As an early adopter of digital cameras (my first was purchased in 1996), I am no stranger to adopting new tech before the rest of the world decides it’s useful.
In the early 2000s, I became fascinated with panoramic photography. I learned about special mirrors that let a camera take 360 panoramic photos with just one shot. Around 2005 I purchased a SurroundPhoto attachment and a Nokia camera specifically to use for this purpose. Here is what an image looked like:
If you’ve ever looked at the files that come out of a modern RICOH Theta VR camera, you will find this image a bit familiar.
Using special software, this weird image could be flattened out into a panorama:
I had already created a virtual tour of Disneyland by taking four pictures in each spot (facing north, south, west and east) and linking them all together as web pages with a custom program I wrote. I wanted to do the next version using 360 panorama VR-style photos.
Someday maybe I will.
I had also gotten my first digital camcorder in 1999 and was recording everything I was allowed to during my Disney trips. I have hundreds of tapes rotting away in storage. Some of them are in 3-D thanks to learning about the NuView camcorder attachment:
This odd device attached to the front of any pre-HD camcorder and used a special lens system to record what a left and right eye would see as separate scan lines in the old video signal.
I took this with me on a few trips and recorded a few hours of 3-D video, which I could later convert to red/blue anaglyph. I made copies of my 3-D home movies available on DVD (because I also was an early adopter of a machine that could burn DVDs). It’s hard to believe that burning DVDs was a big deal. (Somewhere I still have tons of the paper red/blue 3-D glasses.)
After that, I was an early adopter of HD video (even though I wouldn’t own an HD TV until years later). I still have many tapes I have yet to even look at.
Someday maybe I will.
And as far as “real” VR goes, I did get to play Dactyl Nightmare, the first consumer VR experience, at a Dave and Buster’s near Dallas back around 1993 or so. I then saw a demonstration of VR at Epcot in 1995, then got to play DisneyVR at the Tomorrowland Starcade at Disneyland in 1996.
Yet somehow I missed adopting VR at home, beyond playing with a “put your phone in this thing” Google cardboard device.
When I returned to Disneyland in December 1995, there were some thing I had “just” missed (like the PeopleMover and Skyway, that had closed a few years earlier). But, some things were still there, though they would close soon after.
One such thing was the Circle-Vision theater, showing a special presentation of America the Beautiful, which was supervised by Walt Disney himself.
For the kids at home, this was where the Buzz Lightyear ride is today. You can learn more at Yesterland.com or read the writeup at the Wikipedia.
My ancient digital camera did not do well indoors without using a flash. But, since there aren’t that many photos of this online, I thought I’d share what I have.
Yep. Glorious low resolution, low quality digital photos from 1996! Above was the pre-show area, leading in to the main CircleVision theater. Below I will share the other photos I took that visit — all of equal quality.
After this theater closed, it eventually would re-open and be used as part of the queue for the Rocket Rods. They created a new Circle-Vision film for it, which features some clips from other CircleVision films (on all screens) as well as clips from Disney’s TV series segments on transportation (including clips of Walt Disney). It was nice to be in a Circle-Vision theater at Disneyland again, even if it was just something you passed through while waiting for a ride.
Walt Disney World had Circle-Vision theaters at Epcot‘s World Showcase (and still does) and Magic Kingdom‘s Tomorrowland (Timekeeper, gone and replaced by the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor).
Disneyland no long has any theater, as the building was redone to become Buzz Lightyear and the Circle-Vision screens were removed.
At least I got to see the “end” of Circle-Vision at Disneyland — the original theme park that pioneered this type of presentation. It’s one of the things I have never seen anywhere else (though surely someone else has made them).
Here is a real quick one… It recently dawned on me that someone could probably dedicate a whole series of articles to how admission to the Disney theme parks has changed over the years. Up until the 1990s, this would have only been a discussion about coupon books versus single and multi-day general admission tickets. Since then, however, there have been a number of changes to how admission is handled.
I will just contribute two photos taken in 1996 of how you used to get in to the Magic Kingdom in Florida.
First, notice the orange area in the following photo:
At that time, admission was a paper-plastic type ticket with a magnetic strip on it. At the turnstile you would insert that ticket into the orange slot and it would scan and allow (or deny) you access to the park.
Here is what my ticket, an annual pass, looked like in 1996:
And here is the front artwork:
Yes, my Walt Disney World annual pass was just a piece of plastic-paper with my name on it.
