Return to Opening Day: Magic Kingdom 1971

Put on those bellbottoms, grab yourself a bandana, and brush out that Afro. We’re traveling to the groovy 70s, baby, for a date with destiny!

Here age relives fond memories of the past and all that. Opening Day crowds were estimated to go as high as 100,000 people — all of them crammed onto I-4 like a scene straight out of the Walking Dead, in a parking lot to rival the largest ever built (which happened to be the Magic Kingdom’s lot at the time).

As it turns out, the crowds are not as bad as rumored. No need for FastPass+ in 1971. You have your own set of ride reservations, dude! It’s called a ticket book. A, B, C, D, and E — that’s the biggest. So hop aboard that world famous highway in the sky, take a little skip across the Disney-created Seven Seas Lagoon, and step into the grandest theme park on the East Coast.

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

Crop out the Orbiter and Big Thunder and it still kinda looks the same

Crop out the Orbiter and Big Thunder and it still kinda looks the same

Opening Day attractions numbered a little over 20 on October 1, 1971. Over the next few months, a handful more were added. But had you been part of that first day, here were your options:

  • Main Street Vehicles
  • Penny Arcade
  • Main Street Cinema
  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Swiss Family Treehouse
  • Tropical Serenade
  • Mike Fink Keelboats
  • Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
  • Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade
  • Diamond Horseshoe Revue
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Hall of Presidents
  • Snow White’s Adventures
  • Cinderella’s Golden Carousel
  • Mickey Mouse Revue
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mad Tea Party
  • It’s a Small World
  • Skyway
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Grand Prix Raceway
  • Monsters Inc. the Laugh Floor (just seeing if you were paying attention)

Not a bad little line-up, right? Especially considering the Disney MGM Studios opened with about a fifth of that. But the Magic Kingdom has been around more than 40 years. How many of these 23 champions are still standing?

Let’s start with some surprises — what’s missing from the list? None of the three mountains, of course. They wouldn’t start to appear until the late 70s. And no Pirates of the Caribbean either! In fact, it wasn’t even on the drawing boards, until everyone showed up and complained that it was missing. Tomorrowland was always the butt of jokes, with people complaining how dated it is. But much like Disneyland, Tomorrowland opened with only one attraction (the Raceway). Two, if you count the Skyway back to Fantasyland. Long time favorites like the People Mover, Circlevision, and If You Had Wings weren’t part of Opening Day.

What about Peter Pan’s Flight or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? The Riverboat or Tom Sawyer Island? Still under construction for the Grand Opening. They wouldn’t set sail until at least a few months later. And I was surprised to learn that the Swan Boats — the holy grail of defunct Magic Kingdom attractions — didn’t open until 1973. I mention all these things because it’s incredible that even the oldest of the old — those lost and lamented attractions that have been gone for decades — were themselves not even as old as we thought.

In some respects, 43 years doesn’t seem like a horribly long time. The Magic Kingdom pre-dates my existence, but not by much. A lot about me has changed over the years, but at least I still have my gorgeous, piercing blue eyes. So what about MK? Does she still have her eyes?

We can take a pencil and quickly strike a few items off the list. These puppies are gone, wholesale. Mickey Mouse Revue was shipped to Japan (and eventually closed). Mr. Toad was infamously replaced by Pooh. Snow White hung on for a long time, but disappeared a couple years ago to make room for Princess Fairy Tale Hall. The Keelboat dock remains, as does the dock for the Canoes, but neither vessel has plied the Rivers of America in quite some time. The Skyway has been obliterated. The Tangled restroom sits on the site of the Fantasyland Station, while the Tomorrowland Station has had its second floor stripped clean.

Mansion and Keelboat dock... Looks the same, but neither are.

Mansion and Keelboat dock… Looks the same, but neither are.

Other attractions have morphed into retail locations. The Penny Arcade became the Main Street Athletic Club shop. The Diamond Horseshoe Theater is intact, but is used only during peak periods, and only to augment counter-service lunch. Maybe as a character greeting area, if necessary. The Main Street Cinema still kind-of-sort-of exists, but it’s a shop now, brightly lit, with a solitary screen showing old cartoons as an afterthought.

That whittles it down to 14 hopeful candidates. And as we enter the swimsuit portion of the contest, looks start to matter.

Take Dumbo, for instance. The actual ride is effectively the same. Pachyderms going around in circles. But we all know Dumbo’s recent history. He was moved a football field away, to a new spot in Storybook Circus, where he gained water features, a giant themed queue building, and oh yeah, an exact duplicate of himself next door. That’s not the Opening Day experience.

