Pandora World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
The third gate at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida has been working through some things the past few years. Really, the “show business” themed third gate has been in flux since May 1, 1989 when it opened as Disney – MGM Studios. January 2008 brought a new name; Disney’s Hollywood Studios, gone was the MGM baggage and a shift in the timeline began. The 2017 version of WDW’s third gate; currently DHS, is a Under Construction version of a “show business” themed park. Much of DHS has been shuttered, moved away by heavy machinery to make way for the future. Gone is the Golden Girls home and the Bull Dog Cafe from the Rocketeer, Catastrophe Canyon and Street of America leveled down to dirt, even the icons of DHS have been scraped and erased from the landscape.
The true and original icon of Disney – MGM Studios was the Earfull or Earffel Tower. At some point early on the fasade of the Chinese Theater became associated as being the icon of Disney World’s third gate; mostly because many guests could go the whole day in the park without noticing the tower. Then there was a period where a temporary Sorcerers Cap was put in front of the Chinese Theater and some people said that was the icon; yeah the Mickey Mouse Sorcerers Cap was never the icon of the Studio Park… maybe temporary misguided and lazy icon status can be given, but that is a very large maybe.
Who cares? The Sorcerers Cap finally came down 14 years later and so did the Mickey Mouse Ears Water Tower. These acts; the dismantling of the icons at Disney’s third gate, sent a clear message to anyone paying attention that things here will be different.
Everyone is waiting for what’s next at Disney World’s third gate, waiting for Star Wars Land and Pixarland; oh wait, Pixarland would have made sense, we are waiting on Toy Story Land. We are also waiting on a name… yes, even the name of the third theme park built at Walt Disney World will be changing. Remember, MGM/DHS/??? has been going through something and it’s been a long time in the making or remaking.
Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971 with two attractions; the Grand Prix Raceway and the Skyway to Fantasyland. Many more attractions would open during the next few months and years with the largest and most iconic addition to Tomorrowland coming on January 15, 1975; the opening of Space Mountain. A couple of months after Space Mountain opened, Flight to the Moon was replaced with Mission to Mars; beginning a long Disney tradition of replacing, upgrading, and expanding what many perceive as static and unchangeable features of Disney World. Since opening the doors in 1971, Walt Disney World has replaced, reimagined, or expanded individual attractions over 50 times and shows no signs of slowing down that pace of growth.
In 1994 the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland received extensive changes; with new futuristic theming, upgraded attractions, and even the replacement of several long running attractions. Sonny Eclipse; the cool, wise-cracking, romantic lounge singer and astro-organ player from Yew Nork City, came on the scene in January of 1994. Sonny took up residence at the Starlight Cafe, entertaining guests with hits like “Starlight Soup and Salad,” and “My Name is Sonny Eclipse.” 1998 saw Buzz Lightyear begin recruitment of young cadets to battle against the Evil Emperor Zerg. The Skyway closed in October of 1999 leaving the Raceway; then the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, now the Tomorrowland Speedway as the only remaining Tomorrowland attraction from the opening day of Walt Disney World. Over the years the racing inspired attraction has seen many changes, including having the track shortened on 3 separate occasions; leaving the Tomorrowland Speedway 32% shorter than the original opening day length. The space used by the dated combustion engine themed attraction seems more akin to Yesterdayland than a Land focused on galactic space travel and ideas about tomorrow. The Speedway should join the Skyway; taking it’s place in Disney history to make way for the reimagined and expanded Tomorrowland.
23 years separates the opening of Tomorrowland and the Land’s first major refurbishment and 22 years separate today’s Tomorrowland from the last major upgrade. The time for change has arrived.
A large portion of the year is spent on park property in Walt Disney World; that’s usually where you can find me.