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? 🙂
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 😉
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.
As previously mentioned, during my trips, I like to make a note of any cast members that go above and beyond what I expect for my money. I thought sharing these stories might be a fun article series, so let’s get started.
During a recent visit to Epcot, I was enjoying sampling drinks and treats from the various World Showcase pavilions. Mostly drinks. I came across this beer stand in front of Norway:
They had a Scandinavian beer listed which had a pronunciation guide. This caught my attention. The beer was called AassPilsner, an apparently Disney preferred people saying “Ouse” instead of … something else.
I tried one, and enjoyed it, even if I promptly forgot how it was pronounced.
Later during my visit, I passed through Norway again and wanted to check out the Kringla bakery.
This used to be one of my “must do” things at Epcot back in the 1990s. They had a popular apple pastry I would always get, though I later found very similar ones at local bakeries so perhaps it wasn’t particularly Norwegian.
Looking inside on this trip, I saw no such pastry — or even anything close. Instead, I saw many items I hadn’t had before. Plus lots of Frozen themed treats. Of course.
I also noticed they had alcohol bottles on display, which was something I don’t remember from my earlier days at pretty much any Epcot food location. (I still recall my surprise at finding a cart in Germany selling shots for the first time!)
I tried a Viking Coffee, which I am sure is a culturally accurate representation of Norwegian culture 😉 It was coffee with Baileys Irish Cream, which is quite common here, and Kamora Coffee Liquor, which I had never heard of.
It’s amazing how tiny of a cup you get for $11.25 at Disney.
Later that evening, while camped out to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, I went on a food run. After walking practically the entire length of Word Showcase, I ended up back at Kringla. They had a Norwegian Club sandwich which looked tasty, even though I assumed it was another Disney invention. Much to my surprise, the cast member there explained that it was actually as special sandwich they had at home. He also introduced me to Lefse, which was a “soft flatbread rolled with cinnamon, sugar and butter.” It resembled a rolled tortilla. I also found out that the Aass Pislner was special, in that it was only available back in Norway and at Epcot.
I was set for a dinner, dessert and … another drink. The Lefse and sandwich were both delicious. The second Aass, even more so.
A bit later, I passed through the bakery one more time, to ask some questions about pronunciation. (“Uh, what was the thing I just ate called again?”) I spoke with the same cast member who had assisted me earlier, Alfred.
The bakery was slow at the moment, and Alfred took time to educate me a bit on Norwegian spelling, including writing out some of the alphabet characters they use:
We also discussed the School Bread item, and I got a bit of a background about its history and cultural significance. He said it was one of the most popular pastries there.
So I left with a School Bread.
This type of interaction is what I remember from the EPCOT Center I visited as a teenager in 1983. That was the first time I’d ever had any interaction with people from other parts of the world (other than Mexico, of course; I lived in Houston at the time and that was right next door). I was so glad to see Epcot still had ambassadors like Alfred.
Kudos to you, my foreign friend. I thank you so much for your time and attention, and for making my visit extra special.
2019-04-19: Added a 2014 version of the “beer tray” photo, compliments of DisneyDrinking.com.
In 1955, Walt Disney opened the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. After he passed away in 1966, his brother Roy continued part of Walt’s vision of his Florida Project. In 1971, he opened Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom theme park.
The 1970s were the era that I grew up in, and was exposed to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom during one amazing family road trip from Houston, Texas.
In 1982, EPCOT Center opened. It was the first Disney theme park that did not feature Disney characters! Yes, Virginia, there was a time when you couldn’t meet Mickey and every fairy tell princess at Epcot… Another first was the addition of alcohol to guests (if you ignore Holidayland at Disneyland, which served beer back when Walt was still alive and in charge).
In the early years, alcohol was limited to restaurants. You could buy a margarita at the quick service food stand in Mexico, but a cast member would make sure you did not carry the drink out to the rest of the park.
Obviously, at some point both of these things changed and now about the only thing you can’t get at the park is a photo of you holding a beer while standing next to a Disney character.
But I digress…
I don’t recall when the open carry policy for alcohol changed, but I do recall the first time I ever saw booze being sold “in the lanes.” I had visited Universal Studios Orlando earlier, and noticed they were selling booze in the lanes, and I clearly remember thinking “I wonder how long it will be before Disney does it?”
