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Walt Disney World has come a long way since Oct. 1, 1971. The resort celebrates its 40th anniversary Saturday with a 15-hour celebration at the iconic Magic Kingdom park, where it all started.
In 1971, there was just the Magic Kingdom, Fort Wilderness campground and two hotels (the Contemporary and Polynesian) connected by the Monorail. Now, there are four theme parks, two water parks, 30 themed resort hotels and much more. Whether or not the sprawling, 30,000-acre complex southwest of Orlando is the true realization of Walt Disney’s vision (see video below) is debatable, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
My first visit was in late 1972, and I still remember the joy and wonder of that day. I’m looking forward to the surprises Disney says are in store for guests on its birthday, although I’ve grown to appreciate Disney World for many different reasons.
Walt died in 1966 and never got to see his dream come true, but a surprising amount of Disney World’s development stayed true to his ideals. Some major elements, such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, are based on ideas that Walt developed in the 1950s for Disneyland in California.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary and consider Disney World’s significance, circa 2111, it’s easy to overlook the classic elements that sprang from Walt’s wellspring and stand as the foundation of all things Disney. Sure, the new attractions and technological advancements are great. The resort’s many restaurants range from simply decadent to spectacular. The hotels offer everything from affordable comfort to luxury living at its finest.
But what makes Disney special is its huge contribution to Americana, particularly that of the mid-century. The 1950s and ’60s were a special time for many of us, and America in general. Disneyland and Disney World preserve this more innocent time – and keep it artistic and relevant – better than any other modern-day mega-corporation.
As we stated in a previous post, the artists and creative people at Disney have a lot to do with this. We’ll be exploring all the classic elements of Disney World in an upcoming special feature on The Atomic Grog. But for now, it’s time to celebrate 40 years of mid-century magic.
Beyond the surprises, here’s what we know is in store for Saturday:
Schedule: The Magic Kingdom opens at 9 a.m. and won’t close until midnight.
Kickoff: At 9:45 a.m., a character-filled parade will start in Town Square, heading down Main Street USA. At 10 a.m., a 40th anniversary presentation will take place at Cinderella Castle, featuring characters, Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, performances and even a few fireworks.
Merchandise: A variety of special 40th anniversary goodies will be available in many of the park’s stores. Two of our favorite current Disney artists, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily, will be among those on hand to sign autographs and meet fans. Others include Costa Alavezos, Brent Reese, Greg McCullough, Noah, Dave Avanzino, Jim Shore, Robert Olszewski, and Gene Gonda.
* See some of the artwork, meet-and-greet schedules | More photos, schedule details
* Kevin and Jody’s mini attraction poster set
* Kevin and Jody’s Haunted Mansion Hatbox Ghost
Fireworks: At 9 p.m., “Wishes” will include a special show in celebration of the anniversary. It will use perimeter launching points, expanding the fireworks outward and filling the night sky with pyrotechnics.
40th anniversary blog reports
* Official Disney Parks blog: Timeline: 40 years at Disney World
Early Disney World merchandise | Histories of Contemporary and Polynesian resorts
* Inside The Magic: Special fireworks and presentation scheduled for 40th anniversary
* Other blogs: WDW News Today | Disney Tourist Blog | Talk Disney
40th anniversary news reports
* St. Petersburg Times: An insider’s look at how the Magic Kingdom got its start
Celebrate Disney World’s birthday, check out these ‘secret’ spots
* Orlando Sentinel: As Disney World turns 40, its strategy shifts
* Boston Herald: What would Walt think?
Disney World history
* Mouse Planet: Celebrating four decades of Walt Disney World | WDW: Oct. 1, 1971
* Goofy About Disney: Walt Disney World: From mess to masterpiece
Official Disney sites
* Walt Disney World | Walt Disney Family Museum