Disney/MGM Studios Backlot Tour 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.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour Trojan Horse on August 26, 1996.

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:

D/MGM Backlot Tour props and set pieces from The Lottery on August 26, 1996.

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!

D/MGM Backlot Tour water tank on August 26, 1996.

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.

D/MGM Backlot Tour water tank on August 26, 1996.

I even got to do this twice. Here’s me in 1998:

Me on the D/MGM Backlot Tour on January 24, 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:

D/MGM Backlot Tour Jungle Cruise (?) elephant on August 26, 1996.

You’d pass through a “prop warehouse” and see things from TV shows as well as defunct Disney theme park attractions.

D/MGM Backlot Tour prop warehouse on August 26, 1996.

This Mickey refrigerator prop caught my attention, though I don’t know what it was from.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour Mickey refrigerator on August 26, 1996.

But this prehistoric TV I did recognize! It was from the ABC series Dinosaurs. See the in-universe corporation logo on the front? “WeSaySo”.

D/MGM Studios Backlot Tour TV set from ABC’s Dinosaurs on August 26, 1996.

And this “famous” prop… A Binford Tools lawn mower from the ABC TV series Home Improvement:

D/MGM Backlot Tour Binford Tools lawnmower on August 26, 1996.

Some items were clearly marked as originating from the other Disney parks. Look at the logo here – EPCOT Center, before “Epcot ’94″…

D/MGM Backlot Tour Epcot assets tag on August 26, 1996.

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.

Until next them…

The Lawnmower Tree in 1996

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?

I didn’t?

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:

Subject: Lawn Mower Tree, any

Date: 8/26/1997

From: na…@aol.com (NAES7)

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?  
 
Sean

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:

Lawnmower Tree sign on Fort Wilderness on August 28, 1996.

And here is what the lawnmower looked like in 1996:

Lawnmower Tree on Fort Wilderness on August 28, 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 🙂

Until next time…

Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 1999.

As I go through my galleries, sometimes I find surprising things. For instance, I have evidence that I visited Universal Studios Florida in January 1999. I then have evidence that I returned in November to visit the newly-opened Islands of Adventure. Oddly, I didn’t go to the Universal Studios side during that trip. I just wasn’t that much into Universal Studios much back then. Today, with both sides having so many new attractions (and cool Harry Potter areas), I can’t imaging not visiting both!

But I digress.

After touring the preview center earlier in the year, I returned on November 16, 1999 to experience this new theme park. Unfortunately, my digital photos from that trip lost all date code information, so I can’t tell you the time in these photos, only the day.

My first view of Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

There were no crowds. It was very different than showing up to a Disney park early in the morning where people are lined up for rope drop.

No morning crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And no waits at any of the rides either!

No waits for rides at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

The lack of crowds continued as I walked through the park. The frustrating thing was that many of the rides were down during that morning, and it was actually a challenge to find something to do! Eventually they got them all running, but I was still able to ride everything in the park by the afternoon.

No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.
No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

I remember being very impressed with how the park looked. So many details! It sure had that “Disney quality” look to it.

Disney-quality details at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

Even the carnival games section in Lost Continent was highly detailed, even if I thought these high end parks shouldn’t have carnival games sections. (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Animal Kingom’s DinolandUSA and California Adventure’s Pixar Pier!)

Highly detailed carnival games at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And I was blown away by this restaurant! It was absolutely amazing inside and almost perfect. Almost.

Oak Tree Restaurant at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

That restaurant was one of my all-time favorite spots in any theme park. But, inside, there were rough edges that kept it from being 100%. For example, their menu boards, while nice, were illuminated by clamp-on lights like you’d find at a local hardware store! There were actually a number of “rough edges” throughout the park where it seems like they just didn’t bother going all the way.

Still, the Dueling Dragons coaster was nice and had a great queue leading in…

Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

…but, as you were walking out, there were some nicely detailed towers with wooden “shutters” on the windows. They didn’t paint the edges of the wood, leaving bare wood exposed and clashing with the rest of the theme. Details, guys, details. I wasn’t much of an “observer” back then, so I only noticed the things that really jumped out at me. And there were a lot.

And perhaps a bunch of these little things kept it from dominating over Disney from day one (though not having Mickey and all those Disney characters will always be a challenge). Still, it was better than any non-Disney thing I’d ever seen! I knew I’d be back.

Jurassic Park had an absolutely amazing Triceratops Encounter where you could get up close and personal with a “real” Triceratops as the park doctor examined it. I don’t think they allowed photos inside the attraction at first (they were far more restrictive back then), but I have a picture from the queue… (That’s me running video in the below image. I have a hours of video from that trip, somewhere.)

