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Lou Mongello’s Walt Disney World Wayback Machine – Winter, 1987

Everybody ready? Here we go!!! Everything looks good. Flux capacitor is… well… fluxing… (Ooops! Wrong movie!)

(insert dream sequence music and blurry visual effects here)

I wanted to visit a really exciting, interesting time in Walt Disney World´s storied history, and today, I´ve chosen 1987. More specifically, the holiday season. Why? Well, there was some pretty funky stuff going on around this time, and this is my one shot to check out some things that… well… just aren´t gonna last that long.

So, what should I be wearing in 1987? Well, according to Mickey and pals, I should be in my requisite shiny silver jumpsuit (it´s what all the cool kids will be wearing I hear). OK. Maybe not. But Mickey sure was dressed like a kind of hippie Buck Rogers with the spacesuit and rainbows, but that´s neither here nor there. Maybe I´ll just whip out a pair of my acid washed jeans… oh! Better yet! Maybe my Cavariccis! (Yes, I owned a few pairs. Please don´t beat me up. High school was bad enough)

OK, on to WDW. Attendance just topped more than 250 Million Guests. Pretty impressive if you ask me. And how does Disney say “Thank You”? In true Disney style, if you ask me! “When you wish upon a car…” Huh? Yeah, that´s not a typo! Disney ran something called “Everybody Wins Weekends” where each and every single Guest who passed through the gates of the Magic Kingdom or Epcot Center won a prize! But Lou…. A CAR, you ask? Yup! Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day, someone would win a band, spankin´ new 1988 Chevy Cavalier or S-10 pickup truck – Every Hour!! In that same span of time, other people would win cruises for two on Premier Cruise Lines vacation to the Bahamas (Gee… think maybe Disney should start their OWN cruise line?). OK, so not everyone won a car or cruise, but other prizes induced theme park tickets, Disney Dollars (like cash, but more fun), limited edition pins, food and more!

Oh wait… before I get all mushy about WDW in 1987, I need to first remove my hat, and let´s all share a moment of reverent silence for… If You Had Wings. After Eastern Airlines´ sponsorship of the attraction ended, it was unceremoniously transformed (in about 5 days) into “If You Could Fly” – a shell of it´s former self. And sorry, but having Magic Journeys move into the old home of the Mickey Mouse Revue on December 15 was no consolation. I guess the “Disney-MGM Studios” Preview Centerat the Walt Disney Story Theater on Main Street, USA is supposed to make me feel better? Well, based on some of the drawings and film I see here, I guess it kinda does.

One of the things I really like about this period in WDW´s history was that it was a time when Disney was feeling quite patriotic, just like me. Santa may have the spotlight around this time of hear, but Disney was going to really give what they called a “Star Spangled Salute to America.”It might be the season to be jolly, but it was also a time for the “All America Parade”. In an interesting blend of patriotism and holiday spirit, Disney introduced the (then) largest daily parade ever held in the Magic Kingdom. With 16 floats representing regions around the U.S. including a New England lighthouse to a New Orleans Jazz band to a “surfin´ California beach party”, the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto) and others adorned the floats. A marching band led the parade, followed by a giant replica of the U.S. Constitution. While the parade kicked off the 4th of July celebration earlier in the year, the holidays “kicked it up a notch” (sorry for the use of the cliché) by lining the streets with holly, and welcoming Santa as the Guest of Honor. It was a read, white and blue (and green) extravaganza!

And the celebration of the American dream didn´t end there! What better place to celebrate America than (No, not Space Mountain) Liberty Square! To honor the 200th birthday of the signing of the Constitution, you could have walked through Liberty Square and heard the Sons of Liberty Fife and Drum Corps, as well as join in song with the Spirit of America singers. The Hall of Presidents had a special display of Revolutionary War artifacts, and copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

But let´s get on to some of the cool holiday stuff going on, right? Mickey´s Very Merry Christmas Party is going to be the biggest since it´s inception just a few years ago. Like always, it´s a ticketed event (meaning you need to buy an additional ticket above and beyond your normal theme park admission). But that´s OK, because Disney is giving away more cars and cruises tonight! And hey, for 16 bucks, that´s not all that bad. I can relax and watch the “Mickey´s `Twas the Night Before Christmas musical version of the classic poem. Ken Darby (“Song of the South”, “The Wizard of Oz”) is the legendary Hollywood composer who composed the original music. And hey, it´s worth it for me just to be able to see the “Fantasy In the Sky” fireworks one more time. But can´t waste much time here, as I can pretty much see both of these in almost the same form or another today. It´s EPCOT Center that things are really wild!

