TIMEKEEPING 1994: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Alien Encounter, and All-Star Sports Scare Guests
1994 wasn’t the best year for the Walt Disney Company. Frank Wells died in a heli-skiing accident on April 3. In July, Michael Eisner had a heart attack leading to quadruple bypass surgery. Jeffery Katzenberg, the head of the studios left the company to co-found Dreamworks. There were continued issues with the now renamed Disneyland Paris. These issues led the company’s management to change their plans and become a little less aggressive with expansion. However, this didn’t mean things at Walt Disney World would ground to a halt.
The opening day restaurant Adventureland Veranda closed its doors in July. Lafitte’s Portrait Deck became just Lafitte’s and sold pirate merchandise. The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes also closed, either sometime in late 1993 or early 1994. Different sources have given different dates, and they had not regularly appeared as an attraction on a park map in some time. Fantasyland saw a few more extensive changes. Most notably, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would shutter September 5th, supposedly to just be a temporary closure.
Snow White’s Adventures would close in the summer and would reopen on December 16. The rides would see the removal of two witch figures, the addition of another, the singing dwarfs scene was added, the witch was defeated and a final scene was added. The vehicles were upgraded to three rows instead of two. Lighting effects were changed and the chase sequence through the woods was made to be less scary for young children. Most importantly, to solve the problem of Snow White not appearing in her ride, two paintings and three figures of the titular princess were added. The Royal Candy Shoppe became the Seven Dwarfs Mining Co as well.
Also new to Fantasyland was Legend of the Lion King. The show opened in the former home of Magic Journeys on July 8, just two weeks after the film. The puppet show begins with a pre show of a costumed actor playing Rafiki describing the story before cutting to the actual Circle of Life scene from the movie. The main theater show begins with Mufasa telling Simba about being king, before the show cuts to I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, and then Be Prepared all acted by puppets with audio taken from the film. The stampede scene incorporated footage from the film but omitted Mufasa’s actual fall. Next are Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel the Love Tonight. The finale conflict again heavily relies on the animation, before ending with a large puppet scene for the Circle of Life reprise. The show was sponsored by Kodak.
The transformation to New Tomorrowland was in full swing. With construction starting with January 9 closures around the land, the spires at the entrance were removed to be replaced by the spaceship archway and rock work along the hub canal. The white and pastel colors scheme was replaced by a steampunk/pulp sci fi look that featured lots of rivets, gears and antenna with a blue and bronze color scheme. Almost all the shops and restaurants would change names. Merchant of Venus replaced the Star Port in June, at the same time Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies replaced the Lunching Pad, which in turn replaced the Space Bar in the middle of Rocket Tower Plaza. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café opened December 9th, displacing Tomorrowland Terrace which closed in September. The area was also redecorated adding futuristic “phone booths,” a newspaper selling robot, futuristic palm trees, and map of the land carved onto a giant marble ball floating atop a water jet.
On January 10 , both The Star Jets and the WEDWay People Mover would close to begin their transformation. In June, both would reopen in their new forms. The Astro Orbiter would replace the Star Jets, losing the Saturn 5 theme and replacing it with stylized rockets orbiting in and around similarly stylized planets. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority, the new name for the Peoplemover, would almost serve as the centerpiece for the reimagined land, using its new narration to tell the story. While the ride itself remained unchanged, the narration, and the new dioramas, described Tomorrowland as an intergalactic hub city, and the different attractions in the land were now taking place at the convention center, the science center and the historical society of the city.
Also closed on January 10, was American Journeys. A new Circle-Vision film would replace it on November 21. At the newly christened Transportarium, part of the aforementioned Metropolis Science Center, guests would watch the film From Time to Time, quickly renamed The Timekeeper. Adapted from Disneyland Paris’s Le Visionarium, the film would now be hosted by two animatronic robots, the titular Timekeeper and his time traveling sidekick, 9-Eye, voiced by the legendary Robin Williams and Rhea Pearlman. In the show, the Timekeeper is demonstrating his new invention of time travel, by sending 9-Eye into the past including Da Vinci’s workshop and a Mozart concert, until she inadvertently kidnaps Jules Verne from the Great Paris Exhibition. The Timekeeper and 9-Eye then show Verne around the modern world before taking us to the future.