Triceratops Encoutner at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

My favorite “attraction” of the entire visit was the talking Mystic Fountain. I probably spent more time watching it taunt visitors (and squirt them with water) than anything else in the park that day! It could do so much.

Mystic Fountain at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

While the fountain remains in the park to this day, the version you see now is far more anemic than it was back then. Perhaps it’s because everyone is carrying expensive cell phones and they don’t want to ruin them. But, in 1999, it was all out water-war from this thing! I really need to dig out my 1999 video of the fountain to share sometime. Great stuff.

Skipping around a bit … An earlier version of Poseidon’s Fury was there, but it seems to look the same as today, as does Suess Landing. Funny enough, Green Eggs and Ham wasn’t open back then, either (and wasn’t on my last three visits to the park!). I don’t think I’ve ever gone when it was open.

Closed Eggs and Ham at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could at least meet the Cat in the Hat!

Cat in the Hat at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could NOT ride this monorail thing! It sat dormant for years before finally turning in to the current trolley ride, using different racks. Back then, they at least had an animated vehicle slowly moving around the tracks. I wondered for years what it was going to be used for, and finally got to see it in 2019.

Suess Landing monorail at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

As far as characters, I saw Dudley Do Right, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Betty Boop and several others over in Toon Lagoon. And lots of parents explaining to their kids just who these characters were. (Really, Universal? Betty Boop? I’m old, and I only know of her because of syndicated programs on a local UHF station in Houston in the 1970s, before cable.)

Overall, it was a fun first visit, with so much potential, but there were just so many bits and pieces that didn’t feel completely done (and they remained that way for years). New pavement was already cracked. There was already mold growing around the bases of water rides. And just a general lack of spotlessness that Disney had conditioned us to.

But, it was clear Disney had it’s first real competitor and I was eager to see what would happen in coming years.

And since I recently bought my very first Universal Studios annual pass, I’d say they’ve done great work. And a huge portion of that work was ready to go back in 1999.

It’s not very often you get to visit a “new” theme park during it’s first season. I’m glad I was there.

Who would have thought that one day Harry Potter would come along and cause a large portion of this park to be ripped out and replaced with Hogwarts?

Until next time…

Universal’s Islands of Adventure preview center in 1999.

Updates:

  • 2019-07-17 – Fixed a few typos and corrected a year.

Much like how I did a series on Before Disney’s California Adventure, I’d like to do something on Universal Studios in Florida.

In 1999, Universal Studios was getting ready to open their new theme park, Islands of Adventure. This would be part of an expansion and renaming of the whole area to Universal Studios Escape.

That didn’t last too long. Today, it’s known as the Universal Orlando Resort.

But in 1999, you could visit Universal Studios Florida and get a sneak peak at the wonders that would await you when the new park opened later that year… Let’s take a look at their preview center.

I previously shared this photo, which shows that the preview center was there in 1998 as well…

Islands of Adventure preview center (right) on November 17, 1998.

Either I didn’t go in, it wasn’t open, they weren’t allowing photos, or I just ran out of camera memory. But in 1999, I did go through it. Here’s a better photo of the entrance:

Islands of Adventure preview center on January 27, 1999.

Step inside, and you could see concept artwork and a map of the new theme park:

Islands of Adventure preview center map on January 27, 1999.

They had sections of the center dedicated to the different areas of the new park. Here is a look at the Dr. Suess-inspired Suess Landing:

Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.

Up next was a room dedicated to the Lost Continent section of the park:

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

And apparently there was some kind of passport book you could get, and get it stamped in each area. I had completely forgotten about this. I have no idea if I have one somewhere, but if I run across it, I’ll scan it and share it in a future article.

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

Up next would be Toon Lagoon, where all the leftover cartoon characters that weren’t tied up by Disney, Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farms would live:

Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.

After this, we got to see what Marvel Super-Hero Island would have in store for us.

Islands of Adventure preview center Marvel Super-Hero Island area on January 27, 1999.

And, because I am old and don’t mine humiliating myself, I’ll share this never-before-seen photo of me meeting one of my all-time heroes: Spider-Man!

Me meeting Spider-Man on January 27, 1999.

I remember saying to him, “You’re my favorite!” And he replied, “Yes, I know…” How can you not love that guy? Who would have thought that, two decades later, he’d be “harassing” me on the streets of Disney’s California Adventure 😉

Next we came to Jurassic Park. I must have been really excited about this land, based on the then-six-year-old movie, because I took more photos here than any of the other areas.

