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.
Today let’s park hop over to another company: Universal Studios.
I visited the original Universal Studios Florida park as a teenager in the early 1990s. I remember quite a few of the former Universal Studios attractions such as the Alfred Hitchcock exhibit/show and Ghostbusters. I don’t remember when my first visit was, but I’m pretty sure I also went in 1994 and 1995. Oddly, there was apparently a tram tour there until 1995 and I don’t remember that at all. Either it was completely forgettable, or for some reason we chose to never go on it. (Honestly, I had no idea there was ever a tram tour there until a few months ago!)
But I digress…
When I started my “traveling job” in 1995, I found myself in Orlando several times a year. While I had an annual pass to Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) for many years, I rarely visited Universal Studios. The first time I went outside of a few earlier family vacations was in 1998.
In my earlier visits, Universal had a large parking lot out front. By 1998, everything had changed as they prepared to open the new Islands of Adventure park. This was a bit similar to what was starting to happen at the Disneyland Resortaround the same time for their upcoming Disney’s California Adventure park.
Since my camera could only hold 99 photos, I don’t have many to share from this one day visit. But, some things I found are a bit interesting.
Before there was a Mummy rollercoaster, there was a Mummy movie exhibit:
The Boneyard was still there, which featured various props from movies. Including literal bones (from the Flintstones movie, I think?).
I don’t remember where that was. Is this where the big stage area is now? Now neither Disney or Universal have a place with us to look at old movie vehicles. Oh well.
At the original Universal Studios Hollywood, there is a Waterworld stunt show. But at Universal in Florida, you could only see a prop from the movie:
Behind it you can see the stage for the Wild Wild West Stunt Show. I don’t think I ever saw that.
Something that I miss were these unique photo spots. They had a place where you could place your camera and line up a shot. Then, they would have matte paintings or miniatures that you camera could see as well as a real background. This one was supposed to make it look like the Back to the Future building was part of a launch site for the Space Shuttle.
Unfortunately, my camera had no view screen (the optical “look through here” lens was in the corner, and the camera lens was in the center) so I couldn’t properly line up the shot. But you get the idea.
There was also a preview center for the upcoming Islands of Adventure theme park. I have one picture that kind of shows it:
Oddly, I have no photos inside of it. Either it wasn’t open yet (it looks like it was?), or it was and I was out of camera memory, or perhaps photos were not being allowed. Does anyone remember? I visited again in 1999 and have photos inside. I’ll do an update on “Before Islands of Adventure” soon.
There was a Nickelodeon section! I remember that channel for the early years of cable TV.
Also, the Hard Rock Cafe was different. For some reason, I thought that it had been moved. I recall you could get into it from the park — is that still the case? They had the bus (was it the real one, or a replica?) from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
Men in Black was under construction in 1998…
And of course, we had Twister! That hasn’t been gone too long, so I’ll just share one thing I found interesting:
See that red cup? That’s an Eskimo Joe’s cup from Stillwater, Oklahoma. I had a friend who was going to school in Stillwater, and when I passed through on my way home from Texas to Iowa, she took me there. I had several cups from the place, and was surprised to see on here. Universal Studios did their research! (Though, it’s worth noting that, while the movie was set in Oklahoma, a lot of it was filmed in Iowa. In 1995 when I moved to Iowa, I heard on the radio about them filming some tornado movie there. “Oh, great, I’ve moved to a place so famous for tornados that they film movies about them here!”)
That will do it for now, but I’ll have another Universal photo essay soon showing off the Island of Adventure preview center, as well as some other long-gone things.
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.
On this anniversary date, May 13 (if Wikipedia can be believed), let’s talk about one of the greatest entertainment spectacles the world has ever seen. Or at least Anaheim has ever seen.
Disneyland’s Fantasmic! blew me away when I first saw it, though I didn’t intend to see it.
During my return to visiting Disneyland, my first trip was spent just trying to see all the things in California that did not exist in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. During my next few trips, the first with a digital camera, I was still focusing on other rides and re-learning how different things were at “Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom”.
I was not interested in shows or parades.
But when I was walking through New Orleans Square to get to a ride (Haunted Mansion, most likely), I stumbled into a performance of Fantastic and was mesmerized.
I had never seen anything like it.
So, obviously, I wanted to see it up close (which was easy to do back then just by showing up early) and take pictures of it with my brand new Epson PhotoPC camera.
Unfortunately, there was no zoom lens on the camera, so this is as close as I could get. And because my camera only had 1 megabyte of memory, I was taking photos in 320×240 resolution. If you blow them up on a modern computer screen (or even a phone!) they are so pixelated they look like 8-bit graphics 😉
So here are a few more…
Oddly enough, I didn’t take a picture of the Mark Twain in the finale. Maybe it wasn’t running the night I saw it? Or perhaps I ran out of memory?
Ah, the days of early digital cameras!
I must have found these light poles fascinating. I took two pictures, and in “high resolution” mode!
And that’s about the worst quality of photos I will be sharing in this essays. Hopefully.