The Lawnmower Tree in 1996

Did I ever tell you about that time on August 28, 1996, when I was leaving Magic Kingdom at closing and there were huge lines for both the monorail and ferryboat, so I decided to hop aboard a resort watercraft and ride it over to Fort Wilderness to explore and see if I could find another route to the parking lot?

I didn’t?

Oh, cool. Well, this one time, on August 28, 1996…

Today, the Lawnmower Tree seems well known, but I am not sure if I’d ever even heard about it in 1996. I just did a search through the archives of the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup and I found the earliest post mentioning it was from August 26, 1997. The post was short, so I’ll include it, and the response, here:

Subject: Lawn Mower Tree, any

Date: 8/26/1997

From: na…@aol.com (NAES7)

Hi everyone, I’m headed to WDW in December and in doing some research on some of the points of interest I noticed that is a “tree that has grown around a lawn mower” has anyone seen this? Is it a Disney prop or legitimate?  
 
Sean

Response from Mike Tuchman:

 I have seen it a few years ago.  It is not a prop.  It was apparently
 leaned against a tree (at what is now Fort Wilderness) before Disney
 and forgotten.  The tree grew and started enveloping it.  There is 
 not much of the lawnmower visible anymore.

8/26/1997 posting to rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup

It is possible that I learned about the Lawnmower Tree over not he General Electric GEnie online service, since I was active there years before I had Internet newsgroup access (and, indeed, before the World Wide Web even existed).

So either I learned about it on GEnie, or I stumbled on to it by accident. In either case, I still had room for at least two images in my digital camera, and I took these photos.

Here’s the sign:

Lawnmower Tree sign on Fort Wilderness on August 28, 1996.

And here is what the lawnmower looked like in 1996:

Lawnmower Tree on Fort Wilderness on August 28, 1996.

I suppose a quick web search today could reveal more details about the story, but back in 1996-1997, not much was really known. I was only reminded of the existence of this tree when I was going through my old photos for articles here on this site. I did a quick search and found that the tree remained, but it was now fenced off and marked much more obviously as a “thing to look at.” I guess anything can become famous on the Internet these days! Even a tree with a lawnmower stuck in it.

Of course, finding this tree was not the reason I boarded that resort boat. I was looking for alternate routes to the parking lot. If I recall, the boat took me to Fort Wilderness (which I’d never been to before, and haven’t gotten back to since). I recall walking around a bit (and finding that tree) before I hopped on a bus. The bus was heading deeper into the campgrounds, so I remember getting off of it and either hopping a return bus, or walking back to the front. Eventually, I made it to the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot, though I don’t remember how many hops I took to get there.

It was a fun night of exploring and discovery, and something I would continue to do in subsequent trips, hoping to find something else interesting stuck in a tree.

I never did, but at least I found the Lawnmower Tree before it was Internet famous 🙂

Until next time…

Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 1999.

As I go through my galleries, sometimes I find surprising things. For instance, I have evidence that I visited Universal Studios Florida in January 1999. I then have evidence that I returned in November to visit the newly-opened Islands of Adventure. Oddly, I didn’t go to the Universal Studios side during that trip. I just wasn’t that much into Universal Studios much back then. Today, with both sides having so many new attractions (and cool Harry Potter areas), I can’t imaging not visiting both!

But I digress.

After touring the preview center earlier in the year, I returned on November 16, 1999 to experience this new theme park. Unfortunately, my digital photos from that trip lost all date code information, so I can’t tell you the time in these photos, only the day.

My first view of Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

There were no crowds. It was very different than showing up to a Disney park early in the morning where people are lined up for rope drop.

No morning crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And no waits at any of the rides either!

No waits for rides at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

The lack of crowds continued as I walked through the park. The frustrating thing was that many of the rides were down during that morning, and it was actually a challenge to find something to do! Eventually they got them all running, but I was still able to ride everything in the park by the afternoon.

No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.
No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

I remember being very impressed with how the park looked. So many details! It sure had that “Disney quality” look to it.

Disney-quality details at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

Even the carnival games section in Lost Continent was highly detailed, even if I thought these high end parks shouldn’t have carnival games sections. (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Animal Kingom’s DinolandUSA and California Adventure’s Pixar Pier!)

