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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
I even got to do this twice. Here’s me in 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:
You’d pass through a “prop warehouse” and see things from TV shows as well as defunct Disney theme park attractions.
This Mickey refrigerator prop caught my attention, though I don’t know what it was from.
But this prehistoric TV I did recognize! It was from the ABC series Dinosaurs. See the in-universe corporation logo on the front? “WeSaySo”.
And this “famous” prop… A Binford Tools lawn mower from the ABC TV series Home Improvement:
Some items were clearly marked as originating from the other Disney parks. Look at the logo here – EPCOT Center, before “Epcot ’94″…
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.
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?
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:
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?
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:
And here is what the lawnmower looked like in 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 🙂
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…
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:
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…
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’.
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.
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.
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:
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.
There was also more of a 1950s look at what we thought the future would be like, with robots and luxury.
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.
Eventually we would come to scenes representing our three future habitats. The first showed us a future desert farmer, talking on video screen…
…then you’d see who she was talking to, from his end.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
And there was a scene showing crystals being grown in zero gravity, as well.
Incidentally, that crystal ended up in someone’s home…
And, just because I like to embarrass myself, here’s me riding Horizons in 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.
Pirates of the Caribbean had already been added by the time I saw Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World for the first time. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when Pirates was not yet there. Although the Wikipedia states it opened in 1973, it wasn’t yet listed in the park guides for the Spring/Summer season.)
One of my favorite memories from the ride was the animatronic pirate parrot outside the ride’s entrance. Animatronics were still brand new technology at the time. The first animated Tiki Birds showed up at Disneyland in 1963 followed by the first human characters at Disney’s exhibits at the 1964 Worlds Fair (specifically Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Carousel of Progress). As a child in the 70s, I was mesmerized by these robotic creatures, and this parrot was a great way to watch one up close.
But I digress.
Getting back to the parrot, it dawns on me that, soon, it will have been long enough since he was removed that a whole new generation will exist that has no idea this parrot ever existed… (Thank goodness for YouTube videos, I suppose.)
Between my 1999 WDW visit and my return in 2006, the parrot was gone.
During the “update” they added all kinds of banners, more painted signs, and a huge ship mast with sails outside. I guess folks were having trouble locating this attraction.
And, to remind everyone that the ride now was linked to the still-new Johnny Depp movies, the movie logo appeared in various places.
As far as the pirate parrot, at some point after his removal, I believe he (was it the original figure?) was on display in Downtown Disney at the big Disney Store, but I can’t find a photo of it. Did I imagine that? Or did I just see someone else’s photo of it?
Well, wherever he is, he is missed, at least by this one guest.
With the recent (as I write this, not as you read it) announcement of Epcot’s Wonders of Life pavilion returning as a new Play pavilion, I thought I’d see what photos I took there with my first digital camera in 1996.
Not much, as it turns out. But let’s take a look anyway.
I liked that the pavilion was a done — sorta like some of the “domed city” concepts Walt Disney had for E.P.C.O.T. Outside was the large monument representing a DNA strand. And, at the time, it was sponsored by MetLife.
Inside, I thought it looked more like a colorful mall food court.
There wasn’t much in this pavilion — some movies and live entertainment, plus the movie/animatronic Cranium Command and motion simulator Body Wars.
Body Wars was directed by Leonard “Spock” Nimoy. It used the same ride system as Star Tours. In the early years, there were many issues with people getting sick on the ride due to the fluid motion of the simulator. It never bothered me like that, but I did not find it as fun as the Star Tours space race. Since many folks don’t seem to comment on this these days, I assume Disney must have toned it down, much like they did with Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.
And those were the only photos I took of Wonders of Life during my first visit to Walt Disney World with a digital camera.
In 1996, Epcot was celebrating 14 years of existence. That’s newer than Disney’s California Adventure is from the time that I write this (2018-2001=17 years-ish). And to me, DCA (and Animal Kingdom) still seem like new parks!
During the 90s, Epcot began changing from the original intent of the 1980s park to whatever it is today. With Disney and Pixar characters being added everywhere, especially in World Showcase, the park feels more like a light Fantasyland in many ways:
A Frozen water/dark ride (Norway).
A Three Caballeros dark/water ride (Mexico).
A Ratatouille dark ride (under construction in France).
…plus all kinds of character meet-and-greet opportunities.
Originally, the attractions were themed to the experiences found in the countries they were in. Today and in the future, it seems they are just more Fantasyland dark rides.
But I digress…
Let’s stick to the Future World section of the park and look at a few entertainment offerings you could find back in 1996.
Do you remember the “visiting family of space aliens” (if I recall the guide description) that appeared and did …this?
At the time, I’d never seen anything quite like it. Saying they were “visiting aliens” was a stretch, but by doing that and putting them in spacey outfits at least gave us some reasoning for why they were in Future World. Since then, I’ve seen dozens of acro-balance acts at Renaissance festivals and other events. But I can at least say “I saw this for the first time at Disney!”
Just like Main Street USA has their “citizens of Main Street,” there were various characters found at the Future World pavilions. This character was in front of Horizons…
I have no recollection of what was going on there, but it caught my attention enough to use one of my 99 digital photos I could take that day.
