My original custom T-shirt…

A long, long time ago (let’s call it 1995, because it was), I had my very first personal home page. It was hosted for free at a site called GeoPages. The very old timers out there might know this by the it’s later name: GeoCities. Back then, you could get 512K of free storage for your very own web site! (I know, hard to believe, but true!)

In 1996, I purchased my first digital camera, and started taking digital photos during my visits to Disney parks. As my online photo library expanded, I started using some other hosting services to share the thousands (I know, hard to believe, but true!) of digital photos. I eventually moved my site to Simplenet.

In 1995, I had also signed up to an email aliasing service called POBox.com that gave me a redirection URL that I could point anywhere. I started out with www.pobox.com/~alsplace redirecting to my old www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/1842 site, and then was able to change that to point to whatever my old Simplenet address was. (And, I think, my people.delphi.com address somewhere in between.)

It was during this time that I made this classy home-made T-shirt to wear during my Disney trips…

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a mid-90s state-of-the-art heat transfer T-shirt…

Al’s Place T-shirt front pocket logo, circa 199X.
Al’s Place T-shirt back design, circa 199X.

You know how webmasters in the early days had egos, right? I’d proudly wear this “classy” shirt to the parks to promote my personal home page. There were several variations of the shirt over the years as the count of photos I had increased. This was somewhere in the middle. (Eventually it would become a DisneyFans.com shirt.)

One time, while getting food at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch BBQ, a cast member noticed the shirt and asked me about it. She wrote down the web address so she could visit my site later. To my surprise, she presented me with free “happy birthday” chocolate cake. This was one of many special things I received in those early years because of my website.

Times have really changed since then. Today there are hundreds or even thousands of Disney fan sites. There are endless “news” sites that echo the same tidbits. But back then, there weren’t that many of us… internet newsgroups were still the main place to discuss Disney theme parks. Web forums would come much later 😉

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

In future posts, I’ll share some of the real shirts I have collected over the years, including a number of limited edition ones which, for some reason, I’ve never even worn…

Until next time…

BONUS: Do you see my later DisneyFans.com shirt in this following photo?

Circa 2000 retro/VR Magic Kingdom theater rumors?

Recently, I’ve been trying to find the source of an old rumor about Disney doing a retro (though we didn’t use that word then) attraction theater at Magic Kingdom. On July 28, 2000, I wrote the following in an old Yahoo! group (yes, Virginia, there was a day before Google)…

Now, it is known Disney has taken film of all their major parks being built (except, perhaps, Disney’s California Adventure?)… Disney also used to really document early animatronics (there is archived footage of the original C. of Progress somewhere)… Does anyone know if Disney bothered to film each segment of World of Motion, Horizons, etc., before closing them down “for the future”?

Someone has a site suggesting putting up a “VR lost attractions” area at the photo expo at WDW’s TMK. It’s a great idea, and shows like CoP could be done great by simply filming it from the audience in 3-D. Other attractions could be done using Cave technology or whatever. Has anyone seen the site I talk about? If so, where is it? I’ve not been able to find it 🙂

— Al

Here we are, almost 20 years later, and I guess the odds of me finding that site are long gone. Most sites from back then are only available thanks to archive.org copies.

Does this ring any bells to anyone?

Happy new year!

Welcome to 2019!

Aren’t you glad Disney didn’t do this every year?

November 8, 1999.
November 7, 1999.
November 8, 1999.

Man, that thing was huge. It actually made Spaceship Earth look small!

November 8, 1999.

It was a massive structure.

November 8, 1999.

…which looked pretty nasty from the side.

November 8, 1999.
November 8, 1999.

But hey, it says “2000” on it, so it’s only going to hang around until the end of the next year. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Until next time…

Disneyland ride wait times in 1996.

At the end of Main Street U.S.A. there is a sign that shows the wait times for attractions in the park. Here’s what it looks like today:

 Disneyland wait times sign from May 16, 2017.
Disneyland wait time sign on May 26, 1996.

In 1996, there was a very different wait time sign in use in May. That was one of my first trips with my Epson PhotoPC digital camera, so the only images I have are in the tiny 320×240 format.

As you can see, the sign was a much simpler board with black signs and white lettering. It’s hard to make out, but I believe the wait time for the then-new Indiana Jones Adventure was one hour and thirty minutes! Back then, the line might start on Main Street U.S.A., go all the way into Adventureland, then upstairs to fill up the second level of the Jungle Cruise, before finally entering the attraction queue. In this days before FastPass, the entire queue was used, from the bridge and lower outside area and all of the inside of the temple.

Keep that in mind the next time you complain about how long the lines are 😉

Disneyland wait times sign on May 20, 1996.

I only have one other tiny 320×240 photo of this sign, seen here to the left. Look how simple it was. They had simple stanchions holding ropes to mark off the area. Two small potted plants served as decoration around the base of this tiny wheeled display. A simple podium and umbrella and, amazingly, two cast members staffed it.

Simpler times.

Was this a temporary sign I just happened to catch? The reason I ask is because just a few months later there was a different wait time sign there:

Disneyland wait times sign on August 14, 1996.

They had built this larger sign into the flower bed area. Notice the construction barrier to the right, and no fencing to the left.

Then, just a few days later, it looked like this:

Disneyland wait times sign on August 18, 1996.

In this photo you can see a fence to the left and right of this sign. Did I happen to visit during a refurbishment of this sign? Or was the park transitioning from a temporary on-wheels sign to something more permanent?

