I’ve been asked why I refer to things that are in the park today in past tense. When I write about my experience from, say, 1996, I am speaking about that experience at that point in time. Thus I might talk about how there “was a very cool effect” back then, even if the same effect is still there today.
I hope this clarifies things a bit. There’s going to be a ton of past tenses coming up. I already have weekly photo essays scheduled out for the next few months.
Ever wonder what a nighttime parade made up of thousands of sparkling lights would look like to a 1996 digital camera?
Neither did I, but let’s find out.
Here’s the Main Street Electrical Parade as seen though the lens of a first-generation digital camera:
I’d share more, but I think you get the idea: It looks bad on a 1996 digital camera.
But, back then, unless you had a good camera and knew how to use it, and a scanner, this was about the only way you’d have seen it other than in person. My Kodak Disc camera photos of the Florida version of the parade in 1982 were even worse.
It’s really sad that this parade was leaving the park forever in 1996, but at least there was something new and shiny to look forward to:
I can’t wait to see what Light Magic looks like through the lens of a first generation digital camera.
At what point did EPCOT Center become Epcot? By this, I mean, at which point did the original vision change to what we have today? The proverbial “straw that broke the theme park’s back,” if you will.
First, some ground rules for this discussion. Let’s consider “original” EPCOT Center to be the theme park that opened in 1982, as opposed to Walt Disney’s dream for the E.P.C.O.T. that would have been an actual city that people lived and worked in.
In 1982, the name of the park was EPCOT Center. Here’s a look at the first park map, taken from the museum display on October 1, 1007 (the day the park celebrated its 25th anniversary):
I have one of these maps, though it’s not preserved as well. Mine was on my wall as a child, and has been folded and unfolded many times, and kept in storage since then.
We will extend this “original Epcot” to include items that were not quite ready yet, but were added during the park’s first decade.
First, we have to ignore the Equatorial Africa (Future) as shown on this map since it was never built. We can include Morocco (also listed as Future) and Horizons (listed with a specific opening month). We will also include items this map didn’t even tease us with: Norway and Wonders of Life.
The original vision of the Future World side of the park was based around concepts such as Imagination, Energy, Motion and Communication. Then we had things like The Seas and The Land. Even at the start, the theme of Future World wasn’t fully cohesive, but each area had an icon, and it somehow all linked together quite nicely — at least through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.
I visited EPCOT Center the first summer it was open (1983). Because of Future World, it immediately became my favorite park. A few years later, though, I went back to liking Magic Kingdom the best. I wonder why? Was it after changes started being made, or did I just grow bored with the limited offerings compared to the castle park?
Finding Future World turning points are probably the easy.
World of Motion was an elaborate omnimover dark ride through animatronic scenes. It closed in 1996 (sadly, before I visited with my digital camera). In 1998, it became Test Track, a high speed thrill ride…
The theme of being in a General Motors auto testing facility didn’t quite fit with the surrounding pavilion concepts. This was definitely a turning point.
And then there was Horizons, which represented the vision of EPCOT better than anything else in the park:
It was closed in 1999. It reopened in 2003 as Mission: Space, a high speed thrill ride:
Mission Space is one of the few Disney attractions I will probably never ride. I can’t do spinny rides and, apparently, I’m not alone. Not too long after it opened, they halted one of the centrifuges and created a tame version of the ride that lets you watch the video without the spinning. I’ve at least gotten to ride that one, but why did Disney even build such an extreme ride for any of their parks, let alone Epcot?
Many other Future World attractions were updated, but they mostly retained the original concept or theme. Kitchen Cabaret became Food Rocks, Listen to the Land became Living With the Land, and Journey into Imagination changed, removing all the elaborate sets and animatronics and becoming a much shorter ride … then adding some of the animatronics back in a second update.
There were also changes to Communicore with the introduction of Innoventions, but I still think the concept of “real tech of literal tomorrow” made sense and could fit in fine if constantly updated. (I saw a “digital versatile disc” player for the first time there, and also a glasses-free 3-D display. One of these items became very popular, and the other I am still waiting on…)
Let’s move to the other side of the pond now…
World Showcase has remained fundamentally the same. Beyond the expansion of restaurants and more bars, the biggest change has been the insertion of Disney characters. Mexico’s El Rio del Tiemo (River of Time) became Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros…
Norway’s Maelstrom became Frozen Ever After:
There weren’t many other attractions on this side of the park, else maybe there would be more updates like these two. But now that the park has changed, a Ratatouille ride coming to France seems to fit right in with this “new” Epcot. Probably.
So what was “patient zero” of this transformation from EPCOT Center to Epcot? The name officially became Epcot ’94 in 1994, and then Epcot ’95 a year later, then just Epcot. At some point the logo changed into a more whimsical one than the sleek 1980s futuristic one it opened with.
