...

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Story Behind Walt Disney World's Infamous Wave Machine

By Keith Mahne




Believe it or not, every day thousands of guests aboard the ferryboat to the Magic Kingdom pass an old piece of forgotten Disney World history without ever knowing it. What exactly am I referring to you might be wondering? The infamous Walt Disney World wave machine. In today's new article, we will learn the story behind this forgotten piece of Disney World history...








One cannot possibly discuss the infamous Walt Disney World wave machine without talking about the man who had the idea for it in the first place, good ol' Dick Nunis. Nunis, who was the Vice-President of Park Operations at this time and a surfer himself, was searching for a way to bring surfing to the Walt Disney World Resort. Naturally, Disney's Polynesian Village Resort was the perfect setting for such a sport. As you can see from the very first WDW map below, surfing did make its way to the Florida project...




Original WDW Resort map featuring a surfer riding a wave near the Polynesian


 

Dick Nunis and his team eventually came up with the idea of having waves come crashing into the shore of the Polynesian Village’s west beach area that he wanted to rename “Surfrider Beach.” Nunis thought this would give guests the perfect surfing experience right in the middle of Central Florida. But how could Disney muster up enough magic to create waves large enough for a surfer to get his kicks? They would need to create their very own wave machine...




Aerial view of Polynesian resort with wave machine shown at top - 1971




In order for Nunis to get his wave machine, it would have to be installed before the Seven Seas Lagoon, the 200-acre, man-made lake which the Imagineers had built out in front of the Magic Kingdom, was completed and then filled in with water. And on top of that, Disney World's Polynesian Village would need a special beachfront area created in order for the machine to work properly. Of course, this had to be in a place that was within walking distance of the resort-hotel...




A 1971 photo of the Poly showing the wave machine, the direction of waves, and the special beachfront area that was created for the waves





As you are starting to see, this was all really beginning to add up and cost the company some serious additional money. Keep in mind that, in early 1970, the cost of constructing Walt Disney World had already begun to spiral out-of-control, and so finding an additional half million dollars was going to take some pushing from Nunis.




http://www.disneyavenue.com/2016/05/15-must-have-disney-park-plaques-for.html




But Dick had his heart set on creating the wave machine and so he convinced members of senior management at WED, and more importantly Roy O. Disney himself, who gave his approval for the project, that it would be a great addition to the vacation kingdom of the world...








And so, Dick Nunis got the money, a reported $400,000 (which is actually $2.2 million in today's dollars) and the wave machine was installed. After that, the Seven Seas Lagoon was filled with water and, sometime during the Summer of 1971, Walt Disney World's wave machine was fired up and actually ran pretty well...




Close-up shot of the wave machine with Cinderella Castle in the background

 


Now, you are probably asking yourself, "if the wave machine ran well then why was it abandoned to become a piece of WDW history?" Well, several armchair Disney historians and others who have heard of the Walt Disney World wave machine will probably tell you that it was shuttered due to the crashing waves causing too much beach erosion near the Polynesian Resort. However, there are actually a couple of reasons for its demise. The first reason was that the wave machine made it extremely difficult to operate watercraft safely in and around the Polynesian Village and its nearby marina...




Polynesian Village marina

Polynesian Village marina

Small watercraft on Seven Seas Lagoon




And the second reason the wave machine had been turned off was that it had quickly proven to be problematic, being only able to run for just a few hours at a time before it would break down. And then it would take a full team of engineers working in wet suits to finally get the thing going again. That just wasn't going to work for Disney's bottom line...








And speaking of Disney's bottom line, WDW executives quickly learned that a great source of revenue for the Walt Disney World Resort in those days turned out to be parties for big convention groups. Big companies were willing to pay top dollar for beach side luaus for their employees similar to the one that was held for the press and other honored guests as part of WDW's grand opening back in October of 1971 pictured below...








Although that would be the end of a wave machine in Seven Seas Lagoon, Dick Nunis would eventually get a wave machine that worked. Years later, Nunis pushed for a water park to be built on the Florida property which we know today as Typhoon Lagoon. And, if you've ever been to that water park, you know that the main attraction is a humongous pool with its very own wave machine...








Well friends, that's the story of the Walt Disney World wave machine. Next time you're on a ferryboat headed toward the Magic Kingdom, remember this forgotten piece of Disney World history. It makes for a great story to share with your friends and family on your way to the most magical place on earth.





*******







Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


1 comment: