What's left of the opening day attractions at Orlando's theme parks?

August 12, 2017, 10:10 AM · With this weekend's closing of The Great Movie Ride, Disney's Hollywood Studios will become the first theme park in Orlando no longer to have any of its opening-day attractions. In fact, Disney's Hollywood Studios no longer has its opening-day name, as the park opened at the Walt Disney World Resort in May 1989 under the name Disney-MGM Studios.

Disney rushed to open its studio theme park before rival Universal Studios could open its Orlando park, which followed a year later, in June 1990. Initially conceived as an entertainment industry pavilion within Epcot's Future World, what became Disney-MGM got promoted to a full gate when then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner ordered Walt Disney World to prepare a preemptive strike against Universal's entry into the Orlando market.

It's hard to believe now, but back in the 1980s Disney didn't have the line-up of A-list live-action movie IP that it has today. Disney was known as an animation studio that also produced a few B-list family movies. (Heck, to this day, Disney remains the only major studio never to win the Academy Award for Best Picture for a film released under its name.) So Disney partnered with MGM to bulk up the park's IP, most notably with the inclusion of several MGM classics (such as The Wizard of Oz) in The Great Movie Ride.

But the highlight of the park was the Backstage Studio Tour, a two-hour-plus guided view of Hollywood movie and TV production that included a tram and a walking tour. Disney-MGM Studios was intended to serve as a working movie and television studio, so that visitors could see actual shows in production. Disney assigned a crew of animators to work in the Magic of Disney Animation Tour building, and the Orlando crew helped produce several Disney animated pictures, including Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear before Disney closed it in 2004. But for live action production, Disney didn't have much to show opening-season crowds, eventually sticking the Disney All-American College Orchestra to rehearse in one of the sound stages, simply to give guests something to see in it.

Let's look at the opening day line-ups at each of the Orlando area theme parks... and what's still left open of them at each park today.

Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios)
The Great Movie Ride
Backstage Studio Tour
Magic of Disney Animation Tour
The Monster Sound Show
Superstar Television

Universal Studios Florida
Disney's rival doesn't have much left from its opening day, either, though a cynic might note that USF didn't actually have much open on its opening date at all.

Still open:
E.T. Adventure

Renamed and with new scripts:
The Phantom of the Opera Horror Make-up Show (now the Universal Horror Make-up Show)
Animal Actors Stage (now Animal Actors on Location)

Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies
The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera
Murder, She Wrote Post Production
Production Studio Tour
Ghostbusters Spooktacular
Earthquake: The Big One

SeaWorld Orlando
This one's tough for me to track, as I couldn't find a definite list of its opening day attractions. I know that the Sky Tower was there on opening day in 1973, and that the original Shamu Stadium (officially, the Whale and Dolphin Stadium) is now the Dolphin Theater, so the park has not had a Disney-MGM-level turnover. Of course, shows change every few years at the park, and shows vary from performance to performance, as is to be expected when animals are involved. I will update if anyone can provide more detailed information.

Update: From reader Michael G.: "The sea lion stadium was there when the park opened. Its name was 'Seal and Penguin Stadium.' The dolphin nursery was there and was called 'Dolphin Feeding Pool.' Seaport Theater was also there but was called 'Fountain Fantasy Theatre.'"

Let's continue with the other parks...

Disney's Animal Kingdom
Still open:
It's Tough to Be a Bug!
The Boneyard

Countdown to Extinction (now Dinosaur)
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (now Pangani Forest Exploration Trail)
Wildlife Express to Conservation Station (now Rafiki’s Planet Watch)

New scripts:
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Flights of Wonder

New location:
Festival of the Lion King

Discovery Riverboats
Journey into Jungle Book
Dinosaur Jubilee
Pocohontas and Her Forest Friends

Still open:
The American Adventure
Impressions de France

New narrators and revised scripts:
Spaceship Earth
Listen to the Land

Closed films, but their theaters remains open:
O Canada!
Wonders of China
Magic Journeys

El Rio del Tiempo (now Gran Fiesta Tour)

Universe of Energy
World of Motion
Kitchen Kabaret

Magic Kingdom
Still open:
Walt Disney World Railroad
Jungle Cruise
Swiss Family Treehouse
Mad Tea Party
It's a Small World

Renamed, but the same ride:
Cinderella's Golden Carrousel (now Prince Charming Regal Carrousel)
Grand Prix Raceway (now Tomorrowland Speedway)

Slightly revised, but still going:
Haunted Mansion
Hall of Presidents
Country Bear Jamboree
Tropical Serenade (now Enchanted Tiki Room)

New location:
Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Mike Fink Keel Boats
Diamond Horseshoe Review
Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
Mickey Mouse Review
Snow White's Adventures
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Universal's Islands of Adventure
...which brings us to the park that remains most like its opening day self, though it has seen at least one substantial addition over the years.

