a golf club will want to take up the challenge of our 18-hole championship course. Designed by Joe Lee; the elevated greens, tight fairways, and numerous sandtraps are his trademarks. Inside the Club, a pro shop and plush locker room facilities complementthe course in a most professional manner. It’s no wonder that guests playing in an earlymorning foursome – or your company’s tournament – play some of their most enjoyable golf ever at Lake Buena Vista.
Tennis buffs can enjoy a few sets of tennis – and later, a cooling dip in our pool. Then they often wind up the afternoon with cocktails in the relaxing Club lounge.
For dinner, guests may choose from a wide variety of French-style gourmet entrees in the dining room, where select ions range from Filet of Turbot Veronique to Chateaubriand. The Club also features reception rooms, overlooking the fairways, that are ideal for seminars and luncheons.
The language about the Club is rather interesting and quite telling of the times. It reinforces the thought that Disney was trying to market Lake Buena Vista as a destination for adults who don’t want to go to a theme park. They can enjoy shopping, golf and fine dining while on vacation.
Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses: The Hotel Plaza
Plaza hotels – the Dutch Inn, Howard Johnson’s, Royal Plaza, and TraveLodge. Each offers the finest in convention and meeting facilities. And what better place for a convention or stockholder’s meeting than the Vacation Kingdom of the World?
All Lake Buena Vista guests can enjoy the extra features and services of the Hotel Plaza. Like the exciting Hotel Plaza nightclubs – for dancing and cocktails into the night. Classic Walt Disney feature films that delight the whole family. And the all-faiths church service held every Sunday.
I’m still surprised when I see Disney promote other hotels and experiences outside of their property. Walt Disney World, as part of their Florida initiative, promised to be a good neighbor to Orlando and area attractions. On the last panel is a map of the Walt Disney World area highlighting other things to do and see, such as: Kennedy Space Center; Cypress Gardens; Sea World; Circus World; and Busch Gardens.
Did you ever get to experience the Lake Buena Vista Villas and Treehouses before Saratoga Springs? Did you get the chance to stay in the Villas?
The Treehouse Villas weren’t always a Disney Vacation Club property. Originally, the 1973 plans for the Lake Buena Vista Community called for a residential development with four different community themes based on golf, tennis, boating and western (equestrian) activities. A lot of construction took place in 1974 that included 133 townhomes and 4 model homes. The following year, Disney announced a retirement community, additional townhomes and residential apartments for Lake Buena Vista. The 60 Treehouse homes (now called treehouse villas) were finished by 1975.
As the EPCOT Center plan changed in the mid-1970s, so did the idea for the residential community of Lake Buena Vista. In this article from the September 1975 WDW News, we see that the focus of the TreehouseVillas changed, as well. The images are from a 1970s brochure about the Treehouse villas. The TreehouseVillas must’ve been difficult to photograph since there aren’t many great photos out there. A few of these images are amazing.
Villas Open For Leasing by Craig Murray
“Imagine entertaining clients and friends in a treehouse located in the Walt Disney World® Host Community of Lake Buena Vista.”
So said Dan W. Darrow, manager of sales and marketing for Lake Buena Vista, commenting on the new Lake Buena Vista corporate programs.
Executive retreats, customer motivation plans, board meetings, and incentive packages are a few of the corporate programs made possible by the Lake Buena Vista Treehouse (treehouse villas) and Townhouse Villas.
“Clients would be impressed by Staying in a Treehouse that overlooks a fairway” said Darrow. “And employees “would work harder if they could win a week’s stay in a Townhouse.”
The Treehouse villas remarkable fairway or waterway views come from an Octagonal main living area that is hoisted high into the trees by a 10-footdiameter base.
Lake Buena Vista Community, The Original EPCOT Center Video
Inside the Treehouse Villas
A double set of cedar stairs leads to the “front” door some 10 feet above ground level. Inside the octagonal Treehouse, a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and a bath are cozily situated.
From the top level, guests may exit through a sliding glass door that opens to a balcony; or they may climb down a winding narrow staircase leading to the family room and an adjoining golf cart parking space on the ground level.
While the Treehouse villas are most popular with couples, the Townhouses are often inhabited by families and business “teams”, according to Darrow.
