... in the 1990’s
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.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS:
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 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!