With the recent loss of Splash Mountain making headline news, we can’t help but want to take a look back at things we’ve lost at the Walt Disney World theme parks.
From spectacular shows and thrilling rides to children’s experiences and character meet-and-greets, the Walt Disney World Resort has seen many attractions come and go since its opening in 1971.
There’s one Disney experience in particular, however, that stands out as one that should never have left. And no, we’re not talking about the tragic loss of the Great Movie Ride. It’s a Disney attraction that always featured as a highlight of a Disney vacation, one that had great Guest involvement, and one that only a few were lucky enough to have been part of before it became extinct at Walt Disney World.
If you hadn’t guessed, we’re talking about the wonderfully unique Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has certainly seen an identity crisis recently. Guests visiting Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios today may not realize that it was once a working television, film, and animation studio, in addition to being a theme park!
Aside from the iconic Chinese Theater in the center of the Park, the current version of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is almost unrecognizable compared to the version that opened in 1989. Of course, back then, it wasn’t even called Hollywood Studios: the Park opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios Park, with the Earffel Tower as its icon (later replaced by the Sorcerer’s Hat, which was itself removed in 2015).
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the sound stages and animation studios on site were used to create TV shows and films, including The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (1989-1994), Mulan (1998), Lilo & Stitch (2002), and Tower of Terror (1997).
And on opening day, there were only two attractions operational within the Park: the beloved Great Movie Ride on Hollywood Boulevard (recently replaced with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway), and the Studio Backlot Tour.
The Studio Backlot Tour was a fan-favorite attraction with thrills, nostalgia, and an epic Guest experience. But – did you get to be a part of the now-extinct Disney experience?
If you were lucky enough before the attraction closed in 2014, you may have had the chance to volunteer to be in a special effects demonstration and be a part of the magic!
The Backlot Tour had an area where Park Guests could be a part of the show, with a large water tank, deck, and engine room of a patrol boat. Cast Members then invited volunteers to be part of “Harbor Attack”, a show in which volunteers got soaked!
One volunteer sat in the engine room and was overcome by a deluge of water (over 1000 gallons of water!) coming into the room from two dump tanks. The other three volunteers were standing on the deck acting with all their might when an attack happened. Explosions would happen underwater and fireballs would heat up the arena as water splashed around the volunteers.
Once the action had ended, the footage was put together with airplane attacks and dialogue, showing Guests how live acting plus special effects create a final result.
It was a real treat to be a part of the Disney Park magic, and an experience that many who got to do it will never take for granted. Residential Street was demolished in 2003, and Streets of America closed in 2016 (along with the beloved Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights). What remained of the Backlot Tour finally closed on September 27, 2014, to make way for Toy Story Land.
Embodying the TV and movie production aspect of Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park perfectly, the Studio Backlot Tour gave Guests a glimpse of props departments, backstage areas, and the boneyard, which featured multiple movie vehicles including the steamroller used in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), ships from the original Star Wars films, motorcycles from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), bone cages from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), and more.
Boarding a tram, a “live” movie set took Guests through Catastrophe Canyon, a rocky area with a fuel truck and water tanks. This part featured exciting special effects – an earthquake shook the tram, causing the famous fuel truck to explode, followed by a flood of water rushing down the canyon and from above the tram.
After exiting the canyon, the tram traveled past the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show stadium and Walt Disney’s private airplane.
Of course, Guests have other attraction options in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, including The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land now sit on the land that once held Backlot Tour and all its explosive fun.
So, if you were one of the lucky Walt Disney World Guests who managed to get picked to be a volunteer for the Studio Backlot Tour, congratulations! You’ve done something that many never did, and many now will never get to do.
It was a unique Disney experience that put you inside the show, and enabled you to not only put your acting skills to the test but also get wet doing it!