WDW News & Rumors: Illegal Camping, Country Bear Shortage, VP Retiring

It’s time with another Walt Disney World news & rumor round-up, and this installment is totally free of reopening and closure updates. Instead, we’ll take a look at the dude who secretly took up illegal residence on an abandoned island at WDW, the retirement of the VP who oversaw the opening of New Fantasyland, Toy Story Land & Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, some minor-but-promising Country Bear Jamboree news, and more!

We’ll start with the “not Florida Man” news: Alabama Man was recently arrested after camping on Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island, according to an arrest report acquired by the Associated Press. Orange County officers conducted a search by foot, boat and helicopter and eventually found the man after he had been there for a few days.

Walt Disney World security Cast Members had seen Alabama Man making his way to Discovery Island using a company boat. Despite this, the man managed to evade detection for several days, sleeping in one of the island’s buildings. Once found, he was arrested on a trespassing charge, taken to jail without incident, and banned from all Disney properties.

Discovery Island was gated off and has numerous “no trespassing” signs in place. Upon being arrested, the man told Orange County officers that he was “unaware” the area was off-limits and that he had been trespassing while on the property, and referred to Discovery Island as a “tropical paradise,” according to the arrest report.

For those unfamiliar with it (and you’re not alone) Discovery Island is located in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World, and permanently closed in 1999, shortly after the opening of Animal Kingdom. It was originally called Treasure Island and was a lush tropical paradise with exotic animals–one of many “Vacation Kingdom” offerings found at Walt Disney World that offered counter-programming to the hustle and bustle of the parks.

Discovery Island has become a popular spot with urban explorers and other hooligans over the years. (I’m not going to publicize them here, but you can find videos easily on YouTube.) Suffice to say from what I’ve watched…it’s no “tropical paradise.” Even back in the day when it was operating, I don’t recall being exactly enamored with Discovery Island. My memory of it is Tom Sawyer Island but with parrots and without forts and fun play areas. (Granted, I was young.)

In any case, this news gave me a good laugh–and it’s pretty much the entire reason I did this round-up. From the outlandishness of social distancing by camping on an abandoned island to Alabama Man’s feigned ignorance in being unaware that he was trespassing. I only wish we would’ve had this brilliant idea before paying money to camp at Fort Wilderness recently, like total chumps.

Honestly, I’m hoping that some of the story is still untold. We all need some comedic relief right now, and it’d be hilarious if it comes to light that Alabama Man built a small village on Discovery Island and was planning an adverse possession claim or something. The dumber, the better.

Alabama Man wouldn’t be the first one trying to “repurpose” Discovery Island. There have been myriad rumors about the land’s future over the last couple of decades, the most notable of which is that Imagineering worked with game developers to turn the island into Myst Island. We’ve since learned that this rumor was credible, as Myst creator Rand Miller confirmed it during an interview with AV Club a few years ago to promote a new game.

This was one of several rumors about Walt Disney World attempting to answer Discovery Cove with a limited-capacity niche park of its own, with the most noteworthy of those being Night Kingdom. Eventually, the Great Recession spelled the demise of such expensive offerings, but came to fruition in more diluted form with upcharges like Wild Africa Trek. (Had the idea come along ~5 years later, I think Night Kingdom would’ve ended up happening.)

Next up, Disney’s Hollywood Studios Vice President Phil Holmes will be retiring from Walt Disney World in August 2020 after nearly 50 years with the company. He started his career with Disney in 1971 during the construction of Magic Kingdom as a blueprint courier. He later become an attractions host at Haunted Mansion, before rising to managerial roles.

Most notably, Phil Holmes served as Vice President of Magic Kingdom during the construction and opening of New Fantasyland. He was subsequently moved to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which some skeptical fans viewed as a demotion…until the plans for Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge were announced. It’s our understanding that he has long planned on retiring after seeing those projects through to completion.

