Disney’s California Adventure characters in 2001

I visited Disney’s California Adventure about a week after it first opened. I intentionally planned my visit to avoid the “opening crowds.” Looking back, I wish I had been there for opening day. I was lucky enough to see a few things during my first visit that were gone a week later, and never returned, like the “bee bodies” at the Orange Stinger:

DCA bee bodies at the Orange Stinger on February 18, 2001.

But I digress.

One of the (unsubstantiated) rumors about DCA during its early planning was that it would not have Disney characters in it. Really? Disney already tried that with EPCOT Center, which opened without Mickey and gang, but added them soon after because, apparently, people expect to see Disney characters at a Disney park.

True or not, the park certainly opened with characters. Here’s a look of some of them I saw during my first visit to the brand new park.

Over in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, characters were on the street…

Kuzco (Emporer’s New Groove) and (maybe?) Cruela de Vil on February 18, 2018.
Mushu (Hercules) on February 21, 2001.
Esmerelda (Hunchback of Notre Dame) on February 21, 2001.

Inside the Animation Building, I was surprised when Mickey and Minnie came over to hang out with us. It was a great, air conditioned way to get some mouse time without a long line. (And notice their costumes… They are dressed as if they are on vacation. They live at Disneyland, but visit DCA.)

Mickey and Minnie hanging out in the Animation Building on February 18, 2018.

Over at Bountiful Valley Farm, Flik from Bug’s Life was making appearancs. This made sense since It’s Tough to be a Bug was located there, and featured him.

Flik in Bountiful Valley Farm on February 18, 2018.

Near the entrance of the park, at Sunshine Plaza, you could find some of the classic Disney characters — also dressed as if they were on vacation. Here’s Goofy.

Goofy on vacation at DCA on February 21, 2001.

And Max! (I will admit I’ve never seen anything featuring Max. I think I aged out of cartoons before The Goofy Movie and things like Disney Afternoon, so there is a large collection of Disney characters I just don’t recognize or connect with.)

Max on vacation at DCA on February 21, 2001.
Donald on vacation at DCA on February 21, 2001.
Mickey and Minnie on vacation at DCA on February 21, 2001.

Since there wasn’t any specific meet and greet area for characters, you could find them pretty much all over the park. Even in San Francisco. (I’m the goofy one on the left, with camera bags galore.)

Me meeting Pluto in the San Francisco area on February 21, 2001.

When I visited later that year, I ran into him over in the Paradise Pier area with some duck. It’s interesting seeing how outfits change the “look” of a character.

And there was even a street show featuring many of your favorite Disney characters…

Character show on February 14, 2001.

So IF the rumors of “DCA won’t have characters” were ever true, it’s clear that they went the opposite direction and made sure the park was packed with them, even on opening week.

Until next time…

Disneyland’s Christmas in August 1997.

If I told you a Disney park was starting to celebrate a holiday months in advance, today that might not phase you. (I’m lookin’ at you, Walt Disney World’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party that starts in August this year!)

But do you remember that time in the 1990s when Disneyland started celebrating Christmas in August?

No?

Let’s park hop back to twenty-two years ago today…

Here’s a photo from August 20, 1997. Notice the Christmas garland around Coca-Cola Corner…

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

I’d have gotten closer photos if I could have, but that area was off limits. Look again. Did you notice the ladder in the street, tripod stand in the left, or the large clump of electrical cable near the lamp post?

Disneyland was being used as a filming location for a Christmas commercial for the now-defunct Mervyn’s department store.

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

They had most of Main Street blocked off during filming.

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.
Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

Guests were being routed down the left sidewalk towards Adventureland and Frontierland.

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

For Southern California folks, seeing movie crews filming is a rather ordinary experience. But, I suspect, seeing Disneyland decorated for Christmas in August was not. I was excited to see both.

Merry Christmas in August!

Some day you’ll have to me to tell you about the time I saw Shirley Jones (Partridge Family) filming in Toon Town for a Disney special…

Until next time…

Happy Birthday on the Jungle Cruise

In honor of my fake birthday today, I thought I’d share a Disney story about something that happened on my real birthday long ago…

I believe there has only been one time when I made a Disney trip on my birthday, and that was to Disneyland in 1997.

Some say getting to go to Disneyland is more like Christmas that a birthday, but this year, I guess both were true. The end of Main Street was decorated for the holidays! They were filming a television commercial for Mervyn’s California (a store that no longer exists).

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

So, in a way, I guess I celebrated both my summer birthday and Christmas that trip. You can this article for more on this Christmas in August commercial.

But I digress.

While I have no memory of going into City Hall to get a free birthday button to wear (the only place you could get them back then), but I must have, because it seems there are photos of me wearing one that day. Looking at the photos today, though, I guess it may have just been a sticker back then.

I looked so happy! Birthdays must make me happy. (Not so much, these days! #OldFart) Also note my trendy “Al’s Place” website T-Shirt I often wore during park visits back then, and my special Disney name badge. Classy.

Most likely because of the button/sticker, something kinda special happened that day — a Jungle Cruise skipper and his crew sing Happy Birthday to me on the boat.

It was very surreal, so say the least.

I don’t have a picture of it from that day, but it probably looked something like this…

Not an actual picture of me getting Happy Birthday sang to me on a Jungle Cruise boat.

So thank you, 1997 Disneyland Jungle Cruise skipper, for giving me a very special birthday at The Happiest Place on Earth. I think about this moment every year on my fake birthday.

Until next time…

Toontown Jolley Trolley in 1996

When I “returned” to Disneyland in December of 1995, there were many, many things that had changed since my childhood visits in the 1970s. I wasn’t aware of most of them, but I was aware that Bear Country had been replaced by Critter Country. I had been also reading a ton about the construction of the brand-new Indiana Jones Adventure attraction. What I don’t think I really knew much about was Mickey’s Toontown, built beyond the railroad tracks past it’s a small world.