At the time, I thought this was quite cheesy compared to how Disneyland did theirs. They had an actual plastic ID card with a photo on it, and no magnetic strip that could become demagnetized. Here is the Disneyland pass from the same year:
And here is the back, promoting the recently opened Indiana Jones Adventure attraction:
Quite a difference in quality! In those years, it was said that Disneyland visitors were 70% locals from Southern California, while Walt Disney World was about 70% out-of-state tourists. I guess Disney just had more “regulars” to make feel special when they spent so much money on an annual pass. (After all, a one day pass to Disneyland in 1996 has just seen its price jacked up to $34!)
I never had a day pass to Disneyland, so I don’t know what they used for single day tickets at the time.
I recently found all of my Disneyland and Walt Disney World passes I’ve had since 1995. In a future post, I’ll do a photo essay showing the changes over the years.
One more thing before I go… The backside of the Magic Kingdom turnstile in 1996:
But do you remember that time in the 1990s when Disneyland started celebrating Christmas in August?
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…
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?
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).
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…
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
By 2007, the Jolly Trolly had returned — but only as a sitting area and photo opportunity.
Here are some better pictures of the less-Jolly Trolly from 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:
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..
On this anniversary date, May 13 (if Wikipedia can be believed), let’s talk about one of the greatest entertainment spectacles the world has ever seen. Or at least Anaheim has ever seen.
Disneyland’s Fantasmic! blew me away when I first saw it, though I didn’t intend to see it.
During my return to visiting Disneyland, my first trip was spent just trying to see all the things in California that did not exist in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. During my next few trips, the first with a digital camera, I was still focusing on other rides and re-learning how different things were at “Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom”.
I was not interested in shows or parades.
But when I was walking through New Orleans Square to get to a ride (Haunted Mansion, most likely), I stumbled into a performance of Fantastic and was mesmerized.
I had never seen anything like it.
So, obviously, I wanted to see it up close (which was easy to do back then just by showing up early) and take pictures of it with my brand new Epson PhotoPC camera.
Unfortunately, there was no zoom lens on the camera, so this is as close as I could get. And because my camera only had 1 megabyte of memory, I was taking photos in 320×240 resolution. If you blow them up on a modern computer screen (or even a phone!) they are so pixelated they look like 8-bit graphics 😉
So here are a few more…
Oddly enough, I didn’t take a picture of the Mark Twain in the finale. Maybe it wasn’t running the night I saw it? Or perhaps I ran out of memory?
Ah, the days of early digital cameras!
I must have found these light poles fascinating. I took two pictures, and in “high resolution” mode!
And that’s about the worst quality of photos I will be sharing in this essays. Hopefully.
According to the always accurate Wikipedia, the Indiana Jones Adventure opened in Disneyland on March 4, 1995. This ride is the reason I wanted to return to Disneyland after not visiting there since the 1970s. I had been reading about its construction in the Disneyland section of the Destination Florida RoundTable on GEnie. (That was the General Electric text-based dial-up service I was on, years before there was such a thing as the “world wide web.”)
When my new job scheduled me to be in Irvine, California in December 1995, the first thing I did was call my hotel and ask how far they were from Disneyland. (Remember, this was before online maps — even before the things that were before Google Maps, like MapQuest.) They told me it was about 15 miles away. I was ecstatic, though I would soon learn that 15 minutes could mean an hour or more in Southern California traffic.
In the early days of this attraction, the line would often start on Main Street U.S.A. and wind through Adventureland. They’d have cast members hold the line to let traffic cross from time to time. In 2017, the same thing was being done for Disney California Adventure’s Guardians of the Galaxy when the line would extend into A Bug’s Land.
After going in to Adventureland, the line would use the second level of the Jungle Cruise building and then finally enter the actual Indiana Jones queue. At the time, the GEnie rumors were that the queue was built to hold a three hour line. Today, that massive indoor queue is just a walkway since they hold everyone outside and merge in FastPass/MaxPass visitors at the entrance. It dawns on me that, since FastPass, there are folks who have never really experience this amazing queue the way it was intended.
Do you remember the original ride sponsor? Here’s a photo of the sign at the exit, taken during my first trip with a digital camera. Ah, the glory of low resolution 320×240 digital pictures!
Yep, it was AT&T. They also sponsored Spaceship Earth at EPCOT Center. The EPCOT sponsorship made sense to me since their logo already looked like Spaceship Earth. But Indy? The only link was this sign at the end.
According to the story of the ride, tourists were going in to choose one of those three doors to give them either youth, riches, or visions of the future. The ride used to have an elaborate mechanism that made it appear like each car was “randomly” going through one of three entrance doors. A wall of haphazardly arranged mirrors would tilt so you could watch the car in front of you as it turned the corner and went through a door. Then, the mirror would move back, and your car would go and you would see that you got a different door. Very cool!
