Despite a cloudy sky and scattered rain, a massive wave of tourists Monday descended on Walt Disney's latest fantasy--a movie industry theme park--forcing officials to close the gates within an hour of opening them.
The size of the opening-day crowd caught the film and entertainment giant by surprise, even though it lavishly entertained thousands of journalists and television crews in the days leading up to the opening.
"We turned out to have more people than we expected," said Asley Butler with Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park.
Disney officials refused to give preliminary opening-day attendance figures for the 135-acre complex that blends film making with backstage studio tours and ride-through, walk-through attractions. Movie and TV production began last summer on its three sprawling sound studios and back-lot street scenes.
The new attraction on the entertainment giant's 43-square-mile Central Florida resort complements its other theme parks, Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. The admission fee: $29 for adults and $23 for children 3 to 9.
"It's the largest theme park run by actors, or cartoon characters, unless you want to count Washington, D.C.," Hope joked.
Carpenter's Family First
"The world you have entered was created by the Walt Disney Co. and is dedicated to Hollywood . . . a world that never was and always will be," Eisner told the crowd.
A Pennsylvania carpenter and his family led the way through the gates as the first visitors at the Florida attraction.
"We wanted to be first and beat the crowd but never expected anything like this," said Allan Gutierrez, 37, as he and his wife, two daughters and father-in-law strolled into the park.
"It's incredible," said Mary Gutierrez, 37, about their back-to-back appearances on national television and meetings with Hollywood stars, including Bette Midler and Kevin Costner, attending the grand-opening ceremonies.
Business Week magazine recently reported that the $40-million-a-year salary paid to Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Eisner last year makes him the nation's highest-paid executive.
It was Eisner's idea to create the new theme park adjacent to the existing Walt Disney World and Epcot Center, and so far Eisner's ideas have paid off handsomely. About 25 million tourists visit the two theme parks every year, and Disney's profits have more than doubled to $522 million last year since Eisner took over in 1984.
The most innovative aspect of the park may be the "Great Movie Ride," where guests on trams travel through scenes from memorable Hollywood movies.
One actor playing a hoodlum hijacks the tram and uses it as his getaway vehicle. While in control of the tram, he also acts as the tour guide, interpreting the scenes through the eyes of a gangster. Later, the tram passes through Catastrophe Canyon, where tourists see how film makers create disasters. They experience a simulated earthquake, flash flood and oil field explosion.
Disney has a full year's jump on a similar but larger complex that will be operated by Universal Studios Florida just a few miles down the road. The $500-million attraction is an outgrowth of the Universal Studio Tour in California and is owned by MCA Inc.
Movie and television production began there last fall, and its tour portion is to open next May.