Still open:
Doctor Doom's Fearfall
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls
Jurassic Park River Adventure
Eighth Voyage of Sindbad
If I Ran the Zoo
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
The Cat in the Hat

Rebuilt, but the same ride:
Incredible Hulk Coaster

New script:
Poseidon’s Fury

Renamed, but soon to be closed:
Dueling Dragons (now Dragon Challenge)

Island Skipper Tours

What's your favorite "opening day" Orlando theme park attraction? And which retired one do you miss most?

Replies (37)

August 12, 2017 at 10:21 AM · Snow White's Scary Adventures is still open in Walt Disney World? I thought that was closed up, long before the mine train.
August 12, 2017 at 10:31 AM · Beat me to it, Goodwin. Snow White shut down to make way for Seven Drawfs Mine Train and the rest of New Fantasy Land over five years ago.
August 12, 2017 at 10:57 AM · Wouldn't the American Adventure go under "revised" due to the changes in its finale?

I would have loved to see opening day Epcot. Sounds like it was a wonderful place.

August 12, 2017 at 11:52 AM · Horizons.
August 12, 2017 at 12:23 PM · 20,000 leagues wasn't an opening day attraction?
August 12, 2017 at 12:26 PM · Hall of Presidents has been closed for the better part of a year with no reopening date in sight. While it can't be said to be gone for good just yet, it certainly shouldn't be listed as "slightly revised, but still going", either.
August 12, 2017 at 2:18 PM · Sorry, Disneyland on the brain with Snow White. Fixed.

I debated The American Adventure, but ultimately thought that those changes to the end film montage were so minor compared with all the other changes in various attractions.

August 12, 2017 at 2:55 PM · Life & Health pavilion
August 12, 2017 at 4:18 PM · I was going to argue Indiana Jones stunt show but then checked and saw it opened a few months after the rest of the park.

Also "Wonders of China" gave way to "Reflections of CHina" if you wanted to count that.

August 12, 2017 at 5:18 PM · What about 20,000 league under the seas? That was closed in 1994
August 12, 2017 at 6:21 PM · Yes! Body wars at Epcot was awesome!
August 12, 2017 at 7:31 PM · What about Horizens in EPCOT
August 12, 2017 at 8:45 PM · Carousel of Progress is still open although updated.
August 12, 2017 at 8:52 PM · If they kept it up to date and made it the Great Disney Movie Ride with Snow White and Mr Toads, it will still be popular. It was quite painful to see the old movie references that I haven't seen for decades. Budsy Berkeley was innovative 80 years ago. It's embarrassing now.
August 12, 2017 at 9:31 PM · I can only hope they never get rid of E.T., purely for how insane the latter half of that ride is
August 12, 2017 at 11:01 PM · My family were there in that 1st year for the park we still call 'MGM'.
It became our favourite & home to so many happy memories. Driving through the wardrobe department on the backstage tour is one of those things ingrained on my memory. I will always look back on that tour in its original form fondly.
While I appreciate the need for change, I will always be nostalgic for that time.
The last day is here for my family's beloved Great Movie Ride, and I have always said 'Great' is right there in the title.
So sad we miss it by 9 days...
That's a wrap my old friend, thank you.
August 12, 2017 at 11:40 PM · @TH: Wonders of Life didn't open until 1989.

Of course, Journey into Imagination should be mentioned.

August 13, 2017 at 4:19 AM · Ahhh yes ... right.
August 13, 2017 at 6:12 AM · Just minor corrections, at Animal Kingdom Gorilla Falls trail was renamed back to Gorilla Falls trail last year. It was changed for several years but is now back to its original glory. Also technically the building at Rafikis Planet Watch is still called Conservation Station. Just the whole land was given a name later on to Rafikis Planet Watch.

August 13, 2017 at 6:38 AM · The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is my favorite opening day attraction, the one I miss is Jaws... although I never got to experience the opening day version of it.
August 13, 2017 at 12:25 PM · Haunted Mansion & JAWS.
August 13, 2017 at 11:20 AM · FWIW, Journey Into Imagination didn't open until 1983.
August 13, 2017 at 11:38 AM · Peter Pan is still open and the Que was improved. The Walt Disney Story is gone. They probably burned all the copies since Walt said that at least 50% of the property would remain in it's natural state. They have to be close if they already haven't exceeded that.
August 13, 2017 at 11:43 AM · Spidey and haunted are my two fav opening day rides. I do miss jaws though and I l will miss the great movie ride dearly. It's getting rid of its original Charm had but I'm excited for the new ride. Great topic and idea loved it !
August 13, 2017 at 1:55 PM · I would say Jungle Cruise and Small Word fall under "revised" as each has undergone changes over the years.
August 13, 2017 at 3:32 PM · If anything from what I can gather from this article, and from results of the new Universal Orlando ride lineup, the old studio park theme just doesn't work anymore at all. It boring to the general public. Time for Disney to catch up to Universal with its now ex studio park (except for Indiana Jones stunt show, but give that about two years from now), and convert it into an immersive live in the movies theme park experience.
August 13, 2017 at 7:34 PM · Doh! Saw the Imagination Pavilion opened in 1982 and assumed Journey opened with it.
August 13, 2017 at 8:03 PM · Dolphin Nursery at SeaWorld has gone through two extensive remodels since opening day. The most recent remodels just opened this year, but this site doesn't really cover new SeaWorld attractions. The updated Nursery is beautiful, and gives guests a closer than ever look at adorable baby dolphins via a large underwater viewing panel, and three 'bubble' windows.

