6 Things I Can’t Believe Still Exist at Disney World

It’s hard for me to believe that Horizons, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Skyway, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride have been gone for 15 or 20 years now. There are readers of this blog in college who never knew what it was like to smell oranges, experience claustrophobic panic attacks, anonymously spit on people from above, or go to hell.

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

My parents’ generation had that Civil Rights movement thing, and even today young people still picket and protest over perceived social injustices, but my crowd staged sit-ins over the right to watch a plywood toad honk at us for three minutes.

It’s been awhile since Disney closed a classic attraction (okay, it was last summer). But certainly nothing as totally beloved as Horizons or Toad. We all have ideas on what should stay and what should go. But ever since Disneyland shut down the Phantom Boats less than a year after park opening, attractions have been fair game for the chopping block, if such a metaphor is even possible.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

But attractions are things that Disney can market. The all-important ride count. You can’t just shut down a major animatronics show without a significant capital investment to replace it. So today I’d like to look at 6 things that are not attractions, that somehow still linger inside Walt Disney World, in spite of the world passing them by.

Film and Camera stores

There’s a shop on Hollywood Boulevard called the Darkroom, which still advertises itself as selling cameras and film. I never understood what kind of family would show up at a theme park and plunk down huge retail mark-up cash for a camera, even when people still carried cameras. But nowadays, you’re either a serious photographer (in which case you have your own Canon SLR SuperMax Ultra Plus with a set of matching lenses), or you have a phone.

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, and computer punch cards

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, White-Out, and computer punch cards

What about the store under Spaceship Earth which is still called the Camera Center? Is there an Amish family wandering in for a day at Epcot, badly in need of a role of 35mm film for their antiquated Kodak point-and-shoot? Even on the off-chance that there are a few luddites passing through the gates, shunning their Magic Bands for the old rubber-stamp paper tickets and the UV ink handstamp for re-admission, they can’t possibly be purchasing enough film to keep these stores in the black.

Yes, I know the camera and film selection at these places has dwindled significantly over the years, but it assumes that not only are there people out there who tote these cameras around on vacation in a giant diaper bag (as opposed to a phone in their pocket), it also assumes that these people, in their absentmindedness, forgot to buy film for their family heirloom. Invest in an iphone, people. You’ll be better off in the long run. Which leads me to…

Pay Phones

The number of pay phones sitting out in the open is incredible. I have not seen an individual use one of these in at least 5 years. And yet at every bathroom, you’ll find a bank of 2 or 3 silver plated privacy cubbies where some relic receiver from a 1950s police show is hung on a braided silver wire, just waiting for you to drop in a quarter or try to call someone collect (do people still do that?)

"Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?"

“Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?”

There must be hundreds of pay phones across property, and while I’m sure the maintenance budget on those things is small, how much cash can they possibly be raking in? A buck-twenty-five every week or so? What kills me is that each and every one of these phones has a nice shelf beneath it, upon which sits a paper-bound volume the size of an encyclopedia, which I presume is the Orlando Area Yellow Pages. Trees are dying for this, and as proof of how useless they are, I bet half of you don’t know what an encyclopedia is either.

In today’s google-centric world, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to page through one of those phone books in search of a good pizza place for after I’m done touring the parks. They should rip every one of those phone banks out and replace them with device charging stations.

The Electrical Water Pageant

Let’s be honest: As much as we might like the old school Disney charm of something that has been a mainstay at the resort for more than 30 years, how has this little water parade managed to stick around? They trot it out every night, with its 1970s tableau of primitive Christmas Tree decorations synchronized to music. It floats past three or four hotels like a funny little ice cream truck, then rolls back into its cave and goes to sleep.

It’s not an attraction. It barely warrants mention in any of the marketing materials. I don’t see it advertised much at the resorts, other than an occasional line item in the standard resort newsletter. There are no Designated Water Pageant Viewing Areas. Nobody is booking a stay at the Contemporary because of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Electrical Water Pageant. But I like it because it is quaint and low-tech and it reminds me of Walt Disney World’s more innocent past. But for a company as forward thinking as Disney, I’m surprised this bit of obvious nostalgia has survived.

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Comments (39)

  1. Love your blog! I was recently in WDW in January and actually did not notice the pay phones! We did notice the camera shop in Epcot and my 22 year old pointed out how outdated it was…..but the one thing my children (younger one is 19) thought was hilarious was Captain Eo……! That was cool back in the day but now….??!

