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.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a visit special. For today’s “Cast Member Kudos” article, I wanted to thank Brad from Pennsylvania. We met him while enjoying drinks and snacks at the BaseLine Tap House at Disney’s Hollowood Studios.
The Tap House is relatively new. I did not recognize it as the former location of Costume Shop…
…or Ellen’s Buy the Book…
…or Disney’s Buy the Book…
…or even Writer’s Stop:
In fact, I probably still wouldn’t know this if it weren’t for Werner of yesterland.com clueing me in last year.
But I digress…
This spot is hot and trendy on with folks on Twitter, so I wanted to check it out. Since it was new to me, I would probably have popped in anyway to see what it was.
During my most recent visit, we stopped by just as it was opening at 10 a.m. (“What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?” Wait until 10 a.m., apparently.) I am not a huge beer fan, so I tend to just try things that are special (local craft brews, or beers made exclusively for a theme park). This visit, I inquired about the shelves of liquor that were on display. It seems they can make all kinds of drinks beyond what is on the menu.
I had a Long Island Iced Tea, and noticed the number of liquor shots that went into it made it a much better cash-to-booze value than probably anything else I had in the park during my visit 😉 I forget what the second drink was, but perhaps a California Sunset or the Ace Space Bloody Orange Hard Cider.
As we sat outside enjoying the crowd-less patio, I asked the cast member who was near us about their costumes. I was curious about what components might be their’s, personally, versus supplied by Disney. (Many company dress codes might say “black slacks, black shoes” and only provide a Polo shirt or apron or whatever.)
We ended up having a delightful chat with Brad from Pennsylvania and learned more about how much attention to detail Disney puts in to even the shoes their employees wear to work. Everything seems to have a reason.
I won’t try to bore you with a recount of my Q&A session asking about footwear, but suffice it to say, we found Brad to be a great example of the type of cast we expect from a Disney visit. (And, hey, he’s even been to Kennywood in West Mifflin, PA!)
Thanks, Brad, for taking a few moments to spend some quality time with a few random tourists from Iowa.
There is a water fountain at Disneyland’s Toon Town that talks when you drink from it. It was there in 1996, and was still there in early 2018. But did you know Epcot also had its own talking water fountains in Future World?
Scattered around Future World were several normal looking water fountains that made noises when you drank from them. It’s been too long and I no longer remember what they sounded like, but once I stumbled on them, I tried to find all the others. I have pictures of three of them, showing where they were located. I believe they are long gone, and I don’t know when they were installed and removed.
But, here are some photos from 1996.
Ghads. Is that water play area still there? There was a moment in time where Disney World started adding water everywhere. They added misters to queues, water play areas, and converted some original Magic Kingdom drumming totems to be water sprayers. I guess they really didn’t want to have “dry parks” and adding alcohol wasn’t enough 😉
When the Disney/MGM Studios opened in 1989, it was a substantially different theme park than what you find today at the renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I missed seeing it the first several years it was opened — my first visit was probably 1994.
There are many things about the park that remain unchanged, but here are some that were still there in 1996 that are now long-gone.
I only saw Super Star Television a few times, but basically you’d see members of the audience up on stage in recreated sets from TV shows. They’d “perform” some lines and their footage would be intercut with footage from the actual show. I believe there was a Home Improvement segment, but none of this really stuck around in my memory. Perhaps that is why it was ultimately replaced, rather than just being updated with more current shows?
The Monster Sound Show was a look at how sound is added to movies. If I recall, this was the show that had Chevy Chase in it. It was later replaced with a Drew Cary show, Sounds Dangerous, which featured the audience in a dark room listening to binaural sound effects through headphones. (Disney got on a binaural sound kick for a bit. It was used in Alien Encounter at Magic Kingdom, and even a version of Great Moment’s With Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland. But I digress…)
Some may recall the news about the Alien Pizza Planet opening at Disneyland a few years ago. If I recall, they had to add “Alien” to the name because there was a real pizza business called Pizza Planet. (True? Internet “detective” rumor?) But, Pizza Planet was at the Studios park before then…
I don’t think I ever ate there. I did like seeing the Toyota Pickup truck outside, though:
There once were some “spitting” camels in a Disney parade… They ended up on display at the Studio park:
I believe those, or some others, were eventually inside the Animation Courtyard restaurant when it had an Aladdin overlay. Today, I think the same ones still live on at Magic Kingdom at their Aladdin flying carpet ride.