How about the Tea Cups, who have been going around in the same circles for 40+ years in the exact same spot? It may seem cruel, but we need to cross them off the list as well. Riding the tea cups under a shady canopy strung with festive Mad Tea Party lanterns may seem as classic as they get, but the Opening Day cups didn’t have that roof. Swelter in the Floridian sun if you want the original experience.

The Grand Prix Raceway is now called the Tomorrowland Speedway, and it was never really big on theming anyway. Surely that one is as close as they come to Opening Day… except that it acquired some Indy 500 backdrops and racing towers back in the 90s, and a body style for the cars that is just different enough to eliminate it from contention.

A bunch of other attractions are guilty of the sin of omission. The Country Bears remarkably held on for a long time, and there’s not a single bit of the current show that did not appear in the original show… unfortunately, there’s a few minutes of the original show that does not appear in the current show, thanks to some recent tweaks to the running time. Similarly, the Tiki Birds (aka Tropical Serenade) did disappear for awhile, before a triumphant return a couple years ago. But just like the Bears, the show was adjusted for length. The Offenbach sequence was jettisoned, as was the magic fountain effect.

A familiar finale... but shortened

A familiar finale… but shortened

Haunted Mansion made a proud run at the title, but recent improvements (the Escher stairway room, the Cemetery queue, the CGI hitchhikers) knock it out of the running. The Hall of Presidents has added 7 presidents since the debut in 1971, and the narration and film-based portion of the attraction has changed significantly.

The Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade is still (miraculously) around, but the original version used lead-pellet firearms, not the infrared beams of today. And I believe the set was a similar theme, but not an exact match.

The Walt Disney World Railroad looks oh-so-close at first glance… but the narration on the train is totally different, and how can we keep it in the running when 2 of the 3 stations are completely different from Opening Day?

Late afternoon at the Main Street Station can still bring a whiff of nostalgia.

Late afternoon at the Main Street Station can still bring a whiff of nostalgia.

By my count, we’re down to five. Five Opening Day attractions that still look and sound much as they did way back when.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. I’m on the fence about Jungle Cruise. The boats have changed over the years, and new jokes have filtered in and out. But it seems to me to be very similar to its opening day incarnation. The queue has gained some set dressing over the years, and maybe there’s a new visual gag or two (the downed aircraft is within the last couple decades). But if you’re looking for the Opening Day experience, this one comes pretty close.

I could also nitpick about It’s a Small World. The loading area’s white facade and mechanical clock are relatively new (within the last 10 years). That last room with all the different foreign words for Goodbye has also changed over the years (most recently to add My Magic Plus screens). But overall, this attraction is very nearly identical to the Opening Day boat ride. Keep it on your list for time travel.

The Main Street Vehicles are hardly worth arguing about. They look the same as the Opening Day, near as I can tell. You still have the horse cars, the fire engine, the jitney, the Omnibus. These are true Opening Day experiences.

And Cinderella’s Golden Carousel — while now called Prince Charming Regal Carousel — has been circling the same path for over 40 years now. Aside from the occasional Aladdin or Pocahontas song, the new signage, and the displacement of a couple horses for a static bench, it’s the same ride.

And then we come to my personal favorite, the attraction I feel best represents the original Magic Kingdom. The Swiss Family Treehouse. Very little about this incredible walk-through has changed over the years. It is truly timeless, and its views are still the best available in the Magic Kingdom. I live in constant fear that Disney will decide to rip this one out and put in a fairy meet-and-greet, so please, if you simply must time travel, make this one your first stop. And your last. And spin the turnstiles a few extra times for good measure. Long live the Swiss Family Treehouse!

The grandfather of them all.

The grandfather of them all.

 

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Teevtee’s Top Ten

It always has struck me that the phrase “paying homage” is a bit disingenuous.

It may sound very nice and may infer that the person “paying homage” to someone or something is in fact crediting the source and showing respect, however in truth it’s just a fancy French way of saying “stealing”.

For example Disney’s Catastrophe Canyon is “paying homage” to Universal’s Earthquake attraction.  It does this fine homage by ripping off every element, every effect and every plot point and then claiming it as its own. No two ways around it its just plain theft but it sounds a lot nicer this way.

CC

Paying homage since 1989

Well today I will be paying homage to fellow blogger Tom Bricker who earlier this month posted a list of his “Top 10 Disney Experiences (So Far)”.

Tom and I have a few things in common: Tom is an avid amateur photographer and he spends a ton of time on his various park shots (I presume he is the guy you seeing lugging a tripod all over the parks as you rush by to get on the next ride).  I happen to be a professional photographer working in a very different field (commercial advertising).

Tom has a love of the parks and of course so does Parkeology. Tom has traveled to see the overseas parks, as have I on several occasions (including right now).  So I think we would get along just fine.  None of this changes the fact that I am now stealing  paying homage to his idea but it makes me feel a little less bad about it.

