Much More Than a Park
Upon opening Walt Disney World promised to be more than a clone of Disneyland. It was an entire vacation kingdom. Disney offered many activities outside of the park: water sports, camping, golf, tennis, horseback riding and more. Among these diversions was The Fiesta Fun Center, a unique paradise hidden within the Contemporary Hotel.
Disney wanted to attract more than one-day visitors to a fun park, they set their eyes on the convention crowd. The Contemporary Hotel boasted a plethora of exhibition spaces and conference rooms. The hotel featured rooms such as the Gulf Coast Room designated for smaller events. For larger gatherings, Disney offered the Ballroom of the Americas. This large space even hosted one of the most famous speeches in presidential history.
The Contemporary also set aside an impressive swath of conference space on the ground floor called the Sunshine State Exhibitorium. We are not sure of the exact size of this room but it was massive, many thousands of square feet. It took up a huge chunk of real estate behind and next to the check-in counters. A cavernous and sparsely decorated box designed for mid-sized conventions. It only lasted a couple of years until Disney converted it to something special: The Fiesta Fun Center was born!
A Dream Come True
The new facility was a fantastic compliment to the rest of Walt Disney World. The Fiesta Fun Center (no idea why a Mexican theme was seemingly arbitrarily assigned to this) was an enormous arcade/game room/snack bar/movie theater. It featured endless rows of arcade games, pinball machines, ski-ball, pool tables, and air hockey. Most amazing was a full-scale shooting gallery, but more on that in a moment.
Arcades of the era were generally small and dark. They were cramped spaces with a couple of dozen games jammed into a 500 square foot corner of a mall. The Fiesta Fun Center was different. It was immense and brightly lit with high ceilings. The vast room reminded me of a casino in size and layout as well as the racket of noise it generated. Hundreds of arcade games formed rows so long that one could barely see to the end. A dozen air hockey tables lined up next to pool and foosball tables across from popcorn carts.
Morgana, a bizarre fortune-telling machine, was housed in a futuristic blue console. She told fortunes via a floating head projection that felt very much like a Haunted Mansion effect. There was even a caricature artist who sketched guests while displaying the results on an overhead projector for all to see. Combined this created a disorienting atmosphere unlike anything I could have dreamt.
In retrospect its convention center origins were obvious. It was one colossal mostly unadorned box lit with banks of fluorescent lights. While sparsely decorated it did highlight a character mural featuring some of the Disney stable wearing sombreros and shaking maracas. The meager Mexican theming was incongruous to the hotel. The simplicity makes more sense now understanding that it was a quick and inexpensive flip.
On one visit we had a special Golden Key pass. This allowed for unlimited food from the attached snack bar. Disney served a very specific type of Pizza at the time (also available at the Stargate Restaurant in Epcot). I must have downed my weight in pepperoni on that visit. The snack bar ran along the right side of the space beyond the caricature booth. Past that was a movie theater playing Disney films. At various times the movies were either free or accessible for a nominal fee. Kids could enjoy Herby the Love Bug, The Fox and the Hound or other similar lesser Disney fare. At one time they played nothing but Tron all day, every day.
I loved the place; I may have loved it more than the parks. It combined everything an adolescent boy could ask for; games, movies, junk food, and autonomy! Parents felt comfortable dropping their kids off here alone. I would run up and down the aisles amazed by the selection of games bouncing from Dig-Dug to Q-Bert to Battlezone. But one feature of the Fiesta Fun Center stood head and shoulders above the rest.
The Lost Shooting Gallery
The shooting gallery was easily the star for me. This was what transformed the Fiesta Fun Center into something unique and special.
This full-sized attraction was similar to the one in the Magic Kingdom. Participants used light rifles to aim at a crazy mash-up of animated targets. There was no singular cohesive theme. It featured a western saloon, a medieval castle, various pirate and ghost props, random toys, and some vaguely Song of the South like cartoon characters. Each target had a small red disc nearby. Hit that disc with your light beam and watch the prop light-up, animate or create a sound to reward you. Skulls would chatter, shoes would dance, frogs would sing and cannons would fire.
I could sense that it was not quite as good as the main gallery in the park. It was less focused and less elaborate. However it was in my hotel lobby an elevator away from my room and available to me 24 hours a day. It held its own charm and had many inventive targets and effects. I spent hours with that gun on my shoulder getting proficient enough that I was virtually guaranteed not to miss.
Soon I relished showcasing my skills to the rest of the world. I would saunter up to the rail, plunk in a quarter and hoist the gun to my shoulder. Then I would wait. I’d sight the target but not shoot. I would survey those around me (novices all of them). After they inevitably missed, I would unleash my shooting prowess. BANG! The bottle dropped from the bar-top. BANG! The cat screeched in terror. BANG! The pirate skeleton rose from his barrel. BANG! The swords fought each other. I was the sheriff of this here fun center folks. You best be heeding my words and showing your respect or I will embarrass you and your rudimentary shootin’ skills again!
Even when I started working at the Magic Kingdom some years later I would visit the Fiesta Fun Center and particularly the shooting gallery. It always was a special corner of the world for me. And then it was gone.