  2. My dad is almost 90 and in a nursing home. I sent him a post card every day on our road trip to Florida from Canada, 21 postcards. He was absolutely delighted and so was the entire nursing home. He took us to the Magic Kingdom in 1975 camping at Fort Wilderness, the best campground ever and I was glad to share our trip in this way.

  3. While I agree with you that postcards are swiftly becoming a thing of the past, I am a huge advocate of the hand-written note and feel it is a dying art form that should be preserved. Also, people still love to receive postcards! As such I was looking for some to send home to my parents while my husband and I were on vacation at WDW (our first trip EVER) last month, and was severely disappointed to find a very limited selection at the Emporium and nowhere else. The selection was so pathetic I ended up not buying any. This is an extremely sad state as all the parks used to produce gorgeous postcards, many of which were works of art themselves.

  4. I love this post! I was and still am a huge Mr Toad fan. I miss that ride the most! I wish my children and now grandson could experience it! What great pictures you posted of things we really had no idea would once be gone.
    The Adored Home

  5. OMG, I laughed so hard all the way through this little narrative of yours! It was absolutely spot on, although I will admit to being old enough that the payphones had never really struck me as being obsolete until you pointed out the obvious. I just see them and don’t give them a second thought. Could this be because, horror of horrors, WE DON’T TAKE OUR CELL PHONES ON OUR DISNEY TRIPS! And no, they are not 1 day trips. We fly from another country for no fewer than 7 nights and as many as 10. We will be there in September for 9 whole nights without a cell phone. And no, we have never needed one and if we did need a phone, well, as you so eloquently pointed out, we could always use a pay phone!

  6. I like the payphones now. My sister had me call her while she and her family were eating at pecos bill’s. I’m still not sure why we thought it was so funny (“Hey, we’re using a payphone…at pecos bill’s!”) but it was.

    I suppose if you wan’t to talk to a tourist about their taco salad, just call 407 824 9875 (its still in my phone under ‘bill, pecos’). There’s actually a whole list of wdw pay phone numbers somewhere but i’m too lazy to find it now.

  7. I miss the postcards! I always send postcards from “Mickey” to kids who have upcoming trips to Disney World. Those little critters always think that Mickey or Minnie really sent them a postcard saying they can’t wait for them to come visit.

  8. Disney Quest is actually kind of hilarious now, I hope they don’t update it, it’s like taking a time machine back to the year 1998, a year I certainly don’t mind revisiting

    Disney Quest is like a late 90’s version of a 50’s/60’s “World of Tomorrow” attraction and that alone makes it worth preserving

  9. I’m not a huge fan of Ellen DeGeneres, but I think she’s still recognizable, and hasn’t had any scandals, so there’s no reason to update Universe of Energy.

    Unless some other sponsor steps up, the thought of UoE updates are frankly scary. I would miss the current version if we were subject to “Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Dinosaurs” or “Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow cavorts in the primordial world for some reason”

    • What’s funny Dean is that your scary ideas are what I think about the current version!

      The original had wonderful music and dramatic films. They replaced it with Ellen and “current” which translates to very quickly dated references.

      I agree that Ellen herself is more popular than ever but the show is really showing its age.

      But sadly I also agree that any update could be worse.

      • I’m not a fan of the current iteration of UoE; I just think that Ellen Degeneres & Bill Nye haven’t done anything that would require Disney to remove them, and that’s enough for park management to leave it as-is.

        Like you, I wish they’d restore the original show. When I recently stepped into the preshow for the first time in 28 years, I suddenly remembered the Radok film, and then was sadly disappointed when it was just an elaborate Jeopardy joke.

  10. I think a lot of people buy postcards for scrapbooking, FWIW.

  11. What part is a “sad joke”? The Jean Shepherd narration or the last scene (which does need some attention) ??

    • The last update was 1993. When grandma is playing virtual reality games and dad is talking to 20 year old voice activated appliances there is a problem!

      But beyond that the last time I rode a month ago fathers head was broken in scene 3 and hung straight down.

      But let’s take an even broader view: in the 60’s the turn if the century was just 60 years or so earlier so the scenes were evenly spaced 15 – 20 years apart. If it were rehabbed today there would a 50 year jump in the last scene!

      They almost would need to redo the ENTIRE attraction and one could argue that it is not even COP at that point.

