Today the 50 Days to 50 Years time machine takes us back to Walt Disney World 1989. Thank you to CanaDisney creators, Crystal and Bryan from Ontario, Canada. Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our northern neighbors!
Walt Disney World 1989
1989 was a huge year for Walt Disney World. The Resort’s 3rd gate, Disney-MGM Studios, had its grand opening on May 1, 1989!
I first visited Walt Disney World as a child in 1988. I don’t remember much from that initial visit. However, the one vivid memory I do have was of something that wasn’t even open yet – Disney MGM Studios. It was under construction and we missed the opening by a mere 6 months! It took me 18 years but I eventually got to visit the Disney-MGM Studios. Coincidentally, it was shortly before the MGM name was dropped. I can tell you it was worth the wait. Call me crazy, but the Studios are my second favorite park. (Only ranking behind the Magic Kingdom, of course.)
The Curtain Goes Up On Disney-MGM Studios 1989
The history and origin of Disney-MGM Studios back in 1989 is fascinating. Disney needed to expand Disney World to enhance its appeal in the face of competition from a proposed Universal Orlando park. At the same time, the Disney Company was also ramping up productions. Of course, the company needed facilities to house said production. Since they already had an excess of land in Florida, they decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Therefore, the idea for the Studios was born. A partnership with MGM was formed to help expand the Studios’ scope beyond that of a park merely based on Disney films. Disney scrambled to beat Universal to the punch and the Disney MGM Studios opened in May 1989. Amazingly, they beat the ‘competition” by one year.
The Great Movie Ride
The concept of a Disney theme park combined with a working television & movie production lot was a huge hit with visitors. Unfortunately, in Disney’s zeal to get the Studios open ahead of Universal Studios the park was far from fully realized on opening day. In spring of 1989 Disney MGM Studios featured just FOUR attractions. These were: The Great Movie Ride, Backlot Tour, Magic of Disney Animation, and the Monster Sound Show. The Studios frequently became overwhelmed with visitors. Disney Imagineers scrambled to implement live shows to supplement the original few attractions to help absorb some of the crowds. Not surprisingly because of these origins, to this day the Studios is known as perhaps THE park for live shows at WDW.
The Studios have expanded and grown over the years right before our very eyes. Perhaps more so than any other Disney World park. “Star Tours” and the “Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular” were introduced a few months after park opening. Luckily, these remain popular attractions to this day. A fireworks show, “Sorcery in the Sky”, was also added to entice visitors to stick around until park close. In 1995, Disney brought a unique holiday attraction to the backlot section of the Studios with the “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights”. What started out as an ambitious family’s impressive Christmas light display famously grew. At one point, this Disney spectacular covered the Streets of America with over 5 million lights! Disney has also added seasonal, entertainment-themed events to draw visitors. Star Wars Weekends began in 1997, and Super Soaps Weekends ran from 1996 to 2008.
Before long, the Studios really came into its own. In 1994 it became a “full day” park with the opening of Sunset Boulevard. The “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” (perhaps our favorite attraction in all of WDW) added a much-needed E-Ticket thrill attraction to Disney World. Famously, it was later joined by the neighboring “Aerosmith Rock n’ Rollercoaster” in 1999. Sorcery in the Sky was replaced in 1998 by an imported show from Disneyland, “Fantasmic!“, the park’s signature closing show.
Another new E-Ticket attraction “Toy Story Mania” opened in the newly-Christened “Pixar Place” (in repurposed sound stages) in 2008. Given Pixar Place’s location in the rear of the park, with room for potential expansion, it’s only natural to assume that this area of the Studios is the next growth point. By 2008 the Studios’ focus had clearly expanded beyond the ‘golden age of Hollywood’ theme of the original park opening in 1989, and MGM was dropped from the park’s moniker.
Today’s Disney Hollywood Studios retains the charm and appeal of that original, underdeveloped park. BUT it has grown into so much more. Looking back on opening day it’s hard to believe the evolution of the park since the Disney MGM Studios first welcomed guests in 1989!
Tomorrow, Aljon Go, of Jedi Mousketeer will help us break into a new Disney Decade- 1990!!