... in the 1990’s

WDW Magazine - - Content - BY COURT­NEY VIC­TOR RUSS

The 1990s was a time of con­stant change for Walt Dis­ney World. Com­ing off of the fast pace of the 80s, WDW was look­ing to­wards the fu­ture with new Dis­ney CEO Michael Eis­ner mak­ing waves. It was a time of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and test­ing bound­aries as WDW shifted into the mil­len­nium. Dur­ing this decade, WDW saw a num­ber of at­trac­tions come and go—leav­ing be­hind some of the best Long But Not For­got­ten fa­vorites WDW has to of­fer.

Magic Kingdom: A Never-end­ing Birth­day Cel­e­bra­tion…

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I have had this brief mem­ory of tour­ing houses in bizarre neigh­bor­hood made up of pas­tels and ex­ag­ger­ated blend of Amer­i­cana and ru­ral 19th cen­tury Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture… It was weird. (Plus, I pretty sure I was think­ing in “car­toon.”) I went nearly twenty-five years with­out mak­ing any sense of it. Then as I was do­ing re­search for a WDW Mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle, ev­ery­thing fi­nally clicked—it was Mickey’s Star­land! This un­locked an­other for­got­ten mem­ory, when I had the re­al­iza­tion that the dress­ing room where I re­mem­ber meet­ing Mickey for the first time wasn’t in Town Square The­ater—it was Star­land’s Mickey’s Hol­ly­wood The­ater!

WDW was look­ing to cel­e­brate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birth­day—novem­ber 18, 1988—by recre­at­ing the car­toon world made pop­u­lar by his short films and comics within the Magic Kingdom, com­ing up with a con­cept for “Mickey’s Birth­day­land.” With the suc­cess of Who Framed Roger Rab­bit, Dis­ney was set to build a num­ber of at­trac­tions in­spired by the block­buster in 1988, but ended up be­ing can­celled due to bud­get re­straints. Imag­i­neers in­stead de­cided to com­bine the film’s Hol­ly­wood-theme with the Mickey’s birth­day, open­ing on June 18, 1988.

Orig­i­nally planned as a tem­po­rary land, it was made per­ma­nent in 1990 and re­named to Mickey’s Star­land un­til it was again changed to ap­peal to newer audiences in 1995, re­open­ing with a whole new look and feel as Mickey’s Toon­town Fair. The cy­cled con­tin­ued in the Spring of 2012 when the area un­der­went a com­plete over­haul—shift­ing from a car­toon to a Dumbo-in­spired cir­cus theme—re­sult­ing in its cur­rent version, Sto­ry­book Cir­cus.

Long But Never For­got­ten When You Have 9-Eyes By Your Side…

As we travel back to re­mem­ber these Long But Not For­got­ten Dis­ney ex­pe­ri­ences, it would be silly not to men­tion one of the Magic Kingdom’s orig­i­nal at­tempts at time travel, To­mor­row­land’s The Time­keeper.

On Novem­ber 21, 1994, The Time­keeper made its de­but as the first Dis­ney at­trac­tion to merge au­dio-an­i­ma­tron­ics with a Cir­cle-vi­sion 360° film, and brought to life by the voices of Robin Wil­liams and Rhea Pearl­man. It took view­ers on a jour­ney through time—vis­it­ing no­table peo­ple and places from his­tory and fin­ish­ing up with a stop in the fu­ture—as they ac­com­pa­nied a “time ma­chine test pi­lot” and his camera droid, 9-Eyes.

Though it lasted five years, it lacked in pop­u­lar­ity—younger chil­dren found the his­tor­i­cal plot­line bor­ing and didn’t fea­ture any rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ters. An­other com­mon com­plaint was that it didn’t of­fer seat­ing and be­came tire­some to stand through­out the en­tire show.

The at­tacks on 9/11 marked the be­gin­ning of the end for The Time­keeper as one of the film’s ma­jor scenes de­picted the New York City sky­line and a prom­i­nent view of the Twin Tow­ers. It fi­nally closed on Fe­bru­ary 26, 2005, and is now home to Mon­sters, Inc. Laugh Floor.

