The Original
Backstage Studio Tour

Walt Disney World’s third major park, Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), opened May 1, 1989—that’s 20 years ago today.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, May 1, 2009    
Disney-MGM Studios map forom 1989


Do you have two hours to spare? Then get in line for the original Backstage Studio Tour. As you wait to board the tram, open your Guide Book. Match the numbers on the map (above) to the numbers in the text that accompanies the map (below).

    Step through the gate of the Disney-MGM Studios and enter a working movie and television Production Center. Your stay will include an in-depth look at live action movies and television, and a unique opportunity to visit Disney animators working on their newest featurettes.


    On the Backstage Studio Tour, a two-part adventure, you go behind the scenes of a real motion picture studio.

    Please Note: This 2-hour guided tour involves an hour of walking. Restroom facilities are available at the shuttle station before you embark on your journey and at the start of your walking tour.

(1) The
Backstage Shuttle Station is where your adventure begins. You’ll be introduced to the business of show business.

    Then you’ll board a backstage shuttle and travel into the heart of the
Production Center. Highlights include visits to:

Costuming  Where skilled designers create the clothes worn by your favorite stars.

Scenic Shop  If it’s in the script, here’s where studio craftsmen will build it.

Residential Street  Look closely at the “houses” on this outdoor set. You may recognize the homes of famous movie and TV families.

Catastrophe Canyon  A perilous journey through a unique outdoor set. You’ll experience amazing artificial disasters that seem real enough in the movies, but even more impressive up close.

New York Street  A giant backlot set used to film busy street scenes. Forced perspective “buildings” at the end of the street make these two blocks look like an entire cityscape.

Water Effects Tank  You may be the star of a dramatic ocean storm scene.

Special Effects Workshop and Shooting Stage  Explore the fascinating science of optical and mechanical effects.

Soundstages  Specially designed stages let you look in on movies and television shows in production.

    Please Note: The use of cameras or recording devices of any kind Is prohibited inside soundstages.

(10) Post Production Editing and Audio  When principal photography is complete, the films come here, where editors, sound engineers and other technicians add the finishing touches.

The Walt Disney Theater  The final stop on your adventure, where you’ll see special sneak previews of new movies.


Soundstage Restaurant  Where dining is “Big Business.” Counter service dining offers pizza, pasta, sandwiches, soups and salads.

The Catwalk Bar  Where beer, wine, cocktails and specialty drinks are served.

Studio Catering Co.  On the Backstage Studio Tour. Refreshing fruit salads, ice cream snack items and beverages.


The Disney Studio Store  Dazzle your friends with The Walt Disney Studios and Touchstone Pictures clothing and accessories.

The Loony Bin  On the Backstage Studio Tour, Unique gag gifts, plush toys and loony souvenirs.

On the Backstage Studio Tour  you’ll have a zany photo opportoonity with favorite cartoon stars.

Yikes! That’s a long attraction. It’s a good thing there are restrooms at the halfway point. Especially if you spent time at the Catwalk Bar before starting the tour.

When Disney-MGM Studios opened to the public on May 1, 1989, the Backstage Studio Tour was the park’s major attraction.

The 2-hour tour quickly became shorter. Before the end of 1989, guests were allowed to walk on New York Street.

Catastrophe Canyon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Catastrophe Canyon is still part of the tram tour today.

The 1991 Guide Book listed the Backstage Studio Tour featuring Catastrophe Canyon as a “30-minute shuttle ride.” The walking portion was billed as a separate attraction, Inside the Magic: Special Effects and Production Tour.

The Walt Disney Theatre, which originally showed a preview of the newest Disney movie as the final part of the walking tour, was transformed into a short-lived stage show, Here Come The Muppets, and then into the long-running live show, The Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

Guide Maps in 1994 listed the Backstage Studio Tour as a “25-minute shuttle ride” and Inside the Magic as a “35-minute tour.” The park had grown into a much more complete theme park, especially with the July 1994 opening of Sunset Boulevard and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Water effects tank at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The water effects tank is from the original Backstage Studio Tour.

Today, there’s an attraction called the Studio Backlot Tour. It begins with a modified version of the water effects tank from the original walking tour. Then, instead of continuing to the special effects workshop and soundstages, guests go through a prop warehouse and onto an abbreviated tram tour. The residential street is gone, so the tram tour now shows only the costume department, scenic shop, Catastrophe Canyon, and miscellaneous props along the route. The combined walking and tram tour is now just 35 minutes.

Disney-MGM Studios gate
The studio gate with the Disney-MGM Studios signage (1989-2007)

Did you ever wonder why there is such an imposing studio gate at the entrance to the Animation Courtyard? It’s because it originally served as the entrance into the movie studio, where the Backstage Studio Tour began. The idea was that you were leaving the public street (Hollywood Boulevard) and entering a movie studio complex. Real movie studios in Hollywood had entrance gates from city streets.

The Magic of Disney Animation tour—featuring the film Back to Never Land (with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite) and a working animation studio—had a modest entrance to the right of the Backstage Studio Tour. The Soundstage Restaurant contained sets from the 1988 Bette Midler comedy Big Business. On the second level of the Soundstage Restaurant, guests could drink at the Catwalk Bar, a full bar overlooking the sets. Nearby, the studio’s production facilities turned out movies and television shows, including The All New Mickey Mouse Club (or MMC). Guests on the walking tour might even see filming in progress.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios gate
The studio gate with the Disney’s Hollywood Studios signage (2008- )

Gradually, the focus of the plaza inside the studio gate changed to animation. The Soundstage Restaurant was rethemed so the guests sat among “sets” from the animated Aladdin instead of the live-action Big Business. (Later, the former Soundstage Restaurant became the home of live shows based on Disney television programs for young children.) The former Catwalk Bar became a character greeting location. The The Voyage of the Little Mermaid is based of the movie that launched Disney’s “Second Golden Age of Animation.” What had once been the tram tour entrance became the grand entrance to The Magic of Disney Animation. With the new focus came a new name for the area—Animation Courtyard.

Surprisingly, when the name of the park changed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the beginning of 2008, the Imagineers did not use it as an opportunity to retheme the studio gate and signage as an appropriate entrance to the Animation Courtyard. Instead, they simply replaced the old logo with the new logo.

For an overall look at Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, please continue to Disney-MGM Studios: The Beginning.

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Disney-MGM: End of MGM
Disney-MGM: Beginning

© 2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated May 1, 2009.

Scanned image from Disney-MGM-Studios Guide Book: © 1989 The Walt Disney Company.
Photo of Catastrophe Canyon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios:2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of water effects tank at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of studio gate with the Disney-MGM Studios signage: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of studio gate with the Disney’s Hollywood Studios signage: 2009 by Werner Weiss.