40 Today! Walt Disney World Celebrates!

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Walt Disney World is 40 today!

Walt Disney World opened on 1st October 1971 with 22 attractions and 5,000 costumed cast members and since then Walt Disney World Resort has grown on founder Walt Disney’s imagination and vision.

“Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland . . . the blessing of size,” Walt Disney said after the “Florida Project” was announced in 1965.  “There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”

In 1982, Epcot opened as a theme park celebrating innovation and discovery rather than as the “city of tomorrow” Walt initially had envisioned.

In 1989, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) brought Tinseltown magic to Central Florida to showcase movies, television and animated treasures from the Disney collection.

In 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom first welcomed guests to explore a world of exotic, extinct and imaginary animals.

Early Walt Disney World Milestones

Early 1960s After Disneyland opens in 1955, Walt Disney is approached many times to build another park.  Offers of free land come from inside and outside the United States.  Disney begins developing attractions for the 1964 New York World’s Fair:  General Electric’s “Carousel of Progress,” Ford’s Magic Skyway,” Pepsi-Cola’s “It’s a Small World” and the state of Illinois’ “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”  Walt is absorbed with the technological achievements of his Imagineers and considers ways to expand.

1963-65 A team assigned by Walt begins searching for a location where he can build his dream park. When Walt flies over the initial 20,000-acre Central Florida site with its pristine wetlands and forests, his mind is made up.  Secret purchases of the acreage and adjoining property continue for more than a year with the average price per acre at $185.

In the end, the Disney company paid about  $5 million for 27,000 acres (about 43 square miles) in Orange and Osceola counties (“Walt Disney, An American Original” by Bob Thomas, 1976, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

November 15, 1965 Walt and his fiscally astute brother, Roy O. Disney, announce the Florida Project at an Orlando press conference with Florida Gov. Hayden Burns.

1966 Ideas based on Walt’s dream crystallize as Imagineers prepare plans for EPCOT – an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow designed as a showplace for technologies of the world.  State legislation creates municipalities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake and the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allow Disney to pay for major services without depending on its Central Florida neighbors.  Walt dies in December 1966 before construction starts.

Fall 1967 Site preparation begins

Spring 1969 Construction is underway on Magic Kingdom, the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts.  More than 50 miles of water-control channels are built to wind through the natural landscape, and more than 8,000 acres are set aside as a permanent conservation area.  The resort builds its own energy plants, maintenance shops, food and laundry centers.

Early 1970 It takes 18 months to complete Cinderella Castle and 9,000-plus workers at a cost of more than $400 million to finish the iconic Magic Kingdom park, Seven Seas Lagoon, Palm and Magnolia golf courses and the first two resort hotels.

October 1, 1971 Walt Disney World Vacation Kingdom opens with fewer than 10,000 guests

October 23-25, 1971 A star-studded Grand Opening celebration takes place with celebrities that include Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, Glenn Campbell, Buddy Hackett and Jonathan Winters.  Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler conducts the 60-nation World Symphony Orchestra concert.

Roy O. Disney, reads the dedication plaque: “Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney… and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place… a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn — together. Dedicated this 25th day of October, 1971. Roy O. Disney.”

1971 Opening Day Attractions:  Jungle Cruise; Swiss Family Treehouse; Sunshine Pavilion (Enchanted Tiki Birds); Cinderella’s Golden Carousel (now Prince Charming Regal Carousel); Dumbo, the Flying Elephant; Mad Tea Party; Mickey Mouse Revue; Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; “it’s a small world”; Snow White’s Adventures;    Diamond Horseshoe Revue; Frontier Shooting Gallery; Country Bear Jamboree; Mike Fink Keel Boats; Hall of Presidents; Haunted Mansion; Main Street horseless carriage, Jitney, fire truck, horse-drawn streetcar and omnibus; Main Street Cinema; Walt Disney World Railroad; Skyway; Tomorrowland Speedway; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

1972: If You Had Wings

1973:  Pirates of the Caribbean; Walt Disney Story; Swan Boats; Tom Sawyer Island

1974: StarJets (now Astro Orbiter); “Magic Carpet ‘Round the World” film

1975: Space Mountain; Carousel of Progress; WEDway PeopleMover (now Tomorrowland Transit Authority); Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes

1980:  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Here’s to another 40 years for the “Happiest Place on Earth!” It’s been a great ride so far…

One Response to 40 Today! Walt Disney World Celebrates!

  1. I didn’t know Steve Carell was there on opening day in 1971 (photo above with Roy O. holding plaque).

    H J Shadows
    June 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm

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