Meanwhile, over near the still-new Test Track, this nerdy scientist character was conducting some cooling experiments…
He had set up a walkway with traffic cones (outlandishly outfitted with caution tape) and was allowing guests to go through his human “car wash” … Yep, he was spraying them with water mist bottles.
With his bowl cut hairdo, his extreme overbite, and stereotypical Asian accent, it was … something.
Epcot had “struggled” for years to not be thought of as a boring park. Changing the slow moving World of Motion to the fast moving Test Track (the fastest ride at Walt Disney World) was probably the first extreme example of this.
But, lesser extreme examples were the park introducing Disney characters quickly after opening (it opened without them), and then adding more and more odd street entertainment like these.
Had I know then direction the park was starting to take, I would have taken many more photos of various other things they had in those years.
Is anything from that era still part of Epcot? Magic Kingdom still has their mayor, but does Epcot still have that guy? 🙂
The first “new land” added to Magic Kingdom since it opened was Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988 (or so says the Wikipedia). It was renamed to Mickey’s Starland in 1990. Something I had never read was that it supposedly was briefly known as Mickey’s Toyland in 1995 (again, from the Wikipedia — this is the first time I’ve read that). I think I only saw it as Starland during my family trips in the summer of ’94 and ’95.
It began a large refurbishment to become Mickey’s Toontown Fair in 1996. I remember a promotional photo that was released showing Mickey, Goofy and Donald hard at work:
This version made the land a bit more similar to Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland, though it was missing the Roger Rabbit references and most of the “town” part. It did, at least, add Mickey’s house, Donald’s boat, and a few others elements.
According to this sign, the grand opening was expected October 1996:
Because of this sign, I believe all the photos I have from this August 1996 visit should be considered Mickey’s Starland. I suppose this means some of the buildings were already there, or they were opened before the grand opening. I’m too lazy to go look anything up.
Here’s a map:
Going with the “fair” theme, there was the big tent with character meet and greets:
You can see how they were able to keep the tent when this area became Storybook Circus.
Some of the nicer elements at the time where the buildings that were, more or less, brought over from the other Toontown(s). Pete has his garage:
Donald had his boat, the Miss Daisy:
Minnie had her house:
And there was even a simple version of the Toontown Park:
The train station depot was rather bland, though.
Compare that to what Disneyland’s Toontown looked like, the Florida version was sparse and barren. But, at least it was a step up from the earlier encarnations.
And you could meet characters…
I’m, uh, not sure what “Practice your hugs” was all about.
When I visited in 1997, the rest of the land was ready, including the Barnstormer roller coaster. But it’s nice to have an in-progress look at one of the lesser lands ever built in a castle park.
Let’s take a trip back to 1996 and see what was going on at the Magic Kingdom. Who remembers the Tropical Serenade? It was the East Coast version of the 1964 Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.
I believe they still had the “barker bird” out front, letting us know what wonders await inside. Pirates of the Caribbean had their own barker bird back then, too.
I recall we usually just called it the Tiki Birds, and indeed, that’s what the sign said at the top. This later changed to the Under New Management version, then finally returned to a version of the original, but using the Disneyland name. Full circle!
One of my strongest memories from family vacations in the 1970s where these carvings that played drum music. They later became water sprayers, but they were just drumming away in 1996:
Over in Fantasyland, the Cinderella Castle was … a cake! Happy 25th Anniversary, Walt Disney World! Here’s a few photos from my collection (click on them to see larger versions):
Folks where riding the Skyway rather than wishing it would be restrooms:
And my beloved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had recently closed, and was being used as a character meet area.
Well, at least Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was still there. I always thought it was the best and most popular dark ride.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t find the Mickey Mouse Revue that I remember seeing, but there was this relatively new Legend of the Lion King puppet show:
Over in Frontierland, the Diamond Horseshoe was NOT a restaurant.
Meanwhile, in Liberty Square you could hop aboard a Keel Boat for a really unique ride around the Rivers of America:
This painting had also been recently added inside the attic of the Haunted Mansion. Few had digital cameras back then, so I left a long gap of Doombuggies before I boarded (with no one behind me) and broke the rules so I could take a flash picture of this to share:
I do not recall the story behind it, but I think it might have been a painting from Phantom Manor at EuroDisney.
I am told that these hands in the “corridors of doors” have been removed, so here they are in 1996:
And back then, we didn’t have much for Haunted Mansion merchandising, but at least we had a cart:
I’ve already shared some things from Main Street USA, so I’ll just include a photo of the old “wait time” signs:
And here is the wonderful side street that has since been filled in and turned in to more retail space:
Look how lovely that little area was! Such a shame it’s gone. At the end was the barber shop, I believe, and I even got my hair cut there around this time.
Over in Tomorrowland, the still-new Alien Encounter was there:
…and the Skyway station was also not restrooms yet:
And the GoodyearGrand Prix Raceway was still quite retro:
There is a bit more still to share, but I think I’ll save Mickey’s Toontown Fair for a posting of it’s own since it’s completely gone today.