TIMEKEEPING: 1988 – Maelstrom and IllumiNations at EPCOT, A Grand New Magic Kingdom Hotel

Ron D'Anna


TIMEKEEPING: 1988 – Maelstrom and IllumiNations at EPCOT, A Grand New Magic Kingdom Hotel

Ron D'Anna


TIMEKEEPING: 1988 – Maelstrom and IllumiNations at EPCOT, A Grand New Magic Kingdom Hotel

With three new ticket venues originally set to open in 1988 and delayed to 1989, one would think 1988 would have been a quiet year. However, with two hotels, a new land, a new pavilion, and a new nighttime spectacular, 1988 was a landmark year in itself. This would prove to be the pattern during the Eisner/Wells years: there were no slow years.

The Magic Kingdom

At some point early in 1988, the Walt Disney Story was temporarily replaced by the Disney-MGM Studios Preview Center featuring concept art for the park. The Eggroll Wagon was added to Adventureland (or at least to the map). The Elephant’s Trunk was renamed Elephant Tales. Later in the year, Tropic Toppers became Zanzibar Shell Traders and the Frontierland Wood Carvers became Big Al’s. In Liberty Square, the Fife & Drum closed and the Keel Boat Shoppe became Ichabod’s Landing.

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An aerial view of Mickey’s Birthdayland highlights the presence of the “temporary” tent structures. (Photo credit: Disney)

The celebrations for Mickey’s 60th Birthday dominated the Magic Kingdom in 1988. The park received its first-ever new land in Mickey’s Birthdayland on June 18th. The land itself was designed around facades of Duckburg including both McDuck’s Mansion and McDuck’s Bank, Daisy’s Cafe, Duck County School, Goofy’s Clip Joint Barber Shop, the S.S. Donald Duck, and of course Mickey’s House, the only one that was a building. Guests would tour Mickey’s House and exit out the back into the Birthday Party Tent. Here, guests would sit through a preshow of character clips before entering the theater to watch “Minnie’s Surprise Party.” This musical comedy would take place in Minnie’s Kitchen as the classic characters prepare Mickey’s party by baking a cake and rehearsing the new song “We Love You Mickey Mouse.” After Mickey shows up, guests move to the Party Tent decorated with party decorations and wood flat characters where the characters would dance on a birthday cake stage.

Guests could also meet Mickey at his Hollywood Theater in his backstage dressing room. Grandma Duck’s Farm, a petting zoo most famous for Minnie Moo the cow with a tri-circle-shaped spot and a new station for the Walt Disney World Railroad rounded out the land. Mickey’s All American Birthday Parade was mostly a minor modification to the previous parade, removing the constitution and moving Mickey and Minnie to the steamboat float.

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Minnie Moo the cow was actually a minor celebrity in her own right. (Photo credit: Disney)


In Communicore West, Expo Robotics would open on February 13th. This was an expansion of the Bird and Robot Show from the Transcenter that would feature robotic arms doing things like spinning plates or drawing a guest from a camera. Port of Entry and Disney Traders, the two shops that flank the entrance to World Showcase from Futureworld had actually opened March 28, 1987 and April 9, 1987, respectively. The glass etching cart was added to Germany. Echoes Through Time took over the gallery space in Japan, and Art Fest, the portrait artist cart was added to France. In the UK pavilion, His Lordship became Lords and Ladies and added perfumes to its wares.

Expo Robotics featured a few exhibits in its space in Communicore West. (Photo credit: RetroWDW)

The Norway pavilion would open May 6, 1988. At that time it featured the Restaurant Akershus buffet, Kringla Bakeri og Kafe for pastries and sandwiches, the shops the Fjording and the Puffin’s Roost present by Dale of Norway, and the “One Thousand Years of Discovery” exhibit featuring Norwegian art and artifacts in the Stave Church.

Maelstrom, the signature attraction, and EPCOT Center’s “first thrill ride,” would open July 5. The boat ride would take guests through the history of Norway and past Vikings and polar bears.  They would then encounter trolls who would send them backward, almost out of the show building. Then the trolls would dump them in the North Seas next to an oil rig in modern times. The guests would disembark in a room that was surrounded by a fishing village façade, where they would have to wait for the post-show theater to load to view the Spirit of Norway film.

