After spending two months to cover a single day thirty years ago at Disneyland, this month’s entry will cover a lot more ground. In fact it will cover a month, a decade, and many, many years.
The month is March 1990. We’ll take a look at what a typical day was like. The decade is The Disney Decade, a name that Michael Eisner and the marketing wizards at the Walt Disney Company drummed mercilessly into the hearts and minds of Disney fans. And the Many, many years are the ones I spent as a Disneyland Annual Passholder.
My first Disneyland Annual Pass was issued on March 11, 1990. Why I waited over two months is a bit of a mystery. Most likely I had leftover ticket media for visits in January and February. The first pass I purchased was the Disneyland Seasonal Pass. This restricted Saturdays through much of the peak season, as well as the holidays. Again, why? Most likely because of the price. A Disneyland Annual Pass for every day in the year cost a whopping $165. The Seasonal Pass, on the other hand, was an affordable $90. So I settled for a Seasonal Pass for two years before finally becoming a full-fledged Annual Passholder in 1992.
The Disney Decade was officially announced the day after Disneyland’s 35th Birthday kick-off, in a splashy media event at the Disneyland Hotel. The Disney Decade encompassed every sector of the Walt Disney Company, although what was in store for Disneyland over the next ten years was of highest interest to me. Who can forget the wonders that the nineties promised for the Happiest Place on Earth? Here they are, in all their chronological splendor: 1991, The Young Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Here Come the Muppets live on stage; 1993, the Little Mermaid attraction; 1994, George Lucas’ Alien Encounter; 1996, Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers; 1999, Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy and a whole new section for the park, Hollywoodland. If you don’t remember any of these, it’s because… none of them happened.
All that said, let’s take a look around Disneyland on an ordinary day in 1990. By March the park had fallen into familiar rhythms. Guests were constantly reminded of the 35 Years of Magic promotion, starting out in the parking lot with logos attached to a series of canopies that extended southward from the ticket booths.
The main entry gates were adorned with ribbons, banners and more logos. The location of 1985’s “Gift Giver Extraordinaire” was now occupied by a gaudy decoration composed of gears, scrolls, steam whistles, pipe organ pipes and… another logo.
Once inside it seemed as if the Party Gras Parade theme was always playing. It was a catchy earworm and it is possibly lingering in certain corners of the park to this day.
Early in the year a promotional float for The Jungle Book preceded the parade. The animated classic was due for its fourth theatrical release. Pre-home video, Disney put all its more popular features on a regular schedule of return engagements. This came to an end during the nineties. (The Jungle Book, for example, was first issued on home video in 1991.)
And what is that sound in the distance? It’s an incessant whistling and pounding of drums, followed by a fanfare, and then a chorus wailing the words that seemed to be constantly in the air: Welcome to the celebration, it’s a jubilation, it’s a Party Gras!
While no one could resist the magic and the mystic beauty of the Party Gras (to quote a lyric that remains stubbornly affixed to my cerebral cortex), I will save a full description of this epic street entertainment for later this year. Suffice to say that it was big, it was colorful, it was a lot of fun, and it left the parade route an absolute mess. The finale featured enough confetti for a ticker-tape parade. This lead, in turn, to another vivid memory of the 1990 season: the roar and whine of the phalanx of lawn mower sized vacuum cleaners that appeared before the final strains of the Party Gras theme had faded. (And yes, the vacuum cleaners were branded with that ubiquitous logo.)
The parade has ended (but the melody lingers on), and it’s time to take a quick look at what’s happening to the original Main Street lockers. The unassuming brick building to the west of the Emporium, once sponsored by Bekins Moving and Storage, was now gone, and a themed construction fence promised a “beautiful new Emporium,” opening in May of 1990.
Proceeding clockwise around the hub, we find that work was also underway in Adventureland. The Jungle Cruise was undergoing refurbishment, and Sunkist, I Presume was behind a wall. The home of the Tropical Julep and the Safari Bar doughnut was being transformed into the Bengal Barbecue, which opened later in the year.
Over on the Rivers of America it was possible to still experience the river much as it was in Walt’s day. Cruises aboard the Mark Twain, the Columbia, the canoes or the keelboats featured many of the quaint landmarks from Disneyland’s early years. And yes, the keelboats were available for guests.
Back at Sleeping Beauty Castle, guests could enjoy watching regal swans gliding in the moat. In the courtyard Merlin and a troupe of musicians staged a somewhat more elaborate Sword in the Stone ceremony than we see today.
Our tour around the hub ends in Tomorrowland. A somewhat venerable Tomorrowland attraction that was still around in 1990 was Mission to Mars. Originally guests were offered a trip to the moon, but when American astronauts actually went there in 1969 Disneyland changed their destination to the red planet. This was a very tame attraction, even by 1990 standards. Although the “Mission Control” pre-show featuring the Audio-Animatronic “Mr. Johnson” was strangely amusing.
In 1990 the centerpiece of Tomorrowland was a three-story structure with guest activities on every level. At the base (and around the back) was a quick-service food counter called (pun alert!) The Lunching Pad. Accessible via speedramp on the second level was the People Mover. And up on the third level were the Rocket Jets. They could be reached by slow moving elevators in the red and white gantry tower.
I loved the Peoplemover. It was never crowded, and offered a leisurely (read: slow) trip through all of Tomorrowland, inside and out. Along the way you could also catch glimpses of the hub, the Matterhorn, and the “amazing world” of TRON. This was a feature of the “super-speed tunnel,” an area in which projections on each side of the slow moving vehicles gave the illusion of greater speed. In 1990 these were still themed to the 1982 Disney Studios release TRON. The dulcet voice of the onboard narrator was abruptly replaced with a harsh electronic announcer, proclaiming: “Warning! You have invaded the electronic realm of the Master Computer Program. Prepare for the game grid of TRON.” As your cars moved through two large rooms, digital projections portrayed the game grid, as well as the light cycle race. Just as the undeniable excitement of the world of TRON was reaching a peak, it was all over. Moving back into the light of Tomorrowland, the voice offered a final warning: “You have escaped TRON’s game grid for now, Users. But take heed. Next time you may not fare so well.”
On that somewhat disconcerting note I will end this month’s visit to Thirty Years Ago at Disneyland. And I promise to take heed!