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AbandonedWorld (continued)

Abandoned Disney-MGM Studios

Above what's now Playhouse Disney, back when this was an eatery much like the Hollywood and Dine food court at DCA, there was the Catwalk Bar. The restaurant space was converted for the stage show, but the bar is simply gone.

A large warehouse behind Meet Mickey is only opened up to the public on rare occasions, such as during Star Wars Weekends, where it's used as a merchandise location and houses an X-Wing for photos. Why not put something like that in here all the time?

AbandondedWorld

A series of alcoves in the exit area of the Backlot Tram Tour used to hold minor set pieces, but is now completely empty (and useless). Your local bus station has more charm.

AbandondedWorld

Most noticeable of all are buildings which once housed entire attractions but now sit completely empty. Near Lights Motors Action is the former home of the Hunchback Theater, which is currently used only to store the Osborne Family Spectacle lights in the months before the Christmas season begins.

AbandondedWorld

And right in the very hub of the park sits SuperStar Television, closed all year long except for the odd special event, like Star Wars Weekends. Is there no attraction that could go in here? Why is "closed" preferable to "open"?

AbandondedWorld

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Disney's Animal Kingdom

DAK is the newest park and has the fewest abandoned areas. Only one leaps to mind: the docks for the water taxi boats, which were never very popular, sported long lines, and made people mad that they waited in long lines for essentially nothing, as there wasn't much in the way of "show" for this ride. One of the docks is used for character greeting now; the other sits empty and unused.

AbandondedWorld

Otherwise, DAK comes out of this examination of the WDW resort looking pretty good. This may be the effect of Joe Rohde as DAK's chief Imagineer. Does he really have the clout to get management to keep things open?

While we're on the subject, just who are the Joe Rohde-type chief Imagineers for the other parks at WDW? (Does each park even have one?)

Abandoned WDW

Let's start with the minor infractions: as you exit the ramps at the Ticket and Transportation Center, you'll see lots of signs pointing out the way to the other parks (by bus or monorail). On many signs, you'll see an entry just blacked over. It's been this way for years. What is it? It's covering up Downtown Disney. Long ago they had to discontinue bus service from the free parking at DtD to the TTC, due to abuse. While that was assuredly necessary, was it necessary to have the signs looking so ghetto for years at a time?

Then there are the closed restaurants. Bonfamille's was a full-service restaurant at Port Orleans and now sits empty, behind curtains, essentially rotting. A 70s-era Tangaroa Terrace at the Polynesian sits boarded up most of the time, though it was called into duty while Capt. Cook's was being readied for its 2006 refurb. And is it my imagination, or was there a restaurant at the Beach Club too?

AbandondedWorld

One huge abandoned area is the former Discovery Island, an actual island on Bay Lake (and not to be confused with the hub-land of DAK that is also called Discovery Island). Something of a wildlife preserve and zoo, the former Discovery Island became a bit irrelevant once DAK opened, so it was just closed. There were rumors Disney was examining this property for a pirate adventure, probably a special ticket and very expensive, but if so, it has yet to materialize. The island sits empty.

And the worst offender at all is a closed park: River Country, adjacent to Fort Wilderness. Never meant to be full of thrill slides, this was always more of a backyard ‘ole swimmin' hole. It's in an entirely different league than Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Rather than lower the price, upscale or just update River Country though, Disney has elected to board it up and let it rot in the sun.

AbandondedWorld

AbandondedWorld

I have to give a nod to one particular poster on MiceChat, WDW1974, who led me to this topic and supplied several of the items in this list. That's what I love about the Internet so much. It allows people of like minds to pool their talents. Even more powerful: on rare occasions (though never when it comes to politics or religion), it may even change minds. Hopefully, some of the minds being changed... or at least opened... will include those Disney managers who have the power to do something about these trends. Even if the future action they take is merely to forestall closing yet another facility. That would be pretty invisible to the public, I bet, but they'd still be doing us all a favor. And adhering to Walt's vision of the Disney theme park magic being woven by millions of tiny details working in concert, and *zero* details glaringly out of place.

As a guy who appreciates history of the parks and especially when designers leave tributes around to the old stuff, I admit to being a tad torn about some of the items mentioned above. Is the unused skyway building there as a tribute to the past? Would I rather see the building ripped down entirely, with no tribute to the past remaining? The Tomorrowland skyway station is such prime territory, I can't believe the thing is still standing. Similarly, I can see the value of leaving the dock for the former swan boats, in the rose garden, as a tribute. Or, then again, maybe not. How hard or expensive could it be to transform this boat ride (whose rails still exist along the bottom of the canal encircling the Central Plaza) into something automated, like they now have at the Land pavilion in Epcot?

AbandondedWorld
The former swan boat dock in the Magic Kingdom.

Either way, the larger point remains: Disney World should not really be in the business of allowing old attractions, shops, venues, and facilities to simply be turned into landscape. The reasons for closing them all are various, and in some cases they were sound financial decisions. But that's not true for all of them. And regardless of reasons and motivations, the fact remains that a by-product of closed facilities is the very kind of sub-urban decay that implies an area is "run-down." That's not ideal. It's not the kind of spotless, shining clean, fully operating park Walt Disney wanted.

There's a famous story that Walt once demanded popcorn carts keep their supply of popcorn full until the very minute the park closed, because it was more aesthetically pleasing. Even more than that, Walt realized that the opposite choice, to allow the supply of popcorn to dwindle down to near-empty by the time the park closed, may save a teeny-tiny bit of money, but sent an unmistakable message to park patrons—"get out, for we are closing soon."

The continued abandonment of facilities and venues sends an equally unmistakable message to the masses, and it's not one Walt would be proud of. It bespeaks of a willingness to accept "just good enough" rather than perfection. And it was the striving for perfection that made Disney parks famous, not the coasting along or resting on laurels. Disney can do better. They need to, before the public takes its cue from Disney and starts abandoning things (in this case, the theme parks themselves).

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© 2007 Kevin Yee


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