In time Disney reduced the room in size several times. First, they eliminated the theater, then the shooting gallery and later the majority of games as well. With each overhaul chunks of the Fiesta Fun Center vanished and the physical space shrank. By the mid-’90s the room was a sad shadow of its former glory. Devoid of the shooting gallery, little more than a typical dank arcade, not unlike dozens of others limping along across the country.
In 2008 The Wave, a generic “modern” restaurant, replaced the final remnants of the space. The Food and Fun Center (as it was renamed) closed for good.
It appeared as though we would never experience the majesty of the Fiesta Fun Center and its miraculous shooting gallery again.
One last chance?
However there may still be an opportunity to experience the shooting gallery or a close facsimile.
McGlashan Enterprises manufactured the shooting gallery. They were the leading producer and the innovators of shooting galleries, starting with guns that shot actual lead pellets through to the invention of the light gun. McGlashan indeed created the original shooting galleries for Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom as well as Tokyo Disneyland. Disney purchased a series of stock shooting gallery elements from McGlashan, possibly augmenting them or adding some design work. Similar McGlashan shooting galleries appeared at other parks such as Six Flags and Cedar Point and some may still be in operation today!
Some recall Disney specific targets, others remember more generic effects. I do not recall any Disney specific designs. There were Disney-esque elements to be sure; pirate skulls, ghosts, those frogs and gators, but nothing specific.
There is also a lot of confusion surrounding the eventual resting place of the original Fiesta Fun Center shooting gallery. Several years back an eBay auction claimed to be selling the actual Disney used gallery. They even had blueprints from Walt Disney Imagineering (then known as WED) showing details and installation instructions. It has been rumored that Cedar Point purchased the shooting gallery once it was removed from the Fiesta Fun Center. Conversely a private collector also claims to own it.
Various videos do show a similar shooting gallery at Cedar Point. It is impossible to determine if this is the original or not. Regardless there may be a working version of the base gallery out there in the wild right now. A fiesta of fun I would love to have one last time.
The video below purports to be the actual Disney unit in later operation at Cedar Point. Who knows if this is THE shooting gallery or simply a similar one purchased from McGlashan? It is missing certain effects found in the original. In either case, it gives a sense of the silliness the gallery offered:
Does anyone remember the Fiesta Fun Center in its heyday of the early to mid-1980s? Do you recall the endless games or the tucked away theater? Did you ever get to shoot at the ship in the bottle or the sea serpent? Perhaps I was next to you at the rail once, if so I apologize for embarrassing you. There can only be one sheriff in town folks and I still wear that badge!
I grew up in South Florida in the 70s-80s and between the arcade and the monorail, tower rooms were our first choice. People probably don’t remember or know but early 80s there were dead months at WDW, we’d drive up without reservations and get rooms at the desk (I remember a bill around $70/night, but they probably cheaper than that at times). Me and my sister would (of course) wake up at the crack of dawn and we’d get $5 and head down to FFC until my parents were up and ready to head to the park.
I loved the shooting gallery and played endless air hockey games. FFC was fabulous, today’s arcades may be more high tech but FFC was light years better than anything else of its time.
Wow. Those were the days!
My parents would let me go down to the ‘arcade’ by myself or with my accompanying cousin as a kid and pre-teen (I admit. although I recall the signs, I never called it the Fiesta or Food and Fun Center back then).
I LOVED being in the giant space – they would have to drag us out of there so we wouldn’t miss our Epcot dinner reservations …usually running to Bistro d’ France or taking the boat to Alfredo’s to barely make it.
I looked forward to playing ‘Punch Out’ all year before our school vacation trip, the pre-Mike Tyson arcade version. Hearing the game sounds takes me right back – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T8hoeVpdV0
When I went back with my wife in 2003, walked down to the back of the lobby only to find something called The Wave, a small part of me died inside! Take me back so I can get a foil wrapped hot dog and a Mousekateer Bar.
It was called the Fiesta Fun Center because the whole interior of the resort had a southwestern theme originally. The monorail area, with the giant, “southwestern” Mary Blair Mural, is still called The Grand Canyon Concourse, and the rooms and carpets had 70’s style Mexican and Native American colors and patterns as well as Mary Blair artwork from the concourse mural in the rooms.
The exterior of the building was modern, in part to blend into the background of Tomorrowland, but from inside the Contemporary? …if the giant Thunder Mesa area of Frontierland “had been built”? It would have been a huge part of your view from a Contemporary “theme park view” room. Since Thunder Mesa wasn’t built, the Grand Canyon theme maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense
Yea I know but from a practical stand point it made zero sense at the time.
Hi! Great article. I was just informed about McGlashan and found your article in a search. I’m an historian for Freedomland, one of the parks created by CV Wood after he left Disney. Now working on my second book about the park. We had two shooting galleries. A lot of what Wood contracted for at Freedomland involved vendors he used during the construction of Disneyland. I’ve never been able to determine who created the Freedomland galleries, 1959/1960, until someone in the business mentioned possibly McGlashan, because of the Disney association. Is there any place to find out more about the company, it’s products and if they created the Freedomland galleries?