      • The father’s head being broken is not CoP’s fault; that’s just bad maintenance. Look how bad Splash had to get before something was finally done (and that is a flagship ride).

        As to the last scene problem, I agree with you. The jumping ahead in the future wouldn’t be TOO bad because the point of the show is that the current generation always thinks they have it made. “Now that we have (insert device here), we’ve have achieved man’s vision for…”

        The big problem may be the whole “which future is possible” angle. There is not much futuristic stuff happening in that last scene EVEN FOR 1993! Virtual reality and voice recognition, etc.
        “Passports to dreams old and new” just did a great analysis on “The Tomorrowland problem.” Basically, it’s should Tomorrowland go for an obtainable future (classic) or a wacky one (New Tomorrowland of 1994-present).

  12. Love the article, but I have to take issue with the Carousel of Progress swipe.

    Yes, I know it is passe, but it’s the only attraction that Walt himself actually touched at WDW. It should keep going forever (in some form) because it’s good for prestige (and an A/C break).
    It symbolizes the hope of bygone era when we looked to the future with optimism instead of apocalyptic dread.

    • But the problem is that they have allowed it to become a sad joke.

      I understand the importance and history of COP more than most… But what’s there today actually operating is embarrassing.

    • I watched CoP during a visit in March 2012, and it was OK. There was obviously wear on the paint and plenty of dust, but the sound was decent, the lights were synced with the scrims properly, and it didn’t stop during any of the acts.
      I’m visiting this November with my parents, and I’m very worried about this ride. My dad saw CoP as Progressland at the 1964 World’s Fair, and it’s the only attraction he’s insisted we see. (He’s also a Jean Sheperd fan, so the current soundtrack isn’t a detraction). I would really hate to travel a thousand miles, only to have the one damned attraction he wants to see be in the sorry state I’ve heard about in recent reports. The reports of Father’s broken neck in Act 3 are discouraging to say the least.
      As much as I hate to see it leave, the proper home for CoP may be the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, where they can restore it to the original script, and present it on a rotating stage.

  13. Can’t get enough Disney postcards! Been collecting them for years and disappointed with their current collection…

    • It’s been a long time since I’ve paid close attention to the postcards. I assume it is the same stock photos of Splash Mountain and Spaceship Earth that they’ve had for years. I love the various postcard collections that are out there (there are a few exceptional websites and books devoted to them). So just to reiterate, I am not anti-postcard. Just surprised that Disney isn’t either.

      • I think thy still make a modest profit o the post cards and it is one of those small ticket items that no one has really looked at too closely.

        It is really the Water Pagent that surprises me the most. They make ZERO money of fof it and yet with the storage, maintainence, fuel and so on I bet it costs a bit to run. I am sure it will nto last much longer and the loss of it will be another perfect example of who they have slowly harmed themselves and lost a lot of the charm over the years… I’m looking at you Magic Shop.

  14. What a great idea to replace the pay phones with charging stations! That is genius! I agree on so many points you raise!!!
    I will say I still buy the postcards and I do send postcards home to my kid’s friends who are too young to own a phone!!! I also buy the full postcard collections and use one a day to write down what we did that day as sort of a journal of our trip.

    • The journaling idea is a fun one. Back in the days before the proliferation of digital cameras, I would buy several dozen postcards each trip just to keep in the photo album as a memoir.

      Disney is also slowly getting on the charging station bandwagon. The new Rapunzel restrooms have a dedicated area for charging, but it would be nice if there were more convenient spots around property.

    • I think the pay phones remain because they aren’t subject to the biggest cost of them in the “real world” – vandalism. That $1.25/week is profit to the phone company, since they never have to send anyone in to replace a handset that’s been torn off, or remove a plugged coin slot.

      The charging station is a nice idea, but I can’t imagine waiting around for an hour watching my phone charge. I figure the only way current park management would put those in is if they could figure out a way to make money off it. Come to think of it, if charging stations do appear at phone booths, they’ll probably be combined with DVC kiosks – you’ll have to sit through a DVC membership pitch while you charge.

      • Many many public locations including Disney parks currently have charging stations.

        Some have small pay lockers you can lock your phone in while it charges.

        • OK, that pay lockers make sense and would provide a profit stream.
          I really hope no one from DisneyParks read my joke about using the phone booth space as DVC kiosks

      • Disney has already started installing charging stations, and they’re free of charge (see what I did there?).