No one knew just how ter­ri­fy­ing sit­ting a cir­cle could get…

Nearby in To­mor­row­land was one of my all-time fa­vorite WDW rides that, for any­one who ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing its eight-year ex­is­tence—run­ning from 1995 through 2003—will for­ever

be en­grained into the minds of guests not for the same nos­tal­gic rea­sons as other WDW lost at­trac­tions, but be­cause it was TER­RI­FY­ING… I’m of course talk­ing about Ex­traTERRORes­trial Alien En­counter.

It is uni­ver­sally thought to be the scari­est Dis­ney at­trac­tion of all time—by far. Un­like other fright­en­ing Dis­ney at­trac­tions, Alien En­counter didn’t rely on de­pic­tions of vil­lain­ous char­ac­ters or sud­den drops but rather played a psy­cho­log­i­cal mind game by re­mov­ing one of the senses: sight. Guests were strapped down into a cir­cu­lar the­ater cen­ter around a tele­por­ta­tion tube that would ac­ci­den­tally bring an huge an­gry aline into the the­ater… Then the power goes off and you spent the rest of the ride in to­tal dark­ness. All they had to do was turn out the lights, add some 4-D ef­fects and let your mind fill in the rest... My skin crawl just think­ing about it!

The na­ture of the ride was met with harsh crit­i­cism and was shut down on Oc­to­ber 12, 2003, though it has re­mained a cult fa­vorite through the years.

Magic Kingdom’s beloved night­time pa­rade…

One of the most re­cent and no­table cuts made by Dis­ney was Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Elec­tri­cal Pa­rade, which served as the re­place­ment for one of WDW most beloved pa­rade of all time, Spec­tro­magic.

De­but­ing on Oc­to­ber 1, 1991, this daz­zling night­time pa­rade fea­tured Mickey and the Spec­tro­magic “Spec­tromen” biring­ing “Spec­tro­magic” to life through a story made up of five clas­sic Dis­ney themes and lo­ca­tions: The Worlds of Mu­sic from the Silly Sym­phonies, The Won­der of Sleep­ing Beauty’s Gar­den, The Fan­tasy of The Lit­tle Mer­maid’s Ocean, The Imag­i­na­tion of Fan­ta­sia, and The World of Dreams in a Grand Dis­ney Cav­al­cade. The show

wel­come vis­i­tors “to the splendor, the spec­ta­cle, the sparkling sen­sa­tion, where the ro­mance, the com­edy, and the thrill of Dis­ney fan­tasies come to elec­tric life.”

Af­ter an im­pres­sive seven­teen-year run (tak­ing a two-year hia­tus for re­fur­bish­ments from 1999-2001), the pa­rade made its fi­nal trip down Main Street, U.S.A. on June 5, 2010. As it was such a huge hit, Dis­ney as­sured that it was again tak­ing an­other break for up­dates and would re­turn, but the floats were ended up get­ting de­stroyed af­ter be­ing stored im­prop­erly, un­for­tu­nately seal­ing the fate and putting an end to this “Long But Not For­got­ten” pa­rade.


When­ever the sub­ject of “pa­rades” makes its way into the con­ver­sa­tion, by fa­ther is sure to bring up Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios’ (though it was called, Dis­ney—mgm Stu­dios at the time) Aladdin’s Royal Car­a­van Pa­rade, which ran from 1992-1995. But I get it—there has yet to be an­other WDW pa­rade that could ad­e­quately com­pete with the pageantry, song and dance, and over­all en­ergy as this one. It was essentially a real-life version of the “Prince Ali” pa­rade from the movie. This is prob­a­bly why DHS saw quite the pa­rade turnover through­out the 90s, in­clud­ing Toy Story – The Pa­rade from 1995-1997, Her­cules: “Zero to Hero” Vic­tory Pa­rade from 1997-1998, and Mu­lan – The Pa­rade from 1998-2001.

While the Dis­ney Parks are known for their pa­rades, they are even bet­ter known for their over-the-top night­time fire­works spec­tac­u­lars! Up un­til re­cently (with the ad­di­tion of the Sym­phony in the Stars: A Ga­lac­tic Spec­tac­u­lar), younger gen­er­a­tions had al­ways known a DHS that was miss­ing a fea­ture fire­work show like those of the Magic Kingdom or Ep­cot… but that wasn’t al­ways the case!

