Welcome back to our weekly look at all of the important and exciting events that happened this week in theme park history. Memorial Day week is usually a busy time for the parks, and this week’s installment is jam packed with memorable moments!
Starting our week at Disneyland, on May 27, 1977, Space Mountain opened at that park’s Tomorrowland. This was the second version of the attraction to open at a Disney park, with the first being in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The ride debuted as part of the first overhaul of Tomorrowland that included a 1,100-seat Space Stage, 670-seat Space Place restaurant, and the Starcade video arcade. The ride has seen a few refurbishments over the decades including adding an onboard music system that added a new dimension to the experience.
On May 27, 2017 Pandora the World of Avatar opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This impressive land is based on the hit 2009 sci-fi film Avatar. Set a generation after the events of the movie, guests are welcomed to the planet of Pandora with its alien life, floating mountains, and bioluminescent plantlife. The land contains two rides, Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey that features some of the most innovative ride technology available. The land was an instant success and Flight of Passage is still a headlining attraction.
Hopping over to Central Florida’s other big resort, on May 28, 1999, Universal’s Islands of Adventure park and CityWalk opened at Universal Orlando Resort. This was part of a major expansion that turned Universal Studios Florida into a full resort with multi-day offerings for guests. Islands of Adventure began a soft opening on May 27, offering guests a sneak peek at the park for a discounted price. On May 28 the park officially opened with lands themed after Marvel Comics, Jurassic Park, Dr. Seuss, and classic comic strips. The park is still rated as one of the best theme parks in Florida by visiting guests.
Way back on May 28, 1966 an iconic Disney attraction made its way from the World’s Fair to Disneyland with the opening of “it’s a small world”. Originally titled Children of the World, this water-based attraction was developed by WED Enterprises to be featured in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It joined four other Disney designed attractions (Magic Skyway, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, The Carousel of Progress, and CircleVision 360) that all ended up at Disneyland. The design of the ride was developed by Disney Legend Mary Blair and showcases her whimsical and colorful art while celebrating the cultures and countries of the world. The attraction still endures today as one of the must-dos for a Disney visit and has spawned versions at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Zipping forward a few decades, on May 28, 2014, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The ride opened as the last part of a massive refurbishment of Fantasyland that began in 2010. The new attraction quickly became the headlining attraction at the park offering guests a fast-paced coaster that travels in and out of the gem mines where the dwarfs work the day away. While the swinging ride cars and use of projection-mapped faces on audio-animatronic characters were new innovations, the dwarfs themselves are actually recycled from the extinct Snow White’s Scary Adventures ride. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is still considered one of Magic Kingdom’s best rides and earns high marks with guests.
On May 31, 2012, Walt Disney World added to its hotel lineup with the opening of the first phase of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Situated right across from Disney’s Pop Century Resort, the location was originally planned as an expansion of that Value hotel. Those plans were scrapped after September 11, 2001, and the spot sat dormant for many years after. In 2010, Disney pivoted their plans and began work on a new hotel celebrating the art and design of some of their most beloved films like Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid. The hotel consists of 1,984 rooms, of which 1,120 are family suites capable of housing up to six people, featuring living rooms and bedrooms. The resort is even more popular than ever after the addition of the Disney Skyliner transportation system.
And finally, this week last year, Star Wars fans realized their life-long dream of stepping into “a galaxy, far, far away” with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland on May 31, 2019. This 14-acre new land, set on the planet of Batuu, is a new level in immersive entertainment that misses no detail in making you feel part of the stories we’ve come to love over the years. Although the land features two rides, Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance, the area opened with only Smugglers Run operating. That didn’t dissuade guests from attending though, and the land has seen steady attendance and high marks from fans. An identical Galaxy’s Edge opened a few months later at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
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