    • I do the same thing with the post cards. The younger generations have the phones and freely share their lives on social media. I make it a point to purchase the post card stamps before I leave home. When we drive to FL, we stop at welcome centers to purchase generic Florida cards, then when we reach
      WDW I begin the search for DW post cards. Believe it or not, people enjoy receiving them in the mail! They are like little treats that arrive with bills. I encourage you to experience sending post cards on your next visit. You’ll be surprised how you feel as you go through the process, and you’ll find yourself waiting to hear the responses of those who receive them!

  15. The water pageant always surprises me. We got a great deal on a room at the Contemporary for the half-marathon in 2012. Turns out it was a “garden room” off to the side and near the lake. What I was sure to be police lights one evening turned out to be the pageant outside of our window. That was the one redeeming aspect of staying in this far-off annex of the resort. I really enjoy the music (though it can sound like police sirens).

    I do sort of miss having a magic shop on property. I remember having the great idea to buy one of those invisible dog leashes. It was funny for about five minutes and then I had to figure out how to carry around that piece of rope-covered rebar around with me for the rest of the day.

    • It is stunningly loud! It’s been awhile since I’ve stayed at a Seven Seas Lagoon hotel, but the last time was probably 10 years ago, and it was a garden room for the Contemporary. It was far louder than any parade in the parks. It felt like an annoying teenager with road-shaking bass had rolled up outside my window, only instead it was a blinking Octopus with a wah-wah horn.

  16. You answered your own question regarding the Water Pageant. It reminds me of my childhood days at Disney. I love that damn show, and would hate to see it go away. It doesn’t matter if it’s low tech. People still love seeing it for the memories brings back each time they view it. THAT is why the pageant is still there, and hopefully will be there for a long time to come.

    • I’m glad it’s still there, and I agree with you about the reason for its charm. But I don’t think it makes one bit of difference to Disney the corporation. They’ve ripped out dozens of more beloved and charming things than this. Hence, I’m surprised this one hasn’t bitten the dust.

      • I have a strong suspicion that Disney Parks and Resorts has no idea that the Electrical Water Pageant even exists. Surely it would have been done away with (or at least infused with Fairies, Pirates, and Princesses) long ago if they knew about it. It just makes its quiet rounds every night, a wonderful vestige of the past, unbeknownst the suits in charge who hardly visit the actual parks themselves, let alone the sandy shores of Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.

  17. Shane just LOVES his lists… it’s kind of his thing…

    In this case I agree that pay phones are a little nuts… and they have a TON of them. During WDW47 we noticed just how many there were… everywhere. But I also disagree with about half the list… I love the postcards and I am geeky enough to also appreciate holding on to bits of the past liek the water pagent.

    But to be fair these are things Shane cannot believe are still there… not things he is unhappy are still there.

    • Yeah, give me some credit people! I’m not arguing for the removal of these things (well, maybe the phone booths). I’m just saying I’m shocked Disney hasn’t ripped this stuff out a long time ago.

      Believe me, if I wanted to rant about stuff Disney needs to get rid of, I could probably come up with a hundred things before I got to the Electrical Water Pageant, and I’m not exaggerating.

      For instance, have you seen this hat at the Studios…?

  18. I worked main entrance at one of the parks for a little while, and one of my favorite things was fist bumping everyone who put their fist out for the “UV ink handstamp for re-admission” as they were leaving.

    • Disneyland still does the UV handstamp! It was charming in the extreme, when I was there in December. I think because Disneyland is still mostly a “day” park, and WDW has the temptation for abuse with multi-day tickets, the authentication process has to be a little more stringent.

      But I still love me some UV ink. And looking for it on all the dark rides.

  19. I have to agree with you on the camera/film stores and the payphones (with the exception of the red phone booths, of course). But, I will take issue with you over the postcards – I’m the opposite – I wish they had a bigger selection of them. The ones that are there are old and outdated. I’d actually like to send them if they had more to choose from and would update them on occasion.

    • As a collectible, I love the postcards, but mainly because they are often showing scenes that are long gone. I can’t really see myself spending money for new ones. It’s simply too limiting compared to the plethora of digital pics online. And I definitely wouldn’t bother much with trying to send one out, though I can appreciate why it might be fun for people.

      But also keep in mind, I’m not saying these things SHOULD be gone. Just surprised that they aren’t, given today’s world.

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