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 . . . in VR! in VR.

You don’t seem too impressed.

Maybe someday you will.

Christmas at Universal Studios Florida in 1998.

NOTE: I believe I may be incorrect about the dates here. I think these photos are actually from 1999. I am not sure why I have a bunch of Universal Studios photos that are off by one year, but from looking at my Disney trips, I see I visited in November 1999. With that in mind, assume that “1998” below is probably actually be “1999.”

Today I am quite familiar with Halloween and Christmas events at Disney, but there was a time “not too long ago” (but longer than many of you reading this have even existed) when Halloween wasn’t really much of a thing in the parks.

Back then, there was a small Fall transition where you’d start to see some pumpkins or Fall decorations before Christmas would take over later. I went through my photo gallery trying to see if I captured any of this “before Halloween” stuff, but I find that the first trip I made in November with a digital camera was in 1998.

I found some photos from Universal Studios Florida, back when it was just Universal Studios (long before Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and before Islands of Adventure opened).

Universal was already in Christmas mode by November at that time. Let’s take a look.

The original movie-themed park had different areas representing different big cities. As such, they put up traditional city-style decorations.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

As a kid in the 1970s, I have fond memories of seeing the Christmas decorations like these candy-stuffed stockings on light posts.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

I don’t recall seeing any of these “across the street” decorations, though. I suppose it’s easier to decorate fake streets that don’t have actual traffic (other than parades).

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

I *think* these “shooting star” decorations may have been from the Hollywood Boulevard area of the park.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

Of course the park has a Christmas tree.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

The tree was located just across the way from the Islands of Adventure preview center.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

Since Universal Studios was based on a movie backlot, its “lands” were supposed to be backlot filming sets based on different cities and such. Thus, the attractions were often placed in buildings that usually didn’t make sense. King Kong was an exception, since it was a public transportation ride located in a public transportation station building. It was decorated for happy holidays, in spite of giant gorilla inside…

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

As I keep digging through my archives, I expect I may locate some photos of the in-between decorations the Disney parks had (Main Street and Frontierland, I think). Today, though, I think they go straight from Halloween to Christmas, with no room for anything in between like Thanksgiving or Fall.

Until next time…

My original web site in 1997…

My first “personal home page” (today we call them websites) was started in 1995 thanks to a site called GeoPages. They gave anyone who wanted one a tiny bit of space on their public web server. (I seem to recall it was about 512K of storage.)

GeoPages was later changed to GeoCities. My site, “Al’s Place”, stayed there for a few years before I got annoyed with the ads and needed much more space, requiring me to move to a different hosting provider.

But I digress.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine over at the Internet Archives, you can now see the earliest copy of my website they have indexed. It was archived on February 3, 1999. The content itself looks like it was last updated in 1997 since there is a note on the site explaining that I’d moved on to a different hosting location.

Take a look at how the web began…

My original “personal home page” circa 1997!

I am excited to find this snapshot, though sadly it doesn’t have any of the earlier versions. It’s at least a look at my site in its final form at the old GeoCities location. I had looked for this in the archives a few years ago and it wasn’t there, so I was surprised to find it.

Of special interest to me was my link to the “Banks Family Vacation” web page that inspired me to get a digital camera and start taking and sharing digital photos back in 1996.

Although the link on my archived site doesn’t work, it at least gave me what I needed to track it down in the Wayback Machine. Ladies and gentlemen, here may be the very first “take and post pictures from Disney” site that ever existed on the Internet:

That capture was from January 1999.

In an upcoming article, I’ll share some more details on what was going on back then.

Until next time…

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 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…

My abandoned Disney theme park book project…

I recently stumbled across eight chapters of a Disneyland/Walt Disney World book I was working on a long, long time ago. Today, there are hundreds of such books, and many speciality book publishing companies (such as Theme Park Press) that publish niche books like these. But back then, well, we had some Disney history books, and official and unofficial guides, and that was about it.

I thought I’d share an excerpt from a draft of the opening to one of my chapters — Disneyland for Walt Disney World Fans — which, as I read through the whole thing, still seems as applicable today as it was back in the early 2000s. (This project was started in the late 90s as Disneyland was building Disney’s California Adventure and becoming a “resort”, and revisions where being made after that expansion.)

Let’s take a quick look… I’m commenting out some of the text due to it being laughably out-of-date (several places I mentioned back then don’t even exist today), but hopefully you’ll get the idea…

Chapter __ – Disneyland for Walt Disney World Fans

If you are a Walt Disney World fan, you should already have an idea of just what Disney World is, at least to you.

What the Disneyland Resort Isn’t

The Disneyland Resort is not a huge, sprawling entertainment complex sitting on 43 square miles or property with endless golf courses, outdoor activities, and resorts. It has no water parks, no nightclubs, and no campgrounds. Instead, it is two theme parks, three high end hotels, and a shopping district featuring touristy eateries.

If you could spend an entire week in Florida and happily never set foot on one of the four Disney theme parks there, a vacation to Disneyland may not be a fitting alternative.

But, if you cherish all things Disney, and enjoy rides and theming…


A Disneyland Resort vacation can be augmented with several non-Disney theme parks and experiences that are nearby.

  • Knott’s Berry Farm – Just fifteen minutes away is one of the original theme parks in America – Knott’s Berry Farm. (I’d visited Knott’s numerous times by then, and was considering devoting a small section to what it had to offer. Since then, Knott’s has been purchased by Cedar Fair and it has become much more of a coaster thrill park.)
  • Universal Studios Hollywood – Located within an hour away (depending on traffic) is the orignial famous Hollywood studio tour. (This was another area where I had a section dealing with the major “must see” offerings at Universal, as well as a comparison between the Hollywood and Orlando versions. With the addition of Islands of Adventure, I would have had to expand upon that quite a bit.)
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain…(Since I grew up in a state that had, at one point, THREE Six Flags parks, I probably wrote a bit too much about Magic Mountain. Ultimately, it would have been a parallel to going to Busch Gardens or similar in Orlando.)
  • SeaWorld – …(Another bi-coastal comparison. The idea was to pitch “Disneyland + SeaWorld” versus “Magic Kingdom + SeaWorld” but ultimately, I would have also included things like the San Diego Zoo and other unique California offerings.)…
  • Legoland – …(I had not yet even begun to write about Legoland.)…
  • …(I had planned to do some visits to the various parks so I could speak about them with more knowledge than what a brochure gave me)…

Water Parks

Although none of the local water park attractions can come close to the immersive attention to detail that Disney’s Florida water parks offer, for those who just want to get soaked, slide or swim, there are plenty of Southern California generic water park experiences to be had.

  • …(list and disucssion of various nearby waterparks; again, without first-hand experience with them, there would have been some research involved)…

Touristy Attractions

Just like the nearby International Drive near Disney World is full of more tourist attractions, shows and experiences than you could comfortably shake a stick at (let alone expect to see them all even after many visits), the Disneyland Resort area is also home to similar experiences.

  • Medieval Times – …
  • …(there are so many of these around here; I was going to base this on a similar project I was planning to do on Wisconsin Dells. Likewise, there was a similar section about the touristy things to do near Walt Disney World)…

And so on…

Since I still have a chance to resurrect this project through a new publisher (sadly, the original went out of business years ago), I won’t go into further details. But, I will say that it mostly covered common things found at both resorts (i.e., the apples to apples comparison) rather than trying to compare a golf course in Orlando to a swimming pool at the Disneyland Hotel.

I certainly enjoyed spending a few evenings reading through my early ramblings, and I hope you enjoyed this quick peek at what could have been (and maybe one day still will be).

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?


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…

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