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 I wasn’t aware of most of them, but I was aware that Bear Country had been replaced by Critter Country.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.
2018-02-25: Added “new” Tomorrowland history notes from Werner Weiss of Yesterland.com.
The Tomorrowland of 1996 was probably the “new” Tomorrowland, not to be confused with the new “new” Tomorrowland that would open two years later. After speaking with Werner of Yesterland.com, I found that there were several other “new” new Tomorrowlands along the way. (See his notes at the end of this article.)
I’ll just call this one Tomorrowland ’96, in tribute to the recently renamed Epcot ’94.
First, the Rocket Jets were still in their original spot:
By having them up on the second story (you took an elevator to get to them), it make them seem much more frightening. To prove that, here’s a non-public photo I vowed I would never share publicly:
Today a new version sits on the ground at the front of Tomorrowland, and the skeleton of the old Rocket Jets is a kinetic sculpture that may or more not kinet any more.
In 1996, you could also catch the original run of Captain EO, which I did, because I don’t think I ever caught it when it was at Epcot. (Recall, I visited Disneyland a few times in the 1970s, then my 1980s and early 1990s were only trips to Walt Disney World):
A short time later and that theater would be redone for Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Then, years later, it would be repurposed to become Captain EO Tribute after the passing of the film’s star, Michael Jackson. I wonder what will happen if Rick Moranis or Eric Idle passes away?
There was also this long-closed Carousel of Progress / America Sings Building that was being worked on for Tomorrowland ’98:
The PeopleMover had been closed since shortly before I got back to visit in 1995, darnit. “Missed it by that much!”
Hey! That’s Esmarelda (bottom left, above) walking out of Tomorrowland! This, my friends, was one of the reasons why Walt Disney wanted so much land for his Florida Project. He said he didn’t want to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland on his way to Frontierland, and I’m guessing seeing Esmeralda do the same also counts.
And taking a peek at the People Mover tracks showed work being done for the upcoming Rocket Rods ride:
Speaking of Walt Disney World… Did you ever see the Disney virtual reality demonstration at Epcot ’95? (Yes, Virginia. There was virtual reality in the early 1990s.) It was in one of the buildings near Spaceship Earth, and I saw it with my dad during the summer of 1995. They selected a few guests to demonstrate the system on a stage while we all watched overhead monitors showing what they were seeing. It was an Aladdin magic carpet ride game. During my 1996 Disneyland trip, I got to play it at the Starcade. It was very cool.
V.R. is the future, I tell you!
I guess I should also point out the Circle-Vision was still showing movies:
That movie was interesting because Walt Disney was involved in it, and he could be seen over and over in various scenes. It’s hard to hide from a 360 camera. (Yes, Virginia, Disney was doing 360 movies back in the 1960s.)
This location later became the queue for Rocket Rods (the theater still intact and showing a new Rocket Rod film sequence), then later Buzz Lightyear.
Space Mountain was presented by FedEx and had the “speed ramp” up to the top:
And the ride itself had recently gotten onboard sound via add-on speakers they put on the existing cars:
During a later redo, they would get all-new cars with the speakers integrated into them.
The Submarine Voyage was still running:
Besides the subs being yellow instead of grey, it was very close to the original version that opened in 1959. A few years later, it would close and the lagoon would sit, abandoned, for what seemed like “forever” until Nemo saved it. Florida’s version, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, was not so fortunate. It just sat there for what seemed like “forever” and then got replaced with a Winnie the Pooh playground for toddlers.
And, who can forget the Toy Story Funhouse, showing that Disney began putting things in the Tomorrowlands long before Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. If I recall correctly, this was an exhibit that was used at a movie theater during the promotion of Toy Story, then moved to this area in Tomorrowland as an attraction.
I only took a few photos, so this one must have really stood out. It was the first time I ever saw a human Green Army Man.
It’s worth noting that the original versions had their feet connected on a platform just like the toys. They would wobble around just like the toy versions did in the movie. Cute.
It’s also worth notice that orange floor. Back in the 1970s, Radio Shack stores were also orange and brown. I guess those were good colors for the future, in the past.
I guess that about covers Tomorrowland. I took a few photos of Star Tours, but that remained mostly unchanged until the updates for the new movies so nothing interesting to share there.
Notes from Yesterland.com:
Werner Weiss contributed some more details about the various “new” Tomorrowlands:
1959 – Significant additions to Tomorrowland at Disneyland, but not called “New Tomorrowland.” Included Disneyland Alweg Monorail, Submarine Voyage, and Matterhorn Bobsleds (Matterhorn is now classified as part of Fantasyland).
