Welcome back. Today will be my eighth and final article about Tomorrowland.
In case you missed the previous parts:
Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight
Part 3 - Skyway - Star Jets - WEDWay PeopleMover
Part 4 - Carousel of Progress.
Part 5 - Space Mountain and the Grand Prix Raceway
Part 6 - Tomorrowland History Around the World
Part 7 - The Timekeeper, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
Today I’ll finish things with a look at how the Tomorrowland makeover of 1995 affected the Carousel of Progress, Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, Astro Orbiter, and the Tomorrowland Speedway. Let’s start with Carousel of Progress (CoP).
I mentioned in Part Five of my series that a major makeover of Tomorrowland had been planned, but the ailing Euro Disney Resort was draining Disney’s resources and a scaled back conversion of Tomorrowland was implemented instead. This can be seen when looking at how the reduced budget was allocated. The front half of Tomorrowland received the lion’s share of the money and was beautifully transformed. On the other hand, the back half of Tomorrowland was short changed and only minor alterations were made.
Take a look at these CoP before and after pictures. Only the building’s paint job was changed for the remodel. In the first picture, the rotating building was painted in blue and white stripes. In the second photo, the Imagineers replaced these bands of color with gears, cogs, and sprockets to tie this building in with the new Tomorrowland look as seen through the eyes of visionaries of the 1920’s and 30’s.
The next change came with the attraction being renamed “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress” with the lettering being placed on more gears.
Inside, the song “The Best Time of Your Life” was retired and the original “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” took its place. Those who grew up with “The Best Time of Your Life” were horrified. But those who remembered the attraction from the New York World’s Fair and Disneyland were delighted. Even the Sherman Brothers admit their preference for the original song.
Another big change came to the show in this year. A new cast was hired to voice the characters headed by Jean Shepherd as Father. Shepherd is best remembered as the adult voice of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” which was partially based on his story, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Grandma is now voiced by Janet Waldo who voiced Judy Jetson on the popular 1960s television cartoon show "The Jetsons." And Rex Allen returned as the voice of Grandpa.
The fourth act of the show was also updated. This time it would reflect the typical home in the year 2000. In the earlier iterations of this show, CoP jump 20 years with each rotation. But now it jumped 60 years from the 1940’s in Act 3 to 2000 in Act 4.
Attendance dropped dramatically at Walt Disney World after the 9/11 attacks. So much so that it was decided to close CoP the following month. But due to guest complaints, the attraction was soon reopened on a seasonal basis. Today the attraction is open every day.
CoP is showing its age, this cannot be denied. The theaters are never full and the wait to ride is never more than one revolution away. Like the old Tomorrowland, Act 4 is especially out-of-date. Not only is an archaic video game prominently displayed, the term “car phone” and “laser disk” are used. Also, Mother’s laptop is a bit bulky.
Rumors have circulated for years of its impending closure. But Disney steadfastly denies that this is in the works. Only time will tell. In the meantime, the show is still entertaining and if you view it as a part of Disney history, it has endearing qualities.
The PeopleMover received a limited makeover with the new Tomorrowland. The track found in the front half of this land was beautifully augmented with retro-future metal girders and fittings. However, the track located in the back half of Tomorrowland only received a new paint job. More recently, a new LED lighting system was installed and the track’s ceiling changes colors every several seconds during the evening.
The ride was also given a new name with the makeover, the “Tomorrowland Transit Authority” or TTA. The backstory being that this is a future mode of transportation in the metropolis of Tomorrowland and the “Blue Line” services this area. However, people never stopped calling this attraction “PeopleMover” and Disney would eventually rename the attraction again to “Tomorrowland Transit Authority PEOPLEMOVER.”
Along the route, a few new scenes were inserted within the “tunnels” of the attraction. The first being the addition of a galactic spaceport for the robotic inhabitants of Tomorrowland.
Near the end of the ride, guests could once view “If You Had Wings” and “Dreamflight” through three windows. When “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin” replaced these early attractions, one of these windows was eliminated and a scene of a futuristic hair salon was added in its place.
The most recent change to the PeopleMover came last year. The tongue-in-cheek audio that was broadcast during the ride was replaced with a simple narrative describing the sights along the route. Judging by the mail I have received on this topic, many people are not happy with this change.
Flying high above Rockettower Plaza were the Star Jets. This attraction would receive a significant makeover with the new Tomorrowland, beginning with a new name, Astro Orbiter on April 30, 1994. Interestingly, at Disneyland, this attraction also has the same name, but is spelled differently, Astro Orbitor.
The ride vehicles of Astro Orbiter would be given a completely new look. Gone was the futuristic rocket/hovercraft design to be replaced by a retro-rocket fitting of Tomorrowland’s new backstory. And the center pylon was converted from a Saturn Rocket to a transmission tower.
