Disney-MGM Studios, 1989

and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 30 years later

Walt Disnsy World them park guide books

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2019 / Guide Book covers © 1989 Disney

Disney-MGM Studios opened at Walt Disney World on May 1, 1989. Compared to Disney’s other two Florida theme parks—the attraction-rich Magic Kingdom and the immense, grandiose EPCOT Center—it was a simple park.

Renamed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008, the park celebrated its 30th anniversary this week. It’s a very different park than in 1989.

How different? Take a look at the park map from a Disney-MGM Studios Guide Book from 1989.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, May 3, 2019

When it opened, Disney-MGM Studios consisted of two parts:

  • Backstage Studio Tour: A two-hour guided tour, with a tram portion and an hour-long walking portion that included a chance to observe actual soundstages for television and motion picture production.
  • Theme Park: A nicely designed guest area, but modest in scope, with several shops, restaurants, and shows. And exactly one ride (apart from the tram tour), The Great Movie Ride.
Disney-MGM Studios at walt Disney World

Scanned image © 1989 The Walt Disney Company

The map above is scanned from the 1989 Guide Book shown at the top of this article. Guests received the booklet upon entering the park, just like guidemaps today.

Take a good look at the map.

There was no Sunset Boulevard, no Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, no Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, and no Fantasmic!. Sunset Boulevard was added in 1994 with Tower of Terror as its only attraction initially.

The tram tour began where Star Tours: Launch Bay is now. On the map, the tram route is shown in white, as is pavement that guests could access. That’s a bit confusing, but other maps in the Guide Book were more clear. To see the tram route, look at the Backstage Studio Tour.

New York Street, which became Streets of America, was part of the tram tour, not an area that guests could enter on foot. Notice the residential street. There was no Muppet-Vision 3-D and no Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show.

The show building for Star Tours is already on the map, but it’s not yet colored in. Star Tours opened before the end of 1989.

There’s not even Mickey Avenue, which became Pixar Place, behind the Chinese Theatre. That street was part of the Production Center, off limits to park guests. Guests visited a second-floor hallway with windows into soundstages at the Production Center during the walking portion of the tour.

If you look at the map upside down, there’s an enormous Hidden Mickey in front of the Chinese Theatre. Yes, it was really there. When Sunset Boulevard opened and the former Soundstage Restaurant was re-roofed, Mickey lost an ear.

Two shows Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World

Photos by Allen Huffman, 1996

Two early shows at Disney-MGM Studios

Despite the dearth of rides, guests could spend all day at the park because it had many shows.

The Monster Sound Show and Superstar Television, two shows sponsored by Sony, were located in side-by-side theaters at Lakeside Circle. Both shows relied on audience volunteers. When they messed up the sound effects in the former or flubbed their lines in the latter, the shows could be quite funny.

The outdoor Theater of the Stars presented stage shows such as Hollywood, Hollywood in 1989 and Dick Tracy in Diamond Double Cross in 1990. The theater only lasted four years. It was flattened to make way for Sunset Boulevard. The theater’s name was reused for a bigger, better replacement at the other end of Sunset Boulevard.

Star Today was a program that allowed guests to see a celebrity. Each star—many of them genuinely well-known for their work in televison and movies—would get a mini-parade, participate in a Star Conversation at the Theater of the Stars, and leave handprints in wet cement at the Chinese Theater forecourt. Sometimes the celebrity would make surprise appearances at other park attractions.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! premiered August 25, 1989, so it wasn’t an opening day show. But, unlike the other shows, it’s still running 30 years later.

“Studio gate” at Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

“Studio gate” at Disney-MGM Studios, with the original logo

“Studio gate” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2016

“Studio gate” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with the 2008 logo

“Studio gate” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

art © 2019 Disney

“Studio gate” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with the new 2019 logo and new color scheme.

“Studio gate” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

art © 2019 Disney

Zooming in on the new logo.

On May 1, 2019, Disney unveiled a new logo for the park. The emphasis has shifted from Studios to Hollywood. That makes sense.

Originally, Disney-MGM Studios was supposed to be not only a theme park, but also a working movie, televison, and animation studio. When the second part of that didn’t work out, the park continued with “here’s how movies are made.” But no more. At Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Toy Story Land, the studio pretense is gone.

The park still celebrates movies—but not from a perspective of how they’re made—and Hollywood is synonymous with movies.

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Updated May 2, 2020.