Highly detailed carnival games at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And I was blown away by this restaurant! It was absolutely amazing inside and almost perfect. Almost.

Oak Tree Restaurant at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

That restaurant was one of my all-time favorite spots in any theme park. But, inside, there were rough edges that kept it from being 100%. For example, their menu boards, while nice, were illuminated by clamp-on lights like you’d find at a local hardware store! There were actually a number of “rough edges” throughout the park where it seems like they just didn’t bother going all the way.

Still, the Dueling Dragons coaster was nice and had a great queue leading in…

Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

…but, as you were walking out, there were some nicely detailed towers with wooden “shutters” on the windows. They didn’t paint the edges of the wood, leaving bare wood exposed and clashing with the rest of the theme. Details, guys, details. I wasn’t much of an “observer” back then, so I only noticed the things that really jumped out at me. And there were a lot.

And perhaps a bunch of these little things kept it from dominating over Disney from day one (though not having Mickey and all those Disney characters will always be a challenge). Still, it was better than any non-Disney thing I’d ever seen! I knew I’d be back.

Jurassic Park had an absolutely amazing Triceratops Encounter where you could get up close and personal with a “real” Triceratops as the park doctor examined it. I don’t think they allowed photos inside the attraction at first (they were far more restrictive back then), but I have a picture from the queue… (That’s me running video in the below image. I have a hours of video from that trip, somewhere.)

Triceratops Encoutner at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

My favorite “attraction” of the entire visit was the talking Mystic Fountain. I probably spent more time watching it taunt visitors (and squirt them with water) than anything else in the park that day! It could do so much.

Mystic Fountain at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

While the fountain remains in the park to this day, the version you see now is far more anemic than it was back then. Perhaps it’s because everyone is carrying expensive cell phones and they don’t want to ruin them. But, in 1999, it was all out water-war from this thing! I really need to dig out my 1999 video of the fountain to share sometime. Great stuff.

Skipping around a bit … An earlier version of Poseidon’s Fury was there, but it seems to look the same as today, as does Suess Landing. Funny enough, Green Eggs and Ham wasn’t open back then, either (and wasn’t on my last three visits to the park!). I don’t think I’ve ever gone when it was open.

Closed Eggs and Ham at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could at least meet the Cat in the Hat!

Cat in the Hat at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could NOT ride this monorail thing! It sat dormant for years before finally turning in to the current trolley ride, using different racks. Back then, they at least had an animated vehicle slowly moving around the tracks. I wondered for years what it was going to be used for, and finally got to see it in 2019.

Suess Landing monorail at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

As far as characters, I saw Dudley Do Right, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Betty Boop and several others over in Toon Lagoon. And lots of parents explaining to their kids just who these characters were. (Really, Universal? Betty Boop? I’m old, and I only know of her because of syndicated programs on a local UHF station in Houston in the 1970s, before cable.)

Overall, it was a fun first visit, with so much potential, but there were just so many bits and pieces that didn’t feel completely done (and they remained that way for years). New pavement was already cracked. There was already mold growing around the bases of water rides. And just a general lack of spotlessness that Disney had conditioned us to.

But, it was clear Disney had it’s first real competitor and I was eager to see what would happen in coming years.

And since I recently bought my very first Universal Studios annual pass, I’d say they’ve done great work. And a huge portion of that work was ready to go back in 1999.

It’s not very often you get to visit a “new” theme park during it’s first season. I’m glad I was there.

Who would have thought that one day Harry Potter would come along and cause a large portion of this park to be ripped out and replaced with Hogwarts?

Until next time…

Universal’s Islands of Adventure preview center in 1999.

Updates:

  • 2019-07-17 – Fixed a few typos and corrected a year.

Much like how I did a series on Before Disney’s California Adventure, I’d like to do something on Universal Studios in Florida.

In 1999, Universal Studios was getting ready to open their new theme park, Islands of Adventure. This would be part of an expansion and renaming of the whole area to Universal Studios Escape.

That didn’t last too long. Today, it’s known as the Universal Orlando Resort.

But in 1999, you could visit Universal Studios Florida and get a sneak peak at the wonders that would await you when the new park opened later that year… Let’s take a look at their preview center.

