Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Look Back at the Grand Opening of Disney-MGM Studios

By Keith Mahne

May 1, 1989 was the debut of the Disney-MGM Theme Park. Located south of EPCOT, it was Disney's 5th theme park in the world and the third park on WDW property. Although it rained on opening day, the park was packed. It was the largest opening day press event in Disney World history, in fact. The park was so crowded that officials had to close its parking lot at only 9:15 a.m. - just about an hour after opening! An HOUR! Incredible! Join us today as we take a look back at the opening of Disney-MGM Studios...

The Park, as we all know, includes a replica of the entrance to Grauman's Chinese Theater, with a courtyard for celebrity hand prints and signatures. A program called "Star Today" (which would allow celebrities over the years to leave their mark) started on this day in 1989.

The very first "Star Today" was original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Among the Hollywood legends who visited the park were George Burns and Bob Hope, who helped cut the filmstrip ribbon dedicating the Studios. Entrance to the park was a whopping $29 bucks for adults and $23 for children (between the ages of 3-9).

The Walt Disney Company's original concept of the Disney-MGM Studios was to operate it as a full fledged television and motion-picture production facility, not just a theme park. (In 1988, among the first feature-length movies filmed at the facility, prior to its completion and opening as a theme park, were Ernest Saves Christmas and Newsies.)

Despite the "MGM" in the park’s name, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had no part in designing, owning, or operating Disney-MGM Studios - although many of its famous films are featured in The Great Movie Ride. Disney-MGM Studios draws inspiration from the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. The park consisted of 4 themed areas in 1989 - but unlike the other Walt Disney World parks, it does not have a defined layout. The park features a mass of streets and buildings that blend into each other, much like a real motion picture studio would. 

Opening day at Disney-MGM Studios was certainly a star-studded affair. Everywhere you turned, there were familiar faces. Bob Hope, George Burns, Audrey Hepburn, Annette Funicello, Kevin Costner, Molly Ringwald, Dick Van Dyke, and Mary Tyler Moore were all in attendance for the big day.

In 1989, the areas consisted of Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, and Animation Courtyard. (Sunset Boulevard and Pixar Place were later added - giving the park a total of 6 themed areas.) The park's icon in 1989 was the Earful Tower (in 2001 the park was represented by The Sorcerer's Hat, a giant stylized version of the magical lid from Fantasia that was recently removed.)



The Great Movie Ride - a dark ride paying homage to several classic films, located inside The Chinese Theatre - a recreation of the famous Hollywood landmark Mann's Chinese Theatre

The Backstage Studio Tour - a 2-hour guided tour including the short films The Lottery & Michael and Mickey

The Magic of Disney Animation Tour - a show and tour including the 9-minute short Back to Neverland

The Monster Sound Show - hosted by Sony - showing the importance of sound in cinema through a film and an interactive stage show

Superstar Television - hosted by Sony in a 1,000-seat theater - an interactive live show that recreates the production of some of TV's greatest shows, using park guests as part of the cast


50s Prime Time Café - themed retro diner across from Echo Lake

Backlot Express - warehouse style themed counter service

Hollywood & Vine - Art Deco-designed restaurant located in the Echo Lake area

Hollywood Brown Derby - located on Hollywood Boulevard & patterned after the famous Hollywood landmark Brown Derby restaurant

Min and Bill's Dockside Diner - snack kiosk

Studio Catering Co. - counter service

Soundstage Restaurant - full-service restaurant located in Soundstage 5


Animation Gallery

Crossroads of the World

Dinosaur Gertie's Ice Cream of Extinction

Mickey's of Hollywood

Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind

During that opening year, the park added two attractions based on popular George Lucas films: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (on August 25, 1989) and Star Tours (on December 15, 1989).

"The world you have entered was created by the Walt Disney Company & is dedicated to Hollywood - not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream & wonder & imagine, a place where illusion & reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was - and always will be."

- Michael Eisner's opening day dedication of Disney-MGM Studios

Here, in its entirety, is the 1989 grand opening special for Disney-MGM Studios with some of those wonderful, late 1980s commercials included. Enjoy friends...


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday

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