Despite having several large additions in the previous decades (Star Tours, Space Mountain), Tomorrowland was starting to look…not so futuristic as the 1995 40th Anniversary of Disneyland was celebrated. Plans were being made for another extensive remodel, the first since 1967. Work would begin extensively in 1997 to make this happen.
Before a major remodel began, there were a few changes that appeared in the area, even if on a temporary basis. First up came Toy Story Funhouse, based on the popular movie. Standing in the Mission to Mars building, which closed in 1992, this Funhouse was a multi-room where kids were able to play Toy Story video games, run an obstacle course or purchase photos with the movie characters. A gift shop was also included. Toy Story Funhouse opened on January 27, 1996, just 69 days after the movie opened in theaters (and you thought Frozen had a fast theme-park integration). The Funhouse proved to not be, and was shut down on May 27, just five months after opening. The building would remain empty until the upcoming remodel was completed.
In February 1996 the Alpine Gardens were re-landscaped and re-themed after The Little Mermaid. Named King Triton’s Gardens, statues of the movie characters were placed around the pond, with Triton in the middle of the pond, water shooting from his trident. There was also a clam shell shaped area to meet Ariel and other Disney Princesses. The area would be re-themed again in 2008, although the King Triton statue from the pond still stands, only now it is Disney California Adventure over the entrance of the Little Mermaid attraction.
In preparation of the remodel, which would be designed as a Jules Verne vision of the future, thereby eliminating the design becoming outdated after a few decades, several attractions would be shut down: The PeopleMover stopped rolling in 1995; in 1996 Space Place served its last meal, while in 1997 Captain EO stopped dancing, the Rocket Jets came in for their final landing, and CircleVision360’s theater dimmed for the last time.
Two months before the new Tomorrowland would be “completed”, a new Kiosk opened, paying tribute to the “old” Tomorrow. Spirit of Refreshment opened on March 21, 1998, selling bottled Coca-Cola products. There are two distinguishing features of this cart compared to others in the park. First, it sits at the base of a Moonliner rocket, making its return to the park after being removed for 32 years. At 52 feet tall, it was not as tall as its predecessor, but it again stands in the park. The second highlight, cast members will launch your purchase into the air and catch it without causing foam explosions when opening the bottle. The Spirit of Refreshment still vends soda today.
When the construction walls were taken down on May 22, 1998, a new Tomorrowland greeting park guests and the public world wide, as the dedication and opening ceremonies were streamed live over the Internet. At the front of the land, close to Main Street USA, stood the Astro-Orbitors, a spinning ride to take the place of the Rocket Jets. Gone were the classic rocket shaped pods that had circled Tomorrowland since 1956, replaced by vehicles styled in gold and brass with blue trim, while the center tower also got a new look. Rotating spheres adorned the top of the tower, which now rose from the ground as opposed to on the roof of a structure as the Rocket Jets had. The Astro-Orbitors are still circling the park today.
As you enter Tomorrowland, to the left of the Astro-Orbitors stood the next new attraction to open with the remodel, the American Space Experience. Taking over half of the CircleVision 360 theater, this NASA sponsored exhibit celebrated 40 years of space exploration. Guests could have an up close look at an Apollo spacesuit and moon rocks, or step on scales that would reveal their weight on other planets. Like most exhibit displays in Tomorrowland’s past, this display would not be long lasting, as the doors shut in 2003.
Off the ground, Tomorrowland was also changing with the remodel. First, the PeopleMover vehicles were removed for a new attraction, the Rocket Rods. Guests would line up in a queue in the former CircleVision 360 building, which offered offered a history of transportation as guests walked by, while waiting for their turn in hour long lines. When they reached the boarding area at the former PeopleMover loading platform, they would step in to a five passenger Rocket Rod. They would then launch on a 30 mile an hour thrill ride over Tomorrowland. When it worked, which it often did not. Due to the unreliability of the attraction, Rocket Rods closed on April 28, 2001. The PeopleMover/Rocket Rod track still stands in Tomorrowland, but due to new safety regulations, appears they will never be utilized by the public again (they are still occasionally used for special events by cast members). In the building of Rocket Rods, the exterior of the CircleVision360 show building was painted in a transportation-themed design, ending the display of the Corridor of Murals from the 1967 remodel.