With FedEx replacing RCA as the sponsor, Space Mountain also saw significant changes. The ride closed October 10 and reopened November 18. The entrance was partially closed off, and a new exit building was created. The sign pylon was replaced. In the queue, TVs were added to show SMTV, a fictionalized network that played fake space themed news and weather reports, ads for Crazy Larry Used Spaceships, XS-Tech and FedEx, and a music video for Ghost Riders in the Sky. The queue itself was updated with art reading FX-1 and locations around the galaxy.
On December 15 the Tomorrowland Stage reopened as the Galaxy Palace Theater, now hosting the Galaxy Search, a variety talent show based on Star Search. Mickey hosted the show, while the other characters presented alien acts they brought back from around the galaxy. Chip and Dale lead off the Tripods, followed by Minnie dancing to Respect with robots from Detroit. While Goofy is trying to rush his act before it gets too hungry, next comes Pluto with three headed dogs from Pluto. Donald then presents some bird people performing Rollin’ on the River. Goofy’s act then comes out, being revealed to be King, a giant Elvis impersonator puppet that appears off to the right of the stage. Goofy and King are declared the winners, and the whole case performed a finale number.
The most anticipated, and controversial, addition to Tomorrowland was the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. The first, short lived, version of the attraction soft opened around December 16. Originally designed for Disneyland and intended to feature the xenomorph from the Alien franchise, this was now an original concept hosted by the alien company XS-Tech at the Interplanetary Convention Center. The first preshow featured Tyra Banks, dubbed over by another actress, and Kathy Najimy, Kevin Pollack, and Jeffery Jones as Chairman Clench. This version began with a second pre-show hosted by T.O.M. 2000, a more sarcastic than menacing robot voiced by Phil Hartman. T.O.M. demonstrates short term teleportation but accidentally fries the animatronic subject. Contrary to the comical pre-show, the main attraction was extremely frightening. It was still a theater in the round, reusing the Mission to Mars space. In the story, Chairman Clench was being teleported to the theater to meet the audience but they accidentally brought in a carnivorous alien. The show relied on binaural audio, tactile effects built into the seats restraints system and darkness to tell the story when the alien escapes, eats audience members, and is eventually destroyed. In this version, Clench made it to Earth at the end only to get stuck in the tube.
EPCOT Center changed its name to Epcot ‘94, distancing itself from the original concept as part of a working city and more reminiscent of its status as a permanent World’s Fair. This name also reflected the changes the park was undergoing. It would receive its first festival with The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which ran for 38 days starting April 29. The event featured 165,000 annuals and daily speakers, and was presented by Better Homes and Gardens. Speaking of seasonality, Horizons would close to begin operating seasonally in December of 1994.
The marquee attraction for the park, Spaceship Earth would see its first major upgrade since 1996. Closing on August 15, the end of the ride would change to reflect more modern technologies. The 1980s scenes of the network operations center scene were removed to be replaced by a video conference between an American boy and an Asian girl talking about their achievements in martial arts and baseball, as well as a futuristic cityscape. The tunnel before the top dome was updated with new lighting effects, and the dome scene itself saw the space station and astronauts removed. The new descent would highlight this form of telecommunications showing scenes of world news, children in school, and various vignettes of people using holographic chats, thanks to a Pepper’s ghost effect, about work, a graduation and the birth of a new little girl. The final visual is a model of the ride building leading a fiberoptic trail overhead. The new version would open November 23 and feature both a new score and new narration by Jeremy Irons (who also appeared in two other 1994 attractions: The Time Keeper and Legend of the Lion King).
Along with the attraction, Spaceship Earth’s post show would change. Earth Station and its bank of World Key kiosks would be replaced by the Global Neighborhood, a series of interactive exhibits that highlighted communications. These included Interactive Wonderland, Ride The AT&T Network, the Storyteller Phone, You Don’t Say, and Communication Breakdown. Interactive Wonderland was a voice command interactive game based on the Adventures in Wonderland TV Series. Ride the AT&T Network was a mini-motion simulator that rocked back and forth as you travelled telecommunications lines as part of a field trip. The Story-Teller Phone added background noise to a phone call simulating different places. You Don’t Say was a game about literal translations as you had to guess what foreign idioms mean. Communication Breakdown featured a brick breaker style game you had to play over a network with a partner.