Within a year, apparently. The Disney/MGM Studios was opening a version of the Disneyland smash-hit Fantasmic!
By coincidence, I happened to be in town when they first did a soft-open preview performance. The wikipedia says the show opened on October 15, 1998, but I thought it was later, and that the earlier shows were for cast members only. I remember waiting in a long line for a chance to see it and the (first?) show was cancelled (or full?). The earliest photos I have are from October 16, 1998:
I don’t recall the details, but something happened that caused a swarm of people to go to guest relations that night:
I guess Disney fans were whiney back then, too. I seem to recall they did a second show and that is that one I watched. Perhaps this first night didn’t happen at all and I am remembering a second attempt later? I don’t seem to have any photos of the show from that night.
I have a photo from October 23 that shows was cancelled:
Tonights? I guess people forget apostrophes even at Disney World!
It appears the first photos I took of the actual show were from October 24, 1998:
Well, either my memory is wrong, or the Wikipedia is wrong, or the Mandela Effect is real. But that’s okay, because that has nothing to do with this article.
THIS is what I am writing about today:
Well, not those popcorn sellers, specifically, but the whole concept of people walking around with trays of stuff to sell to folks standing in line. More specifically, people walking around with trays of beer to sell to folks standing in line! That’s what I saw the first time I tried to see this show.
Can you believe it? Disney had cast members walking around with a tray of beer cans, selling it to people standing in line for Fantasmic!
And that, my friends, may have been the first time Disney sold alcohol “in the lanes.” Do you know of any earlier instance?
Today, most ice cream carts seem to have a few beers on tap.
UPDATE: And, it seems the “beer in the lanes” trend continued. Here is a photo taken by DisneyDrink.com on June 1, 2014, showing a Fantastic-aproned cast member selling beer from a tray:
My, how things have changed from the early years of Walt Disney World (no alcohol from 1971 to 1982, then limited alcohol at EPCOT Center) to what we have today (shots, ice cream “bars”, spiked drinks at coffee stands, etc.).
Wow. So many changes at Epcot since I last visited in 2006-2007… One that really stood out was all the “temporary” Food & Wine festival food booths now seem to be permanent.
Visiting during Food & Wine, then returning a few months later for the Garden Festival was … basically the same thing, except they changed the signs and menus, and I guess topiaries replaced food demonstrations.
At least they are decorated pretty nicely.
They still clash with the actual permanent structures around them, and the signage really stands out as “I’m a food booth, even if I’m a permanent building in a World Showcase pavilion.”
Still, all these unique menu items are fun (even at $7 or more for three bites or less).
And I should say, while the Epcot scenario no longer seems “special” to me, I quite enjoyed Disney California Adventure‘s Food & Wine event a few years ago. There, the booths disappeared after the event rather than remaining to clutter up the lanes.
I ask my audience: Do they ever remove these buildings? Quick connects on the power and water lines or something? Or are they really there every day? If so, are they always open?
In the late 90s, I used to travel with a PalmPilot PDA (a Palm III, actually). These PDAs (personal digital assistants) were what we used in the years before Androids and iPhones. I also had a snap on 14.4 modem (spiffy!) so I could dial in to my ISP and download/upload e-mail from a hotel, or even from a payphone (if it had a phone jack on it). High tech! Later I would upgrade to a Kyocera 6035 – one of the very first smartphones. It was a phone with a PalmPilot and modem built in! Higher tech!
I used my Palm III (and later, Kyocera) to take vacation notes and maintain a TO DO list of everything I wanted to see/ride/experience. These notes are how I used to document my trips on my 1990s website from my front page “news.”
But I digress.
When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I purchased one and brought it with me on Disney trips. It became my new notepad and TO DO list. Even though I’ve upgraded my phone a few times since then, my old notes and reminders I had migrated to my later phones.
Recently, I came across my “cast member kudos” notes I took during a trip in March 2007. If I ran into a CM who I thought was really exceptional and going above and beyond “typical Disney,” I’d make a note of them and write into to Disney to share my kudos after I returned home. (This is something I encourage all of you to do.)