Sorcery in the Sky was Dis­ney-mgm Stu­dios’ sig­na­ture night­time spec­tac­u­lar from 1990 through 1998. Cre­ated by renowned night­time show pro­ducer, Don Dorsey—who also cre­ated the Main Street Elec­tri­cal Pa­rade and Ep­cot’s award-win­ning, Il­lu­mi­na­tions: Re­flec­tions of Earth.

Us­ing dim light­ing in the fore­ground to ex­ag­ger­ate the bright­ness of the fire­works and py­rotech­nic in the back­ground, this show was vis­ually sim­i­lar to Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Night­time Spec­tac­u­lar, ex­cept with a Hol­ly­wood theme. Guests adored the show but shortly af­ter Fan­tas­mic! made its de­but on Oc­to­ber 28, 1998, Dis­ney de­cided to shut it down be­cause the two had over­lap­ping show times and proved to be too much for the tiny park.

New York Street’s Back­lot The­ater…

Af­ter Beauty and the Beast moved to its home on Sun­set Boule­vard’s new The­ater of the Stars in July of 1994, a year of prepa­ra­tions were soon un­der­way in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Back­lot The­ater’s com­ing at­trac­tion: The Spirit of Poc­a­hon­tas, mak­ing its de­but in June of 1995.

Told through the eyes of Poc­a­hon­tas’ tribe, the per­for­mance of­fered a fresh take on the film’s orig­i­nal story. But even with the re­vamp, the show still lacked in pop­u­lar­ity and ended up get­ting the axe be­fore reach­ing its first birth­day, clos­ing in Fe­bru­ary of 1996. Af­ter Poc­a­hon­tas’ brief stint, the Back­lot The­ater took a four-month hia­tus, re­open­ing its doors on June 21st with a hot new facelift—and a brand new show to go along with it!

The Hunch­back of Notre Dame – A Mu­si­cal Ad­ven­ture was the Back­lot The­ater’s long­est run­ning show. Open­ing the same day as the film’s re­lease, The Hunch­back de­liv­ered a

song­ful, thirty-minute ren­di­tion of its cin­e­matic coun­ter­part, fea­tur­ing a unique blend of live ac­tors and pup­pets to bring the story to life—and all in just a third of the time!

Af­ter de­light­ing WDW vis­i­tors for over six years, the show fi­nally wrapped on Septem­ber 28, 2002. It ended up be­ing the last per­ma­nent show to be fea­tured in New York Street’s Back­lot The­ater (later re­named to “Pre­miere The­ater)—us­ing it pri­mar­ily for sea­sonal events like Star Wars Week­ends, and tem­po­rary pro­duc­tions, such as For the First Time in For­ever: A Frozen Sing-along Cel­e­bra­tion—un­til it was de­mol­ished ear­lier this year to make way for the Star Wars Land ex­pan­sion.

A week­end “galaxy far, far away” will soon be a galaxy here to stay…

Speak­ing of DHS’ Star Wars Week­ends—the force of this long but not for­got­ten event is strong with this one! Dis­ney’s an­nounce­ment then 2015 would be the last year that DHS would host­ing the fes­ti­val, be­ing met with an up­roar from outraged its many hard­core Dis­ney/star Wars span­ning across gen­er­a­tions. But it was soon put to rest as more in­for­ma­tion came out that the rea­son for the cut was ac­tu­ally be­cause the pres­ence of Star Wars within DHS was rapidly in­creas­ing, and the park would soon awaken the force with a the open­ing of a new, fully-im­mer­sive 14-acre Star Wars Land. Be­gin­ning in 1997, Star Wars Week­ends was an an­nual event held each spring, when Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios would be taken over by all things Star Wars, pay homage to Ge­orge Lu­cas’ hit film se­ries. Many of the at­trac­tions and fea­tures from the Week­ends have be­come per­ma­nent fix­tures in the park, which I would say prob­a­bly makes Star Wars Week­ends #1 on the “Long But Not For­got­ten List.” It’s kind of hard to forget some­thing

when most of it still ex­ists—and is bet­ter than ever!

Star Wars Land isn’t the only new ex­pan­sion com­ing to Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios, tear downs have also come in or­der to make way for an en­tirely new Toy Story Land! So while big­ger kids (and a whole lot of adults!) can are be­ing en­ter­tained in a “galaxy far, far away,” the kid­dos can head next door to a place that’s more their speed—i.e. not light­speed.

