Yesterday, May 1, was the 23rd anniversary of the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios, now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios, at Walt Disney World. The park had its grand opening on May 1, 1989. And I was almost there.
That was my senior year in high school. I was in the high school band, and our spring trip that year was to Walt Disney World. It was quite a memorable trip, as we had some difficulty getting there, but that is another story for another time, perhaps. In the end, we made it in time for our performance at the Magic Kingdom, which was lots of fun.
We were there right at the end of April, and we were to leave to come home on April 30. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to go to the brand-new park. Apparently, it had been in soft-open mode for a short time before we arrived, but while we were there, it was closed for some final touches.
On Friday, April 29, we were at EPCOT Center, as it was still known back in those good old days. I happened to see a Disney Cast Member standing by a sign that said “Audience Participation.” I was feeling bold, so I went over and asked what was going on. She said that they were taping a Disney Channel special at the Disney-MGM Studios called “A Conversation with Betty White,” and she was signing up audience members. I had seen the previous special “A Conversation with Bob Hope,” where audience members asked questions, which Bob answered, so I knew what the show would probably be like. I quickly went and rounded up as many band people as I could find, which turned out to be three other band members and the band director, and then went back and signed the five of us up.
The next day, the five of us took the band equipment van and drove over to the Disney-MGM Studios parking lot, where we were then taken by tram to the soundstage for the program taping. That was really neat to see. But to me, the best part was just being there, seeing some of the “backstage” areas of the new park, and being excited to be a part of something special taking place. I didn’t have a question to ask, and I didn’t care to be on camera. I was just happy to be there, and to be able to say that I had been there before the park opened. Of course, we didn’t get to see much of the actual park, but only some of the “backsides” of the soundstage buildings. Still, that was exciting enough for me.
My first “real” visit to the Disney-MGM Studios didn’t actually come until a few months later, in July 1989, and it was fun to see things as they were meant to be seen, too. But it was also cool to know that I had been there before in a different capacity.
Things have changed a good bit since that time because no movie or television production takes place there anymore. But I still have great memories of those old days, and that one special visit.