I previously shared this photo, which shows that the preview center was there in 1998 as well…

Islands of Adventure preview center (right) on November 17, 1998.

Either I didn’t go in, it wasn’t open, they weren’t allowing photos, or I just ran out of camera memory. But in 1999, I did go through it. Here’s a better photo of the entrance:

Islands of Adventure preview center on January 27, 1999.

Step inside, and you could see concept artwork and a map of the new theme park:

Islands of Adventure preview center map on January 27, 1999.

They had sections of the center dedicated to the different areas of the new park. Here is a look at the Dr. Suess-inspired Suess Landing:

Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.

Up next was a room dedicated to the Lost Continent section of the park:

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

And apparently there was some kind of passport book you could get, and get it stamped in each area. I had completely forgotten about this. I have no idea if I have one somewhere, but if I run across it, I’ll scan it and share it in a future article.

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

Up next would be Toon Lagoon, where all the leftover cartoon characters that weren’t tied up by Disney, Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farms would live:

Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.

After this, we got to see what Marvel Super-Hero Island would have in store for us.

Islands of Adventure preview center Marvel Super-Hero Island area on January 27, 1999.

And, because I am old and don’t mine humiliating myself, I’ll share this never-before-seen photo of me meeting one of my all-time heroes: Spider-Man!

Me meeting Spider-Man on January 27, 1999.

I remember saying to him, “You’re my favorite!” And he replied, “Yes, I know…” How can you not love that guy? Who would have thought that, two decades later, he’d be “harassing” me on the streets of Disney’s California Adventure 😉

Next we came to Jurassic Park. I must have been really excited about this land, based on the then-six-year-old movie, because I took more photos here than any of the other areas.

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

I *think* this was the wall that would “bang” and show the impact of a dinosaur (probably a raptor) crashing into it:

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And I guess there must have been some kind of effect here, but I don’t recall what it was. (Honestly, I just remember meeting Spider-Man, and the impact wall at Jurassic Park.)

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And lastly, a nice map showing the overview of the entire Universal Studios Escape resort expansion:

Islands of Adventure preview center expansion map area on January 27, 1999.

We had no idea at the time that Spider-Man would be such a smash hit. We still thought that this, of all parks, might be the one park to dethrone Disney World. But, as we found out, ultimately that didn’t happen and, if anything, it just brought more people to Orlando and increased Disney attendance.

At some point, I will share my thoughts on my first-time visit to Islands of Adventure, but for now…

Until next time…

Channel 7 Eyewitness Newsvan and Countdown to Extinction in 1998.

When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, one of the few “rides” in the park was Countdown to Extinction in Dinoland U.S.A. The ride was basically a dinosaur-themed version of the Indiana Jones Adventure that had opened at Disneyland in 1995. Once the movie Dinosaur came out, the ride was renamed to Dinosaur, though remnants to the original name still remain…

CTX Rover on the Dinosaur ride vehicles, a tribute to the original name of Countdown to Extinction. April 13, 2019.

But I digress… Taking a trip back in time (see what I did there?) to 1998 shows another change. In that inaugural year of the attraction, you would see this TV station news van parked nearby:

WABC-TV 7 Newsvan parked outside of Countdown to Extinction on October 17, 1998.

As I browsed archived messages on the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup, I found someone noticing it was missing by February 19, 1999. And, even more interesting, there was an entire thread just a few days earlier speculating about what part this newsvan played in the story of the attraction.

Oh well. Had the van remained, it would have been replaced by a website or blog by now, anyway.

Until next time…

Horizons in 1996

When I look back to the EPCOT Center I visited for the first time in the summer of 1983 (its first summer of operation), I have a difficult time choosing my favorite thing about the park. I do recall that, at the time, EPCOT was my favorite Disney park, hands down. I even made a pen-pal that worked as a video operator at the futuristic WorldKey.

I do know that, by the time I had my first digital camera in 1996, many of the things I loved, such as World of Motion and Journey into Imagination (original version), were gone. But, Horizons was there, and no other Future World pavilion did a better job at representing the Future World than Horizons.

I must have really liked it in 1996, because I took more photos of it than any other attraction.