Another opening day attraction at SeaWorld that is still present, but had been notable changed is Pelican Point near the entrance to Manta. Originally the pool had tall walls and was the Seal and Sea Lion feeder pool. In 1992 when Pacific Point Preserve opened, the original Sea Lion pool turned into Turtle Point before becoming a home for rescued Pelicans.

August 14, 2017 at 4:32 AM · I miss Horizons and World of Motion at Epcot. Also miss having a night time parade at MK and afternoon parades at Hollywood Studios and AK :(
August 14, 2017 at 4:58 AM · Well, IOA is the last park to open out of the group (and the only one in the 2000s). I think that park had the advantage of learning everybody else's mistakes.

Universal Orlando is an interesting read since I heard that ET was basically forced to stay there by Spielberg. It is also an interesting case study in rail rides since its as popular as ever (along with rival Peter Pan's Flight down the road).

This list also made me think about EPCOT who really hasn't changed that much over the years. Most of their changes seem to be tweaks of the current theme. The only "major change" was Horizons to Mission Space.

August 14, 2017 at 10:49 AM · Islands of Adventure opened in May 1999.

Fred Roy only about 35% of the 27,000 acres that make up Walt Disney World have been developed. They're still far below the 50% mark. It's highly unlikely that they will reach 50% in our lifetime, if ever.

August 14, 2017 at 10:51 AM · Um, I think EPCOT has undergone major changes like World of Motion to Test Track. Universe of Energy, Spaceship Earth, Land and IMagination have all undergone major changes too.
August 14, 2017 at 11:05 AM · IOA is still kind of the baby park. It will be very interesting to see it develop over the next 10 years. I would guess that Toon Lagoon is set to be replaced or upgraded, though I really enjoy the water rides in that area!

August 14, 2017 at 11:10 AM · I'm with Anthony here, though with one notable exception. I think both Disney and Universal have discovered that there's no demand for a theme park based around a working TV/movie studio. The original concepts surrounding USF and DHS are essentially dead, and those parks are being forced to forge completely new identities. As Anthony noted, IOA is the newest of the bunch, and was carefully planned to incorporate all of what was learned from previous theme parks. However, IOA is likely to go through major changes in the next decade as the land-locked park seeks additional space to improve/expand.

Dueling Dragons/Dragon Challenge is gone at the end of the month, and the Lost Continent probably doesn't have more than a few years before it's similarly gone. Jurassic Park has been rumored to undergo a transformation for years, as has Toon Lagoon. Suess Landing could use a new anchor attraction, and who knows what the future holds Marvel Super Hero Island since any major modifications could risk losing the powerful license.

Parks evolve and change, and that's all this really shows. Also park concepts change over time, and I think we're moving into a trend of IP parks instead of parks designed and built around a single unifying concept. Whether the pendulum swings back the other way is unclear, but what is clear is that if you don't have a bankable IP these days, you're dead in the water (Sea World).

August 14, 2017 at 11:17 AM · To those wondering about Disney preserving part of the resort, keep in mind Disney has donated land to offset the cointinued development of Disney World.


August 15, 2017 at 11:43 AM · As a classic film buff, I really miss "Alfred Hitchcock: The art of making movies" at Universal. I liked its interactive nature of being selected to participate in a green screen special effect (hanging from the Statue of Liberty's torch from "Saboteur", crawling under the merry ground from "Strangers on a Train"), watching neighbors through binoculars across the courtyard to see "Rear Window's" characters just as Jimmy Stewart did, and running up the stairs in the mission just as Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak did in "Vertigo". If you loved those films, it was a way to feel like you were in them!

What about the Orange Bird walk-around character from Magic Kingdom's early days? I know he is not an attraction, and that he has made a return in adventureland in terms of merchandise and signage, but I have a soft spot for him! I hope they bring the walk-around character back so people (like me) can take photos with him!

August 16, 2017 at 12:47 PM · O Canada!

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