But the biggest change to come to this attraction would be the addition of colorful planets that surrounded the rocket path. Now, space travelers could view celestial bodies as they circled high above the Earth-bound pedestrians below. Astro Orbiter would become an energetic “weenie” to draw guests into this refurbished land.
Currently, Astro Orbiter is undergoing another major refurbishment. In fact, the entire attraction has been removed for maintenance and updates. It is scheduled to reopen in late September of this year.
Beneath Astro Orbiter and the PeopleMover is The Lunching Pad at Rockettower Plaza. This is a great spot to grab a hot dog, chips, and a drink and enjoy some shade at one of the many tables nearby.
FedEx took over sponsorship of Space Mountain in 1994 which coincided with the Tomorrowland refurbishment. Minor changes were made to the entrance doors, color schemes were tweaked, and new warning signs were posted. But to the average guest, the only noticeable change would be the addition of FedEx logos. The mountain’s structure was left completely unchanged.
The real modification to Space Mountain in 1994 didn’t involve the ride, but rather the construction of a building next door. As with so many other attractions, now guests would exit Space Mountain directly into a shop.
The backstory for this structure is that it provides power for the metropolis of Tomorrowland. This can be seen on a sign near the exit of Space Mountain. Besides selling Disney merchandise, a large array of video games are also available for those with a few coins burning a hole in their pockets.
FedEx ended their sponsorship of Space Mountain in 2004 and most of their insignias were removed at that time.
In 1997, Disneyland’s Space Mountain was painted in shades of gold, bronze, green, and copper to match the surrounding buildings. However, this change was not well received by the public and it was repainted white several years later. The Imagineers learned their lesson and did not try a similar paint job in the Magic Kingdom’s version of this ride with the upcoming renovation.
In early 2009, Space Mountain closed for a lengthy refurbishment. It reopened seven months later on November 22. Much had changed.
The first noticeable improvement occurred to the right of Space Mountain. Disney had finally gotten around to removing the old second-story Tomorrowland Skyway Station. In the process, they created a lovely plaza. They also turned the old merchandise facility into a face painting area. In addition, the remaining restrooms were gutted and more modern lavatories took their place.
Inside Space Mountain, the queue was augmented with new space-aged back-lit murals. The first of these is an advertisement for space travel. The sign reads, "Welcome Space Travelers - STARPORT SEVEN-FIVE - Your Gateway to the Galaxy." The "SEVEN-FIVE" is in reference to the year Space Mountain opened, 1975. On a side panel you'll find references to all the Active Earth Stations, each with a nod to the five mountains around the world.
Tomorrowland MK-1 (Magic Kingdom)
TL Space Station 77 (Disneyland)
Discovery Landing Station (Disneyland Paris)
Ashita Base (Tokyo Disneyland)
HK Spaceport (Hong Kong Disneyland)
As you venture deeper into the mountain, a number of space-maps line the wall referencing the various routes available for travel from the Starport.
The biggest change to the queue was the addition of 87 video game stations along the path. These were added to help occupy guests’ time as they waited in line. There are four games to play and they help further the story of interstellar vacation travel. This could include clearing a runway of asteroids or moving cargo from one location to another.
The final waiting areas were covered with a dome. Blue neon lights shine down from above.
This new dome created a good and not-so-good effect. The up side was that it cut down on ambient light shining into the actual ride. This made it more difficult for guests to see the track ahead. The downside was that it created a dead zone when journeying through this area on the PeopleMover. Now you traveled in total darkness for an extended period of time
Although portions of the Space Mountain track were replaced, the basic layout was identical to the original design. Many claimed that the ride was smoother after this rehab, but others say it was just as jerky as always.
Another improvement was the addition of an on-ride photo op. Placed near the beginning of the ride, guests’ pictures were snapped as they whizzed by. Besides providing another souvenir opportunity, the flash in peoples’ eyes made it more difficult to see in the darkened environment. Photo viewing was placed at the end of the journey and pictures could be obtained in the Tomorrowland Arcade.
The long exit through the mountain saw a few minor changes. The first was a baggage claim area and a revamped control center. Once again, the backstory of space vacation travel was being told.
The ride along the moving sidewalk was also updated to help tell the story of tourism space travel. Television monitors were added to the various space-aged scenes broadcasting advertisements for the many far off and exotic places Tomorrowland citizens could visit leaving from the Starport.
Many thought that this refurbishment of Space Mountain would include new ride vehicles that contained speakers mounted in the headrests. They were hoping that the ride would offer the same audio experience as could be had on Disneyland’s Space Mountain and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, this did not come to pass.
Then on August 30, 2010, Disney unexpectedly announced that they had added a new sound system to Space Mountain. In a general announcement they said it wasn’t added during the previous rehab in order to bring the ride back on line as quickly as possible. They also said they did not retrofit the ride vehicles because they wanted the experience to be different than that of Disneyland’s Space Mountain. Instead, they strategically placed 60 speakers throughout the mountain.