For those too young to remember Horizons, it’s what came before Mission Space and it was a slow moving animatronic Omnimover dark ride rather than a spinning simulator thrill ride. But, it did feature space.

Let’s take a look…

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Looking back, while the building still looks cool, it does seem a bit dated. Geometric shapes in the 1980s seem to have taken over all the Logan’s Run white spires of the 1970s. But, darn, it still looks cool.

Upon entering the building, you would see two departure boards for the “Futureport.” There were four gates to the left (and a closed door), and four more gates to the right. I suppose the idea of “airport terminal” started with Horizons rather than Soarin’.

Epcot’s Horizons departure boardson August 29, 1996.

You’d then walk down some futuristic hallways and see kaleidoscope images that, if I recall, represented the three main locations in the ride – desert, undersea and space.

Epcot’s Horizons hallway “space” kalediescope on August 29, 1996.

It was a neat effect. I wonder if someone has behind-the-scenes of how it worked somewhere?

You would then reach the load area, and enter a sidewise facing Omnimover vehicle that sat four people.

Epcot’s Horizons ride vehicle on August 29, 1996.

There were speakers in the vehicle, just like a Doom Buggy at the Haunted Mansion. It also had sliding doors that would close automatically. One other unique feature, which you wouldn’t learn about until the end of the ride, were light up buttons in front of each passenger. They represented desert, undersea and space.

Here’s a side view:

Epcot’s Horizons side view of ride vehicle on August 29, 1996.

Although I would return in later years and take photos of almost every ride scene, in 1996, I took just a few photos inside the ride. I would wait for a gap in the line where no one was behind me, then stop and chat with the loading cast member for a bit. This would allow several empty cars to go past before I got on. As long as there were a few empty cars behind me, I would then break a Disney rule and take flash photos inside the ride — since I knew there were no guests to be disturbed. (This is also how I learned there were apparently no cameras inside this ride.)

The ride presented some of our visions of the future from the past, such as H.G. Wells and his rocket to the moon.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

There was also more of a 1950s look at what we thought the future would be like, with robots and luxury.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.
Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

There are many things I am happy to turn over to robots, but I’m not sure a haircut is one of them yet. Giving robots sharp objects still worries me a bit, and indeed, the very next scene in Horizons showed that robots sometimes went wrong.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Eventually we would come to scenes representing our three future habitats. The first showed us a future desert farmer, talking on video screen…

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

…then you’d see who she was talking to, from his end.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Although many things predicted in Horizons have yet to come true, video chatting is certainly here today. In the first seen, you saw an animatronic woman talking to a human on a video screen. In the next scene, we see an animatronic version of that human talking to a video screen human of the first animatronic. Mind blown. How cool would it have been to be those two, who get to be videos in a Disney ride, AND get animatronics made that look like them?

For undersea, we saw an animatronic woman talking to some guy working on his sub.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Was that a (simulated) large screen flat panel display? Mark that down as something else we now have. (A similarly wall screen was part of the 1970s and 1980s post-show at Space Mountain.)

Then we find the animatronic version of that guy talking to a video version of the previous animatronic… Inception!

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

There were other scenes that supported the scenario. For some reason, I took a few extra pictures of undersea. Here was a class (with their per sea lion?) getting ready for an undersea field trip:

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

You’d pass a portal that used a video effect to show them swimming outside. You’d also pass what appeared to be an underwater restaurant with diners inside and this kid looking out the window to another sea lion.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Are those sea lions? I never got to go to SeaWorld enough to really learn.

Eventually you got to space, and saw a zero gravity family scene.

Look, ma! No gravity! Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

And there was a scene showing crystals being grown in zero gravity, as well.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Incidentally, that crystal ended up in someone’s home…

Horizons crystal in someone’s personal collection.

And, just because I like to embarrass myself, here’s me riding Horizons in 1998.

Me riding Horizons on October 24, 1998.

I’m wearing one of my “Al’s Place” T-shirts, since this was before I registered DisneyFans.com. I’m not sure what the button is, but I had a button making machine back then so probably something self-made and geeky.

And that’s a pretty much complete tour through all the Horizons photos I took in 1996 with my first digital camera. I have many, many more Horizons photos, so maybe sometime I will post a more-complete tour.

Until next time…