Actually we love Top Ten lists around here and I know Shane is working on one about the Top Ten facial hairstyles of Audio Animatronic figures (I bet Famed Naturalist John Muir wins… but don’t tell him I told you). The idea of this list is also extremely personal… as personal as could be in fact.  It is MY top ten… not yours… though we would love to hear about your favorite park moments as well.

John Muir

Look at that famed beard

So here we go… From the Parkeology home offices my top ten most meaningful or memorable park memories in sort of kind of no particular order (though it is a top ten so I have to number them anyway):

10) New park anticipation

AK

Disneyland was opened long before I was born, and Walt Disney World opened when I was a kid… too young to understand. The opening of EPCOT was special and the opening of Disney-MGM Studios was great fun but perhaps a let down as I was in college at that time, past the perfect age window for such an event.  But when Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 things were different.  The Internet allowed me to follow it with great anticipation every step of the way. I was newly married at this point and visiting the parks had become something my wife and I both relished, here was the opportunity to see it happen from scratch.  I read all about it and looked forward to it and I will always remember the morning that we visited during its grand opening. Arriving at the gate before sunrise and seeing the sunrays pierce through the sky illuminating the dew filled leaves all around us. Hearing the exotic instrumental music waft through the pre-dawn air, I still remember the smell as well, kind of a citrus thing. We had such incredible anticipation and even though the park (which even today is often considered a half day affair) was not fully built out we spent DAYS there. For us the park was the experience… the levels of detail, the textures, the lack of signs (now they are everywhere) and feeling of true exploration… they nailed it.  And then we ran into Joe Rohde, the man chiefly responsible for designing the park.  All together it has created tactile memories that I hope never to forget.

9) Attempted Proposal

I’ve been married for a while now, since 1997.  I had gone on several really great trips to Disney with my now wife and so in the mid 90’s it seemed like a natural to propose to her at Disney.  I’ve never been a particularly lovey dovey kind of guy.  I tend to find most non-park related Disney things to be too saccharine sweet for my taste and certainly a faux romantic castle proposal was not going to happen.  However Disney meant a lot to us and I wanted to incorporate it in a unique and special way.  The Disney Yacht Club hotel allowed you to rent an old-fashioned wooden Chris-Craft speedboat to drive around Crescent Lake and the waterways around the resorts and Epcot.  Moreover you could do this at night during the Illuminations fireworks and laser show.  Well this sounded great to me!  What could be more special than romantically cruising the calm waters of Epcot as the resort lights shimmered off the tranquil planes of Crescent Lake?  As classical music drifted through the still night air I would find the perfect moment to slow the boat to a wake-less crawl and propose as the fireworks erupted in the background… it was going to be PERFECT.

breathlessII

Hold on…. tight

This goes to prove that not every memorable moment has to be a good one.  The reality of what happened was not quite what I had imagined it to be.  First of all I would not be driving the boat, rather, we were informed, we would be passengers in the back seat as a Disney “captain” piloted the craft. Perhaps not the worst thing in the world… surely he would be a well trained and discreet. Then a young “dude” showed up looking like a reject from the X-Games.  His idea of a romantic cruise was a full-tilt high-speed “extreme” tour of the lake making sure that he hit every wake possible in an effort to catch some air.  Speaking of air it was unseasonably cold and the constant spray of ice-cold water pelting us did not exactly create a romantic mood.  As our daredevil captain swerved and swayed we were tossed like rag-dolls.  Frigid, soaked and seasick we were thankful that he slowed down and headed close to Epcot for the start of the show.

This was going to be my time… I may not have had the leisurely paced prelude that I was expecting but now it was going to all fall into place. Our captain brought us under the bridge to the very edges of the lagoon; these were prime seats for the spectacle soon to unfold.  I fumbled in my pocket to make sure I had the ring ready to go, I waited for the music to start and the romance to begin… and then:  BAM!  BOOM! WHOOSH! A deafening cacophony of fire erupted all around us. We were not near the fireworks we were IN the fireworks.  Bombs exploded, the sky turned red and areal reports thumped our chests as heavy smoke soon engulfed the entire area.  We were in the middle of what seemed like a war zone.  I could not hear anything other than ringing in my ears.  Our eyes watered as the smoke overtook us.  Soon we could not see our hands in front of our faces. We were dizzy and dazed while the captain high tailed it back to the resort dock.

breathless

It’s called Breathless for a reason… smoke tends to make you that way

Weeks later I proposed back at home on the couch.  Not what I dreamed of but looking back I would have it no other way.  It was something that could only happen at Disney.