Communicore attractions closed completely with the end of the Energy Exchange on January 31. The Stargate Restaurant closed on April 30, to become the Electric Umbrella June 24.The Fountain View Espresso and Bakery had replaced part of the Sunrise Terrace on November 9, 1993. The other part was replaced by Pasta Piazza Ristorante in May 1994. When the Innoventions exhibits opened July 1, they included presentations by General Electric, General Motors, Hammacher Schlemmer, and Apple who joined in September. Other exhibits included Bill Nye, the Sega area where guests could play the latest Sega videogame systems, the Magic House Tour, and the Walt Disney Imagineering Labs which featured early VR demonstrations.
Back at the Land, Kitchen Kabaret closed right after the holidays on January 3. Food Rocks, an update on the singing food concept opened March 26. The new show featured parody songs instead of original concepts. Hosted by Fūd Wrapper, voiced by Ton Loc, the musical focused more on good eating habits as opposed to the different food groups. The song list included We’ll Make It Count in the Kitchen by The U-tensils (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Good Nutrition by The Peach Boys (“Good Vibrations”), Every Bite You Take by the Refrigerator Police (“Every Breath You Take”), High Fiber by Pita Gabriel (“Sledgehammer”), Always Read the Wrapper by Fūd Wrapper (“Funky Cold Medina”), Just Keep It Lean by The Sole of Rock ‘n’ Roll (“The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”), Tutti Frutti by Little Richard, Little Richard, Vegetables are Good for You by Neil Moussaka (“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”), Let’s Exercise by Chubby Cheddar (“The Twist”), Give Us Junk by The Excess, and Just a Little Bit by The Get-the-Point Sisters (“RESPECT”). Neil Sedaka, Little Richard, The Pointer Sisters, and Chubby Checker voiced their own parody groups.
Captain EO closed on July 6 to be replaced by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! On November 21. The new film centers on Wayne Szalinski( played by Rick Moranis) receiving the Imagination Institute’s Inventor of the Year Award. Eric Idle played Dr. Nigel Channing, the director of the Institute. Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, and Daniel & Joshua Shalikar reprised their roles as the Szalinski family from the films. During attempts to present the award a series of mishaps caused by Szalinski’s inventions including a crashing hovercraft and a cloning machine. In-theater effects mimicked mice under the guests’ seats while. After the audience is accidentally “shrunk” during a demonstration, they could feel movement due to the seat area being on gimbles.
Another Future World show, Splashtacular, had opened November 21 1993 and ran until June 11, 1994. Adapted from Tokyo’s It’s Magical, the show took place around the Future World fountain area. Mickey and friends gather to celebrate liquid magic and color around the fountain before an evil space sorceress comes to steal all the earth’s color, after having lost their planet’s color in a war. A large puppet dinosaur, TerrorsaurX comes out before being defeated. TerrorsaurX was actually reused and redressed after Splashtacular ended as King in Galaxy Search, and it looks like most of the costumes were too. The show featured extensive pyrotechnics, dance numbers and inflatables rising up over Spaceship Earth’s post-show building.
In World Showcase, the China art Exhibit switched to Dragon: Ruler of the Wind and Waves. The American Gardens Theater underwent a rebuild in 1993 and premiered the Magical World of Barbie November 20, 1993, only to quickly close before being reworked to open around Christmas. The show featured Barbie and her friends traveling the world .True to being an advertisement for Barbies, the show features tons of different outfits, and vehicles like a sports car, a submarine, and a hot air balloon. The show appeared on both the Disney Christmas special and a Barbie Happy Birthday VHS. Also, with the completion of the new stage, the Candlelight Processional moved from its previous home at the Magic Kingdom to Epcot.
The Studios received a massive expansion with the opening of Sunset Boulevard on June 12. It opened with 3 quick service food locations that offered limited fare and limited seating: Catalina Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt, Rosie’s Red Hot Dogs, and the Anaheim Produce Company. Three shops also lined the street. Legends of Hollywood and Once Upon a Time would be on your right as you enter, and Sunset Ranch Market Souvenirs would be on your left. A new version of the Theater of the Stars, still based on the Hollywood Bowl opened along the right side of the street as well, and showed Beauty and the Beast – Live On Stage.
