I first set foot on Disney property, carried by my parents at 18 months old. At the time only Magic Kingdom, Epcot and MGM (Now Hollywood Studios) existed, the resort looks nothing like it does today. I’m sure my mother at the time who was about the same age I am now felt the same way, being that her first trip was in 1976.
I grew up with the mouse, from films, music, books, toys, games and most importantly Disney trips. Unlike many other kids I am lucky, I live 3 and half hours from property and trips to Disney were like trips to the beach for me.
When I was 19 I worked in the College Program and got to make the same magic I grew up with. I’ll be 26 this year and all the changes that have happened and continue to happen leave me in awe. It has left me wondering what has happened to MY Disney, and Disney has come a long way since Mickey’s house.
Though Mickey’s house no longer exists, and Starland which became Birthdayland and then Toontown fair is no longer there. It has since been replaced by Storybook Circus during the expansion of Fantasyland in 2012.
While I miss the Old Fantasyland having worked much of it during my time on College Program, I realized change is amazing. Disney has newer and newer technology every year and to see where they are taking their parks and resorts proves that they are keeping Uncle Walt’s dream alive, though many would argue otherwise.
But it makes people like me miss what was and what has been, MY Disney is a thing of the past. Below are 10 of my favorite rides and attractions of the past and a few of my own memories.
10. MGM Studios Backlot Tour and Catastrophe Canyon
Opened May 1, 1989
Closed September 27, 2014
Back when MGM opened on May 1, 1989 it was a race to the finish line, with Universal Studios Orlando erecting a park not even 10 miles down the road Disney had to step up their game. While the park was largely unfinished on opening day, it still had a great look into the movies and TV shows produced by Disney and up until very recently it still did.
The original version included a ride through the now pedestrian only New York Streets/Streets of America and a tour of the working studio. While I don’t recall the original version from the early 90’s at the time it was a real working studio and had both live action and animation happening on property.
Though as a kid I remember Catastrophe Canyon and being scared out of my wits as it caught fire and the tanker dropped. For me this was as real as it got, and I honestly believed we were in danger. The few memories I do have of the tour include the walking tour through the now closed Sound Stage 3 and seeing the exterior facade of the Golden Girls house.
All of the backlot is now closed, though some of the props still exist like Walt’s Plane and a few other film vehicles and will hopefully eventually be moved to make room for Star Wars.
Adam the Woo who creates videos about abandoned locations, as well fun Disney videos recently talked about his MGM studios and what the changes mean to him. Check him out below and check out some of his videos, he’s very informative.
9. Wonders of Life Pavilion
Opened October 19, 1989
Closed January 1, 2007
Epcot is my favorite Disney park, I love travel and learning so it is the perfect combination for me. While the World Showcase is my favorite, Future World had a lot of stuff I also loved. In Future World the idea is that you visit pavilions to learn about things, from how food goes from farm to table, how energy is made and even how your imagination works.
My favorite was Wonders of Life, I absolutely loved Body Wars, riding the bikes through the virtual town, playing with the sensory poles and so forth. To me Wonders of Life was the coolest place in all of Epcot, and Body Wars was my favorite ride in there.
After 2007 the building fell into disuse and like many Disney landmarks was reused for something that was unrelated, and if you have visited for Food and Wine OR Flower and Garden you know this wonder is now home to cooking demonstrations, gardening demonstrations, as well as items you can purchase commemorating the event.
It’s interesting to walk through the building and see the original carpet, watching Robert Irvine cooking inside the Cranium Command theater and just a ways off the eerie shadows from where the virtual bikes stood and the sensory poles mean nothing now. To me this was the real hit I took, because I loved the beautiful golden dome tucked behind a wall of trees and even as a teenager I made it a priority to ride Body Wars.
8. Food Rocks aka Kitchen Kabarat
Opened October 19, 1982; March 26, 1994
Closed January 3, 2004
Before Soarin came to Florida all the way from Sunny California, there was a pantry rocking in the space. I don’t actually remember Kitchen Kabarat but I remember Food Rocks and remember the silly little nutrition show from the tough guy bad for you metal band, the fun little candy bar gal singers, and so forth.
While I didn’t go to Food Rocks often, I did make a trip to see it once in my teens prior to it closing in 2004. Food Rocks was quirky and part of the original Epcot that many recall, but I am not too torn up about this one because Soarin is pretty awesome.