“No doubt about it, the spacious one-, two-, and three-bedroom Townhouses are ideal for hosting client receptions, business discussions, or cocktail parties with friends,” he said.
Each of the Townhouse villas and Treehouse villas comes with kitchen appliances. Also included are kitchen utensils, dishes, central air conditioning, shag carpeting, and outdoor patios with furniture.
The Treehouse Villas are not all the Lake Buena Vista corporate program has to offer. The Lake Buena Vista Club has meeting and banquet facilities, plus a staff of business coordinators.
The Lake Buena Vista Hotel Plaza hosts many conventions, and its nightclubs are popular evening retreats for many Walt Disney World® guests.
For gifts, meals or relaxation, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village is a common destination for guests of all ages.
Says Darrow: “We feel we’ve put it all together—luxurious and unique accommodations, golf, tennis, swimming, a country club, four hotels and our incredible Shopping Village. Plus, we have beautifully landscaped grounds and the famous Disney hospitality. Then, to top it all off, we’ve got a Magic Kingdom in our backyard”.
Today, the TreehouseVillas are part of Disney Vacation Club property at Saratoga Springs and remain a popular place to stay and play.
Did you ever get the chance to stay in one of the TreehouseVillasbefore their 1987 redo? Do you have any great stories or photos to share?
I’ve talked about my love of souvenir guides before and I constantly find myself pulling those books off my shelves and taking a trip back to vintage Walt Disney World. 1970s and 1980s Walt Disney World was a vastly different vacation than you can have today. It’s not only fun to see the strange fashions, but also to see the attractions and areas that are gone.
I’ve shared photos from the guides on InstaGram and Twitter and thought it would be fun to take a look at the photos in one post. Are you ready for a trip down memory lane?
The cover is pretty spectacular and is representative of the marketing at the time. The focus is very heavy on all of the outdoor activities that you could do at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
I’ve seen the photo of the cast member holding the balloons in several guides, including the amazing GAF Guides. Since so many people are lined up along the curb, I assumed that
I’m almost as obsessed with maps as I am with souvenir guides. I just love how Disney marketed and presented itself. You can see how they represented the park icons, like the Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain and 20,000 Leagues in this map.
So, there were opportunities to get dressed up and have wine at the Golf Resort. I guess you didn’t need to spend every spare moment at the Magic Kingdom!
This is a great image of the Empress Lily and the Village. Who knew you could drive right up to the Empress back in the day?
Hahahahahaha! Three days to enjoy all of Walt Disney World?
This is an image that really confused me when I first posted it. I wasn’t sure which stage it was! I knew it couldn’t be the Hoop-Dee-Doo Review and it wasn’t the Top of the World, so where was it? A really good friend of mine came through and let me know that it was the Ballroom of the Americas at the Contemporary Resort. When I was down there on my last visit, he gave me a tour of the Contemporary and showed me the stage. (It even has a lift that’s big enough to get a car onto the stage!)
Michael Iseberg and the Iseberg Machine in the Tomorrowland Terrace
I ran across this great article from the July 16, 1976 Eyes and Ears. Did you ever get to see Michael Iseberg perform?
ADD ONE COW, SOME WIND, A TOUCH OF BACH, AND YOU GET THE “ISEBERG MACHINE”
Sitting on the stage in Tomorrowland Terrace is a machine, no a device, not quite, more like the lunar landing capsule perhaps, but what ever you call it, it produces a sound the likes you’ve never heard before!
It’s the Iseberg Machine and sitting in its center is Michael Iseberg, one of our newest entertainment “groups” in the Magic Kingdom. We say groups, because Michael has brought along a few of his friends; including a mooing cow, an oinking pig, a chugging train, whistling wind, a rock group, and a symphony orchestra. All produced by an incredible musical instrument that Michael invented and built … his lseberg Machine.
We spent some time with Michael to explore his background and found that he is an accomplished musician, going all the way back to four years of age when he began playing his sister’s piano. Lessons were added and for 13-years he studied classic piano, until enrolling in the eminent Juilliard School of Music in New York.
