On my last few trips to Florida’s Magic Kingdom, I’ve often found myself longing for the pure, unspoiled pre-Flash Gordon Tomorrowland of my childhood:
The funny thing is, the last time I was there I didn’t feel that way at all.
It was 1992. I was 14 years old, and my family was on a day trip to the Magic Kingdom. Even though park maintenance had not yet begun to slip the way it would later in the decade, Tomorrowland felt like an abandoned corner of the park that the Imagineers had forgotten about. More than anything else, it reminded me of Marineland.
Marineland was Florida’s first theme park, a kind of proto-Sea World. Located just south of St. Augustine on A1A, it opened in 1938 and remained popular with tourists well into the 1970s. I made frequent visits on school field trips and family outings during the ‘80s, but by then Marineland had entered into a sustained period of decline thanks to the opening of Sea World. I didn’t notice it when I was in elementary school, but the last trip we made to Marineland was in 1990, and by then even my dense twelve-year-old self could tell that the park had seen better days. Marineland in 1990 was quaint, creaky, and obviously old. Just like Tomorrowland in 1992.
Unfair, you say? Let’s take a look at Tomorrowland’s 1992 attraction lineup. Guests entering the land from the hub were greeted by two attractions that anchored Anaheim’s Tomorrowland when it opened in 1955: Mission To Mars (which was really just Flight To The Moon with a different film) and a CircleVision theater. Pushing farther into the land you had Delta Dreamflight, a ride that was charming, but looked a whole lot like a scaled-down, cheaper version of EPCOT Center’s more elaborate Omnimover attractions. The final scene of the Carousel of Progress was showing audiences of the 1990s what people in the late 1970s imagined life would be like in the late 1980s, and the Grand Prix Raceway was another Disneyland original that was no more futuristic in 1992 than it is today. Compared to EPCOT Center’s sleek, modern Future World, Tomorrowland looked about as pathetic as Marineland did when compared to Orlando’s sleek, modern Sea World.
It’s tempting to look at today’s Tomorrowland with its visual clutter and its crass Licensed Character-infused attractions and think that everything would be perfect if we woke up one morning to find it magically restored to its pre-1994 iteration. That might satisfy a tiny minority of the Disney fan community, but it wouldn’t play well with the general public, that’s for sure. And if we take an objective view, I think even hardcore WEDHeads like me would admit that the old Tomorrowland is best left in the past.