Disneyland’s last Annual Passholder Party in 1997.

I returned to visiting Disneyland in December 1995. I was then an annual pass holder every year except for the dark times (after the great tech layoffs following 9/11) through the late 2000s.

Disneyland used to do a yearly Annual Passholder Party. It was a hard ticket event that gave pass holders special access in the evening to presentations, entertainment and food. The last one was 23 years ago today on March 14, 1997. I thought it might be fun to look back on the event through my ancient digital photos.

Getting there is half the fun

I travelled for work, and just happened to be in Irvine, California the week this event was held. I had no ticket, but my local friend Steve roamed the lines asked if anyone had an extra ticket. Thanks to Steve and some random nice guy I was able to experience the event. (I used to have a picture of him, but it seems to have been lost to time.)

New Tomorrowland

The new New Tomorrowland was under construction, so there were many displays set up showing things to come.

Innoventions

This one shows the paint job that Innoventions would soon have.

Innoventions model. Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

It was on this night that the made the building rotate (to great applause) for the first time since it America Sings was inside. I highly suspect they practiced this before they tried to power it up in front of annual pass holders.

Rocket Rods

The PeopleMover had been shut down for a few years, but its high speed replacement, Rocket Rods, would soon be operating. This was a map of the track layout.

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

The next resort…

And of course, with Disneyland soon to be the Disneyland Resort featuring a new theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, there was concept art on hand about changes coming to the resort area.

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

And check out this “now” and “later” image showing the yucky run down strip mall look that surrounded Disneyland … and the lush tourist district it would soon be transformed into:

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

Won’t you let me take you on a Disney cruise?

The Disney Cruise lines was also represented, showing off a model of an upcoming cruise ship.

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

Animal Kingdom: coming soon!

There was also a new Florida Disney theme park opening — the first new U.S. park since Disney/MGM Studios opened nine years earlier. Animal Kingdom was represented with a display of concept art.

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997
Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

Test Track!

The transformation of Epcot’s World of Motion into Test Track also got some concept art.

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

Imagineers standing by…

This is where I got to meet some imagineers for the first time. I had my photo taken with Bruce Gordon and Tony Baxter, though I don’t believe I had any idea who either of them were at the time.

Hungry yet?

Outside of Tomorrowland, the walkway between New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America was taken over by food booths. You could buy samples of all kinds of food items from the different lands of the parks. Back then, the prices were very reasonable!

Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997
Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997
Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997
Disneyland Annual Passholder Part on May 14, 1997

Light Magic

This was also the first night we got to see a sneak preview of the upcoming Light Magic parade… but I will save that for a second part.

I thought I had many more photos from this night, but it appears they may have been lost with some hard drive failures I have had over the years. Stay in school kids, and backup often.

Until next time…

P.S. The photos in this article were all 640×480 low resolution images from my Epson PhotoPC camera. They have been upscaled using software as an experiment. What do you think? I think they look like Instagram filters. . .

Using 1996 photos in 2020.

When I bought my first digital camera in 1996, the specs were quite impressive. My Epson PhotoPC could take a picture large enough to fill my entire PC’s VGA-resolution screen – 640×480! Of course, on dial-up modems, you would never put pictures of that size on a website, so I often used the half-size 320×240 images online (or smaller).

But today, icons for phone apps are larger than 640×480. My huge 1996 pictures now look like postage stamps.

But technology always finds a way, and I am experimenting with some modern image processing that uses artificial intelligence to try to figure out what was supposed to be in the photo, and make it larger.

Here is an example… This is a 1996 photo from Disneyland:

1996 Disneyland Frontierland (original).

And here is the same photo, reprocessed to be double the resolution:

6401996 Disneyland Frontierland (reprocessed).

If you viewed the original at double size and compared it with the reprocessed photo, you could see quite a difference. But in small sizes in this article, it just looks a tad sharper. Zooming in on the people in the canoe shows there wasn’t enough detail for the AI to do much. It gives them a weird artistic filtered look.

Let’s see if we can show them side-by-side. You can click on these to see them full size.

The question I have for you today is … should I reprocess the photos I share in these articles? Or just use the original 1996 versions as-is?

Comments are appreciated.

Park Hopping in VR

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:

SurroundPhoto one-shot 360 mirror lens.

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:

Disneyland 2005 panorama taken with the SurroundPhoto.

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:

MuView 3-D 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.

DisneyVR at the Disneyland Starcade on May 20, 1996.

Yet somehow I missed adopting VR at home, beyond playing with a “put your phone in this thing” Google cardboard device.

So apologies for this announcement being so late.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . ParkHopping.com in VR!

ParkHopping.com in VR.

You don’t seem too impressed.

Maybe someday you will.

Circle-Vision in 1996

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.

Disneyland’s Circle-Vision on August 12, 1996.

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.

Disneyland’s Circle-Vision on August 12, 1996.

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).

Until next time…

Entering Disney in 1996.

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:

Magic Kingdom turnstile on August 26, 1996.

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:

1996 WDW Annual Pass (back).

And here is the front artwork:

1996 WDW Annual Pass (front).

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:

1996 Disneyland AP (back).

And here is the back, promoting the recently opened Indiana Jones Adventure attraction:

1996 Disneyland AP (front).

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:

Magic Kingdom turnstile on August 26, 1996.

Ah, the things I took pictures of with my first digital camera.

Until next time…

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…