8) Dad time

In the early to mid 80’s… shortly after Epcot opened my father had a series of work related meetings in Orlando… which gave me the opportunity to tag along and spend the days alone as an adolescent in the parks.  We would meet up later in the evening and this led to several of my fondest Disney memories.

BVP

Buena Vista Palace: Home of giant lobsters and phones of the future

There was the time I made him ride Space Mountain over and over until he was gripping his glasses so tightly the lenses popped out mid-ride.  We got off the coaster and he put on his frames sans lenses.  Funny and all, but he had to wear prescription sunglasses indoors and out for the rest of the trip. As an aside Disney found both lenses and mailed them back to us on different days… amazing.

There was the time we tried on Star Wars masks at the then sleepy Disney Village and seeing my Dad in some crazy alien mask was somehow just cool. But I think the one I recall the most is a visit to the Outback Restaurant at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel within the Disney hotel plaza.  These hotels are still there but not advertised nearly as much as they once were.  These were official hotels in as much as they could use Disney transportation but were all owned by lower cost alternatives to the Disney resorts.

Outback

Matches at restaurants, remember that! If not click here

The Outback was not the chain we are familiar with today but rather a more upscale steak and seafood house.  My dad ordered a MASSIVE lobster for himself, like 4 pounds of crustacean that he could not finish and then had to cram into the small refrigerator in the room.  Something about this has always stuck with me.  Later that night we called my mom using a “futuristic” speakerphone telephone booth they had in the lobby.  Some other time on one of these trips we ended up sitting side by side at a booth designed for couples at the top of the hotel in a fancy romantic restaurant.  I was 14 or 15 and only had sneakers and felt way underdressed.  Between sitting next to my Dad and the athletic footwear I was a fish out of water but those situations often lead to the most vivid memories. It was really about spending time with my Dad I guess, little moments and odd things can end up meaning a lot.

7) Secret Club

Club 33

Still the coolest door in all of Disney

I had first read about Club 33 at Disneyland when I was in college.  Back then it really was a very secret private club at Disneyland that not too many people had ever heard of, even die-hard fans.  This was prior to the instant communications of the Internet and for a guy much more familiar with Walt Disney World the concept of this club was incredibly intriguing.  I dreamt of going but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to join and had a ten-year waiting list.  You needed to be a guest of a member to get in.  I would walk past the ornate “33” sign on my visits to Disneyland and feel great jealousy of those privileged few who got to walk through the discreet doors. To cut to the chase just last year I finally had a chance to visit.  The food was typical average country club fair and way overpriced. The room was somewhat cramped and dated and the overly formal service was out of step with the casual setting of a theme park… and I loved it.  I loved everything about it. I loved that it was dated, I loved that the microphones originally installed in lights to interact with guests were still there, I loved that though Walt Disney never lived to see it’s completion I could see a 60’s era Walt hanging out up here with a Scotch on the rocks in hand looking out and surveying what he had created. It was exactly as it should be.  With news that it is all changing with a dramatic remodel and expansion I am forever grateful to have had the chance to see the original version and to walk through that door for myself.

6) Passing it on

WDW40

Come on, is that not the cutest? And the little girl is OK too.

Unlike Shane, I do not live a smoked turkey leg’s throw from the parks.  They are still trips for us.  We adopted our daughter when she was 9 months old but by the time we visited WDW with her for the first time she was a walking and talking, exploring and adventurous two year old.  She ran around the parks with reckless abandon and was totally fearless.  It was wonderful sharing experiences with her that were old hat to us (not the Tea Cups AGAIN) but brand new sensations to her. However the moment that I will always remember was a simple photo-op.  We were in the China pavilion at Epcot and I lifted her up to pose for a snapshot.  She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me tight smashing my cheek up against hers… it was totally unexpected and that photo and memory of pure love will always be meaningful to me.

5) WDW47

Shane and I have been friends for close to 20 years.  It is just amazing how time flies.  As we extensively documented last year we had never met face to face until there was finally an event of such magnitude that it forced us together.  WDW47 was an exciting, impossible adventure that has now inspired others to attempt it and I am sure eventually surpass it.  But we were the first.  We took on a challenge that was just so nuts that we had to try it, and we came SO CLOSE. (If you don’t know about WDW47 watch this)

WDW47

Come on, is that not the cutest? And the guy in the white hat is OK too.

This was the first time I had ever spent so much time in the parks with someone who knew as much about them as I do (well ALMOST as much).  It was an incredible time spent with a great friend.  After the fact, Shane told me that this day was perhaps his greatest day ever in the parks.  I know that he was just wrapped up in the moment but nonetheless the fact that he felt that way and enjoyed his time with me as much as I did with him meant the world to me. For a weekend, WDW47 was the most popular story on the Orlando Sentinel web site and we even became huge celebrities in Norway from it… but that’s a different story.