But surely this started happening before 1994. All I know is, the EPCOT Center I fell in love with is long gone. I like what is there, but mostly for the food and drinks. I wonder how popular the park would be without all the alcohol…
A quick follow-up to the previous article… I found a few more parking lot related photos I took in 1997. Here’s one showing the layout of the parking lot — a very helpful map for those who can’t remember where they parked:
The Disneyland Tram runs approximately every 15 minutes?!? It would be faster to walk 🙂
I also found a higher resolution photo of the old parking lot walkway. You would park, then walk to this walkway, and head towards the entrance.
At 640×480 resolutions, you can almost make out the details of the Disneyland Train Station. Almost.
I also found a somewhat blurry view from the monorail that shows where this walkway is in relation to the park entrance. This was from the far end monorail which now runs through the entrance (over the bridge) at Disney California Adventure.
Above, you can see one of the old yellow trams (left), and the walkway (right side). Today, you’d be looking at Buena Vista Street at DCA!
Another image I wanted to share from 1996 was too small, so here’s a slightly less small version of it — the guest information booth with clocks showing the time at every Disney resort around the globe!
You can see the time at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Euro Disney! (Euro Disney, you ask? Geez, you are young. That’s what Disneyland Paris was called from 1992 to 2002. I guess Disney’s California Adventure and Disney/MGM Studios were not the first parks to get a name change.)
And, lastly… This image:
I have no recollection what the purpose of that sign was, but something about it must have caught my attention.
My first trip to Disneyland was probably around 1974 or 1975. I remember our family road trip from Houston, Texas to California. We stopped at the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. I also recall seeing Newspaper Rock and hearing my mom wondering if they represented aliens (check out the fingers and toes). Today I just wonder how families planned these trips in the days before the Internet. Travel brochures? That must have had something to do with it. I remember we had one that mentioned a ride called the “Haunted Mansion.” I pictured “dune buggies” driving through an old haunted house.
But I digress…
I have no photos from that visit (or the one or two more I got to make in the late 1970s), nor did I take a camera with me when I got to return to Disneyland in December 1995. I do recall that 1995 visit, though, since I finally learned where many of my childhood memories came from – like seeing a giant whale (Storybookland) and a skeleton drinking from a bottle (Pirates of the Caribbean). There were so many things I remembered from Disneyland that were not found in Florida’s Magic Kingdom.
By 1996, I had my first digital camera and would start documenting all my trips. Do you remember this Disneyland sign?
That sign was in use until they expanded the resort and added California Adventure. Vehicles would enter from the main entrance on South Harbor Blvd. (Disneyland’s official address is 1313 South Harbor Blvd with the 1313 rumored to either be MM – 13th letter of the alphabet twice for Mickey Mouse – or Disney poking fun at superstition.)
The parking lot entrance itself was much smaller than what we are used to today. I can’ t recall if there was another entrance on the other side of the park, or just an exit.
I took a better photo of the main entrance sign during my next visit on August 16, 1996:
Notice the power lines? For those too young to remember, they cut across the Disneyland parking lot (where California Adventure is today) and you’d park under or around them. Here’s what that looked like:
I’m not sure of the direction that photo was taken, but that may be the Paradise Pier Hotel in the back right (though it was probably still known as the Pan Pacific Hotel at the time. Disney bought it in 1995, but didn’t rename it until 2000.)
If you were lucky, you could park close enough to just walk to the entrance, else you took trams. If you were even luckier (or richer), you might have been able to use the special parking area just for Club 33 visitors!
Thanks to the Internet, this “secret” club in the park was now well know (at least online). But, back then, the only photos you could find were a few official Disney press photos. Today, every inch of Club 33 seems to be documented as “everyone” that wants to seems to have gotten inside. (I’ve even been there, in 2017, after declining three invitations back around 1996 or so.)
Back then, annual pass holders also got special parking. It’s hard to believe there was a time when annual passes were rare enough to give perks like that!
In 1996, the Indiana Jones Adventure was the hot new ride. It had just opened up the previous summer for Disneyland’s 40th anniversary. It was constructed on land that was formerly the Pinocchio parking lot. Originally, it was just a huge, green building with a security booth on top:
When the Grand Californian Hotel was built years later, they decorated the building up a bit and planted palm trees in front of it so it would look nicer for guests staying at the expensive hotel.
Another detail about the old parking lot was a covered waiting area for folks getting picked up:
Today, the closest you can be dropped off is near the Harbor Blvd. entrance where shuttles and taxis are allowed to go.
The actual entrance of Disneyland was a bit different. The ticket booths used to be in front of the park under the monorail track:
As you can see, the park had long lines to get in even back then.
Once you got to the front of the line, they would scan your ticket with these ticket scanners. There was even a Hidden Mickey cut into the back of the booth. (I have photos of many of these early Hidden Mickeys that I submitted to the original Hidden Mickey site — hiddenmickeys.org — though as I check now, the site may be down. Here’s an archive of it from 1998.)