Currently Soarin is down for it’s own work up and a change to the film shown during the ride as well as the addition of another theater to accommodate the large crowds it draws.
7. Snow White’s Scary Adventures
Opening October 1, 1971
Closed May 31, 2012
One of the original Magic Kingdom rides, and it was probably one of the rides that terrified my mother the most in 1976 during her first visit to the park. While the ride had an overhaul by the time I rode it as a child, it is one of those classics that will always remain with you.
While I am not hurt that the ride closed, because I love Mine Train, I miss it because of the kitsch factor. Snow White was a staple in Fantasyland and was a bit terrifying, granted by the time I rode it for the last time at 21 it was just bad day-glow paint and outdated audio animatronics.
The reason it makes my list? It reminds me being a kid and going to the park with my family and taking my abuela to show her all the things I thought were cool.
6. Tarzan Rocks!
Opening July 9, 1999
Closed January 21, 2006
Like Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom was still missing things when it opened in 1998. Camp Minnie Mickey was placed as a holder when the park opened and the original concept of Beastly Kingdom never was. Along with Camp Minnie Mickey came Tarzan Rocks! which was the epitome of 90’s cool (Anyone remember Brink?).
The show which told the story of the movie, set to the original soundtrack brought the jungle to life with X-Games style tricks. The show was fairly popular with kids and adults and brought the movie to life in a way many could appreciate.
I remember always seeing Tarzan when we were there, sitting with an ice cream watching these guys on skates performing tricks and watching in awe as Jane and Tarzan swung across the stage and he skated and did tricks.
Looking back on it now, it was kind of strange but for 9 year old me, it was amazing. The show was replaced by Finding Nemo the Musical which according to my mom is kind of boring and I kind of have to agree.
5. River Country
Opened June 20, 1976
Closed November 2, 2001
Before you could conquer Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach or ride the water coaster at Typhoon Lagoon, there was River Country. River Country was opened as the first water park on property and part of the expanding Walt Disney World Resort. The water park which used water from the man made Bay Lake located feet away.
River Country was supposed to mimic an old time Southern swimming hole, and had not only slides but also a swinging pole and a zip line into the water. I only visited River Country once in 1997 and never set foot in the water, due to a thunder storm that swept the area.
I recall trying to wait it out but it never stopped raining, my mom and I eventually packed it up and went back to our hotel. River Country isn’t significant because of that event, to me is the mythos of the abandoned park. Unlike many structures like the drained and later filled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lagoon in Fantasyland that was destroyed, River Country has been left to rot in the Florida sun. The park is still in it’s original location, but unlike in 1997 it has become an eerie site of forgotten memories and gross green water.
But along with the eerie abandoned park, there is the fact that no one ever got a straight answer as to why the park closed. Many assume it was due to the rise in amoebas in Florida lakes and a few incidents with said amoebas, but Disney said it was about the cost along with their 2 other water parks, in the end it doesn’t matter because River Country closed and was never opened again.
Many folks have gone behind the gate and trespassed through the park to photograph or take videos of the long forgotten park, and Google Earth for those of us who aren’t as brave provides a great view of the park in it’s current state.
4. Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Festival of Fools
Opened June 21, 1996 (film opening day)
Closed September 28, 2002
I grew up during the height of the Disney Renaissance, I have a large collection of VHS and toys from that era. During the Renaissance Disney released what many would consider some of their best animated films, which was reflected in the parks in their stage shows and parades. A Festival of Fools was one of these shows, to the point that the large carnival scene with confetti was part of the promotions for the vacation kingdom.
Like many young kids in the 90s, Disney films were everything and my parents would take me to the movies to see them, buy me the VHS and usually my costume along with my school supplies was whatever movie was playing that year. Hunchback was one of those films, I loved the colors and Esmeralda was so cool. Besides Pocahontas she was the only Disney girl who looked like, tan skin and dark hair so I was hooked. I will say this I am still waiting for a Latina princess, it would be nice to see the representation but that’s a story for another day.
When I went to Disney that year and Festival of Fools was playing I couldn’t be more excited, here was a live version with the actual characters on stage. This was a large production with many players, toe tapping music and of course bright colors. It brought the movie to life in the most amazing way and to any 6-year-old the colors alone were enough to keep me glued, but seeing my hero Esmeralda was the icing on the cake.
Disney hasn’t quite produced a show like this in years, and unfortunately they seem to be a thing of the past. With kids more connected than ever, many of these stage shows I grew up with are slowly disappearing or being adapted to be more for the kids of New Disney.
