Today, October 1, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World, and if we look at the complex today, it has far exceeded what Walt had planned for the complex.
It all started in the mid-sixties when Walt Disney had an idea of a Disneyland on the east coast, so families on this side of the country wouldn’t have to drive until now to enjoy their park.
The “Florida Project”, as it was known, saw Disney acquire land in central Florida, as it did not want this park to suffer the space restrictions that Disneyland did, as it was in the middle of the urban expansion of Anaheim. .
With nearly 28,000 acres purchased, Walt envisioned more than one park, including an eventual “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT). This would be a planned community that will showcase the latest technological and planning advances in life.
Unfortunately, Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, during the initial planning phase, but his older brother, Roy O. Disney, retired to help make Walt’s dream come true.
Construction of what would become Magic Kingdom began in 1967, with the opening approximately four years later, on October 1, 1971. It consisted of the park and the two original resorts of Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Resort. Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground opened shortly thereafter on November 19, 1971. The monorail system also opened in 1971.
When I moved to Orlando in the 90s, I worked on Disney Reservations and here are four interesting facts I learned about the initial opening designs:
- When Disney’s Contemporary Resort was built, the angled steel frame of the building was built, but the rooms were built separately and then lifted on a crane and placed in place. This design was a collaboration of Disney, the United States Steel Corporation and Los Angeles architect Welton Becket.
- Most of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort was built the same way, except that the rooms were stacked instead of sliding.
- If you ever look at the ground when you are in Freedom Square inside Magic Kingdom, you will notice a brown section in the middle of the red path. It is about depicting the wastewater that ran through the streets during the Revolutionary War. There were also no indoor plumbing during the war, hence the lack of toilets in this area of the park. You have to go to Frontierland or Fantasyland to find toilets.
- Speaking of the Magic Kingdom, the whole park is actually built on top of a system of tunnels. What you think is the ground level is actually a second level of the park. The tunnels were designed so that cast members would not interrupt the themes of the various sections of the park that reached their work area. You would never see someone in Adventureland clothes walking around Tommorowland.
Roy O. Disney died in late 1971, and for the next decade the company was run by a team that included Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller, who were originally coached by the Disney brothers.
One of his first decisions was to open Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in 1975, where Disney Springs is now located.
Due to the success of Magic Kingdom, the trio decided to withdraw plans from EPCOT and, after WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) designed the designs, the ground for the new park began in 1979. .
EPCOT Center, a combination of Future World and World Showcase, opened to the public on October 1, 1982. It was twice the size of Magic Kingdom and was dedicated to the celebration of human success. In 1994, the park was renamed “EPCOT”, removing “Center” from the name.
At this time, the monorail system was also expanded to include a route to EPCOT.
You may now have noticed that the Grand Floridian Resort was not mentioned in the original resorts that opened with Magic Kingdom. This is because the Walt Disney World flagship complex was the third open complex and did so on June 28, 1988, when it was originally called Grand Floridian Beach Resort. The name was changed to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa during the fall of 1997.
As you can see in the postcard above, the resort was originally conceived by Walt with an Asian design. But when construction began nearly 15 years later, the concept changed and was influenced by luxury beach resorts in the early 1900s, such as the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California, the Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan.
While the Grand Floridian was being built, construction was also taking place on land just southwest of EPCOT, which finally opened as Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989.
Conceived by Walt Disney Imagineers, Marty Sklar and Randy Bright, and then CEO Michael Eisner, the park was inspired by the golden age of Hollywood and originally functioned as a theme park and as a real work studio.
During the 2000s, production facilities were removed and restructured for use in the park, and in 2008 the name was changed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, when Disney’s licensing agreement with the studios expired. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Pleasure Island, a nightclub complex on the site of Walt Disney World Village, also opened on May 1, 1989. Later that year, the WDW Village complex was renamed Disney Village Marketplace. I miss PI so much (as we always said)!
On September 7, 1997, the Disney Village Marketplace was renamed Downtown Disney, with the opening of the West Side area which at the opening featured Virgin Megastore, House of Blues, Bongo’s, DisneyQuest, La Nouba and more. I was part of the crew that opened the West Side, and it was a whole celebration, led by Virgin owner Richard Branson, flying a cable between Bongo’s outdoor stage and the Virgin Megastore, dressed as Peter Pan.
Towards the end of the 1990s, construction began on the west of the Disney-MGM studios of a new type of park dedicated entirely to the natural environment and animal conservation, a philosophy advocated by Walt Disney himself.
On Earth Day, April 22, 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened to guests and remains Walt Disney World’s largest park. If you’ve ever visited the park, your feet know it’s true.
With the presence of all live animals, special designs and arrangements were incorporated throughout the park to protect animal welfare. It is far from the other three parks to reduce the impact of fireworks shows and noise on animals, and the park also uses biodegradable paper straws, along with a ban on plastic straws, lids and balloons.
Due to its care and protection of animals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
On September 29, 2015, Downtown Disney became a new complex called Disney Springs, which transformed the area into a restaurant and shopping destination, with the opening of the Town Center section on May 15, 2016. Walt Disney Imagineering was inspired by Disney Springs from authentic coastal cities found throughout Florida, such as St. Augustine, in the design.
Now, as Walt Disney World begins its massive 50th anniversary celebration (also known as the world’s most magical celebration), its history will be celebrated over the next 18 months as it welcomes so many attractions, shows, restaurants, resorts and far more.
Site owner John Frost has been to Walt Disney World experiencing all the news, so definitely follow the social media on this blog to see his photos and reports this weekend.
But I would like to know about you and Walt Disney World. When was the first time you visited? Do you have a favorite memory? Is there anything new coming up in the parks that you can’t wait to see? Tell us in the comments!