My 2007 trip notes included the following:
Barry Plank City, FL photopass bryon at Dawa Bar DAK Tomoko, Yuki
Cast Member Kudos, March 2007
I don’t recall what PhotoPass Barry did to impress me, but I think Tomoko and Yuki were the fun CMs at the saki bar in Japan. (That was the first time I’d ever really been there.) But Bryon? He was one I think I remembered. I wondered if he might still be around, twelve years later…
Many things have changed since 2007. The Dawa Bar in Animal Kingdom, for example, has been rebuilt and relocated since I last saw it. Here’s the version I remember:
And here’s what it looks like today:
I decided to ask at the current incarnation of Dawa Bar if they knew of a bartender named Bryon. Indeed, the bartender I spoke of said he did, and informed me he was still with the company and currently working over at Epcot at the Garden Grill.
I now had a mission to find out if it actually the same Bryon that impressed me so much in 2007 that I included him on a very short list of cast member kudos?
The next day, I visited Epcot and made a specific trip into The LAND to ask about their Bryon.
To my surprise — their Bryon was indeed the Bryon I remembered! He’s been with the company for almost 30 years.
It’s a small world, after all!
If you make it to Epcot, and feel like a huge all-you-can-eat breakfast with visits from Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto, check out the Garden Grill and ask for Bryon. If he’s not around, Vickie is also great fun.
That’s your Park Hopping tip for the day. Use it wisely.
In an earlier article, I speculated a bit on when EPCOT Center became the Epcot we know today. Today I’ll dive a bit deeper and include some comments from others.
Derek Mullins on Twitter commented:
From my observation, it was most likely the beginning of the sponsor losses, and the changes to be more thrilling (Test Track) and ‘hipper’ (Ellen’s Energy Adventure) in the mid-90’s. Of course, it’s all subjective, so I’m curious what answers you get.
Derek Mullins, @mewhunter67
Sponsor losses. That’s interesting, because sponsors go both ways. An existing ride could get a new sponsor which causes big changes… Or a ride could become sponsor less, and stay frozen as-is.
The comedic additions of Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy to Universe of Energy were certainly a change in feeling. That began in 1996.
World of Motion had closed and was to become Test Track in 1997.
The times they were a changing…
Howard Bowers on Twitter commented:
1999. Horizons is closed for the second time. Journey into Imagination is closed. Test Track is finally operational, having replaced World of Motion. And the 2000 wand is up next to Spaceship Earth.
Four notable changes certainly is a good percentage of the original attraction lineup. Howard also added…
Original Epcot took some hits in 1994 with the closing of Kitchen Kabaret and the addition of Food Rocks and the switch to Ellen’s Energy Adventure, along with Innoventions, but all of that still felt like Epcot, just the next generation. / Taking out Journey into Imagination and Horizons basically removed the Heart and Soul of Future World.
Ah, Kitchen Kabaret! Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit was the “it’s a small world” song of EPCOT Center… During my first visit with a digital camera, Food Rocks had already taken over:
That was part of the sponsorship change from Kraft to Nestle.
I recall many of “us” joked at the time that having a chocolate company take over the “healthy” pavilion made little sense. But it’s not about finding a sponsor that fits — it’s about finding a sponsor that will spend the money. At least Listen to the Land didn’t become a chocolate boat ride ala Willy Wonka! (Hmmm, that would have made great sense and fit the sponsor… It just would have not fit at Epcot…)
The loss of Imagination was sad, since no other attraction ever embodied just what “imagination” really was like better than that original dark ride. Still, the two updates (Journey into YOUR Imagination, and Journey into Imagination with Figment) at least tried to keep the theme rather than becoming, say, a Wreck It Ralph ride through.
But Horizons, well, that was just a total loss. Nothing put the “future” in Future World better than Horizons. And, unlike updates done to Tomorrowland, or the final scene of Carousel of Progress, the futures presented in Horizons would still be as futuristic today as they were in the 1980s. I think it had much more life left… Pity the crowds disagreed, and it was almost always a walk on when I visited.
The closed building made a nice backdrop for Cast in Bronze, at least.