4) The greatest park ever

By the time 2001 came around I had been to all the parks in the U.S. many, many…MANY times and my wife and I had also checked out Disneyland Paris a couple of times. But Tokyo was lurking out there; it seemed so far away, so exotic so… well, so Japanese.

TDS

Looking at this stuff just never gets old. This was basically the view from our room.

I had always wanted to visit but in terms of Disney Tokyo Disneyland seemed too close to the Magic Kingdom to make the effort worth it (a poor assumption BTW).  But then Tokyo Disney Sea opened and it was going to be unique and new and unbelievable.  For years leading up to that time the embryonic stages of the Internet buzzed with anticipation and speculation as to what this wonder would really be like. The old AOL message boards (where I first met Shane) would debate every minutia of every concept art piece or press release that came out.  It was too much to resist… I could not stand knowing that this place existed on this planet and not see it with my own two eyes… and so our trip was planed for early spring of 2002… and then September 11th happened… and people were scared.  (We actually flew to Disneyland in September 2001 very shortly after the attacks and the paranoia and fear were real and palpable).  But we pushed on and in April took off for what has become one of my all time best Disney memories.

Mira Costa Pool

Wet-N-Wild Tokyo… oh wait, no, it’s the Mira Costa pool.

We went for it big time and stayed at the Hotel Mira-Costa… a room dead center looking out over the lagoon and directly into Mount Prometheus; the volcanic icon of the park.  We arrived late in the evening and so I had to stare out of that window and see the park and smoldering volcano bathed in a purple glow without actually being able to enter it for a full night (talk about a way to build anticipation).  When the dawn came my wife and I lined up at the special hotel park entrance and the excitement was electric… this was not the first time in the park just for us but also for the vast majority of the Japanese locals around us.  It was a communal kind of buzz that is hard to explain.

It’s amazing how the last 13 years or so has changed the demographic of the average visitor. At the time we were quite literally the only non-Japanese we saw the entire trip.  Now it is not uncommon at all to see Americans, Europeans and visitors from other Asian countries as well as Australia all over the park.  You cannot chuck a rock without hitting an American plodding around the place, but at the time we felt very special and unique.  And of course the park did not let us down, perhaps it even exceeded our expectations, as did Tokyo Disneyland, which was amazingly clean and well run.  I realized that visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea is really like going back in time.  It is revisiting the way Disney ran its parks in the Walt and post Walt pre-Eisner eras.  Everything was perfect, everything worked, and everything was the way you wanted it to be.  I have been back multiple times since and in fact, depending on when you read this, I may be there right now… it’s great each and every time… but the first time will always be something special. As an aside we really fell in love with all of Japan and its people and have similar non-Disney related memories of our visits there in general. Having the opportunity to bring our daughter there has been a special memory in and of itself.

3) Dodging the Grand Prix bullet and saying hello to Mike

I was 18 and working at Walt Disney World on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  That was awesome enough but a specific series of events led to this memory:

Grand Prix

Not only is it hellish to work at but it was also partially responsible for the collapse of WDW47… some day Grand Prix… revenge will be mine.

First of all I dodged a major bullet when I was hired. After general training I was sent along with a group of other new hires to a manager’s office where we were assigned our positions.  Now I knew I was already lucky to be working on an attraction as opposed to say janitorial or food service… nothing wrong with those but I really wanted to work a ride.  We sat around hoping for something great… maybe I would get Haunted Mansion or Pirates! Then the positions were announced, my whole group would get either a rotation of smaller Fantasyland rides (think Dumbo and the Carousel) or we would get the dreaded Grand Prix.  The Grand Prix was outdoors surrounded by diesel fumes and loud motors all day… no cover… the sun beating down on you on blacktop in Florida in the summer… with motors roaring around you all day, every day.  My heart sank.

Then the phone rings and I hear the supervisor talking about “20k”, short for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and how they needed someone to fill a spot.  This was an E-Ticket baby!  This was a marquee attraction and I wanted it… badly.

20kpostcard

The new Fantasyland stuff is OK but honestly this was better

As he was talking on the phone I just burst out; “20k!  I’ll Take it… can I work on it?”  He cupped the mouthpiece of the phone, looked a little confused and asked “You want to work on 20K?” … “YES I DO!” and so the proverbial squeaky wheel got the grease.  My compatriots were off to work carnival rides while I would be piloting the freaking Nautilus… SUCKERS!