After graduating and entering the field of retail musical equipment, Michael decided the business world wasn’t for him and he moved to Aspen, Colorado, where he entertained skiers in piano bars. Then the urge to “tinker” came. “I had an old home organ at my place which I first began tinkering with. You see, an organ sn’t very satisfying to a classical piano player, in fact, I have never liked the sound they produce. So I began trying to modify its sound,” Michael related. One slight modification led to another and soon he was reading technical manuals and designing his own electronic circuitry. What started out as a home organ soon began to look more like the interior of a computer. Although he had no formal training in the field of electronics, Michael’s knowledge grew through his tinkering. And then, after some seven years of part-time tinkering and inventing and wiring, it was complete … his Iseberg Machine.
Sitting on the player’s seat, you are surrounded with electronic dials, switches, gages, and panels; looking somewhat similar to the cockpit of a 747 we suspect. When playing his Iseberg Machine, Michael has to contend with five keyboards, one set of foot pedals, and over 1,000 switches and buttons.
Watching him perform is a show in itself . . . with him swiveling from side-to-side, hands rapidly throwing this switch, punching that button, and sweeping down a set of keys. And the sound that is emitted from the two huge sets of speakers is almost indescribable, but we’ll suffice to say that by dosing your eyes you can almost imagine the Boston Pops Symphony on that small stage, or perhaps a cow or two mooing right along to the music. Have we totally confused you as to what sounds the Iseberg Machine plays? Good, because it is best for you to drop by and catch a performance for yourself . . . then you try describing it to your friends!
Walt Disney World is going to be celebrating 45 years in 2016. A lot has changed over the years and not just increased admission prices; we’ve lost attractions, lands, restaurants and philosophies. Yes, even philosophies.
Part of what I love doing is scouring old Walt Disney World publications and photographs to decipher changes and record what history I can. Something that most Disney enthusiasts recognize is the lack of historical record for Walt Disney World. Disneyland is one of the most well-documented places in history by the Disney Company and by us regular people. Walt Disney World is not.
A good friend shared his early Walt Disney World photos and it included a few from his parents’ first trips in 1972 and 1973. What caught my eye was the one of his mom standing on Main St. while surrounded by flowers.
I knew this image featured a section of the Magic Kingdom that had been lost for a few years. As you head down Main Street USA, you come to a side street on the right-hand side that is known as East Center Street. As you glance to the left, you notice an entrance to the Emporium. Weird, right?
Where’s West Center Street at the Magic Kingdom?
Well, in 2001, an addition to the Emporium was created that took over the entirety of West Center Street and forced the shopkeepers to close down or relocate (like the Harmony Barber Shop). Let’s do some theme parkeology and look at what we are missing.
The original Victorian space has always shown signs of opulence in the finishes and the fixturing, such as the combination gas and electric chandeliers-the electric lamps point down, the gas lamps point up-a tremendous extravagance during this era. The expansion revealed the ways the proprietor has been spending his money. The architecture is intended to reflect influence brought back a few years later, circa 1903, from Europe, revealed in Edwardian style. This shows itself through the lighter woods and pastel color scheme, contrasting with the heavier woods and reddish tones of the pre-existing space.
What’s Gone from West Center Street at the Magic Kingdom?
The next image is from a 1974 GAF Guide to the Magic Kingdom and gives us a breakdown of the shops on Main St. It is also fascinating to study the guide because you can see the (not-to-scale) dimensions of the shops.
I pulled out a detail of the map and listed the shops that were on West Center Street at the Magic Kingdom:
23 – Greenhouse Flower Shop
24 – New England Clock Shop
29 – Card Shop
41 – Harmony Barber Shop
Along West Center Street at the Magic Kingdom, there were also facades for a Chinese Hand Laundry, a Livery and Champion Cyclery. We actually lost the Greenhouse in 1984 during the Emporium’s first expansion even though the store front remained.
The following images are the few that I could find in my 900 book library. There are also very few images available online from family vacations. Maybe more will start appearing over the next few years. Or you could just send me your photos!
This shot was used in several pictorial souvenir guides.
Although it’s very nice to be able to walk in air conditioning on the west side of Center Street at the Magic Kingdom, it still feels like a big loss for the 1971 Magic Kingdom. The Imagineers did a beautiful job, inside and out, but I loved the charming little area that sheltered the shops.