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The name change from SeaVenture to Maelstrom was a late one as can be seen by the signage in this almost complete façade. (Photo credit: Disney)

IllumiNations replaced Laserphonic Fantasy as the nighttime show on January 30. Unlike its predecessors, a full orchestra was used to play the classical pieces. Much of the music in the first act were the same pieces, with the section from Piano Concerto No. 1 through Trisch-Trasch Polka removed. The second act score was entirely different, now focusing on the original World Showcase pavilions in turn. It began with Orphée aux Enfers, Galop Infernal (France), then in order Days of Emancipation (China), Rule Britannia (United Kingdom), Tales of the Vienna Woods (Germany), Sakura (Japan), España Cani (Mexico), French Canadian Jig Traditional (Canada), Funiculì, Funiculà (Italy) and Rhapsody in Blue (United States). The music in the third act, like the first, was entirely orchestral recordings of the previous synthesizer score. The first two acts relied heavily on fountains, lighting, lasers, and projections, with the fireworks not really coming until the end of the second act. The show featured 13 effects projectors, 11 searchlights, 12 wire-mesh grids, 180 water nozzles, 550 theatrical lights, and 783 pyrotechnics.

IllumiNations relied heavily on projetors and lighting as can bee seen on the Germany pavilion. (Photo credit: Disney)

The Resorts

1988 saw not one, but two new Disney resort hotels open. First, the Grand Floridian Beach Resort opened on June 28. The resort opened with the Main Building and five outer buildings, Sago Cay, Sugarloaf Key, Conch Key, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Key. The restaurants Victoria & Albert’s, Narcoossee’s, and 1900 Park Fare all opened with the resort along with Flagler’s and Gasparilla Grill and Games. The shops included M. Mouse Mercantile and Commander Porters.

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Part of the grand opening ceremonies for the Grand Floridian Beach Resort (Photo credit: WATG)

October 1st saw Disney World’s first “value” resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort. Yes, before the All-Stars, Caribbean Beach was called a value or budget resort. With rooms starting at about $65 they were just about half of the Monorail resort prices. The resort was built into five villages Aruba, Barbados, Jamaica , Martinique and Trinidad totaling 2112 rooms, however on 768 rooms in two sections opened on October 1st. Most of the amenities were built around Old Port Royale, but check-in was at the Custom House. To separate it from the other resorts, Caribbean Beach had only shuttle bus transportation, exterior entry rooms with no balconies, and no table service restaurant when it opened. 

While some amenities may be lacking compared to the monorail resorts, Caribbean Beach Resort has as much theming even in its early days as its Deluxe siblings. (Photo credit: Disney)

Back at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Terrace Cafe had become the Character cafe and featured a character breakfast. Over at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the Neverland Club opened as a new kids’ babysitting service to watch and entertain children in a playful environment with activities and movies.

Construction also began on the Swan and Dolphin hotel complex and Wonders of Life, while work continued on Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and the Disney-MGM Studios. While the park would not open for another year, production began at the Studios in February of 1988 with Splash Too, Ernest Saves Christmas, and shows like Win, Lose or Draw and Siskel & Ebert filming throughout the year.

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some preopening and construction photos from the 1988 Annual Report (Photo credit: Disney)

By the end of 1988, every aspect of Walt Disney World had been changed. The Magic Kingdom received a whole land (kind of). World Showcase would be in a form that would not substantially change for over a decade. A new flagship resort, and on the other end of the spectrum a new budget option opened over doubling the number of hotel rooms offered by Disney. But even with all this, 1988 would pale in comparison to what would come in 1989.

2 thoughts on “TIMEKEEPING: 1988 – Maelstrom and IllumiNations at EPCOT, A Grand New Magic Kingdom Hotel”

  1. Maelstrom was a really fun ride, and there was always a big line for it, even in the off-season. It’s a shame that Disney got rid of it.

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