Thursday, December 01, 2016

Fort Wilderness & The Mark Twain, 1959

Who knew that a pile of logs like Fort Wilderness could be so beloved? For many years the rustic structure was one of the main attractions on Tom Sawyer Island. Guests could explore it, climbing up to the upper level to peer over the battlements, "firing" guns from the sentry towers, clanging the big triangle, tossing a penny into the well, or checking in with Andy Jackson, Davy Crockett, and Georgie Russell. And when you were tuckered out, you could sneak out the secret escape to a remote trail. The fun was perhaps low key by today's standards, but if you used your imagination, it was just the thing.

Big wheel, keep on turnin'... when I build my private theme park (I'll call it "Neverland"!), I will definitely have a big river and a genuine sternwheeler. And it will be a thing of beauty, just like the Mark Twain. Sometimes I think I could ride that thing all day. I love the father and son on the middle level, with the kid so interested in what is going on!


Nanook said...


It may be "low key", but it's as unique as it gets. One of these days, folks are going to 're-discover' the world around them by actually becoming a part of it. What a concept. In the meantime, I'll just hop aboard the Mark Twain.

Thanks, Major.

K. Martinez said...

I'm amazed Tom Sawyer Island has hung on this long with the modern day guest's appetite for high tech thrills. When visiting the Park, I always make an effort to take in all of the Walt era attractions because I never know if they'll be gone next visit. Thanks, Major.

Chuck said...

Ken, sometimes I think the modern theme park guest thinks they want high-tech thrills because they've been conditioned to expect that from other parks. I have a friend who didn't care for Disneyland when he was in his 20s because it didn't have many roller coasters and didn't "feel like an amusement park" to him. Or maybe they are used to moving so fast in their everyday life that they don't think to slow down and appreciate little details. (As he has matured, he has grown to appreciate the Disney Parks, although he's still not a fan of the price tag on a day's visit.)

I also think that part of the problem is the focus on what adult guests think and want. I understand they are the ones paying the admission fees and the ones best able to communicate what they like, but it's worthwhile to take a moment and look at what the younger guests are drawn to.

Looking at my own kids, they love going to the zoo, but up to at least age 12 a trip to the zoo's playground and about an hour of running around was a major attraction. My Scout troop of boys aged 10-17 makes a point of stopping at a Dungeons & Dragons-themed playground for a minimum of two hours every year on the way back from an annual hiking camp-out.

After standing in line for hours, a place of unprogrammed exploration and pent-up energy expenditure may be just the thing. I hope that Disney management never loses sight of that.

Melissa said...

"...and if the bloody chunks of you that get churned up into the water by the paddlewheel float, then we'll know you really were a witch. But if we see 'em start to sink, son, why we just grab a net, scoop 'em out, and give 'em a proper Christian burial, neat as you please. Fair's fair, sonny. What's that? Oh, hehe, don't worry about that, you'll get it back at the Resurrection."

I don't know about California, but all the guidebooks tout Tom Sawyer Island in Florida as a great place for kids to let off steam or nap in their strollers. I think they'd face a riot if they ever tried to get rid of it. I think it's more essential down there because it's a longer and more difficult process to leave and come back to the parks than it is in California.

My sister was driving to Yonkers on a business trip last night, and at one point she pulled over and texted me that she had just nearly taken a wrong turn that would have let her straight into the Bronx Zoo

DrGoat said...

Be that as it may, when I actually lived in LA back in the early 70s, I spent hours paddling up the river on the Twain. There are people on the boat with you, but you are a bit disconnected from the hussle and bussle of the park. Just wonderful. And what Nanook said.

K. Martinez said...

Chuck and anyone else who's interested,

Check this out! Keep in mind it's only an opinion piece from (DIS Unplugged (The DIS). When Oliver Green says "I look for the thrills when I come to a theme park" that pretty much sums it up for some of the of modern day guests I know. Even Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room isn't off limits. Again Oliver says "What they should do with it is turn it into a bar". Keep in mind this is WDW's Magic Kingdom and not Disneyland.

Three Terrible Attractions - Magic Kingdom.

Tom said...

On our most recent trip, just a year ago, the very first morning we were there we all headed over to Tom Sawyer's Island and explored every single trail, cave and viewpoint. I took as many pictures and videos as I could, not knowing what if any of it would survive the great transformation. We slurped up as much experience of that place as we could.

I'd take a three hour explore of a detailed and well-thought out story location over a 90 second thrill ride any day.

Unknown said...

Those are so pretty, Major. I love how spindly the logs comprising the walls of Fort Wilderness are. They're lodgepole pine, maybe, and I'd forgotten how see-through the walls were. Just wonderful.

Anonymous said...

What Everybody Said, especially Patrick Devlin.

For little kid me, one of the best things about TSI was there was no line for anything on the island, except the raft back to the shore. Just run around and see everything, more than once even. So different from everything else. I remember that until High School trips, it was unusual for me to ride anything twice in one trip. The Skyway might be an exception, just for transportation. What luxury now!

Thrilling rides are fun, but it's the range of experiences that makes Disneyland special.

Thanks Major.


Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I’d like to believe that there are still lots of people out there who appreciate things like Tom Sawyer Island. Maybe not?

K. Martinez, I kind of agree with you. Years ago I heard a rumor that there was going to be a “mine car drop” ride on TSI - kind of like “Tower of Terror” only you would drop underground. A cool idea in a way, but it would ruin what’s already there.

Chuck, I would expect teenagers to have a narrow view of what an amusement park should be (“thrilling”), but generally I think adults appreciate the themes of Disney parks. That being said, it does seem as if all new rides have to offer thrills to some degree, rather than being beautiful (“Nature’s Wonderland”) or charming (“It’s a Small World”, which engenders more hate than I can account for). But I agree with you, maybe if you give a guest MORE than what they think they want, their experience will be so much richer.

Melissa, as you probably know, I’ve never been to Florida, but I’m glad if people go there to let their kids run around and burn off some excess energy. As for riots, they’ve already gotten rid of so many classic attractions in the Magic Kingdom, by this point they know that it will all blow over eventually.

DrGoat, that sounds like a wonderful way to spend a few hours at Disneyland!

K. Martinez, Oliver is entitled to his opinion, but he’s got a very narrow idea of what an amusement park should be (see Chuck’s comment). If he was in charge, Disney parks would be like Six Flags parks.

Tom, I’ve never gone straight to Tom Sawyer Island, but it would be neat to go there when it’s relatively empty! So many people run to Peter Pan, or Space Mountain, or one of those big rides. I’ll bet you had a great time.

Patrick Devlin, those are the finest audio-animatronic logs that money could buy!

JG, the crowds are the #1 turnoff for me. I suppose annual passholders don’t mind them so much - they can return whenever they want and focus on one or two goals. But if you’re a once-a-year visitor (or whatever), it’s a real bummer to find yourself in those massive crowds as the day goes on. Oh well, clearly people are enjoying it - Disney certainly doesn’t need my money.

Dean Finder said...

I'm in roughly the same demographic as Oliver Green in that video, and I can say emphatically that I don't go to WDW for thrills. If I want thrills, I'll go t a Universal or Six Flags park. At Disney, I go for classics like Tiki Room, iasw, Haunted Mansion, and Carousel of Progress

K. Martinez said...

Dean Finder, What specific demographic are you referring to?