Oh, and hey, Indiana Jones Adventure was only 45 minutes when I took this photo! And you will see The Spirit of Pocahontas stage show was running, as well as The Lion King Celebration parade plus The Main Street Electrical Parade! Yes, Virginia, there was a time when Disneyland had a daytime parade and a separate nighttime parade.

I am amused that, even in my first few trips with a digital camera, I was starting to notice trivial things like wait time signs and minor changes like this.

I wonder what else I’ll uncover as I continue to browse through my gallery…

Until then…

Disneyland Hotel in 1996.

I’ve always made it known that my focus when visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World were the rides and attractions. Unless there is something truly “Disney” about a restaurant (like eating under the moonlight at the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland, or eating in a car at Sci-Fi Dine In at Disney Hollywood Studios), I’m pretty sure I can find good restaurants all over. Likewise, I can find luxury resorts with plenty of amenities in my home town. With that in mind, I find it surprising that, during my first visit with a digital camera in 1996, I visited the Disneyland Hotel.

Back then, there was only Disneyland, a parking lot, and the hotel. Perhaps I just wanted to get off at the monorail stop and explore. Perhaps I was doing the “here’s how to drink adult beverages at Disneyland” trick (though I see no photos from anything else, so I’ll assume I was just exploring and that the alcohol trick came later).

Somewhere inside the hotel there used to be this massive collage of Disney memorabilia:

Disneyland memorabilia on display in 1996 (probably August 16, 1996).

My ancient 640×480 digital photo doesn’t do it justice. If I had encountered this today, I’d have taken tons of photos of the various items in this display case. I wonder if this display is still there somewhere?

I was also impressed to find that there was live street entertainment at the hotel:

The Bellhops band at the Disneyland Hotel on August 16, 1996.

The Bellhops would ride up on their golf cart and perform. I did not have a video camera with me during that trip, but I did find someone else’s brief video of the Bellhops from a few years earlier (1991) on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mjw3oQTAl8
YouTube user “starleet2001” 1991 home video of the Bellhops band.

A quick web search did not turn up much about this band. Anyone know more about them?

Moving on, I was impressed with the “lake” that existed between the three Disney Hotel towers! You could rent a paddle boat and ride around.

Paddle around the Disneyland Hotel lake on August 16, 1996.

This area has been remodeled at least twice since I took this photo. During a recent visit with Werner of Yesterland.com, he pointed me to a collection of old Disneyland Hotel press photos from this era that showed more about this “lake.” In those years, before it was actually owned by Disney, it was quite an attraction on its own with entertainment and activities. If you go back early enough, there was even a large golf course next to the original tower!

But I digress.

I also snapped a picture of the pool area. By today’s standards, it doesn’t seem that impressive.

Disneyland Hotel pool area on August 16, 1996.

I’m not sure what caught my attention in this photo. Perhaps it was the lush landscaping behind the pools that blocked out the view of a contested city area. Perhaps it was the sandy beach where the volleyball court is.

I’ve wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel for a long time, but the pricing was outrageous to me back then… Today, we’d jump at a chance to stay there and pay 1990s prices.

Thanks for joining me on this quick look at some of my earliest digital photos from Disneyland. I figure we have about 150,000 more to get through, so check back again sometime.

Until then…

The Spirit of Pocahontas in 1996.

Just down from it’s a small world was the Fantasyland Theater, home of The Spirit of Pocahontas. (Be sure to see the Yesterland article for all the details.)

The Spirit of Pocahontas on August 15, 1996.

This was one of the stage shows that was also replicated at Walt Disney World. Their version was at the Disney/MGM Studios, though it doesn’t look like I have any photos of it. It was Huntchback of Notre Dame by the time I took photos there. Regardless, I think I preferred the Disneyland version since it made use of a trap door in the stage to let characters “appear” rather than having them run on/off stage.

But I digress.

The theater, back then, was far less themed than the one that Disneyland has today:

Theater control booth on August 15, 1996.

I don’t even think I really wanted to “waste” my time and watch a show, but I was online friends with a show technician that was working the show that day and I wanted to say hi. He was one of the guys that would be up on all that scaffolding running lights and such. I wonder if his position was eventually replaced by computer-controlled lighting…

It also had fire…

The Spirit of Pocahontas on August 15, 1996.

The theater would later get updated and become home to a Snow White show. Remind me to talk about Disneyland, food, and that Snow White show when I get to it. I heard some really neat stories about it.

Until next time…

Tense topic.

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.

Until last time…

Main Street Electrical Parade in 1996.

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:

MSEP on August 14, 1996.
MSEP on August 14, 1996.

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:

Light Magic sign on August 14, 1996.

I can’t wait to see what Light Magic looks like through the lens of a first generation digital camera.

Until next time…

EPCOT turning points.

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.

EPCOT Center

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):

Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com (Taken on October 1, 2007)

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.

Future World

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…

November 8, 1999.

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:

May 22, 1997.

It was closed in 1999. It reopened in 2003 as Mission: Space, a high speed thrill ride:

Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com. October 2, 2007.

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

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…

December 7, 2006.
Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com.  October 1, 2007.

Norway’s Maelstrom became Frozen Ever After:

January 25, 1998. Before Fastpass!
September 15, 2018.

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…

Maybe I can revisit this topic in the future.

Until next time…

Disneyland parking lot.

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:

Parking lot vehicle locator map on May 11, 1997.

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.

May 17, 1997.

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!

May 10, 1997.

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:

May 11, 1997.

I have no recollection what the purpose of that sign was, but something about it must have caught my attention.

Until next time…