I’ll leave you with one item that doesn’t seem to have changed much: the outside lockers. Although today this is now at the end of Downtown Disney rather than across from a parking lot, I think the locker area is about the same other than having all the greenery in front of it (blocking the view of guests who are eating at the picnic area).
I should really try to get “now” versions of some of these photos the next time I make it out there.
I hope you enjoyed this short tour of some of my earliest digital photos. I plan to do more postings like this from time to time, so be sure to follow my Facebook page or Twitter account to stay in touch.
I first experienced the Internet in the early 1990s via an old text-based dial-up service called GEnie (operated by long-time Disney-sponsor General Electric). GEnie had opened up a portal to a few types of internet services, including things like Gopher (the pre-web search engine) and FTP (the pre-web file transfer). They also had something that let you view text pages on the internet. It wasn’t until July 1995 that I would learn that these text pages could also have pictures!
I had accepted a new job and moved to Iowa. On my desk was a SUN workstation running SunOS (Unix). It had a program called Netscape that let you see those same text pages, but with small pictures! It’s hard to believe there was a time when we didn’t know what the “world wide web” was.
One of the early web sites I visited was a personal home page for the Banks Family. They had gone to Walt Disney World and used something called an Apple QuickTake to take photos and then upload them to their website each night. Yes, Virginia. Apple basically invented the consumer digital camera in 1994.
Since my new job allowed me to get to Disneyland and Disney World often, I decided I would like to have one of these computer cameras* to document my trips also. There weren’t many options back then, so in 1996 I decided to buy an Epson PhotoPC for $500.
* During those early years, I had to call it a “computer camera”. No one knew what a “digital camera” was.
The PhotoPC had 1 megabyte of storage. It could take a dozen 320×240 images (or a few at 640×480) before you had to hook it up to a PC to download those images over a serial cable. This is the camera I used for all my Disney and other theme park trips from 1996 to 1999. (I did soon spend $300 to add a 4MB memory expansion which let me store up to 99 640×480 photos.)
Film cameras of the day could have as few as 12 pictures per roll (like the Kodak Disc camera), or maybe 24 or 36 pictures for a more standard camera. Getting over a dozen digital and not having to buy film was amazing! Even if the pictures looked like this…
That is a 320×240 image from the PhotoPC. Understand that, back then, a “large” PC screen might have only been 640×480 so the full size pictures the camera took where perfect for the technology of the day. And since the internet was a dial-up service and very slow, photos were scaled down even smaller else they would take “forever” to load. While today that image looks like a thumbnail, back then, it filled 1/4th of the screen.
If I had known how important the world wide web would become, or that we’d one day have high speed internet and 4K monitors (I’m sure this will seem retro and quaint in a decade), I would have upgraded my camera sooner to the a model that took larger photos. But, at the time, this camera took images larger than I could use on the web.
With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a few more images:
This was the walkway that led to the parking lots. You can even see cars parked to the left and right of it. Unfortunately, the resolution is so low, I can’t tell if I was facing towards Disneyland (are those the ticket booths at the end?) or away from it towards where Disney California Adventure is today.
And just to compare, here is what a full size 640×480 image looked like:
That was the old Disneyland Hotel “lake.”
I look forward to walking you through some of these old photos in future postings. Hopefully this post will give you an idea of what I have in mind for future articles.
Welcome to one of the oldest Disney fan sites on the internet (though not at this domain). This site is part of my DisneyFans.com project which originated as a free home page way back in 1995. I decided to finally start using this domain for new articles like those I used to post to my old site back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
For those unfamiliar with my background, from around 1995 to 1999 I was travelling for work and found myself in Orlando, Florida and Irvine, California several times each year. I ended up with annual passes to both Disneyland (when it was just one park) and Walt Disney World (when it only had three parks) for those years. I acquired a digital camera in 1996 and began documenting all my trips, and sharing those photos online (initially through an FTP server I ran at nights over a dialup connection on a Windows 3 laptop). What a long, strange trip it’s been since!
After that job ended, I switched to only visiting Disney for vacations, and then mostly to Disneyland (my favorite of all the U.S. parks). I tried to make two or three trips each year. This ended in 2009 when I finally ran out of income. After that, I went vacationless for nine years and unplugged from the Disney fan community.
In 2017 I had a unique opportunity to join a Disney friend of mine at his timeshare in southern California. Having someone else provide lodging and transportation made it an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down. This return to Disney got me motivated to revisit my website and start reorganizing and updating it.
My first major project was to update the layout of the old site so it could be viewed on modern devices like phones and tablets. Initial work has been started, but much is still to be done. My second major project was to go through all my photo archives and re-sort everything. I’ve done that with the Disneyland Resort photos so far, though I’m sure there is still much more work to be done.
I plan to use this site to comment on interesting videos and photos I have in my extensive collection. It seems my high-tech digital camcorder I took to the parks in 1999 now contains footage that is twenty years old. It will be fun looking back. My digital camera photos began in 1996, so we will get to explore a bit further back with those.