1967 – “New Tomorrowland” at Disneyland. Included G.E. Carousel of Progress, Goodyear PeopleMover, Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space, AT&T Bell System Circle-Vision 360 (replacing the 11-screen 16mm version), Flight to the Moon (replacing Rocket to the Moon), Coca-Cola Tomorrowland Terrace, Space Stage, and the tile murals by Mary Blair.
1994 – “New Tomorrowland” at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World.
1998 – “New Tomorrowland” at Disneyland. Included Rocket Rods, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” Innoventions, and Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port.
I’ve already touched on Disneyland’s New Orleans Square a bit when I discussed entertainment offerings in 1996, but let’s look a bit closer at some other things in the area.
Learning about Club 33 on the early Internet (long, long before Facebook, in the early stone ages of dial-up and text-based newsgroups) felt like being let in on a big secret. So of course I took a picture of the door!
As Club 33 became less of a secret, you’d see more and more people doing the same, or posing by it. I still kick myself for not going in when I had a chance. And kicking myself again for turning down the second and third chance, too. I think I was just too focused on rides back then.
And before the Year of a Million Dreams turned it into an apartment, upstairs above Pirates of the Caribbean was the Disney Gallery where you could see great things like this K7 spaceman outfit from the early years of Disneyland:
And, if you knew the right people (sigh, like those who invited you to Club 33 and you turned them down), they might even show you some other secrets, like this “hidden” cast member elevator:
I also got to visit a cast member store (which I think was located in a trailer backstage somewhere). I bought a strange black ball with Mickey ears on it that you could stick on a car antenna. Who would have known that, in a few years, those antenna balls would be a massive craze with hundreds of styles! (The one I bought was before this, and doesn’t even say “Disneyland” on it — just a discreet black ball with mouse ears. I’m not even sure if it had (C)Disney anywhere. I wonder if I still have it.)
But I digress…
I’ll share a few more. Somehow I learned about a “hidden pet cemetery,” and a cast member gave me a little tour. Today, it’s well documented (it was the original cemetery, and then a clone was made and moved out front when they expanded the Haunted Mansion queue), but back then, it seemed really special to get to see it. Funny how giving everyone a digital camera (on their phone) at all times makes having photos of things far less rare.
And over at Pirate’s of the Caribbean, I snapped a photo of one of the pirates unique to the Disneyland version. I believe he sat at the left of the “waterfall” up ramp at the end of the ride, just before where Jack Sparrow is today.
He disappeared a few years later during an update, and has been gone ever since. I think. I really need to check my later photos. I could be completely wrong (and I’m sure you’ll let me know if I am).
There was also some kind of big deal about turnstiles being moved to the exit of Pirates. I don’t recall why, but I took a photo:
Oh, and for what it’s worth, back then this pirate was still looking for the woman that the clothing he was holding belonged to 😉
“I be willing to share, I be!” he would say, as an (apparently) nude woman popped up slightly out of the barrel behind him.
Ah, fun times.
I guess that’s all for now. In writing this article, I did learn that the problem with strollers isn’t really a new one. It just seems today there are more of them, and more people bring their own, and they are larger. But even in 1996, I thought the mess of “parked” strollers was awful enough that I wasted one of my dozen or so photos on it.
Actually, maybe “parked” is too strong a word for that photo. How about “left in a clump, seemingly at random” instead?
Howdy, folks! In a previous article I mentioned thinking the photos of Fantasyland I took in 1996 looked pretty much like ones I would take in 2018. Now that I get to my Frontierland photos, I think the same can be said about them, too. For instance, new teepees had been recently added to the entrance:
And over on the shore of Tom Sawyer Island, Cascade Peak was pouring water down beside the long-abandoned tracks of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. (Be sure to visit that link above for a great article about this on Yesterland.)
And the Keel Boats (look in the top left of this next photo) were still taking guests around the River’s of America:
Remember how they’d tell everyone to not stand at the same time, else the boat would “keel over”? That was a joke, wasn’t it?
And over on Tom Sawyer Island, you could still climb up some very high rock formations to look around. I took this photo from up top of one, and I recall being stunned they let guests climb that high. There weren’t any guard rails or anything, yet I didn’t see guests falling down left and right and hurting themselves. They still had the “playground” equipment (like teeter totter rock and such) still in operation back then, too…
As you can see, things in the old west really don’t change that much.