Celebrating Magic Kingdom’s Anniversary – Epcot’s too!
In exactly 2 years’ time, Walt Disney World Resort will be unrecognizable. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be open at Hollywood Studios. Epcot will have countless new attractions, restaurants, and a new nighttime spectacular. There will be new hotels. There will be a new mode of transportation that transports guests through the sky. And of course, Disney will celebrate Magic Kingdom’s anniversary with yet-to-be announced magic that I’m certain will be bigger, more immersive, and more focused on family fun than ever before!
Today though, we celebrate Walt Disney World’s 47th birthday (and Epcot’s 36th birthday!) with the Resort in all of its current glory. There are 4 unparalleled theme parks to explore and a surrounding world filled with experiences for you to discover! I can’t wait until I’m back at the place where dreams come true in just over a week to wish my favorite place a happy birthday in person! Until I board my plane and journey to the Walt Disney World of today, I wanted to take a look back at the Walt Disney World Resort on opening day- October 1, 1971.
The Florida Project
Walt Disney asked a very small, very close group of friends to accompany him on a journey to the Central Florida swamplands in the 1960’s. He was in search of a location that could house his- and the world’s- greatest theme park accomplishment, and his stipulations were particular. It had to be warm, the land flat, it had to be cheap, and there had to be plenty of acres to snap up for future expansion.
Walt led the team under the name ‘The Florida Project’ to deter the seller from raising the price on him. Needless to say, his clever cover worked, because today, Walt Disney World Resort sits in the heart of Central Florida, right on the land that Walt purchased way back in the 1960’s!
Today on Magic Kingdom’s anniversary, there are over 140 restaurants and more than 25 impeccably themed Resort Hotels to choose from when you’re planning your visit…but that was far from the case in 1971. On opening day, Magic Kingdom wow-ed guests with its fairytale-like reveal: imagine riding a monorail in the sky THROUGH a fully operational hotel in 1971…talk about a ‘wow’ factor!
The Resort opened with just two hotels- Disney’s Polynesian Village and, of course, The Contemporary. Both hotels were revolutionary in their own right, but it was the cruise ship-inspired, open-lobby design of The Contemporary that was literally the talk of the nation.
To get to Walt Disney World’s main attraction though, a journey via ferry boat or monorail was a necessity. Walt’s vision was to keep Magic Kingdom hidden from guest’s views until they were literally inside the park gates.
To create the feeling that guests are being transported to another realm, the ferry and monorail systems were brilliantly devised, and welcomed with open arms! Plus, Walt knew that crowd control would likely be an issue, and he strategically implemented the monorail and ferry as a way to stagger guests’ entrances into the Park…brilliant.
“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy”
The crown jewel of opening day in 1971 was of course Magic Kingdom Park. When you walk under the train station, those words are emblazoned into golden plates, letting guests know that from this point forward, the ‘real world’ is far away, and only what lies ahead is what matters now. The park debuted with the six lands that we’re all super familiar with today: Main Street USA, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland!
Although the park has obviously undergone many, many changes since the 70’s, each and every day, guests are traveling to Magic Kingdom to ride attractions that have been in the Park for nearly 50 years! It’s a small world, Mad Tea Party, and Haunted Mansion still delight guests of all ages, and if you ask any Cast Member out there, the classic attractions are a large part of the reason the Park is still so darn popular!
Up until Disneyland’s opening in 1955, no theme park in the world had ever included a parade as part of its offerings. It seems silly today since parades have become such a staple of the Disney Parks, but the march of the opening day parade down Main Street USA ignited a spark that would stay lit some 48 years later! Here’s a look at the opening day parade as it appeared in 1971.
A Glimpse Into the Future
There’s really no telling what Walt Disney World will look like 48 years from today, but we’re willing to wager a pretty good bet as to what it will look like over the next few years. The Walt Disney World skyline is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. Soon, there will be two new sky-high hotel towers that will begin welcoming guests within the next year.
Epcot will receive a much-needed upgrade when a Guardians of the Galaxy themed attraction and a Ratatouille complete construction. Of course the biggest of the ‘newness’, set to open within the year is…you guessed it, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and its associated fully-immersive Resort hotel (the first of its kind).
Yes, Walt Disney World Resort has certainly changed quite a bit since October 1, 1971! I really wish I could have been there on opening day to witness what truly was an unprecedented event, but I’m pretty darn content to able to visit 48 years later- and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next 48. Happy 47th birthday, Walt Disney World!
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Special thanks to Maria Salerno for writing this article: Hiya pal! I am a NYC-based writer thrilled to be a part of your Disney vacation planning! I’m a WDW Annual Passholder, so you can find me in the parks regularly throughout the year. In addition to being a Disney Parks loving girl, I’m also a Disney toy and merchandise collector, a runDisney enthusiast, and Disney music and movie aficionado. You can follow me on Instagram: @mariasalno and find me on YouTube: @NYCtoAP. Thanks for reading, hope to see ya real soon!