At Across the West, we are big proponents of the Road Less Traveled. There’s irony in that; if you tell everyone about the less-traveled road, you run the risk of it no longer being less-traveled. It’s a calculated risk; there are sufficient less-traveled roads for all of us to be together in our isolation, so I think the risk is low.
But as much as we love to see and do new things, we also occasionally appreciate the well-trodden path. We like unique, out of the way, and lesser-known locations, but sometimes a well-known spot can hold a little magic of its own. And we also fully embrace nostalgia, looking back on the simpler times of youth, the small joys of childhood, the innocence of inexperience, and so many of life’s firsts. We love to think back on times when our cares were smaller, and our burdens were lighter.
A great source of nostalgia for those of us who grew up in Southern California is looking back on our childhood trips to Disneyland. It was a once-a-year event for my family, and I still remember the excitement, the anticipation, and the thrill of it all. It still retains its magic for many people who grew up loving Disneyland–including me–, and as I look back, it’s fun to reminisce about the Disney attractions that no longer exist. Here’s a few favorites.
Videopolis opened in 1985, riding the wave of enthusiasm for all things music and video in the early 80s. By day, the location was the Fantasyland Theater, but by night, it transformed into dance club video show extravaganza. With dozens of video displays showing music videos and live feeds of the crowd, a dazzling light show, and a throbbing sound system, teens would flock to this Disney hot spot and dance to the sounds of the biggest 80s bands. The dance club scene was ditched in 1989 after gang violence marred the fun, but while it lasted, Videopolis was the site of the first “night club” experience for many a young Southern California teen. I still think about Videopolis every time I hear ABC’s Be Near Me.
The PeopleMover was a Tomorrowland attraction that opened in 1967, and took riders on a plodding, 7 mph “Grand Circle Tour” of Tomorrowland. For as slow and uneventful as the 16-minute ride was, it was a must-see attraction for every Disneyland visit. Not only did it afford riders a birds-eye view of Tomorrowland and its environs, it gave tired guests a chance to rest their feet and relax. The ride closed in 1995, but a version of the ride still exists at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. The track remains in place, and in 1998, became the home of…
This short-lived ride took the existing pathway of the PeopleMover, and hit the virtual accelerator. The same track that took the PeopleMover 16 minutes to traverse was covered by Rocket Rods in just 3 minutes. The unusual 5-seater cars rode on a redesigned propulsion system, and would perform a simulated “wheelie” in straightaway sections. The ride was notorious for malfunctions and shut-downs, with the final closure occurring in 2000, owing to deficiencies in the track support structure, which was designed for the much lazier PeopleMover, and was not engineered for the high speeds and constant speed changes of the Rocket Rods.
Adventure Thru Inner Space
Another Tomorrowland Staple of youth was officially called Adventure Thru Inner Space, but no one ever called it that. We always called it the Incredible Shrinking Machine. I don’t know where we got that name, but we always included the “incredible” part, as if it were the official other name. The idea of the attraction was to simulate the experience of being shrunk down smaller than the size of an atom, and was actually sponsored by Monsanto. While “shrinking” down to subatomic size, riders were taken through and into the water molecules of a snowflake, ultimately penetrating an oxygen atom itself. There was actually some sound chemistry in the ride. The ride cars were called Atommobiles, and were actually the same kind of cars as the Haunted Mansion Doom Buggies. The ride was notably narrated by Paul Frees, the legendary voice actor whose voice still appears as the “Ghost Host” on the Haunted Mansion, voiced many of the Pirates on the Pirates of the Caribbean, and for years was the voice of the Disneyland Railroad.
Mission to Mars
Tomorrowland was the scene of many of the now-defunct Disney attractions, due to ever-shifting visions of the future. Mission to Mars actually started out as Rocket to the Moon, which changed to Flight to the Moon, but then was updated to Mission to Mars because humans had already flown to the Moon, and Mars still seemed exotic. The attraction was mostly a show, and featured a number of animatronic characters working in a mission control center, which led to a circular theater with multiple video screens displaying “views” outside the rocket. The theater seats would move and vibrate to simulate the motion of the spacecraft. A related ride was opened in 2003 at Disney’s Epcot in Florida called Mission: Space, and features a fairly intense centrifuge system to simulate a fraction of the G-forces experienced in actual space flight. Two people have died after experiencing the ride, though both had pre-existing conditions. Many Disney attractions include warnings about the nausea, dizziness, headaches, and other motion-sickness symptoms, and cautioning people with pre-existing conditions to avoid the ride, and in this case, they’re serious.
Opening in 1956, the Skyway, which we only ever called the “Sky Buckets,” was an aerial ropeway gondola tram carrying riders between stations in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, cruising over portions of Autopia, the Submarine Voyage, through the Matterhorn, and across Fantasyland to a station perched above the Casey Jr. Circus Train. The ride actually predated the Matterhorn, and when the latter was built, it served the added function of disguising the 60-foot central pylon for the Skyway. In a moment of youthful exuberance, I was once almost ejected from the park for repeatedly rocking the bucket and causing the ride to stop.
Main Street Electrical Parade
The only Disney parade that I ever cared about was the Main Street Electrical Parade, and it has made several reappearances over the years. The currently-running “Paint the Night” parade blends a heavily revised version of the “Baroque Hoedown” music from the Electrical Parade with contemporary dance music, but it’s a far cry from the iconic “electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds” of the original.
The ground-breaking filming technique Circle-Vision 360° used 9 film cameras arranged in a circle to capture 360° views of a scene, which were then projected onto nine film screens, also arranged in a circle. The theater was incorporated into the line of Rocket Rods, but ultimately closed to be replaced by Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.