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Artists shine amid copious crowds at Walt Disney World’s 40th birthday party

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Masses of mouse-minded fans flocked to the Magic Kingdom on Saturday, Oct. 1, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. And while initial crowd forecasts were low, interest in the birthday bash quickly grew among the Disney faithful and resulted in a sometimes overwhelming throng even though actual celebratory festivities were modest.

The Magic Kingdom entrance and train station, as seen in December 1972 and Oct. 1, 2011. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The Magic Kingdom entrance and train station, as seen in December 1972 and Oct. 1, 2011. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Oct. 1 opening date was selected in 1971 because it was considered the slow season, and it typically remains so today. But Disneyphiles came out of the woodwork for the anniversary party last week and took advantage of the late park hours at the Magic Kingdom (it was open from 9 a.m. until midnight).

My wife and I combined this event with a visit to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival on Sunday, and it’s a good thing we did. The overflowing crowd on Saturday made for a hectic day and not much time to relax and enjoy the Disney experience. That’s not to say it wasn’t memorable. Here are the highlights (and some lowlights):

We stayed at the Caribbean Beach, one of Disney’s moderate resort hotels, and were pleasantly surprised. We had previously enjoyed Port Orleans Riverside, and this was on par with that experience.

The rooms were spacious and clean (with the great details that Disney is known for), the grounds (200 acres, including the 45-acre Barefoot Bay) were huge and full of amenities (be sure to take a walk around the lake) and the theming was spot-on. It was closed when we wandered by early Sunday, but I’ve heard the pool bar makes a great Piña Colada.

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Disney World is still cool at 40 thanks to retro artists Shag, Kevin & Jody

Update/review: Artists shine amid copious crowds at Disney World’s 40th
Related: Disney World celebrates 40 years of mid-century magic
Disney World’s updated Enchanted Tiki Room has retro feel
See below: Shag’s Disney World 40th anniversary collection | Video
Kevin Kidney & Jody Daily’s Disney World 40th anniversary collection

The author with a friend at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, December 1972.
The author with a friend at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, December 1972.

It’s late 1972. I’m visiting my grandparents in South Florida but I’m more excited about our day trip to the East Coast’s answer to Disneyland: Walt Disney World. The park had opened just a year earlier and promised to be – in the eyes of an 11-year-old in the early ’70s – the coolest place on Earth.

I’ll never forget my first ride on the futuristic Monorail, the spooky and fun Haunted Mansion, the cartoonish architecture of Tomorrowland, plus the iconic castle and all the classic characters. The day flew by too fast but I cherished my souvenirs, including a Haunted Mansion record that I played to death over the years.

Fast-forward some 30 years and I’m a childless grown-up in South Florida. I’ve made the rounds of most of the state’s attractions as a teenager and young adult but never made it back to the Magic Kingdom. My only Disney World experiences were a day at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and a trip to Downtown Disney for a concert at the House of Blues. Like many others, I thought I was too cool for Disney World.

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