Though DHS has been pop­u­lar­ized as more of a “big-kid” park, preschool­ers have had an at­trac­tion all to them­selves since the late-90s…

In June of 1999, WDW guests were met with a whole new take on the in­ter­ac­tive stage show as Bear in the Big Blue House – Live on Stage! made its de­but on Sound­stage 5, the former lo­ca­tion of the pop­u­lar, themed Sound­stage Restau­rant (in the cur­rent An­i­ma­tion Court­yard area).

Un­like pre­vi­ous WDW shows, Bear in the Big Blue House was cre­ated just for the lit­tle ones, which was made clear from the mo­ment guests en­tered the the­ater, be­ing di­rected to find a spot on the ground be­fore ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite Big Blue House char­ac­ters made their way on­stage. The au­di­ence was en­cour­aged to sing along and par­take in the pro­duc­tion—the ac­tors would even move down from the stage, al­low­ing show­go­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence this at­trac­tion along­side their beloved TV pals.

It was re­placed by Play­house Dis­ney – Live on Stage! in Au­gust of 2001. Sound­stage 5 has since kept its shows geared to­wards preschool­ers with the same sort of in­ter­ac­tive for­mat; it has been home to Dis­ney Ju­nior – Live on Stage! since March 4, 2011.


Earth Day, April 22, 1998 would for­ever change the world’s per­cep­tion of theme parks (and, dare I say, zoos) as Dis­ney’s An­i­mal Kingdom opened its gates for the first time.

AK is the fourth park added to the WDW lineup and truly the most unique; not only is it the largest by far at a whop­ping 500 acres—5x larger than the Magic Kingdom—it is also the only Dis­ney park to be cen­trally themed around wildlife ed­u­ca­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

Be­ing that it is WDW’S youngest park, most of An­i­mal Kingdom’s orig­i­nal—and since added—at­trac­tions are still in func­tion, but a se­lect few have been lost, pri­mar­ily in thanks to [one or a com­bi­na­tion of] three things: func­tion­al­ity; a shift in the younger Dis­ney au­di­ence re­gard­ing film pop­u­lar­ity; and/or park ex­pan­sions.

The Dis­cov­ery River Boats at­trac­tion (aka: Dis­cov­ery River Taxi, 1998, and Ra­dio Dis­ney River Cruise, 1999) was a re­sult of the first. It was a slow mov­ing boat ride that would take guests to and from Safari Vil­lage and Asia down An­i­mal Kingdom’s cen­tral body of water, Dis­cov­ery River. Though it would drive past all of the dif­fer­ent park’s lands, it was very dif­fi­cult to see much of any­thing and took quite awhile to get from Point A to Point B, it was not a fre­quented ride, ul­ti­mately clos­ing for good af­ter only three years.

Dis­ney Parks are al­ways mov­ing for­ward to look­ing to the fu­ture; its ever-chang­ing shows and pa­rades are a per­fect ex­am­ple of it. An­i­mal Kingdom has had quite the turnover in both since open­ing day. Ex­am­ples in­clude: March of the Art-imals Pa­rade from 1998-1999, Jour­ney into the Jun­gle Book, also show­ing from 1998-1999, Tarzan Rocks! from 1999-2006, and fi­nally Poc­a­hon­tas and her For­est Friends stage show from 1998-2008.

Poc­a­hon­tas and her For­est Friends was part of An­i­mal Kingdom’s fi­nal Long But Not For­got­ten item from the 90s came as a re­sult of the lat­ter item men­tioned in my open­ing list—camp Min­nie-mickey.

Camp Min­nie-mickey was one of AK’S orig­i­nal lands with the pur­pose of ed­u­cat­ing and en­ter­tain Dis­ney’s younger audiences. It was cre­ated as a place­holder for the area that was orig­i­nally in­tended for “Beastly Kingdom,” but ul­ti­mately scrapped af­ter spending nearly $800 mil­lion on the rest of the parks con­struc­tion.

It was themed around the wood­lands of North Amer­ica but pri­mar­ily used for char­ac­ter meet-and-greets. It closed in Jan­uary of 2014 to make room for yet an­other mas­sive ($500 mil­lion) new land, Pan­dora: The World of Avatar.


Sur­prise in the Skies (1991–1992) Walt Dis­ney World cel­e­brated its 20th An­niver­sary in 1991, pay­ing trib­ute to the oc­ca­sion with col­or­ful new show called Sur­prise in the Skies, which first “aired” on Oc­to­ber 1, 1991.

