50 Years of Magic
“To all who come to this happy place, welcome!”
This opening line was spoken by Walt Disney in his Disneyland inaugural speech on July 17, 1955. This message was for both the young and young at heart, and would spread across the country to Florida when Walt Disney World first opened on October 1, 1971.
On October 1, 2021 Walt Disney World celebrated its 50th anniversary. The celebration will continue for eighteen months so everyone can experience the EARidescent magic.
It’s hard to believe how much Disney World has changed since it first opened its doors. Many attractions are no longer with us, such as Hollywood Studios’ The Great Movie Ride and Epcot’s Maelstrom. However, none of the parks would’ve been possible without one idea from one man.
Walt Disney wanted his new resort to both have the same elements as California’s Disneyland and new experiences as well. After purchasing 30,000 acres of land, Walt released a short video at a 1965 press conference announcing The Florida Project. In addition to the Magic Kingdom, Walt discussed plans for a park that would focus on the innovations of today and tomorrow in a fashion similar to the World’s Fair. It was called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, more commonly known as EPCOT.
Walt died before construction began on December 15, 1966. His younger brother Roy was then made CEO of Disney and oversaw the construction of Walt Disney World, which began on May 30, 1967. Four years later on October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World officially opened to the public.
Eleven years after opening day, EPCOT opened on October 1, 1982, featuring two different areas, Future World and World Showcase. On May 1, 1989, Walt Disney World’s third park, MGM (now Hollywood) Studios, opened with an emphasis on the filmmaking process, and was originally planned to be an active filming location. The fourth and final park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, opened a decade later on April 22, 1998 on Earth Day, and highlights conservation and nature.
There will be many new attractions during the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, like the Tron Lightcycle Run Coaster in Magic Kingdom, the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Coaster in Epcot and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Epcot’s France Pavillion. There are also two new nightime entertainment shows. Epcot’s “Harmonious” celebrates the music of Disney films and their cultural inspirations. “Enchantment” will replace the popular “Happily Ever After” show in Magic Kingdom, and will include new projections on the buildings of Main Street USA. Fifty golden statues of Disney characters will be scattered throughout the park, and each icon will be lit up at night as a beacon of magic that’s never been seen before.
Walt Disney World has seen a lot of change in the past fifty years and will continue to change in the future. Still, the park will find ways to celebrate its past. Walt Disney once said that Disney World would never be completed. It will keep evolving as long as there’s imagination.
Illustration by Dev Kamath