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TIMEKEEPING: 1990 – Here Come the Muppets and Crescent Lake Resorts Open

After a momentous 1989, Walt Disney World could have settled for a down year. It wouldn’t get that for a while. 1990 kicked off with the announcement of the Disney Decade, something that would become the butt of jokes for years to come. The year also started with the opening of a new hotel, and these facilities supporting the park expansion would be the main growth of the year. Not much would change in the parks, but how people experienced a Disney vacation evolved further.

Magic Kingdom

1990 was fairly uneventful for the Magic Kingdom. Main Street Stationers became the Main Street Book Store sponsored by Western Publishing sometime in late 1989. Disneyana Collectibles replaced the Hospitality House, but Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree reservations could still be made at a podium in front of the store. This also removed the Disenyana shop from Fantasyland. In Frontierland, the Nacho Wagon became the Turkey Leg Wagon.

Though the stage had existed, the Castle Forecourt Stage was now listed as a Fantasyland attraction on the maps. Also at the castle, the description of King’s Stefan’s Banquet Hall moved Cinderella from appearing while guests dined to meeting guests downstairs. Mickey’s Birthdayland became Mickey’s Starland on May 26. The birthday decor was dropped and the show became Mickey’s Magical TV World, where the titular mouse would host a special starring characters from Ducktales, Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers and the Gummi Bears.

The Disney Afternoon stars ceremonially changing the name of Mickey’s Birthdayland (Photo credit: Disney)

The entertainment around the park had changed a little by this point. Much of the Main Street and Adventureland entertainment had remained the same. The Fantasy Faire Stage was now showcasing predominantly school bands as part of the Magic Music Days. Stuntmen performed in Frontierland. Tomorrowland featured the Jazz Connection and the Tomorrowland Theater was showing Rap-n-Roll, a musical featuring the Disney characters and Roger Rabbit. The Castle Forecourt sage had started showing Disneymania! In 1989, a musical stage show featuring classic and modern Disney songs and characters. The 1990 version featured up to date songs such as the Ducktales, Rescue Rangers and Gummi Bears themes, as well as Why Should I Worry from Oliver and Company.

EPCOT Center

EPCOT Center was fairly quiet in 1990 as well. The snack bar in the Wonders of Life received the name Pure & Simple. With the Crescent Lake area hotels beginning to open this year, the International Gateway opened on January 12 with Showcase Gifts, World Traveler and a stroller and wheelchair rental.

Epcot International Gateway
The International Gateway on January 12, 1990, according to Disney (Photo credit : Disney)

In Mexico, the art exhibit became “Reign of Glory – A Celebration of Mexico’s Pre-Columbian Art.” In Italy, Delizie Italiane replaced Arcata d’Artigiani and sold chocolates, cookies, and candy. La Signature at the France pavilion lost some of it’s space to Guerlain Boutique, still selling similar merchandise.

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The International Gateway opened the same time as the Swan Resort, and was connected by trams. (Photo credit: DZStudios, via YouTube)

Epcot entertainment had also changed. Here is a full list of performers from the week of April 8:

  • Communicore – Future World Brass and Future Corps 
  • Journey into Imagination -Figment and Dreamfinder meet and greet
  • Horizons – GERO, the General Electric Robot
  • Mexico – Mariachi Cobre and Marimba Mayalandia (both bands)
  • Norway – Valhall and Sinkka & Jonia (both folk music)
  • China – Yuen Chen Chin and Acrobats of China
  • Germany – Courtyard Trio, the Courtyard Strolling Accordionist (musicians), Jutta Levasseur (egg painter), & Hans Hoefler (artist)
  • Italy – I Cantanapoli and Comedia Di Bologna
  • American Gardens Theater – World Dancers & World Dancers Band
  • American Adventure- Voices of Liberty and Pat Leddon (craft artist)
  • Japan – Fantasy Dreammaker, Genroku Hanami, and Yume Shibai
  • Morocco – Courtyard Entertainment and artisans at different booths
  • France – Trio Bal Musette and Pierre & Nausicaa
  • United Kingdom – Sue & Peter Barbaour (stilt dancing puppeteers), Olde GLobe Players
  • Canada – Caledonia Bagpipes
  • International Gateway – David Mutoto (soapstone carving)

The Solid Brass group would play at different World Showcase locations, as would Magic Music Days performers, and there were character meet and greets at Stargate, the Odyssey and Showcase Plaza.

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This poster of GERO also highlighted attractions sponsored by GE and it’s related companies (Photo credit: Worthpoint)

Disney-MGM Studios

The first Muppets attraction, Here Come The Muppets, opened May 25 in the location that now houses Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The show featured live Muppet walk around style characters interacting with humans, traditional Muppets and even an animated Mickey Mouse on screens. The show featured a Rowlf preshow, but when guests entered the theater the human size Kermit received a call from an animated Mickey.  After that Kermit used the video phone to track down the rest of the Muppets by calling the Walt Disney World operator, played by Lilly Tomlin, reviving a Laugh In character, Ernestine. After Kermit talked to Miss Piggy and Fozzie, the Electric Mayhem band crashed onto the stage in a monorail, and the rest of the characters arrived. The cast performed several songs: Make ‘Em Laugh, Personality, Being’ Green, The Heart of Rock and Roll and Shout. A Muppets Store was also added at this time.

Some other entertainment was added at this time. The Theater of the Stars played host to the short-lived Swing, Swing, Swing from April 7 through April 18 before being replaced by Dick Tracy Starring in Diamond Double Cross on May 21, well before the film’s June 15 debut. In the show, Big Boy has to steal a giant gem in order for Breathless Mahoney to accept his marriage proposal. Dick Tracy has to raid the Club Ritz, which is used as a backdrop for musical numbers, to recover the jewel from Big Boy, Mumbles and Flattop. An action chase scene ensues and Dick Tracy, of course, gets the stone back. 