ABC’s hit show, Ellen, was causing an early IP overlay to happen…
Buy the Book was a location featured in the show. Today that building is home to the Baseline Tap House.
The Animation Courtyard included a tour where you could see Disney animators working on upcoming features. Thus, the entrance was far more … animated.
There is much more to explore, but I’ll save that for future installments.
It’s time for another cast member kudos post, this time about an exceptionally helpful one I encountered during a visit during the Garden festival.
Scattered around Epcot’s World Showcase are various Festival Market booths like this one near the Outpost:
I’d seen and taken pictures of these booths, but hadn’t felt the need to buy any festival souvenirs. When a display listing various tours caught my eye, I went over to take a closer look.
There, a cast member named Brandon described some of the various tours they had available. I knew there were Epcot tours (I’d taken Behind the Seeds in The Land a decade ago), but I was unaware that there were special festivals tours, including some that were free!
For instance, over in United Kingdom you could sign up for an English Tea Garden Tour, sponsored by Twinings Tea:
Brandon letting me know about something free at Disney should be enough to get him on the kudos list, but he was also great at suggesting things folks shouldn’t miss during the event. He specifically suggested trying The Honey Bee-stro over in Showcase Plaza.
He said the honey cheesecake was one of his favorite items.
I guess I’m easily suggestible, since I did end up at the Bee-stro and did indeed try the cheesecake. Although the portion was small for $5 (like all items at these events), it was indeed delicious. I also tried the honey ale, but that one is on me.
Kudos to you, Brandon, for being outgoing, friendly, and helpful. Rather than just answer questions, you took a proactive approach with suggestions that really helped enhanced my visit.
Last year, Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrated 20 years of being “not a zoo.” The park opened on Earth Day in 1998 (April 22). This was the first U.S. Disney park to open during my adult lifetime (I was a teenager when EPCOT Center opened in 1982). I considered making a trip out for the grand opening, but decided I’d wait a bit and let the crowds settle.
I wish I had visited earlier, because by the time I saw it in October 1998, things had already started changing — including the removal of one original attraction!
But I digress…
I wanted to share a sample of what it was like experiencing this park for the first time.
While I was walking towards the entrance, I noticed how beautiful the greenery was. This light caught my attention:
I don’t remember what it said not the rock, or if that is even still there. I’ll look for it my next trip.
I remember it being a long walk to get to the entrance.
I remember being amazed when I saw this waterfall. What a great entrance for this new park!
A minute later, and I would realize this was not the entrance at all. It was the Rainforest Cafe! Neat. Of course, today, you can’t even see the waterfall from here. The trees have grown in and blocked that view.
The real entrance was cool, but now I was a bit let down.
I don’t recall what that truck was doing, but I’m betting it was trying to sell tickets to Pleasure Island 😉
I could continue with these photos and take you on a tour of my day, but instead we’ll stick to the outside of the park. Back then, the trees were freshly planted:
Even though it didn’t open with the park, we were still pretty excited to see what might come when the fantasy animal realm (Beastly Kingdom) was added. You could see the dragon in the logo, so we knew it would be happening…
I’m still waiting.
I’ll end with two pictures from the outside of Rainforest Cafe. Click to open the full-size gallery:
I’m not sure how much the inside has changed since I never spent much time in it after this first trip. I got to visit the first three Rainforest Cafes in the Chicago area, so I already had my T-shirt collection started.
There. Now I’ve given Walt Disney World a bit more love. But they will be much, much more love to give in future installments.