1974 Walt Disney World Information Guide (Courtesy of GAF)
Do you have any memories or photos of West Center Street? What do you think about the expansion of the Emporium which took over the entire West side of Center Street, destroying the smaller themed shops?
The Top of the World wasn’t always a Disney Vacation Club members-only lounge. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Top of the World was the premiere dining and entertainment spot in all of Walt Disney World, especially during the years when the Magic Kingdom would close at 6:00pm and there wasn’t much else to do.
Let’s take a look at Walt Disney World’s original signature dining location!
Brown leisure suits, ruffled dresses, strappy heels, shiny jumpsuits and feathered hair were all but required at the Top of the World in the 1970s. A glass-enclosed eatery on the 15th floor of the Contemporary, the Top of the World offered views that stretched 30 miles in every direction while offering the finest in dining and entertainment in Central Florida. Where else you could you enjoy Roast Duck with Orange Sauce, Veal Romanov and Rose Petal Salad while being entertained by the likes of Carol Lawrence, Jack Jones and Phyllis Diller? And no, the dining plan wasn’t offered at the time!
A little background on the Top of the World from our favorite Disney historian, Dave Smith:
Nightclub/restaurant on the 15th floor in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World: open from October 1, 1971 until September 30, 1993. The view over the Seven Seas Lagoon toward the Magic Kingdom is spectacular. The longtime dinner show presented twice nightly was “Broadway at the Top,” with talented performers singing hit numbers from Broadway shows, and the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch was also popular. The restaurant was replaced by the California Grill in May 1995.
THE TOP OF THE WORLD, high atop the Contemporary Resort Towers, offers the finest in day and evening dining and entertainment. Delicious breakfast buffet, Monday through Saturday, 8-10:30 am. Luncheon buffet, 11:30 am-2 pm. Sunday brunch buffet, 8:30am-2:30pm.
It’s a new world after dark as the Top of the World presents two dinner/dancing shows nightly, featuring top name entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere. Seatings for dinner are at 6:30 and 9:30 pm, with shows at 8 and 11 pm. Top of the World Lounge open until 2 am. Reservations for the evening are suggested; coats for gentlemen, please.
The Summer 1978 Walt Disney World News announced that comedy groups would start appearing at the Top of the World in addition to the traditional lounge-club style of entertainment. There was also an entertainment charge of $7.50 for adults and $3.50 for children that was levied in the late 1970s.
Image from the February 1982 Walt Disney World News
In 1982, Disney introduced Broadway at the Top:
…a lively show highlighting the spectacular best of Broadway’s past 30 years. It’s a fast-paced nightclub review of Broadway musicals from the days of Cole Porter to “Chorus Line” and “Evita.” Songs, dances and dialogues pay tribute to some of the Great White Way’s memorable moments, and to the people who made them happen.
The cast includes five exciting young entertainers who take you on a musical memory tour through the “show stoppers” of the American Musical Theatre.
Official records state that the Top of the World closed on September 30, 1993 and re-opened as the California Grill on May 15, 1995. I don’t doubt this but I know that my wife and I ate at the Top of the World twice during a May 1994 vacation. When I found the receipt it was billed as the Concourse Grill. I remember it vividly for two reasons: we could see EPCOT ’94 as we ate and it was the first time I ever saw guacamole (yuck). Both times were for lunch, so it might have only been open for certain times.
We turn to Dave Smith, again, to learn about the California Grill:
Restaurant on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World, taking the place of the Top of the World. It opened on May 15, 1995. The restaurant features a stage kitchen with nine exhibition cooking areas, including a wood-burning pizza oven, grill and rotiserie, and three island stoves.
The final image is probably characteristic of why the Top of the World was so beloved: the views. Glasses perched upside-down, waiting to be filled and whisked to thirsty diners, frame the view from the restaurant. A ferryboat and motorlaunch ply the lagoon in the setting Florida sun as we close the chapter on another piece of Walt Disney World history.
Did you ever get to eat at the Top of the World?
Do you have any favorite moments, stories or photos to share?