The reaction to this new sound system was mixed. Some found it additive while others thought Disney had cheaped-out.
Leaving Space Mountain we head down the long corridor that runs toward the Mad Tea Party in Fantasyland. This area only received minor upgrades with the 1994/95 refurbishment of Tomorrowland. And many of these look tacked on.
Still, this area of Tomorrowland does have some interesting space-aged looking trees.
The Grand Prix Raceway is also located along this corridor. As I said in Part Five of this series, the Interstate System had become passé by the late 1960’s so the Imagineers opted for a racetrack theme at the Magic Kingdom rather than the freeway design of Disneyland’s Autopia. However, a speedway really didn’t fit with the Tomorrowland theme. But having no better place to put it, that’s where it ended up.
The new backstory for Tomorrowland was no better than the old when trying to come up with a logical reason for this attraction to exist where it does, so the Imagineers didn’t even try. It’s simply a racetrack, no more, no less. However, the attraction did receive some enhancements as part of the Tomorrowland makeover and reopened after a short refurbishment on September 27, 1996. It was now called the Tomorrowland Speedway.
Three years later, Disney and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway joined forces to change the theme of the track. Enhancements such as the Yard of Bricks, the Scoring Pylon, Gasoline Alley, and the Wheel & Wing logo were added. The attraction also received another name change to incorporate the new sponsor and on December 19, 1999 became known as the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway.
In 2008, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dropped its affiliation and the name changed back to Tomorrowland Speedway. To my knowledge, only the Scoring Pylon remains today from the previous refurbishment.
Today the track is 2,260 feet long. The original design of the Mark VII cars is still used (minus the spoiler). However, the cars have undergone several different paint jobs over the years. Here's the current style.
The car's nine-horsepower engines are fueled by gasoline and can attain speeds of an astounding 7.5 miles per hour. The vehicles hold two adults and there are approximately 140 cars in the fleet.
The Tomorrowland Speedway is a popular ride. For an adult, it is far from being the most exciting attraction at the Magic Kingdom, but for a kid, it can be the highlight of their visit. Many guests race to this attraction when the Magic Kingdom opens each day, making it the first ride on their “must do” list. Long lines develop quickly and last throughout the day.
Across the corridor from the Tomorrowland Speedway is Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café.
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, this eatery was known as the Tomorrowland Terrace and was/is the largest restaurant in the park. Although I don’t have a picture of the interior from back then, I do have a picture of its counterpart at Tokyo Disneyland. The two were strikingly similar.
When Disneyland’s Tomorrowland received a makeover in 1966/67, the Imagineers added a futuristic stage, one that raised from the depths of the earth to appear “out of nowhere.” Logistically, this was a performer’s dream come true. This allowed the band to do all of their advance preparations unseen, then rise to the occasion playing their latest hit.
This concept worked so well at Disneyland that it was duplicated at the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Terrace, albeit inside rather than out. Now performers could enter this stage via the Utilidors and make grand entrances.
When it came time to create a new backstory for the Tomorrowland Terrace in 1994, the establishment was given a new name, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. This would be the first Earth restaurant franchise from outer space and the local hangout for both the citizens of Tomorrowland and its interplanetary guests.
The exterior of the restaurant saw only minor changes.
However the interior was given a whole new look and feel. Three “Bays” each offer a different menu so there is something for everyone here.
Bay 1: Chicken
Bay 2: Hamburgers
Bay 3: Sandwiches
Nearby is an excellent topping bar.
Abundant seating options are available both inside and out.
But the real draw of Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café is Sonny Eclipse and his Astro Organ.
Sonny took up residence on the old “elevating” stage. But unlike his human predecessors, Sonny doesn’t need a break and performs continually whenever the restaurant is open.
Sonny is a lounge lizard, literally. His singing style is Bossa Supernova and Eclipso. He is backed up by the Space Angels and his routine lasts 25 minutes. As with most lounge acts, most people just talk through the entertainment, but I would caution against this. Sonny is funny. Corny, but funny. (Sonny is voiced by Kal David, a professional jazz/blues artist.)
The elevating stage is still used today for special events. Sonny actually sits on what was the roof of the old stage. When a live performance entertains here, Sonny rises into the fly area. This next picture was taken at a recent holiday event.
Today, the name “Tomorrowland Terrace” refers to the restaurant located between Main Street and Monsters Inc.
Well that’s it for my look at Tomorrowland old and new. As we’ve seen, this land has changed a lot over the years and will probably continue to do so in the years to come. Although nothing official has been announced for upcoming attractions in this land, we know that the Imagineers are always on the lookout for new ideas.
This has been a long series and I hope it held your interest. I know I learned a few things researching this piece. I hope you acquired some new Disney knowledge as well.
The previous post in this blog was Tomorrowland - Part Seven.
The next post in this blog is Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort – A Relook.