Why? You ask? Well, I´ll bet you don´t remember the circus in Epcot, do you? Ahh, ye… what better way to celebrate the holidays than with a “futuristic” circus high above your hear in EPCOT Center, the “educational” theme park. And no, I´m not talking about the old Circus World from Haines City (Which was renamed Boardwalk & Baseball in February, 1987).

Billed as “The Greatest Show in the World” (I thought that was Ringling Bros., but what do I know?), The “EPCOT Daredevil Circus Spectacular” was quite sight to see… while it lasted.

High above CommuniCore was the “Space Arena” where, four times a day, this ultramodern circus was performed. Eight distinctive “Rings of Space” (how 80´s!) surrounded Guests, along with, believe it or not, elephants! High-flying “Space Cyclists”raced above your head on thin wires towards Spaceship Earth. Twice daily, “Skywalker” Jay Cochran walked a tightwire 180 feet off the ground that nearly reaches the top of Spaceship Earth. There were also dozens of acrobats, dancers and activities. Funky stuff, man.

Well, at least they´ll never mess with Journey Into Imagination. That Dreamfinder/Figment combination is money in the bank. It´s like Abbot and Costello, Burns and Allen, or Martin and Lewis. OK, a quick ride-though Horizons (I think I´ll choose the Space ending this time), a quick trip through the World of Motion, then I´m off to enjoy the 10 nations that make up World Showcase. Yup. I said 10. (Norway won´t open until 1988).

The holiday spirit carries through our little World´s Fair in central Florida, and it´s ushered in by non other than everyone´s favorite celebrity – Carol Lawrence. (Lou takes the Wayback Machine just a little bit further back, and explains who Carol Lawrence was. The original star of the stage production of “West Side Story”, she also appeared in numerous TV shows, movies and stage shows, from the 1950s to a 2000 appearance in Sex and the City). Anyway, the lovely Ms. Lawrence was the star of the World Showcase “Holiday Splendor” show. A celebration of holiday festivities from around the world, she, the World Dancers, and a group of children sang and danced their little hearts out at the America Garden Theater throughout December.

As night falls, I´m still a little smitten by Carol Lawrence (I SWEAR she was singing to me!), it´s time really get in 80´s mode and pick my spot for the oh-so-funk-alicious “Laserphonic Fantasy”. This nighttime laser, water and fireworks show was performed on and above the World Showcase Lagoon. Billed as a “futuristic Fantasia” (notice how practically everything has been “futuristic” around here?), it features choreographed imagery projected onto dancing waters, culminating in a rousing rendition of the “1812 Overture”, coupled with a fireworks show like no other to date. (Just wait´ll you get a load of Illuminations! Baby, you ain´t seen nuthin´ yet!)

Finally, what would Christmas time at WDW be without a little Christmas. So far, the motorcycle guy and guys dressed in funny-looking Revolutionary War garb just ain´t cutting it for me. So, I´m off to Downtown Disney… I mean, the “Walt Disney World Village” to enjoy the beautiful dignified performances of “The Glory and Pageantry of Christmas.” For 12 years, a cast of 36 performers retells the story of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Not just a stage show, the entire Shopping Village has been transformed into a recreation of Bethlehem (although I´m not sure the Bethlehem around Jesus´ time has a “Village Liquors”, a giant Riverboat restaurant, trendy clothes or a wide assortment of character plushes). The waterfront dock stage is where the story unfolds, led by a narrator and costumed “villagers.”

Well, the shops are just about closed, I´m pretty much exhausted, and clearly out of cash, so it´s time go back to reality. Of course, maybe I´ll just go back to my room, watch “Dynasty” or the A-Team, then breakdance to the sounds of Price while I party like it´s 1999. Then again, I´ve been working on this Rubik´s Cube for about 7 years now with no success, so you know what? I´m outta here. “Make it so.”

I´ll see you on our next trip back in time, as we visit Walt Disney World they way you may (or may not) remember it.

This article originally appeared in the February 28, 2006, Issue of the ALL EARS® Newsletter (ISSN: 1533-0753)