3. Doug Live!
Opened March 15, 1999
Closed May 12, 2001
Sometime in the mid-90s Disney acquired Doug from Nickelodeon and the cartoon came to life on stage at Disney’s MGM Studios. The ABC Theater which up until recently held The American Idol Experience, has played host to plenty in it’s time in the park but Doug Live! was one of my favorites.
Doug was a huge part of my childhood and like Hunchback it was my favorite characters brought to life even down to Doug’s white shirt. The show featured a segment with The Beets Doug’s favorite band, and they would select an audience member to come up and play a part in the band my mom was one of the people selected. I remember thinking it was so cool that my mom got to be in the show that she was up on stage with Doug.
Oddly this show while short-lived served as one of my better childhood memories because of that little thing and thats the beauty of Disney magic.
2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Opened October 14, 1971
Closed September 5, 1994
I will preface this by saying, I never set foot on this ride, I was probably too small to ride before it closed and from what my family tells me this ride was always down. Like River Country it has become an obsession with the Mythos of the ride and the vastness of it, the ride area has disappeared today because let’s face it who needs a giant lagoon and show building taking up space?
I can remember that the ride had shut down and during the 90s it became home of the Character Festival which used the queue and the show building as a photo backdrop. Eventually the building was torn down and it was used to meet Ariel in her grotto. I spent a lot of my College Program with Ariel and I remember walking the catwalk to her grotto and for me it was a major nerd fest knowing that the catwalk was once apart of the ride I never got to enjoy as a kid. The obsession is so bad that back in 1999 I wrote a letter to the Walt Disney Company asking for them to remake the ride because of my obsession with this ride.
Why was I so obsessed? My dad used to tell the story about how the squid at the end scared him to the point of tears, and I as a very imaginative youngster thought it was real and was wondering how a squid could be kept in a cave at Disney World.
Obviously as I got older I began to realize that wasn’t the case, but a case of a realistic audio animatronics that had a scaled down Nautilus in it’s grips. I never saw the actual ride, but thanks to YouTube I have gotten to watch old family videos and have gotten to enjoy what was once.
While Walt Disney World does not plan to make another 20,000 Leagues, Disneyland currently has a Finding Nemo version that is the same concept and Japan has a water free one that is filled with new technology, so maybe one day?
1. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Opened October 1, 1971
Closed September 7, 1998
Mr. Toad’s still exists, just not on my side of the country unfortunately. I LOVED this ride and when I say I LOVED I mean I would make my family stand in line for hours just to ride it.
For me Mr. Toad’s was so cool and when you’re little and aren’t tall enough for Space Mountain this is just the thing to do it for you, it had bursts of speed, darkness, loud noises I mean it was just a fun ride.
I also loved this ride because my Abuela would go on it with me, she was always more than willing to stand in line for however long and enjoy the ride with me. I think it was such a hard blow because I was 8 and I was just starting to get into thrill rides, I think when I was 11 I rode my first upside down coaster at Sea World.
I can’t say I recall too many details, save for the part where the train tries to run you off the road and the light blinding you but I remember it had a steering wheel and I loved to pretend to drive recklessly and making my Abuela laugh at me.
Apparently the ride ended in like a hell scene? I can’t say I recall that but hey why not, can’t be all sunshine and rainbows right?
So for me this was the hardest blow, it was also around the same year I started realizing so much stuff was changing and I was so upset it was happening.
I guess I’ll have to go to Disneyland to enjoy Mr. Toad, and I hope to have the chance eventually. Mr. Toad’s today is Winnie the Pooh’s and I can’t say I hate it but it’s not something I am too crazy about, I still ride it though just to see the small homage to Mr. Toad. You can also catch a glimpse of Mr. Toad over in the cemetery at Haunted Mansion, he’s all the way in the back and to the left, say hi to him before you go!
That’s it, that’s my list of things that have changed and now with the continued changes coming in the next 5 or so years, I am starting to realize the parks I knew are no longer those parks but something else.
I will say this, I have a huge issue with the lack of an off season and Disney is getting a bit out of control with some of these races, festivals and what nots because it is making it hard for guests who are loyal and dedicated passholders to come when they can’t even get an on property room.
So with that said, sound off tell me what you miss, what you wish wasn’t the way it was or the things you are excited for!
If you have any suggestions, comments or concerns let me know, I’ll gladly share what I can!