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Retro Orlando: Take a Delta Dreamflight at the Magic Kingdom

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By Audrey Brown
Photos by Jeff Lange of jefflangedvd.com

There was one ride throughout all of my visits to Walt Disney World that I could always count on for a line-free experience. Granted, it could’ve been a fluke that across all my visits there was no waiting, but I also think most people just didn’t have much interest in the Delta Dreamflight at the Magic Kingdom. But I did. My cousins and I would bolt away from our mothers after exiting the Carousel of Progress and run to Delta Dreamflight where we would fly through the empty line and board by ourselves.

It was as bad as we were willing to be, the nerds that we were, and we got all of the mileage out of it that we possibly could. We were famous for running off in museums and theme parks. Probably because we felt like we were safe enough to do so and since we were usually already mid-vacation, we didn’t fear much reprisal. And really, there’s no better place to “get lost” than a Disney theme park.

Delta Dreamflight was once housed where Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin currently operates and it was dedicated to the magic of air travel. Because yes, air travel still seemed magical and glamorous in the eighties. Quite frankly, even the bathrooms seemed magical and glamorous at Walt Disney World when I was a kid. A Delta Dream Flight now would probably consist of a free snack and not having to sit in between Johnny on his cell phone on one side and a screaming baby on the other. (No offense to screaming babies in public, I’d do it too if I could get away with it. Honest.)

It’s a sign of the times for those of us in our late 20s and early 30s to see a park filled with rides that tie in with Disney films. Because once upon a time, most Disney rides were thematically independent, having nothing to do with Disney movies. The ’80s and early ’90s were a time before the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were raking it in by the fistful and right smack in the middle of the animation renaissance. Full character integration has only happened over the last decade or so, ushering in a new era of film to park unification. Sounds like a political movement, doesn’t it? But I have yet to hear anyone complain about this marriage to the movies, and I’m certainly not going to start. I’ve enjoyed the cross-over immensely. I’ll keep up the positive attitude as long as my beloved Haunted Mansion remains untouched.

But that’s the thing about nostalgia. It’s not always about wishing it could be the way it once was, as I did in my last column with the Monster Sound Show. Sometimes, it’s simply about marking the changes in all things familiar as the years start to pass you by. (Sidebar: The word nostalgia is created from the greek root words: Nostos meaning “return home” and Algia meaning, “pain”.)

While I’m not going to burst into tears over never being able to take the Delta Dreamflight again, it does make me a little bit sentimental for the Disney of my childhood. I mean, that’s really one of the best reasons to visit a theme park, to revisit the magic of childhood. To return to the home of some of your earliest memories. In my case, to a park where the Golden Girls‘ house was still on the studio backlot tour, where you might accidentally run into an audition in progress for Star Search and where one of the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean was still holding some poor animatronic woman’s nightgown – it was a different world back then. To say the least.

For starters, the entrance to Delta Dreamflight was very Xanadu-esque. (The 1980 Olivia Newton John movie starring magical muses sent to inspire a painter and a clarinet player to open up a roller rink. If you’ve never seen it, prepare to lose a few brain cells. But have fun doing so.) From the music to the rainbow of fluorescent lights forming a tunnel for you to walk through, the whole thing was a perfect combination of late ’80s meets early ’90s. Ever notice how nothing defines a time period quite like their version of the future? We all know the ’60s aesthetic. It’s the Jetsons, right? Well, the ’80s future aesthetic included fluorescent glowing everything and women who wear too much makeup.

Delta Dreamflight was a classic people mover that treated you to a shortened Carousel of Progress-like journey through air travel, starting with the colorful and cartoonish portrayal of hot air balloons, moving on to propeller planes and wing walkers. The beginning of the ride was rooted in the history of flight. It used some of the early tricks of Soarin’, by using projectors and screens paired with the movement of the ride itself to make you feel like you were actually flying.

After this little history lesson, you were given a passport to the world and treated to a global flight. Here some elements of the ride’s previous incarnation, “If You Had Wings” could be seen sans the ubiquitous theme song, which could’ve easily win the prize for most repetitive theme song ever. Google it, I double dog dare you. You’ll be humming it for the next five years at least.

First up on your global tour was a miniature Japan, utilizing the same illusion of Peter Pan’s Flight to make you feel as though you were flying high above the country. (Except without the black light and dark room, the illusion never truly worked.) Next was a brief fly by France, and finally a breeze past a whirling sign preparing you for your “supersonic jet flight”. It was a brief tour of the world, but hey, it counts. We were from the country in Indiana, so miniature Japan and France were enough to thrill us beyond measure. If it wasn’t corn, we were happy.

Your supersonic jet flight was brought to you courtesy of some smoke and lasers, and this was the very reason my cousins and I risked the wrath of our mothers to ride again and again. The funhouse spinning effect made us feel like we were turning upside down. Your supersonic jet next took you through a tunnel of projected sky and clouds, feeling like you were living the opening credits to, Superman along with a neat-o electronic synthesizer soundtrack. All of this build up brought you to the very magical … exit. Where we would promptly scamper right past our sweaty frustrated mothers and onto the ride again. My mother doesn’t remember this dysfunctional little tradition of ours, and I theorize that it’s because she and my aunt were conspiring to make us feel like rebels so that they could actually get the chance to stand still for more than five minutes.