Officially opening July 22nd, the main draw for Sunset Boulevard was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Based on the classic science fiction anthology series, but telling a new original story, the ride tells the story of events that led to the closure of the Hollywood Tower Hotel after it was struck by lightning in 1939, causing the mysterious disappearance of 4 guests and a bellman in an elevator. After walking through the abandoned grounds and dusty lobby, complete with several nods to Twilight Zone episodes, guests are ushered into a study where a digitally recreated Rod Serling (voiced by Mark Silverman) introduces us to the story, much like he would an episode of the show. After the pre-show video, guests again queue through the boiler room to enter one of for freight elevators equipped with three rows of bench seats. The elevator rises and the guests see the spirits of the missing hotel guests. The doors shut and the elevator rises again, opening to the Fifth Dimension scenes where the elevators exit their shaft and move to one of the two main drop shafts. The room features several eerie props, including a giant eye that would show a picture of the guests in the ride vehicle. Once in the drop shaft the original version only featured one, full 13 story drop. The drop is actually faster than gravity as the ride vehicle is pulled down. Once at the bottom guests would exit through a photo purchasing area, and out the Tower Hotel Gifts shop.
Elsewhere in the park, the Studio Showcase relocated from its location across from MuppetVision to the exit for the Backstage Studio Tour trams. Around the same time as this move, which was either in late 1993 or early 1994 a large portion of the Showcase was taken over by models used in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The old location would be replaced by the Studio Arcade.
Walt Disney World saw three new resort hotels open and one close in 1994. On February 1, the Disney Inn was leased to the United States Department of Defense. The hotel would continue to exist, now as Shades of Green, but as it was only open to active and retired military personnel, and some Defense Department civilian employees, it was no longer a Disney resort. Nearby at the Polynesian Resort, the concierge lounge and check in area were moved to the Tonga longhouse. Previously, concierge rooms were spread among all the buildings.
Over on the shores of Bay Lake, the Wilderness Lodge opened on May 28. The deluxe resort was designed by Peter Dominick to feel like a National Park lodge in the Pacific Northwest. The eight story building features a cavernous main lobby, festooned with totem poles, a 82 foot fireplace, and a hot spring that flows out of the building into the main pool area. Fire Rock geyser would erupt by the main pool area several times a day. The Wilderness Lodge Mercantile served as the main shop, while Whispering Canyon Café, Artist Point and Roaring Fork were still the restaurants at opening as well.
Far on the other side of Walt Disney World property, not near any guest areas at the time Disney opened the All-Star Sports and All-Star Music resorts on April 29 and November 22 respectively. Designed by the firm Arquitectonica both resorts would feature 1920 rooms each, divided into five areas for each hotel. Sports would feature the following areas Touchdown!, Homerun Hotel, Hoops Hotel, Surfs Up! and Center Court (tennis) with Surf’s Up to be the first to open and Center Court the last. Music would feature Rock Inn, Country Fair, Jazz, Broadway and Calypso. Calypso would open first in November and Broadway would open last on February 17, 1995. These themed areas would feature larger than life icons, some of which would serve to house staircases and themed pools and courtyards for each section that consisted of 2-3 buildings each. Both resorts would feature a central building that would house check in, the food court, a shop, an arcade and open out to the main pool. Stadium Hall housed the End-Zone Food Court and Sport Goofy Gifts & Sundries, while Melody Hall had the Intermission Food Court and Maestro Mickey’s.
Over at the Disney Village Marketplace, Personal Message had become Toys Fantastic. Fototoons was added next to guest relations. The Lakeside Terrace became Goofy’s Grill, and Sir Edward’s Haberdasher was now Harrington Bay Clothiers. Conched Out was turned into Discover and Board Stuff became The City. Planet Hollywood, the celebrity and movie memorabilia themed restaurant opened on the west side of Pleasure Island on December 17.
1994 was a busy year for the company. Management weathered dramatic hardships and losses that would change the way projects would be approached in the future. But what we got in 1994 was a product of the company before these issues. Dramatic changes to all three parks and continued hotel expansion marked 1994 as one of the busiest years in the resort’s history that didn’t involve a new theme park. With Disney World’s silver anniversary just over the horizon 1995 would be used as a year to tweak and adjust all the drastic changes 1994 had seen.