The show in­cluded an ar­ray of col­ored smoke be­ing shot into the sky, as six boats made their way into World Show­case La­goon to form a cir­cle in a "Carousel of Color.” Then the an­nouncer would tell vis­i­tors to “turn your imag­i­na­tion up­ward,” where they’d find eight para­planes pi­loted by clas­sic Dis­ney char­ac­ters: Mickey, Min­nie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip, Dale, Pooh, and Tig­ger.

Honey, I Shrunk the Au­di­ence!

In­spired by Dis­ney’s hit 1989 film se­ries, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Honey, I Shrunk the Au­di­ence was a 4-D mo­tion-sim­u­lated ride in­side held in­side Ep­cot’s Imag­i­na­tion In­sti­tute The­ater. In 1994, guests were first in­vited to ac­com­pany the Sza­lin­ski fam­ily to watch Wayne re­ceive the award for the “In­ven­tor of the Year.” In true Wayne Sza­lin­ski fash­ion, things go ter­ri­bly awry as he pre­pares to give a sci­en­tific demon­stra­tion at the cer­e­mony, ul­ti­mately re­sult­ing in him shrinking the au­di­ence. Guests spend the re­main­der minia­tur­ized in a trans­porta­tion device called a hov­er­pod. Af­ter a good run, Honey, I Shrunk the Au­di­ence closed on May 9, 2010 and was re­placed by Cap­tain EO.

Food Rocks…

Food Rocks was a show that com­bined au­dio-an­i­ma­tron­ics with a mu­si­cal con­cert film to pro­mote good nutri­tion, fea­tur­ing the rap­per Tone Loc as the show’s host, “Fud Wrap­per.” It de­buted in The Land Pav­il­ion on March 26, 1994 and was quickly deemed one of Ep­cot’s “B-ticket” at­trac­tions (aka: low on the to-do list). It still man­aged to stay open for nearly ten years, clos­ing on Jan­uary 3, 2004 to make way for Soarin’.

Cel­e­brat­ing the new mil­len­nium in Dis­ney fash­ion…

Mark­ing the end of this list of these Long But Not For­got­ten 90s Dis­ney at­trac­tions is Walt Dis­ney World’s Mil­len­nium Cel­e­bra­tion, which ran from Oc­to­ber 1, 1999 to Jan­uary 1, 2001. De­rived from its roots ig­nited by the 1964 World’s Fair, most of the cel­e­bra­tion took place at Ep­cot, with a fo­cus on the fu­ture and mankind’s po­ten­tial to cre­ate a bet­ter to­mor­row.

Ev­i­dence of the cel­e­bra­tion was made clear to Ep­cot vis­i­tors upon ap­proach­ing the park, as a gi­gan­tic Mickey hand hold­ing a wand over the text, “2000” was added above its icon, Space­ship Earth. Go­ing along with Dis­ney’s long­time phi­los­o­phy, “it’s a small world,” a pa­rade was cre­ated around the World Show­case for the event themed on the no­tion of world peace called Ta­pes­try of Na­tions. The theme was rep­re­sented with a com­bi­na­tion of mu­si­cal drums, elab­o­rate cos­tum­ing, and large pup­pets, which were de­signed by Michael Curry (who also cre­ated the pup­pets seen on Broad­way in The Lion King).

The Mil­len­nium Cel­e­bra­tion also opened a huge 60,000-square-foot ex­hibit pay­ing homage to na­tions not fea­tured in Ep­cot’s World Show­case, along with two oth­ers hav­ing to do more with the fu­ture and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions: The United Na­tions/world Bank and the EXPO 2000 (the World’s Fair held in Hanover, Ger­many from June 1-Oc­to­ber 31, 2000).

Be­ing born in 1989, and tak­ing my first trip to WDW in 1991, some of my best mem­o­ries took place en­joy­ing many of these Long But Not For­got­ten rides and at­trac­tions from the 90s. Noth­ing beats look­ing back on these Dis­ney mem­o­ries and re­mem­ber­ing a sim­pler time. While I have en­joyed evolv­ing along­side WDW, noth­ing beats the nos­tal­gic feel of WDW be­fore the new mil­len­nium!

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