Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom: A Photo Tour

by Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer

Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom is a bit of a dilemma for us. It's called Tomorrowland, which would imply that it's about "tomorrow," or the future, but it seems more like how we must have thought the future would look from some point in the past. Our reading tells us that this is, in fact, the case. At some point back in the 1950s, Tomorrowland, in its original round of imagineering, was supposed to be how the future might look all the way out in 1986.

It's true, you can see some things that never came to be, like the PeopleMover, powered by its linear induction motors, or the Astro Orbiter that travels the galaxy, in a circle. You can get a good sense of where we've come by visiting the Carousel of Progress, but the everyday person doesn't travel the galaxy in a rocket or move across town in a fancy futuristic train with electromagnets, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon.

While Tomorrowland doesn't seem to be an accurate doorway into the future, it does seem to be fuel for our imaginations, and that's probably really the point. Let's take a look at some of the things we found for this month's photo tour.

The entrance to Tomorrowland from the Hub reminds us of a space station. The construction is all metal, with architectural lines that could have been transported in a spacecraft. Photo by Donald Fink.

The Rides

The Astro Orbiter sits high above Tomorrowland. It's a ride that, not unlike Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland or The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in Adventureland, simply goes round and round. You have a lever that controls the elevation, but mostly it goes round and round. The difference here is that it's one of the highest places in the park. As you go round and round, you can get quite a view of the Magic Kingdom. You'll have to be quick to get a good image though. It moves fast, and can be a bit disorienting, especially when you're trying to take as many stills and videos as you can fit into one ride. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

To reach the Astro Orbiter, which sits high above Tomorrowland, you board an elevator that takes you up to the spaceships. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The Astro Orbiter may be a kids' ride similar to Dumbo in Fantasyland, but we still like it. The views from your spaceship are the best in Tomorrowland. The Astro Orbiter is available in five different Disney parks. The first one appeared in Disneyland as Astro Jets in 1956. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

One of the longest running shows at any Disney park is the Carousel of Progress. Introduced at the 1964 New York World's Fair, this carousel depicting a typical American family through the 20th century has been in continuous operation since then. It has appeared in New York, then in Disneyland in Anaheim until 1973, then moved to Walt Disney World to resume performances in 1975. Photo by Donald Fink.

Technically, it's called the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, at least since 2009. Before that, it was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority from 1994 through 2009, and even before that, it was the WEDWay PeopleMover. The ride is themed as a mass transit system using what's called linear induction motors (that's fancy engineer talk for electromagnets all in a row), that propel it along its track. It's quite a long ride and offers a great view of Tomorrowland. It's a good choice for a first ride because of the view, and maybe a better choice for later in the day as a great resting spot. Photo by Donald Fink.

The PeopleMover travels through most of Tomorrowland and affords great views of Tomorrowland, but at one point along the journey, you'll get a great view of Cinderella Castle. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Who doesn't love to drive? At the Tomorrowland Speedway, anyone tall enough to ride can pilot a race car through 2100 feet of track. The Tomorrowland Speedway has been at the Magic Kingdom since 1971. The original ride called Autopia is at Disneyland and has been in operation since 1955. Tomorrowland Speedway is currently closed temporarily while construction is underway for the new Tron Lightcycle Power Run. We're not sure if any more track will be shaved off this iconic mainstay of Tomorrowland to make way for Tron, but time will tell. As you might expect, while Tomorrowland Speedway is closed for Tron construction, Imagineers will be at work refurbishing this ride too. Photo by Donald Fink.

As drivers leave the refueling pit at Tomorrowland Speedway, they rocket under the two-story overpass of the PeopleMover at speeds of up to four, five, or maybe six miles per hour, depending on a number of factors. There are slightly over 2100 feet of track for kids to drive their gasoline powered cars. There's a steering guide bar that keeps the car in its lane, but the driver has some steering capability, an accelerator, and a brake. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Space Mountain is at five different Disney parks around the world, but the first one was here in Florida, opening in 1975. This is a roller coaster kind of ride that travels the blackness of space at almost warp speed. In this case, warp speed means 28 mph, but it feels faster since it makes abrupt turns and does so in nearly dark conditions. And of course, since it's mostly dark inside the ride, images of the coaster itself were not really possible. Photo by Donald Fink.

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin is, in our view, one of the most fun rides at Walt Disney World. It's up there with Toy Story Mania. The basic mission of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin is to defeat Zurg. It seems that Zurg is traveling around the galaxy, stealing all the toys' batteries in order to create a super weapon. Our job, when we go to Tomorrowland, is to put a stop to that sort of crazed, degenerate behavior.

You'll find Buzz Lightyear in the queue of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. He's giving a mission briefing before you board your XP-37 Star Cruiser to defeat Zurg. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

As you travel through Buzz Lightyears' galaxy, you'll encounter Zurg's Army. Any time you see a Z, you can consider it a target. Firing your laser will get you points for accuracy. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

At the end of your mission, you can see a score on your console and compare it with your friends. You can also compare scores and see your Star Command Rank, which ranges from a humble Star Cadet to Galactic Hero for the highest of scores. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

There's a stage in Tomorrowland that always seems to have an activity of some kind. Whether it's a dance party or a seasonal show, as shown here during a Very Merry Christmas Party, there's nearly always something happening. If you come to the Magic Kingdom with children, it's a good idea to check a times guide to see what might be underway at the Rockettower Plaza Stage. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

At Mickey's Star Trader you can find Disney items related to space and the future—and a few things not. We're not t-shirt people, but if we were, there are some unique designs here that are worth looking over. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The Food

There are several places to grab a bite to eat in Tomorrowland. The Launching Pad is a Tomorrowland version of Casey's on Main Street located under the Astro Orbiter. Surprisingly, there are only two entrees on the menu: a beef hot dog and a barbecue pulled pork sandwich. Seating is all outside with some covered seats. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

One restaurant we like in Tomorrowland is Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, located right across from the Tomorrowland Speedway. It has a reasonably good menu. Photo by Donald Fink.

One thing that shouldn't be overlooked at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe is the ample seating. There are seats inside, with emphasis on air conditioning if you're here in the summer. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The entertainment at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe is in the form of an alien host named Sonny Eclipse. Sonny has been at Astro Ray's since 1995, and hails from Yew Nork City, on the planet Zork. He does a 27-minute set with original space-themed songs and some reasonably corny jokes. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

There's an ice cream shop in Tomorrowland called Auntie Gravity's Galactic Goodies. The menu features various soft-serve ice cream, sundaes, smoothies, and shakes. Pictured here is a seasonal Christmas Cookie Milk Shake that was popular around the holidays. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

And Finally

Robo-Newz is located at RocketTower Plaza, between the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and Astro Orbiter. This might be the one thing in the original Tomorrowland vision that came true. Robo-Newz appears to be a mobile device, and it provides up-to-the-minute news from anywhere, while it's happening. Sound familiar? Of course, here in our future, your device is not quite as big as Robo-Newz, but from the perspective of a 1950s Imagineer, this might seem more probable than the cell phone that's likely in your hand right now. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

As we walked about in Tomorrowland, making images for our Photo Tour, we made a few video clips too. We think it helps to capture the "feel" of the land. If you haven't been to Tomorrowland in a while, take a look. Video and stills by Donald and Bonnie Fink.

It's fun to think about the future, and Tomorrowland can inspire and entertain like anywhere, especially for the very young, and young at heart. One of Don's high points growing up in central California was a trip to Disneyland and driving a car at Autopia. This was an inspiration that molded the future of at least one small town central California kid nearly 60 years ago, and no doubt it's still capturing the imagination and fueling the creative energy of children even today.