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

I *think* this was the wall that would “bang” and show the impact of a dinosaur (probably a raptor) crashing into it:

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And I guess there must have been some kind of effect here, but I don’t recall what it was. (Honestly, I just remember meeting Spider-Man, and the impact wall at Jurassic Park.)

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And lastly, a nice map showing the overview of the entire Universal Studios Escape resort expansion:

Islands of Adventure preview center expansion map area on January 27, 1999.

We had no idea at the time that Spider-Man would be such a smash hit. We still thought that this, of all parks, might be the one park to dethrone Disney World. But, as we found out, ultimately that didn’t happen and, if anything, it just brought more people to Orlando and increased Disney attendance.

At some point, I will share my thoughts on my first-time visit to Islands of Adventure, but for now…

Until next time…

Channel 7 Eyewitness Newsvan and Countdown to Extinction in 1998.

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…

CTX Rover on the Dinosaur ride vehicles, a tribute to the original name of Countdown to Extinction. April 13, 2019.

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:

WABC-TV 7 Newsvan parked outside of Countdown to Extinction on October 17, 1998.

As I browsed archived messages on the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup, I found someone noticing it was missing by February 19, 1999. And, even more interesting, there was an entire thread just a few days earlier speculating about what part this newsvan played in the story of the attraction.

Oh well. Had the van remained, it would have been replaced by a website or blog by now, anyway.

Until next time…

Horizons in 1996

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…

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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’.

Epcot’s Horizons departure boardson August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons hallway “space” kalediescope on August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons ride vehicle on August 29, 1996.

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:

Epcot’s Horizons side view of ride vehicle on August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

There was also more of a 1950s look at what we thought the future would be like, with robots and luxury.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.
Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Eventually we would come to scenes representing our three future habitats. The first showed us a future desert farmer, talking on video screen…

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

…then you’d see who she was talking to, from his end.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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!

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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:

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

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.

Look, ma! No gravity! Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

And there was a scene showing crystals being grown in zero gravity, as well.

Epcot’s Horizons on August 29, 1996.

Incidentally, that crystal ended up in someone’s home…

Horizons crystal in someone’s personal collection.

And, just because I like to embarrass myself, here’s me riding Horizons in 1998.

Me riding Horizons on October 24, 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.

Until next time…

Pirate parrot in 1996

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.

Magic Kingdom Pirate parrot on August 26, 1996.

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.

No parrot (left of the banner) on October 23, 2006.

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.

New entrance sign, plus banners. Lots of banners. Photo taken December 3, 2006.

And, to remind everyone that the ride now was linked to the still-new Johnny Depp movies, the movie logo appeared in various places.

The movie version of the skull, painted above the ride entrance on December 8, 2006.

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.

Until next time…

Wonders of Life in 1996

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.

Wonders of Life pavilion on August 29, 1996.

Inside, I thought it looked more like a colorful mall food court.

Inside Wonders of Life on August 29, 1996.

There wasn’t much in this pavilion — some movies and live entertainment, plus the movie/animatronic Cranium Command and motion simulator Body Wars.

Inside Wonders of Life on August 29, 1996.

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.

Body Wars on August 29, 1996.

And those were the only photos I took of Wonders of Life during my first visit to Walt Disney World with a digital camera.

Until next time…

Universal Studios Florida in 1998

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 Resort around the same time for their upcoming Disney’s California Adventure park.

The famous Universal Studios archway entrance on November 17, 1998.

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:

Step inside and see movie props from the Mummy, on November 17, 1998.

The Boneyard was still there, which featured various props from movies. Including literal bones (from the Flintstones movie, I think?).

Bones in the Boneyard on November 17, 1998.

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:

Waterworld prop on November 17, 1998.

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.

An in-camera effect you can do yourself, on November 17, 1998.

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:

Islands of Adventure preview center (right) on November 17, 1998.

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.

Nickelodeon at Universal Studios on November 17, 1998..

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.

The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour bus on November 17, 1998.
Pity digital cameras was so low resolution back then, or we could read this. November 17, 1998.

Men in Black was under construction in 1998…

Men in Black – coming soon – on November 17, 1998.

And of course, we had Twister! That hasn’t been gone too long, so I’ll just share one thing I found interesting:

Inside the Twister queue on November 17, 1998.

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.

Until next time…

Future World entertainment in 1996

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?

August 29, 1996.
August 29, 1996.

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

August 29, 1996.

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…

August 29, 1996.

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? 🙂

Until next time…