According to the wikipedia, Disneyland has just added this all-new land in 1993. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin did not open until 1994. I now realize I got to visit it within the very first few years of existence.

My digital photos of Toontown in 1996 look very similar to digital photos taken today (image quality not withstanding), though there are some changes.

Jolly Trolly on May 20, 1996.

First, the Jolly Trolly is long gone. It was in operation from 1993 to 2003. This thing would slowly drive through the land (on a track) with a weird wobbling motion. It added a bit of cartoonish kinetic energy to the area, much like the Main Street vehicles do there. Here is a tiny 320×240 photo of it from my first visit with a digital camera.

And here is a larger 640×480 version, a few months later.

And although it’s a bit hard to make out, here’s another photo of the trolly driving around the land:

Jolly Trolley (in background) on August 18, 1996.

If I recall correctly, the Jolly Trolley had one load and unload area. It would make the loop, then let guests off back where they started. Here’s a look at the station in 2004, sign still in intact, but trolley nowhere to be seen:

Jolly Trolly station on August 27, 2004.

And here is a better look from 2005, during the 50th anniversary. Even though the attraction was no more, Disneyland still kept the sign and even adorned it with a special golden icon for the 50th.

Jolly Trolley station on July 15, 2005.

By 2007, the Jolly Trolly had returned — but only as a sitting area and photo opportunity.

Jolly Trolley returns! December 10, 2007.

Here are some better pictures of the less-Jolly Trolly from 2008:

Less-Jolly Trolly on December 3, 2008.
Less-Jolly Trolly on December 3, 2008.

At some point during the years I didn’t get to visit the park, the Trolley was moved a bit, and the former station was turned into a Disney Vacation Club kiosk:

Jolly Trolley DVC stand on May 9, 2017.

I guess we should be happy they at least kept the Jolly Trolley and sign around. I’m not sure there are many (or any?) extinct attractions at Yesterland that still have their signs on display inside the park…

At least the Trolley wasn’t alone. Chip and Dale’s Acorn Pit was shiny and new in 1996, but closed in 1998. Goofy’s Bounce House also is no more, closing in 2008. Since I don’t have photos of them in 1996, I’ll do those photo essays later..

Until next time…

Disney/MGM Studios Backlot Tour in 1996

When Disney/MGM Studios opened in 1989 (I wouldn’t get to see it until 1994), it was a pre-emptive strike against Universal Studios’ plans to open their own theme park just down the road. The park was quickly constructed and opened in order to beat Universal’s 1990 opening date.

One of the main features of the park were tours where you could see Disney Animators working on upcoming features, and a behind-the-scenes tram tour through actual movie and TV locations. Since Orlando was far, far from Hollywood, neither Disney’s or Universal’s studio parks were going to come close to the “real” studio tour that Universal Studios had in California, but hey, it was at least a different concept for a theme park out East.

The Backlot Tour was part walking tour, through exhibits and presentations, then tram tour. For some reason, I have no photos from the tram tour portion, but I did take some during the walking part.

There were actual movie props on display. I forget what movie this Trojan Horse was from, but it was on display next to vehicles that were, I think, from the movie The Rock.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour Trojan Horse on August 26, 1996.

For the opening of D/MGM, a short film was produced starring Bette Midler called “The Lottery“. It was filmed in sound stages and on the streets at the theme park. Here are some of the props and set pieces used in the film:

D/MGM Backlot Tour props and set pieces from The Lottery on August 26, 1996.

And, hey! Here’s a recording of the movie on YouTube! Look at “original” Disney/MGM Studios!

But I digress.

There were lots of other props to see along the way, and eventually you got to look at the water tank. It wasn’t a real filming location — it was just a tourist thing and part of the show. But, it had what looked like one of the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea subs in it!

D/MGM Backlot Tour water tank on August 26, 1996.

Two guests were selected before the show to act out a nautical battle scene. One was in a ship wheelhouse set, and the other was at the battle station where they would “fire” on the ship.

D/MGM Backlot Tour water tank on August 26, 1996.

I even got to do this twice. Here’s me in 1998:

Me on the D/MGM Backlot Tour on January 24, 1998.

There were many other interesting things to see along the tour. Of course, I was focused on theme park stuff, and excited to see a Jungle Cruise (assumption) elephant:

D/MGM Backlot Tour Jungle Cruise (?) elephant on August 26, 1996.

You’d pass through a “prop warehouse” and see things from TV shows as well as defunct Disney theme park attractions.

D/MGM Backlot Tour prop warehouse on August 26, 1996.

This Mickey refrigerator prop caught my attention, though I don’t know what it was from.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour Mickey refrigerator on August 26, 1996.

But this prehistoric TV I did recognize! It was from the ABC series Dinosaurs. See the in-universe corporation logo on the front? “WeSaySo”.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour TV set from ABC’s Dinosaurs on August 26, 1996.

And this “famous” prop… A Binford Tools lawn mower from the ABC TV series Home Improvement:

D/MGM Backlot Tour Binford Tools lawnmower on August 26, 1996.

Some items were clearly marked as originating from the other Disney parks. Look at the logo here – EPCOT Center, before “Epcot ’94″…

D/MGM Backlot Tour Epcot assets tag on August 26, 1996.

And look at all the decommissioned animatronics from World of Motion (I think)! I’ll just stick them into a small gallery here, since this article is already getting way too long. Click them to see full-size versions.

It was such a neat experience, and this is only a fraction of what it was. There were plenty of other exhibits and “show” elements before getting to the tram tour.

I’ll have much more of this tour to show in future installments as the years progress and I started taking more and more photos in the parks.

Until next them…