With the Astro-Orbitors landing at the Tomorrowland entrance, there was need for a focal point at the top of the Rocket Rod loading platform. Borrowing a design from Disneyland Paris, the Observatron. This kinetic sculpture resembles a collection of satellite dishes and cables. One feature often overlooked is the Observatron also acts as a clock, going into motion each quarter hour and displaying the time at the end of its activity, similar to the clock tower of It’s A Small World in Fantasyland. The Observatron still stands today.
Taking the place of the Mission to Mars building, and thus the very short lived Toy Story Funhouse, more food. Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, has been serving salads, slices of pizza and pasta dishes since its doors opened. Served in a cafeteria style, the former attraction building offers large seating areas inside and outside of the theater. It is also one of the few establishments in the park that offers self service beverages.
The final addition of the May 22 debut of the new Tomorrowland came in the Magic Eye Theater. Disney was seeking a new movie to replace Captain EO, and to add to the guest experience. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, transplanted from Walt Disney World, fit the bill. On screen, Inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis), is being honored as the Imagine Institute’s Inventor of the Year, when he demonstrates his device, thereby “shrinking” the 3-D glasses wearing audience. Chaos and seating special effects ensue, including air blasts simulated mice over guests’ feet. The queue area was decorated with photos of previous Inventor of the Year honorees, including Professor Phillip Brainard (Robin Williams’ role in Flubber). The attraction closed down in 2010.
Although the May 22 “grand reveal” of Tomorrowland was complete, the land was not done growing. Just one month later. on June 22, 1998, Cosmic Waves made its debut near the Spirit of Refreshment. A 60 foot circular plaza/splash zone, the concept was for kids to run around and avoid getting wet from the five foot tall water jets shooting from the ground. Children failed to get the memo, and spent their time jumping through the water and getting wet/soaked without their parents having towels for them. Also included in the plaza is a six-ton granite ball that can be rotated on its platform by park guests. Disney shut the water jets off in 2001, yet the stone ball remains and can still be spun by guests.
The Carousel of Progress/America Sings show building was also due to get a new attraction as part of the Tomorrowland rehab. In the Disneyland spirit of exhibitions, Innoventions answered the call and opened to park guests on July 3, 1998. Another transplant from Walt Disney World, Innoventions gave looks into the technologies of today and the near future. Different corporations sponsored different areas of the venue, with video games and robots being on display at times. The a large section of the interior show building was transformed into a 5,000 square foot Innoventions Dream Home, a call back to the House of Tomorrow, that featured a high tech well furnished home, including gadgets such as a coffee table/tablet device and a magic bedroom with LED stars and occasional projection of Tinkerbell during story time. In 2013, part of the Innoventions hall became devoted to Marvel, and park guests were able to meet Iron Man, with Thor and Captain America appearing the next year. Innoventions closed on March 31, 2015. No replacements have been announced yet (but internet speculation is rampant).
The former Lunching Pad building received a new occupant in March 1999, though no park guests were allowed inside the Radio Disney Broadcast Booth. Instead, they were able to look though sound proof glass as deejays worked the soundboards inside the building, broadcasting live across the United States. This working exhibit would last for four years, closing at the end of 2001.
It should be mentioned here that the Submarine Voyage, in its original form, closed in 1998. In 2000, in the former loading area for the subs rose a new shopping kiosk, the Autopia Winner’s Circle, which guest could enter as they came down the exit stairs of the same ride. T-shirt, die-cast Autopia cars and other park merchandise was on sale here. The Winner’s Circle was relocated in 2007 to a new location near Innoventions, where it is still selling merchandise.
In May 2001, Tomorrowland Terrace was given a makeover and a new name, Club Buzz. The terrace planters were replaced with a new sculpture, and the rising stage would rise to present a new show, Calling All Space Scouts: A Buzz Lightyear Adventure. The climax of the show was a confrontation between Buzz and the Evil Emperor Zurg. Club Buzz would last until 2007.
The Tomorrowland tour is almost complete, as there is just one more decade to look at. Part 7 will look at Tomorrowland from 2005 through 2015, look for it soon. I thank you for taking the time to read this today. I ask you would please leave comments. You may contact me directly on twitter @jostephenson78, and you may also subscribe to be alerted by email when new postings are published. Quest for Vault Disney is now on Facebook. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/questforvaultdisney. Have a great rest of your day. See ya real soon…