Yet that is not the actual memory, as great as it is.  Later in the summer new CEO Michael Eisner came to visit us… he was now the star of the Disney Sunday Movie taking up Walt’s old position as host (nah, no ego on Mr. Eisner). They were going to air the actual movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and needed to film his intro on our ride.  Once again being shy was not going to get me anywhere… I started campaigning to my lead that I HAD to be involved.  I was into film and video and lighting… that was my thing and so I would learn so much from this.  That’s what I said at least, and while actually true my real motivation was just to be in and around the action.

So they closed the ride, brought in a huge crane with a camera mounted on the end.  Myself and three other guys got to ride the Nautilus out into the lagoon while standing at attention on the back of the boat.  Michael (as he was introduced to us, no “Mr.” Eisner at Disney) stood up front and read his lines.  Take after take we stood at attention until Mike finally nailed his scene. From meeting him and having the CEO of the company call me, the lowest level park employee, by my first name and then myself calling him by his, to seeing it air on TV months later was all awesome.

20K is sadly long gone but my memory will be with me forever.

2) Dawn of a New Disney Era

There have been at least two watershed events in my life that I was lucky enough to be the PERFECT age for.  I was 9 years old when Star Wars opened.  I saw it in a huge theater with a group of my friends and my Dad on my birthday… it was a big deal.  I love that I had that communal experience and that I was young enough to really be blown away by what I was seeing but old enough to remember it all vividly.

Dawn

Likewise when EPCOT Center opened I was 14, the sweet spot for that park. It really was the “Dawn of a New Disney Era” as the marketing slogan went; it was so very different than the Magic Kingdom but still steeped in all of the history and values that Disney was known for (and I mean Disney the man, not the company). Click here for another take on early EPCOT

My first visits to EPCOT Center are collectively some my greatest memories.  It was so exciting, so optimistic, so futuristic and somehow simultaneously foreign and familiar.  I was old enough to be given free reign of the place, free of the shackles of tagging along with the family.  I sprinted from pavilion to pavilion crisscrossing from Future World to World Showcase and back. It was an empowering experience and the type of thing I hope my daughter can find somewhere somehow.

epcot 82

This would be easy to make fun of… but I just don’t want to, it’s STILL cool.

Seeing the incredible talents of those same Imagineers who pioneered the field now let loose to create the next generation of attractions was exhilarating. The scale was so massive; the rides were so grand it truly was Mecca for a kid like me.

I had spent a couple years waiting for EPCOT Center to open.  At one point they opened up the monorail and let visitors ride out to and through the as yet unopened park and it was like sweet torture to be so close and yet so far away from the big grand opening day.  I poured over the Abrams EPCOT book taking in every nuance of every piece of concept art.  I imagined what it would be like to walk in those paintings and actually be able to touch and feel those incredible looking places. This coincides with a period of time when I took several closely spaced trips to the parks (see number 8) and so I got to see the rapid evolution of EPCOT Center.  Imagination, Horizons, The Living Seas… each new addition was better than the last.  The park was unstoppable.

Epcot book

I’ve posted this like three times… seriously get it

I recall my mother getting up crazy early and leaving the hotel well before the rest of us (my brother, my father and myself) in order to run to the Worldkey video kiosks and make dinner reservations for the family in France or Italy or Japan. It seemed like anything was possible, anything could happen at any time.

You could explore the depths of the sea or the depths of your imagination.  You could travel in time or in space.  You could visit the far corners of the world that you may never actually see. Most of all you could experience a pulsing almost electric sense of hope, optimism and excitement that simply does not exist today. I used to pretend to travel through time when I crossed the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase and then again as I swept through World Showcase. Every ride was pure and sincere in its intent.  There were no “hip” in-jokes or attempts to be a thrill park; it was all about looking forward to what seemed to be an impossibly great future.

There will never be another place like the original EPCOT Center. For 8 years or so the future was accessible in the present and the possibilities were limitless and I got to experience it all.

1) The first time (of course)

Every fan’s first trip to the parks is probably going to rank fairly high on a list of park memories, but I have a specific moment of that first trip that really stands out to me:

My dad had a business trip down to Orlando in the mid seventies.  Walt Disney World had opened a few years earlier and was getting lots of press.  Many families living on the eastern side of the U.S. had never been to Disneyland and had only a vague understanding of what it really was.  My father found himself visiting the Magic Kingdom while on this trip and came back with stories of Pirates, Presidents and transparent ghosts.  Being one of those families who had never been to Disneyland this was hard for me to digest.  I was a kid, maybe 7 or so… the closest I had been to Disney World was a pirate themed restaurant at the Jersey Shore… this was another world.

So off we went and while my first steps into Walt Disney World are lost to time this one event has become a touchstone of sorts for my family: My first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates Poster

Tell me again why I want to risk death or dismemberment?