And what is the connection to the sponsor? At the time, AT&T was running a similar “choose wisely” ad campaign about selecting them for your long distance* service.
Old Guy Note: In olden days, “long distance” was a term used to mean calling someone who wasn’t in your local town. You paid extra for each minute of the long distance call. During the 1980s, a large telephone monopoly was disrupted and a bunch of competing phone services started up. You could then choose another company to provide you long distance service at lower rates.
You also got a bit of AT&T ad material every time you rode. Throughout the temple, there were writings that you could decode with an AT&T-sponsored translation card they gave you. I suppose the idea was that you would have something to kill the time during your three hour+ wait 😉 I have a bunch of these cards. The writing was just a special font. I had a friend who could just read them (it’s easy once you realize that the symbols look quite a bit like the letters they represent). Years later, a special font was used in Guardians of the Galaxy with similar things for you to translate. It seems we have another connection to Guardians! (And, maybe as an indication of the changing times, many of the Guardians signs also have English translations already on them — no need to make you think while on vacation, I guess.)
In the early years, everything in the temple queue was shiny and new, yet it looked like it had been there for hundreds of years. The only thing that looked fresh was the bat guano in the bat cave. The in-queue effects (the first time Disney had ever done that, I believe?) all worked. In the last several trips I made, none seemed to be working. Do they ever work?
In case you haven’t even seen them, in the “spike room” you could push on the bamboo pole to trigger an effect that would make the ceiling (slowly… very slowly…) move down with a thunderous rumble.
There was also the rope you could pull on to annoy the archeologist that was hanging on to it below. Keep pulling and he’d drop something. Pull more, and he’d plummet to his … nap. (I mean, no one would die in a Disney queue, would they?) Good times.
A few years later, a similar rope was added at Disney/MGM Studios near the Indiana Jones Stunt show, though their sign makes it much more obvious you can pull the rope. Here’s their version from 1999:
But I digress. Back to Disneyland’s Indy…
The ride itself was amazing, and still is, but today’s version pales compared to the original 1995-1996 version. Here’s a few highlights:
The ride used to be so “rough” there was no way to ride it without holding on for dear life. Someone managed to shoot video of it in 1995 (you can see how bumpy it is) and I commend them on that accomplishment. I guess I can see why they tamed it down, but it was far more of a thrill ride in the early years.
There was also a windy cavern that was REALLY windy. It, supposedly, blew off too many caps and caused issues from having to stop the ride to clear the track that they toned that down.
There was also the debris that would fall from the ceiling. Just as you’d turn a corner and be facing the main ride chamber, the music would swell, and a green light blast would shine and there’d be a fire burst nearby. Debris would fall from the ceiling. It was ice that would drop, where it could just melt away at the bottom. (Someone finally posted a clip of this effect happening ,so even if you’ve never seen it yourself, now you have “proof” it existed.)
But my all-time favorite part was the different “random” profiles for the vehicles. They would stall in different places, speed through a scene or drive slowly through it, and do so differently each time you rode them. I’m sure there was a finite set of “random” variations, but it was so nicely done it never felt repetitive. My favorite was the one where the car kept grinding the shift gears, and you could feel the gears grind under the floor board! Impressive!
Here’s a YouTube video summarizing some of the missing effects from the original Indy ride (though it is incorrect about one, and doesn’t comment on the random ride profiles that were bragged about during the early promotional material):
There were also a few secrets that users of GEnie and the newsgroups (there were no fan websites yet, really) had discovered.
There was a LIFE magazine with Mickey on the cover.
There was a reference to Star Wars’ Obi Wan Kenobe (which was also in the Indiana Jones movie).
And Disney had told us about the ID numbers of the vehicles being Imagineer birthdates.
Another detail that changed was the sign just before going up the stairs. The original version looked much more authentic, but it was replaced with a warning-heavy version that looked far more modern and out-of-place.
Speaking of signs, have you ever noticed the “nails” used throughout? They are historically-correct representations of what was used before we had modern nails. Nice details.
And speaking of details, in the original days, all the light bulbs were unlabeled and looked like old bulbs. Today, you will find modern bulbs scattered around (with modern writing on them showing the wattage, etc.).
Also, the “generator” in the outdoor queue is supposed to be powering all the lights in the temple. You can trace the wiring running from it all the way into the load area. As the generator spits and sputters, the lights will flicker and dim. It was a very cool effect that I don’t know if many notice these days.
Indiana Jones Adventure was one of the greatest things Imagineering has ever done. What we have today is still a great ride, but it’s just a shadow of the ride as originally intended back in 1995. I’m glad I got to see it during those early years.