But honestly, that’s the thing about Disney World. It’s that everything really is magical, from the wondrous world of air travel to your more relaxed parents. Sure, it’s funny now to think about marveling at a convenience that we see as run of the mill, but when you stop and think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we can hop on a plane and be halfway across the country in a couple of hours. It’s that kind of optimism and enjoyment of everyday life that fuels a lot of Disney fans in their reality, so why not marvel about it? What about you, did you ever take your Delta Dreamflight?

Delta Dreamflight
• Opened June 26, 1989 replacing “If You Could Fly”
• Renamed “Take Flight” on Jan. 1, 1996. “Take Flight” closed on Jan. 5, 1998
• The space currently houses Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, which opened in October 1998

Audrey is a freelance writer and voice over artist. Her work has appeared in “Geek Monthly”, “Animation World”, “Haunted Attractions”, “Orlando Attractions Magazine” (print edition) and more. She is currently pursuing her MA in creative writing in the midwest. She escapes to Orlando as often as humanly possible, where she has spent an inordinate amount of time vacationing and would take up residence in the Haunted Mansion if she only could.

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5 comments

Scott May 18, 2010 - 2:11 pm

I used to love Delta Dreamflight. Any attraction that had three original songs was great in my book. However, there was no “fly over” effect when you visited Tokyo and Paris. After leaving the crop duster movie you went up a dock to board the “Global Clipper” which was a flying boat. You entered the aircraft and saw the luxurious seating and tables then you exited the other side of the plane as if you had “landed”. You were then on a sort of porch looking at a traditional Japanese building with a man taking a photograph of two geisha dressed women…then the ominmover rotated to see a view of Paris over the building tops (not unline the scene in Ratatouille climbs the building). You could see down to the street which is where you photo in the article was taken of the people at the cafe. After a turn to the left, you saw that you were entering the engine of a Delta 767. This effect is still there today on Buzz Lightyear. The red spinning light tunnel was just a white spinning light (so as to look like the engine blades).

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Audrey Brown May 18, 2010 - 4:35 pm

Hey Scott! Maybe it felt like flying to me because I was a child and it’s a child’s memory that I view the ride with still. I will try to be careful about that in future Retro Orlando columns. Thanks for reading!

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Scott May 22, 2010 - 12:43 am

Dreamflight was actually one of my favorite rides. There was a lot more detail involved that I think went past most people. For instance, the pop-up books. When you first start on the ride you see a spinning pop-up book that has three pages open showing some of the early days of air travel, then the first scene opens up as if you have now “entered” the pop up book itself. That is why everything was done in flats and was cartoon-y. As you leave the pop-up book and continue to move toward the future the technology used in the ride also advances. Then, at the end you revist the pop-up book with one giant book with a page turning back and forth between two cities with a Delta 767 flying overheard.

Also, notice that the Delta 767 keeps showing up? It was no accident that they chose that aircraft model…and more specifically one SPECIFIC aircraft. When you enter notice that the nose of the plane has a slightly altered Delta livery (paint scheme) and has the logo saying “The Spirit of Delta”. This was (is) a very real and important aircraft to Delta Air Lines. Back in the late 70’s fuel crisis, Delta posted the first loss in it’s history (how times have changed now!). The employees were very passionate about their airline and they all pitched in money to buy the airline it’s first fuel-efficient (for the time) Boeing 767 (N102DA). The entire plane was paid for by employees. To recognize this, it was name “The Spirit of Delta” and painted with gold letters and the Delta logo on the side of the plane near the front door was given a special gold border. There were plaques in the plane explaining its legacy. The Spirit of Delta was retired just a few years ago, but it is now a permanent part of the Delta history museum in Atlanta. When Delta became a new partner for WDW, it is obvious which plane would be featured.

There is more Delta history featured on the mural in the boarding area. The scene is in Monroe, LA…the birthplace of Delta Air Lines. They began as a crop duster (Huff-Deland Dusters) and the very first airplane for Delta is featured on the mural.

So, not only are you experiencing the history of flight, but also the history of Delta Air Lines. From their first aircraft, to their most modern (at the time).

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Brian May 23, 2010 - 8:01 pm

I remember that ride too. Although Buzz’s ride that now occupies it now was not so good of a choice by Disney to put there. May fit in with the future theme. Like another retro ride that used to be just across from it. When you went to space, where you had to be carefull with your money and wallet in your pockets or they fall out into the chair.

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EJP June 29, 2010 - 12:18 am

I have more fond memories of Dreamflight’s predecessor in the space, “If You Had Wings” because that was what I experienced first on many visits in the 70s and 80s. But Dreamflight was a competent enough successor that at least stayed true to the vision of stressing a journey tied to the virtues of air travel. Buzz Lightyear by contrast is yet another example in the tiresome trend of shoving Disney animated characters in our face in every corner of every park, and destroying the neat balance that existed in the old days when animated characters were for Fantasyland only, and not to be to found in the other areas (or in EPCOT for that matter).

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