My Dad had told us all about pirates attacking boats and sacking a town but I just could not compute what this meant.  I clung to my parents and did not want to go on this hellish trip no matter what they said.  Why on Earth would I want to be attacked by Pirates?  Why would I want to risk being shot at or stabbed?  Why would I want to drop down a waterfall and face living skeletons?  I cried like a baby, I did NOT want to go.  I begged and pleaded to skip this nightmare. We worked our way through the dark caverns of the queue as I made a last ditch effort to convince my parents that this was not for me… and then we went… and then it all changed.

Over the duration of that one ride, and perhaps really just the opening moments of that one ride I suddenly understood… it made sense to me. This was not real; this was a living fantasy.  This was going down the rabbit hole into a real-world Wonderland.  This was entering Willy Wonka’s factory and anything really could happen. This changed everything.

Vintage Pirates

The start of something big

The rest of that trip and the many more to follow were full of (I generally hate this phrase) magic.  It was a little kid being given the power to control where we went and when.  It was a kid having things he could previously only imagine materialize and become tangible. It was everything that later became important to me in life unfolding in front of me; whimsy and imagination, creativity and hard work, understanding that incredible things can happen and realizing that the smallest things can have the biggest impacts.

Decades later my inaugural ride on Pirates of the Caribbean is still my strongest and most meaningful Disney memory.

 And more

Frankly I could make a top 50 list.  So many memories of special trips with my family; of buying trick hot candy from the now extinct magic store (don’t get me going) and fooling my Dad into eating it. Memories of riding Big Thunder Mountain a dozen times in a row with my mother and now again with my daughter (at HER insistence not mine). Eating fried ice cream at the old Golf Coast Room, the special occasions on the Empress Lily or studying the maps that used to hang in every resort room and dreaming of what the never built hotels would look like. Riding the monorail with Ron Howard (total random coincidence) and giving him park tips and directions around the park or sneaking to the very top of the castle to peer down Main Street (I worked at WDW at the time).

More memories of riding in the front of the monorail and then recreating that again decades later with my own child. Swimming in River Country, buying crazy masks with my brother or crazy hats with my friend and then wearing them all day long. Our visits to Disneyland Paris or of riding any new ride for the first time. Being at the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland or simply strolling out of a quiet and empty park late at night. Disney has the ability to create legitimately special and long lasting memories for all of us.  It is not about selling up-charged character dinning meals or autograph books either.  At its simplest, Disney can create environments and occasions that are conducive to special things happening.  They give you permission to be silly, to be stupid in the best possibel way and to find delight in the smallest of things. I hope they never totally lose sight of that.  It is not about marketing, it is about allowing things to happen that can never happen in the “real world” and that is real magic.

Have any special memories of your own be they big it small? Let’s hear them.

Posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Paris Resort, Disneyland Resort, Epcot, Hong Kong Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland Resort, Tokyo DisneySea, Walt Disney World | 22 Comments

Return to Opening Day: EPCOT Center 1982

Here we are, 32 years removed from the start of the 21st century. And that’s not just a failing of the public school system. That’s EPCOT Center. It’s recorded in the history books. The 21st century began on October 1, 1982.

We shall now read from the book of First Spaceshipearthians, Chapter 19, verse 82

We shall now read from the book of First Spaceshipearthians, Chapter 19, verse 82

What kind of sell must this have been to an entertainment company? A theme park with rides based on (mostly American) commercial enterprises, and a United Nations lagoon. It’s as far from Disneyland in theme as you can possibly get. Audio Animatronic shows about good nutrition. A giant travelling theater through the wonders of fossil fuels. Travelogue movies to China.

It is almost unbelievable that such a thing could have been considered, let alone built, let alone built at this scale. Yet there it stands, a testament to just how locked in to Walt the company still was even a decade after his death. He conducted this symphony from the grave. They built his EPCOT, even if they didn’t understand it.

EPCOT stands out not just because it was so different, but because in spite of everything working against it, it turned out to be so amazingly awesome. It’s lost a lot of its bizarre forward-thinking optimism over the years, which has been gradually replaced by more traditional theme park experiences. The outer shells — the show buildings and pavilions, layouts and lagoons — are mostly identical to the structures seen on opening day, but the attractions inside are quite different. As we continue this journey into the past, let’s take a look at the opening day attractions:

  • Spaceship Earth
  • Listen to the Land
  • Symbiosis
  • Kitchen Kabaret
  • Universe of Energy
  • World of Motion
  • Magic Journeys
  • El Rio del Tiempo
  • O Canada
  • American Adventure
  • Wonders of China
  • Impressions de France
  • And a whole bunch of smaller exhibits in Communicore and in various postshows and countries

So here’s something interesting. Our beloved Figment ride is not on the list. Journey Into Imagination didn’t open until a few months later (1983). Even long-lost rides like Horizons and Living Seas were a few years off. So how much of original EPCOT remains?

