I was born in 1976, five years after the opening of Walt Disney World. My parents visited in the next year and made the drive from Missouri to Florida regularly for our family vacations. One of my earliest memories is arriving at the Polynesian in 1980 and taking a golf cart to our room. I have small bits of that trip in my mind, but most images come from photos and crude home movies. The first vacation that really sticks with me is my introduction to EPCOT Center in 1984. That incredible park left quite an impression on an eight-year-old with an interest in space and sci-fi. It was just the beginning of a lifelong interest in Disney World and the parks’ larger history.
A few months’ ago, my parents handed me an envelope they’d discovered with random pictures I’d taken on various childhood trips. It’s safe to say that I was not a good photographer, and this was long before digital cameras and smartphones. Even so, it’s fun to look back at these early trips and beloved attractions that are long gone. I’ve scanned in some photos for this post and offered a few thoughts beneath each one about those amazing vacations. I definitely need to dig further into my old photos, especially those of favorite EPCOT Center attractions.
The Wonders of Future World
What more can I say about Horizons? It embodied what I loved best about the original EPCOT Center in the ’80s. Horizons’ reputation seems to be growing with each passing year. Unlike some parts of early Future World, the technology on display in this attraction is still futuristic. My love for the ride is nostalgic, but that doesn’t mean it’s dated. I miss this view of the beautiful structure after turning left and heading east. This photo conveys the feeling of excitement of that time, plus some brilliant fashions. The monorail track in front of the pavilion just adds to the cool future of this picture.
I’m a big fan of Test Track and even like the newer version, but I also miss World of Motion. It’s a classic Omni-mover ride with crowds of Audio-Animatronics brought together in complex scenes. This picture clicks with me because of the way the pavilion intermingles with the trees and other scenery. This isn’t a cold look at the future; it’s an attractive mix of grandeur and beauty! The opening ramp of the ride provided a wonderful look at Spaceship Earth before you entered the pavilion. It was a cool way to connect Future World as a singular entity, not just a bunch of large buildings dropped next to each other in random order.
Weird Events and Anniversary Celebrations
There was a stretch of time in the mid-’80s where it felt like Disney was celebrating a special anniversary almost every year. We visited Disneyland (my one childhood trip there) in 1985 during the park’s 30th birthday and then returned to Florida for that resort’s 15th in 1986. We didn’t win any prizes at the gate in either case, but Disney went all out to offer special perks for guests. EPCOT Center was still quite popular during that time, and it was a blast to return there for a second trip. What’s striking about this cake is how cheap it looks. Disney just added in a small photo spot in front of Spaceship Earth to note the important time for the resort.
Nancy Kerrigan became a star at the 1994 Winter Olympics and was part of one of the sport’s biggest controversies with Tonya Harding. Later that year, my parents decided to take a last-minute vacation to Disney World in December. I was a freshman in college and joined them for the brief trip during my winter break. It was my only vacation to the resort during the holidays, so it was nice change. It also included a truly odd moment at the Studios with Kerrigan as the special guest. She skated on a miniature ice rink and then did a painful interview with some random kids. To an 18-year-old, this was pure torture. When people think of the cheesiest aspects of the Disney parks, I suspect this ridiculous scene would fit that model.
The Disney Decade
Some of my favorite Disney World vacations were in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I was old enough to appreciate the attractions at EPCOT Center and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which opened in 1989. Michael Eisner was pushing a massive expansion at the resort, and we saw impressive new attractions opening like Splash Mountain, Star Tours, and the Tower of Terror. I suspect that many Disney bloggers and podcasters became fans during this era. The thrill rides were a definite draw to me as I entered high school and kept it fresh with each new trip.
Another interesting change in the ’90s was the 1994 arrival of New Tomorrowland. This was always my favorite land in The Magic Kingdom, and the additions of The Timekeeper and ExtraTERRRORestrial Alien Encounter were fun. The movement away from the colder future of the previous version was a little jarring, but it still offered a great time. We also saw the most recent change to the Carousel of Progress. The show has had a few minor edits, but the last scene is largely the same today. The comments on “laser discs” and sample virtual reality games were actually okay in 1994. I still like Tomorrowland a lot, but the 1994 version was even better than today’s.
Setting the Mold
Family vacations to Disney World are a main reason why I’m still writing about them today. If we’d just visited a few times, it likely would not have made the same impression. There was also something in me (“the Disney gene”) that made the parks connect differently than with my brother and sister. This was especially true with EPCOT Center, which still mesmerizes me to this day. The above photo is just a blurry look of a ride on Splash Mountain during our 1994 holiday trip. Most of my pictures from that time are the usual long shots of popular attractions, so this is actually a fairly rare photo. I plan to dig out quite a few more old photos down the road. Those images remind me of the experiences that still connect with me after more than 20 years. I’m now taking my girls to the parks in a similar way, and it’s a cool reminder of why the parks remain so important to us.