"Walt Disney World is 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."
Roy O. Disney, October 25, 1971
Yesterday, Walt Disney World celebrated its 50th anniversary. On October 1, 1971, the Magic Kingdom opened its gates for the first time. At that time, Walt Disney World was a lot smaller than we would think of today, consisting only of the Magic Kingdom theme park, the Ticket and Transportation Center, and the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts, all located on the monorail line circling Seven Seas Lagoon.
With the success of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Walt Disney began exploring several options for a second theme park location. Primarily, Walt wanted to find space to combat the encroachment of motels and shops that had sprung up right next to Disneyland.
"The Florida Project", as it was known, was intended to present a distinct vision with its own diverse set of attractions. While a theme park would be included as an attraction, it was only a small portion of Walt's vision. His original plans also called for the inclusion of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" (EPCOT). Instead of the theme park we know today, this EPCOT was a master planned community intended to serve as a testbed for new city-living innovations.
Walt's death in 1966 during the planning phase of development left the company wrestling with the idea of whether to bring the Florida Project to fruition. However, Walt's older brother, Roy, came out of retirement to make sure Walt's biggest dream was realized. And it was Roy who insisted the name of the entire complex be changed from Disney World to Walt Disney World, ensuring that people would remember that the project was Walt's dream.
Though the pandemic put a damper on a lot of the celebration plans, the company is still celebrating in true Disney fashion, with two nighttime spectaculars, EARidescent decorations and costumes, and lots of nostalgic food and souvenirs. The pandemic also didn't stop massive crowds from arriving yesterday to celebrate the anniversary, with the Hub area filling to capacity in early evening for the new fireworks show.
The celebration will be continuing for the next 18 months in typical Disney fashion, and we will look forward to celebrating this December.
Happy Birthday, Disney World! Here's to 50 more magical years!