The Backstage Studio Tour sections were now separate attractions, known as the Shuttle Tour and the Walking Tour. Soundstage One on the Walking Tour was now home to Let’s Make a Deal, and guests could also become audience members and contestants on the game show revival hosted by Barry Glazer. On the Animation Tour, the Photocopying Process area was now known as Cel Transfer. On July 1, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began a mini-show and meet and greet on New York Street, which now had the east most section nearer the forced perspective backdrop open to pedestrian traffic. Also, added to New York Street was the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure. The playground, featuring oversized props including ants, bees, and a Kodak Film themed slide opened on December 17.

I can't believe I missed out on this. Disney used to be so badass. | Disney  world hollywood studios, Vintage disney, Disney parks
The Teenage Mutant ninja Turtles and April on New York street. (Photo credit: Disney)

The Studios also received it’s first signature nighttime spectacular, Sorcery in the Sky, on May 29. Designed to be seen from in front of the Chinese Theater, the fireworks spectacular was narrated by Vincent Price. It featured classic film songs and themes, such as Putting on the Ritz, Over the Rainbow, Singin’ in the Rain, Bridge on the River Kwai, Chim Chim Cher-ee, Close Encounters of the Third Kind , Star Wars, Chariots of Fire, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Price would then introduce the Fantasia segment, with Toccata and Fugue and the Nutcracker Suite playing. The show would end on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with a giant, inflatable Sorcerer Mickey rising atop the theater. 

The finale of Sorcery in the Sky (Photo credit: Disney)

The EPCOT Resort Expansion

As part of the Epcot financing, Disney had signed away rights to hotels for the park to the Tishman group. A lawsuit over the issue was filed in 1986, and by 1988 it had settled and the Swan and Dolphin were announced with a 99 year land lease from Disney, with Disney having some control over the design, since much of the dispute came from Tishman’s plans to build generic buildings. The unbuilt Disney Mountain project, including multiple hotels and attractions, was part of this development cycle. Check out our comprehensive video on that project:

The hotels were designed by Michael Graves after being placed into a competition with fellow architect Bob Venturi. Michael Eisner originally wanted them to collaborate. Graves said, “He called me, and asked if I could work with Bob Venturi. I asked him if that wasn’t a little bit like putting Steven Spielberg and George Lucas together, and he replied, ‘Remember, I did that.’” Eisner was running Paramount when they produced Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Michael Graves early sketches of the Dolphin hotel (Photo credit: Disney)

At the time the two hotels were to be the largest hotel and convention complex in Florida. The 760 room Swan would open first on January 13, and the 1510 room Dolphin would open June 1. The Swan was originally managed by Westin, with Sheraton operating the Dolphin. The Swan opened with the Garden Grove Café (American cuisine), Palio(Italian), Kimonos (sushi and karaoke bar), and Splash Grill by the pool. Shopping was divided into cabanas, with the Disney and Fashion Cabanas selling the Disney and non-Disney merchandise respectively. At the Dolphin, your dining choices included Harry’s Safari Bar and grill (seafood and steaks), Sum Chow’s (described as “Oriental”), Ristorante Carnivale (Italian), Coral Café (buffet), Tubbi Checkers Buffeteria (snacks and quick bites), and Cabana Bar and Grill (poll bar).  (Please note: these locations might not have been operating on opening day, but did open soon thereafter).

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The Swan and Dolphin under construction (Photo credit: Disney)

Also opening on Crescent Lake that year were the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, on November 5 and 19 respectively. These hotels, defined by Robert A.M. Stern, are designed to evoke the feel of New England resort areas of Martha’s Vineyard and Newport, Rhode Island. Yacht Club had 635 rooms and the Beach Club 584. These two resorts are connected and centered around the shared sandy bottom pool, Stormalong Bay. Dining at the time consisted of the still popular Beaches and Cream, Cape May Café, and Yachtsman Steakhouse. There was also the Yacht Club Galley, now the Ale & Compass, and Ariel’s Seafood. Atlantic Wear and Wardrobe Emporium was the main shop at the Beach Club and Fittings and Fairings, Clothes and Notions at the Yacht Club. In addition to the walking and boat transportation available at these resorts today, tram service similar to that found in the parking lots would also connect the Epcot resorts to both parks.

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The Yacht Club Galley (Photo credit: Disney)

Over at Pleasure Island, Videoplolis East became the Cage Nightclub on April 7.

The Disney Decade

On January 14, Eisner would make a presentation that would become infamous. These plans would include plenty of things that would happen: a fourth park (no theme yet, but animals were rumored), a “Tower of Terror,” the Disney Vacation Club, and its corresponding resort at Disney World, Splash Mountain, the Tomorrowland refurbishment, the Wilderness Lodge, and the BoardWalk Resort. There was also a good deal that didn’t happen: An Andrew Lloyd Webber show, multiple hotels, including Buffalo Junction, the Mediterranean and the Kingdom Suites, and more partnerships with both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. To quote Vicki Vaughn of the Orlando Sentinel coverage of the press event: “Eisner stressed that ‘everything’ discussed Sunday will definitely be built.”

The lasting legacy of 1990 at Walt Disney World would be the Crescent lake area. The four hotels that opened would become a mainstay for many guests and springboard into the Boardwalk a few years later. Many of the other additions would be short lived, mostly gone within a few years. 1991, the resort’s 20th anniversary, would be just around the corner to bring some new Magic to the Kingdom.

For more information on booking your next trip with our official travel agent sponsor, the Vacationeer, visit wdwnt.travel.

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Andrew Mora
Andrew Mora
21 days ago

From The Year I was Born.