Thanks for the wonderful descriptions. That video of the shooting gallery, with its sounds, brought back every little detail. I’d bet money I was one of the kids watching you in amazement at the shooting gallery!
I remember that place!!! We stayed at the Contemporary twice! I remember getting my caricature done – I still have it around someplace! I feel like my parents actually let me and my sister go down by ourselves too! Maybe we were 12/14 then?? It was a lot of fun
HA! We are glad you found us and have good memories of the Fiesta Fun Center, it was really a great place.
I remember the arcade fondly. I was disappointed when I went back years later to relive some memories and the arcade was gone. I think at that time it was was a minimal snack joint before it changed to its current “The Wave”.
Not coincidentally, today my mom gave me my caricature that was done there. Unfortunately no year was printed on the art. Guessing 1977.
Ha! I drew caricatures in the fiesta fun center for a summer in the 80s. That place was always busy.
This article was so timely for me! I was describing the Fiesta to my son (he’s now 16), and how my dad (his grandfather) and I would spend hours in this arcade. We both loved hitting any arcades, especially during the golden age of video games – but this was the big bad one of the bunch. The size was jaw-dropping especially for an teenager in the 80s like I was.
Got to show him the article, along with the photos, only a week after telling him about it! We’re all Disney fans in my family…I had an AP for over 10 years until COVID meant no Disney parks for a while. Both of my kids had APs too, as did my sister and her family. In fact, we own a vacation home in Windsor Hills. Alas, like the Fiesta, the “before times” of places like theme parks are already fading. I’m an essential worker so I can fly across the border, but I’m not risking catching COVID to visit the parks since it’s little more than hitting attractions (like eating cake without any frosting).
Really looking forward to spending more time on this site. While not a local, or a former cast member, I do have over 100 visits just to WDW, starting close to the resort’s opening. I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go over those years.
Glad you found us Jason!
Have fun digging through our archive of stuff, remember we tend to joke a lot. Also check out our Facebook group if you want.
I remember the Food and Fun Center. We usually stayed at the Poly but I would always monorail hop and visit it. One time at the cinema they shoed Song of the south. You can’t get away with that today. I vividly remember the shooting gallery. The sound of the sea monster to the right of the croc and frogs is burned into my memory. I played a lot of Return of the Jedi and Temple of doom there.Those were some great times. The last time I was there was 1988ish. I visited The Wave today to get pics and soak in memories.
Song of the South is what I most remember seeing in the theater as well!
My folks started taking me to WDW in 1973. I remember the Fiesta Fun Center as a favorite place to hang out, go see a B-list Disney movie, get a caricature done, etc. And you’re right. The theming seemed a bit incongruous, unless you consider some of the restaurant theming and mural by Mary Blair upstairs in the concourse area.
And of course, back then one of the hottest draws was Atari’s video game called Space Arcade, in its mod yellow 70’s enclosure.
Morgana still survives, and she has been part of my preservation efforts spanning almost 50 years.
Also the giant sized Hercules Pinball machine, and a few other early games from 70s and early eighties Fiesta Fun Center…
Also preserved in my archives are several if the baseball and gun games from the Main Street Penny Arcade.
Oh wow! Is there anything online we can see about your collection?
Just web search my name
So random question.
In that last picture of the arcade before closure.
What in the world is that star wars game?
The one next to the two pod racer cabinets.
It’s not star wars arcade.
And I swear never seen a SW arcade game like that.
As much as I would like to tell you that we will look into it and then get back to you with an unsatisfying answer 10 years from now, sadly I cannot do that.
This is Star Wars Starfighter, a game that was released in the early 2000’s to be used in places like Dave and Buster’s. There have been many Star Wars arcade games, some released within the last few years.
As a lifelong Orlando resident, staying at Disney resorts was not something we typically did but we once stayed at the Contemporary as part of a weekend package my dad’s company paid for. This would have been sometime in the mid-80’s, and while I don’t recall the shooting gallery, the pictures of that cavernous arcade brought memories from that trip flooding back. In fact, as soon as you mentioned that it was next to the check-in area, I had the same thought as another reader about The Wave’s lack of windows.
If you were there in the mid 80’syou hit it in its full glory. It only lasted about ten years before they started reducing the offerings and the size.
It’s always fun when something triggers fond memories!
I love this post. I had no idea about the Fiesta Fun Centre, but have visited the Wave bar/restaurant quite a few times. I’m surprised it’s that recent, as the decor makes it look a lot older. This also makes sense as to why there are no windows as it was a conference centre. I was only discussing the lack of windows on our last visit in January. Keep up the good Parkeology work 🙂
Yes, understanding that it was created as a convention space makes it easier to understand why it was a huge windowless box. As far as the Wave goes, Disney rarely does trendy stuff well. In most cases they should stay way from trying to ride current trendy waves (pun intended). By the time they get around to doing something, and then working through miles of approvals and reviews, and then making it all super safe and family friendly… well the trend is long over and they are left with oddly dated results. This was at its worst in the mid ’90’s to the early 2000’s when every attraction tried to be hip and edgy and featured some sort of waining celebrity.