In 1964 Walter Elias Disney began secretly buying millions of dollars worth of Central Florida farmland. Speculation was rife as to who needed so much land and what it would be used for. Some believed that it was for a new space centre, while others thought it was purchased by the multi-millionaire, Howard Hughes.
On the 15th of November 1965 Walt Disney finally announced his plan to build the world’s most speculated theme park, which was to be ‘bigger and better than Disneyland’. In a two year construction effort, Disney employed 9,000 people and the total cost of the project by its opening in October of 1971 was $400 million. On the day of the grand opening Mickey Mouse escorted the first visitor into the Magic Kingdom and numerous celebrities took part in the opening ceremonies. In its first two years the theme park attracted 20 million visitors and employed 13,000 people.
Today we will be taking the Studio Backlot Tour in Hollywood Studios. Our first stop on the tour is an observation deck, where we witness a Harbour Attack. When the fiery explosions and flying bullets subside we continue on our way, through a warehouse full of props, to the tram.
Our attention is drawn to the Earffel Tower, a 40 metre tall water tower and one of the first icons of Hollywood Studios when it opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM studios. The tower (that does not actually hold any water) was meant to pay homage to the water towers that were found on the studio backlots in the early days of Hollywood. In those days the water towers were vital, not only to hold potable water, but also to have enough water at hand to extinguish any fires that may occur on set.
The tram turns and we hear that the director of Catastrophe Canyon saw us passing by and would like to invite us onto the set. The gates open and we head in. The tram edges forward on the rickety bridge, across the rocky gorge full of fuel and water tanks. Suddenly we feel the ground begin to shake as an earthquake shakes the tram. Fireballs shoot from the fuel tanks and we feel the heat from the explosions around us. We hear the sound of water and 265,000 litres of floodwater comes gushing down the side of the mountain towards us. We escape just in time!
We pass a twin-turboprob airplane with Mickey Mouse on its tail and we are told that this plane was known to airports across the country as November Two Three Four Mickey Mouse, however now is it simply referred to as ‘The Mouse’. It is said that in November 1964 Walt Disney and his team used this plane to scout locations for the new Florida Project. During the creation of the resort The Mouse shuttled studio executives and ‘imagineers’ between Burbank and Orlando, making it the most used aircraft in the country before retiring here in 1992. As Walt Disney always said “it was all started by a mouse” – in this case Two Three Four Mickey Mouse.
N.B. The Studio Backlot Tour closed in Autumn 2014 and it has now been announced that the area will be used for Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land.