NOTE: This post was originally written a few years ago.
I was working for a startup tech company in Silicon Valley when 9/11 happened. I remember going to the lobby of the hotel I was staying at and the front desk clerk saying “I hope you weren’t flying out today.” I was not, and I had no idea why she said that.
After the hotel shuttle dropped me off at work, I learned of what was going on. I spent my work day distracted as I kept an eye on news websites. Many must have been doing the same, as “big” news sites were reverting to very sparse, simple web pages to keep up with the traffic.
And even though Disneyland and Walt Disney World were far away from the attacks, the parks closed — something they rarely did. If you tried to go to the official websites, you saw the following:
It took years for tourism to recover. Hotels closed. Disney projects were canceled. But recover it did, and here we are, almost twenty years later, with some of the busiest parks and largest expansions those parks have ever seen.
Today, as we “Never Forget,” I hope all continue to move forward.
Over 4200 new photos will be added to the gallery in coming weeks. They include photos along the Disney World Skyliner route (the resorts and area with stations), a half day visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and a trip to Universal Orlando for this year’s Mardi Gras event.
We also visited the Universal Great Escape Back to the Future experience, which was a cool technical achievement. Actually, the higher end bar there is worth a look if you partake in adult beverages.
Blog posts coming, as soon as things are caught up…
Click-bait headlines are exclaiming that a casino is coming to Walt Disney World. Whether this is accurate or not isn’t important, but it did bring back memories of something my father told me long ago.
My dad was taken to Disneyland shortly after it first opened in 1955. In the 1970s, he took me to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. Because of that, I can say there was a time when I had visited every Disney park in the entire world!
But I digress.
In the days before the Internet, Disney rumors were far more sparse. You really didn’t know anything unless you read it in a book, or you knew someone who knew anything. And, somewhere, my dad had “learned” that the space-age Contemporary Resort had been built to have a casino. Disney, doing a casino? That will never happen.
I grew up in Houston, and after I got my first computer modem (kids, ask your parents), I started frequenting the bulletin board systems (BBS) in town. One of the users was a guy who had worked at Magic Kingdom for a number of years doing behind the scenes stuff.
I exchanged many messages with him, asking him all kinds of questions. “What do the Presidents look like up close?” “How does xxxx work?” He explained things to me that I wouldn’t be able to confirm until a decade later after I got access to Internet (news groups like alt.disney.disneyland and rec.arts.disneyparks and, later, personal home pages on the World Wide Web).
One story he told me had to do with Madam Leota in the Haunted Mansion. I expect I knew it was a projection, but he told me something about air being blown to keep dust out from in front of the projection (true?), and that the lens was special with edges to keep the sides in better focus or something. A decade later, I think it was the Persistence of Vision magazine that contained some of this same information. I bet if I did some web searches right now I could find out if either of those sources were correct.
But not everything he told me was correct. Or, if it was, it never amounted to anything. He mentioned they had been wanting to do a similar Madame Leota effect for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, except it would be to project a giant octopus or something. I don’t remember anything else, except the term “angel hair” was part of it — to this day, I still don’t really know what that meant. I envisioned it as some kind of substance you could fill a glass sphere with and project on.
None of this is important, of course, but he, too, had heard about a casino at the Contemporary.
Over the years, Disney has made steps to fight against casinos coming to the area. There’s really no reason to believe Disney would ever do anything like a casino.
But then Pleasure Island happened, and none of us ever expected Disney to compete against Church Street Station by opening up a whole bunch of night clubs!
All of this to say that … if it does come to pass, at least we can change this crazy unsubstantiated and unlikely rumor from CLEARLY FALSE to OH I GUESS ITS TRUE. Even if one has nothing to do with the other.
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.)
The new New Tomorrowland was under construction, so there were many displays set up showing things to come.
This one shows the paint job that Innoventions would soon have.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The transformation of Epcot’s World of Motion into Test Track also got some concept art.
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.
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!
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. . .
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.