At first glance, it might look like a surprising amount. A lot of those attractions sound familiar even today. But just how close are today’s versions compared to the 1982 originals?

Let’s get the easy stuff out the way. Communicore (now Innoventions) contains not a single shred of similarity. Instead of the Astuter Computer Revue and the Energy Exchange, we have the Great Piggy Bank Adventure and Sum of All Thrills. Even the requisite gift shop has changed names. Centorium, with its beloved second floor (did you remember that?) is history, replaced by MouseGear.

That's funny. I don't see a single fire truck or playstation.

That’s funny. I don’t see a single fire truck or playstation.

Magic Journeys was evicted from the 3-D theater in the late 80s, replaced by Captain EO — coincidentally still running today, despite a decade or so hiatus. Magic Journeys did briefly move to Magic Kingdom, where it ran in the theater that now houses Philharmagic, but it’s been gone for dozens of years now.

World of Motion of course is bye-bye. Test Track replaced it in the late 90s and the entire showbuilding was gutted.

Ahhh, much better.

Ahhh, much better.

Kitchen Kabaret lasted until the mid-90s, when it was replaced by Food Rocks, and then later by Soarin’.

Symbiosis was the movie that used to play in the Land Pavilion, but Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable evicted it at the height of Lion King’s popularity. And speaking of movies, O Canada retained its title, but the original film is virtually gone, replaced by Martin Short’s version (a few of the original CircleVision clips do still pop-up in the current version). Likewise, Wonders of China became Reflections of China. The film is mostly new footage, but retains the same narrative structure, being hosted by a long-dead Chinese poet.

Universe of Energy is nothing like its former self. Aside from the part everyone remembers (dinosaurs!) it’s a completely different show called Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The dinos really make up a small part of the total running time for the attraction.

Dinosaur aficionados will note the appearance of an Allosaurus.

Dinosaur aficionados will note the appearance of an Allosaurus.

Now things start to get a little more interesting…

Take Spaceship Earth, for example. Many of the original show scenes are surprisingly intact. AA figures may have been replaced over the years, but the ascent to the starfield is virtually identical to opening day. What has been lost, of course, is the original narration and score. Vic Perrin is history, and with Judy Dench we are now on our fourth incarnation. And for better or worse (okay, worse), the descent has become a completely empty tunnel, except for some bad flash animation and a few faint blue triangles.

The same sort of treatment also befell the original Mexico boat ride. Today’s Gran Fiesta Tour has scenes and sets that are virtually identical to opening day’s El Rio del Tiempo. But the Three Caballeros substantially altered the music and all film-based portions of the ride, which change the flavor of a classic dish to something a little more slick and over-polished.

And Listen to the Land (now Living with the Land) got the exact same treatment. If you rode the ride in 1982, everything might look the same, except for some changing plants in the greenhouse, but none of it would sound the same. Your onboard Cast Member guide has been vanquished in favor of a recorded spiel. And the bouncy theme song has long disappeared.

The Land Montage

But if you really want to experience EPCOT Center attractions as they appeared on Opening Day, your best bet is to leave Future World and head into World Showcase.

At the American Adventure pavilion, the world’s greatest animatronic show is still running strong, and looks and sounds almost identical to opening day. The montage movie during the Golden Dreams sequence may have been updated over the years, but otherwise the show hits all the same notes, from Ben and Mark’s awkward banter to Famed Naturalist John Muir’s awesome vest.

And if those minor montage additions bug you, the absolute purist sampling of original EPCOT can be had in France, where Impressions de France continues to be shown in all it’s 1980s bikini grandeur. Kevin Yee recently posted a photo tour of this classic film (and provided the inspiration for this series). The France movie has always been my favorite World Showcase film (maybe because you get to sit down, maybe because of my favorite sheep). It was particularly understated, letting the music and the visuals speak in place of a narration (for the most part). It didn’t follow Canada’s and China’s lead with a host narrator, and that one shot of all the pastries must be the most drool-inducing visual at Walt Disney World.

When you think about all the great EPCOT attractions we have lost over the years, it’s nice that we still have two (often under-appreciated) original attractions so very close to their 1982 appearance. 32 years and still going strong at the American Adventure and France pavilions!

Which leads us to the last stop on our time travel journey. The Walt Disney World original. A 1971 masterpiece. Of all our parks, the Magic Kingdom had the biggest list of attractions on opening day. Are any of them left?

 

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