Phil Holmes has long been a polarizing figure among Walt Disney World fans, many of whom attribute budget cuts on various projects to him. That type of decision rarely is made at the park VP level, so it seems more like he’s a visible outlet for anger.

We don’t have any particular insight into Mr. Holmes, but we have seen him in the parks countless times over the last decade-plus, and he seemed friendly and engaged in our interactions. In our view, it speaks volumes that he began with Walt Disney World in 1971, worked his way up on merit, and was specifically chosen to lead two parks through their most significant construction projects since opening. Here’s hoping he’s around to assist with the reopening of Walt Disney World!

In some not-so-good news, Brits might have a tougher time accessing Walt Disney World in the future, or at least more expensive (and fewer) flight options. Per BBC News, Virgin Atlantic announced it will end operations at London Gatwick Airport, which has been the primary airport for flights to Orlando International from the United Kingdom. Virgin will maintain operations at London Heathrow and Manchester airports, but reduce routes and cut over 3,000 jobs.

This isn’t the only blow to United Kingdom-MCO flights. British Airways, which is Gatwick’s second-biggest customer, has indicated that it also might not restart its Gatwick operation. Last year, British international travel company Thomas Cook Group abruptly ceased all operations as the company collapsed. More airlines are in trouble, and the entire sector faces a totally transformed travel landscape going forward.

Obviously, one of the most trying things about present circumstances is the distinct shortage of Country Bear performances. Some of you have probably gone hiking in the woods hoping to encounter real bears for your viewing pleasure, but it just isn’t the same. (Speaking from experience, there’s far less clapping your hands and far more stomping your feet as you run in the other direction.) But we digress.

Yesterday, shopDisney released a new Country Bear Jamboree Series Wishables Collection. Each blind pack includes one of four known designs or it could be one of the two mystery designs inspired by the musical Magic Kingdom attraction, with characters including Henry, Teddi Barra, Baby Oscar, and one plush representing Bunny, Bubbles and Buelah.

There actually have been several really popular releases that have sold out in minutes (or less, in the case of the controversial Joe Rohde ears release) but we haven’t covered any of that because, to be honest, we didn’t really care about them. Country Bears are a different story–this had our attention!

Despite being Country Bear Jamboree super fans, we also didn’t buy this because (controversial opinion incoming) the Wishables creep us out. Between this and Funkos, we’re not quite sure what the obsession is with dead-eyed Children of the Corn toys. Whatever though, different strokes for different folks. (Besides, we already have the similar-but-normal-looking plush badges above from Tokyo Disneyland pictured above.)

We’re still very pleased that the Country Bear Jamboree Series Wishables Collection quickly sold out so quickly. Hopefully that bodes well for future CBJ merchandise. We’d love more retro-inspired shirts, attraction posters of all versions of the show, or heck–as long as we’re daydreaming–an actual return of the Summer Vacation and Country Bear Christmas shows at Magic Kingdom!

Finally, a quick round-up of some fun at-home Walt Disney World entertainment to brighten your day. Epcot’s Mariachi Cobre did a special performance of the Mexican classic, “Cielito Lindo.” Want to visit a galaxy far, far away from your pajamas? Check out this cool (but spoiler-heavy) Ride & Learn video of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Finally, build your own BB-series or R-series astromech droid unit with the all-new Droid Depot mobile app. There’s a ton more like this on the #DisneyMagicMoments website, including many recipes for iconic Walt Disney World foods (like Tonga Toast!). Sadly, any cooking that cannot be accomplished in a microwave is beyond my expertise, so I cannot vouch for how accurate the at-home versions taste to the “real” stuff!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


What do you think of the Alabama Man who camped at Discovery Island? Buy his totally-plausible story that he didn’t know it was off-limits when he snuck onto property, “borrowed” a Disney boat to get there, and subsequently evaded security? Thoughts on Phil Holmes retiring? If you’re a Brit, how will fewer flight options impact your Disney holidays? Excited at the prospect of more Country Bears merchandise? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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