Did you hear The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2024 is now in bookstores and online? That’s right, your favorite guide to all things Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando has a new edition out. After being handed a dozen guidebooks earlier this year, I decided now would be the perfect time to brush off the 1994 edition of The Unofficial Guide. So, pack away your POGS, grab a Zima, play some Ace of Base, and let’s dive in.
Look, ignore the saying, and do judge this book by its cover. The 90s aesthetic was alive and well at the Guide with the geometric graphic design. As Orlando has expanded, so has the Guide, from 0.98″ in 1994 to 1.5″ in 2024. And don’t forget about the price – $13! 2024’s edition starts at $26.99, over 2x the price. Of course, we think that’s still a fantastic value.
If you can’t find your POGS or MC Hammer pants, then this recording of ResortTV will put you in the right mood for 1994. Think thoughts of New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup and Forrest Gump.
The 1994 Guide breaks down what a typical day at Walt Disney World would cost, so let us take a look:
Denny’s breakfast for under $20? $5 parking!?!? I’m pretty sure one meal at some quick service locations is more than $23. And those Mickey t-shirts would be at least $60 now (cheer up, you won’t have to buy souvenirs every day). Speaking of price, besides attraction changes, ticket prices are the single biggest change to the Guide in 30 years. Take a four-day park hopper ticket: in 2024 that ticket is over $550 per person, but back in 1994, it was $132! That four-day hopper was only $10 more than a one-day ticket to just the Magic Kingdom today.
“Okay, Joe, but how much were the hotels?” you ask. Well, sit down for these per-night prices.
How about $189 at the Polynesian? $94 at Caribbean Beach and the moderates. Heck, even Yacht and Beach Club were $205-370 per night! In 2024 those prices have gone way, way up. The Polynesian rack rates start at, START AT, $672 a night, which is a three-fold increase! Trader Sam’s is not that good. Caribbean Beach rack rates begin at $310 while Yacht Club is fetching $537 a night. Ouch.
So what about the weather? This is what the average temperatures looked like in 1994.
In 2024 temperatures from February through April and August through December are hotter than in 1994. The Unofficial Guide 2024 also now tracks average maximum heat index data, which factors in humidity, so now we know the “real feel” of August in Orlando is around 120* F. Climate change sucks.
But you are here for old attractions and data! I mean, hey, that’s why I agreed to accept a dozen guidebooks in the first place. First, let us look at some old “Minor Theme Parks”. Also, note the Boardwalk preview.
The OG “Minor Theme Park” was River Country, an old swimmin’ hole next to Fort Wilderness. River Country opened in 1976 but didn’t survive long after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
One of the weirdest and oldest cultures in theme parks is the “rope droppers.” These folks will be the first to pass through the turnstile only to huddle at a barrier awaiting its removal. In its simplest form, a literal rope would be dropped, but sometimes Cast Members would walk back a barricade to an attraction area. Here is the Guide trying to explain the phenomenon:
Magic Kingdom has seen massive changes over the past 50 years – whole lands were created and destroyed, while Tomorrowland saw at least two major overhauls. One of the biggest changes since 1994 might be what is missing: a nighttime parade. SpectroMagic opened three years prior and ran for 16 more years before it closed in 2010. Here are some choice reviews of attractions long lost. I’m partial to the reader from Pittsburgh myself.
Especially note Mickey’s Starland. This was originally known as Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988 and later became Mickey’s Toontown Fair in 1996. It eventually transformed into the Storybook Circus portion of Fantasyland.
Let’s go to the next big park, Epcot, or more accurately Epcot ’94. See, at this time Disney was planning to remove Walter Cronkite from Spaceship Earth, replace CommuniCore with Innoventions, upgrade The Land, and regularly add the current year to the park name. But none of this was made public at the time of print, so the Unofficial Guide ’94 has some of the last reviews for several old-school EPCOT Center attractions.
After seeing the revered original version of Journey into Imagination described as “dull,” I ask that you refrain from grabbing your torches and pitchforks and continue reading below.
Disney-MGM Studios was the original “studios” park in Florida and aimed to emulate the Universal Studios tour in Hollywood, but with Disney and MGM properties. 1994 was the debut year for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest attractions ever made). In the Guide, we see a short preview of the ride and just a hint of the madness of the attraction and forthcoming queues to come.
Next to The Great Movie Ride was the Backstage Pass attraction, a massive three-part tour backstage that emulated the Universal Studios tour in Hollywood. Guests had the choice of a live-action or animation tour, then took a multi-step tour behind the scenes. The Animation Tour was guided by Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite (yes, really), while the Backstage Pass featured the tram and studio tour. In the future, the various tours would be split up and closed piece-by-piece until only the tram tour remained. The Studio Backlot Tour closed in 2014 to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.
The Guide doesn’t just cover Disney, it also helps with your trip to Universal! No parks in Orlando have changed as much as Universal Studios Florida. Earthquake is now Fast & Furious Supercharged, Kongfrontation is Revenge of the Mummy, the Nickelodeon Studio Tour closed to the park in the 2000s, and Hitchcock is now Villain-Con: Minion Blast. Many of the attractions listed below have changed several times over:
Any reader of the Guide knows the opening pages – “How Come ‘Unofficial'” and “The Importance of Being Goofy.” Peruse the 1994 versions:
I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief look into the 1994 edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Thank you to my anonymous benefactor for these guides. If enough of y’all are interested, I might cover the 1995 edition next year. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2024 is now available in bookstores and online.