By David Cohea, ReMIND Magazine
Walt Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary this Oct. 1.
Disney’s second grand attraction, on the drawing board for a decade under the title “The Florida Project,” was conceived by Walt Disney. Despite the great success of California’s Disneyland, market surveys in 1959 showed that only about 5% of the park’s visitors came from east of the Mississippi River. In November 1963, Walt Disney reviewed a number of potential sites and settled on an area south of Orlando, Florida.
Walt died in 1966 during initial planning of the park, and there was some debate whether the company should scratch the idea; but Walt’s brother Roy postponed his retirement to ensure the park would be completed.
Walt’s original plans called for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT), a planned community with all sorts of new-urban ideas. That was put on the back burner after his death, and attention turned to opening the Magic Kingdom first.
To prevent the land speculation that had happened around Disneyland, the company bought up 42 square miles of property south of Orlando through dummy corporations.
The Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort Hotel and Polynesian Village were all completed by Oct. 1, 1971, when the park officially opened. Fort Wilderness opened a month later. Admission prices in 1971 were $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for juniors under age 18 and $1 for children under 12.
Less than three months after the park opened, Roy died, at age 78.
Plans for EPCOT developed over the next decade. Originally conceived as a “community of tomorrow,” EPCOT became more of a world’s fair, with attractions showcasing 11 countries from around the world. Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989 with an entertainment theme; and Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the last park to open, in 1998.
The resort now includes two water parks, 27 themed hotels, nine non-Disney hotels, several golf courses, a camping resort, entertainment venues and the outdoor shopping center Disney Springs.
Disney World is the most-visited vacation resort in the world, with an annual attendance of 58 million in 2018.
This Oct. 1 kicks off an 18-month celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. The castle is being made over and all sorts of other EARidescence is coming, with special lighting displays in all four parks.