Last updated: 04:35 PM ET, Fri September 30 2016

Celebrating 45 Years of Disney Magic in Orlando

Destination & Tourism | Erik Yates | September 29, 2016

Celebrating 45 Years of Disney Magic in Orlando

Image courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

In 1971, Walt Disney World opened its gates for the first time, and the happiest place on earth became an instant success. That success would grow Walt Disney World from one magical park, to a four-park themed resort encompassing 26 square miles, or roughly the size of San Francisco. Today it’s not only the top tourist destination in Orlando, it is the most visited theme park in the world. 

This Saturday marks the 45th anniversary of The Magic Kingdom, the very first park at the Walt Disney World Resort. The park was opened almost five years after the death of creator Walt Disney, and would mark the beginning of a legacy that would not only shape the rest of Florida, but would mold the world’s themed entertainment and tourism industry.

Roughly 10,000 guests were in attendance when the park first opened Oct. 1, 1971. That was a welcome relief from Disneyland’s crushing attendance almost 15 years earlier. The new park opened with attractions such as The Jungle Cruise, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Haunted Mansion, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. In the years to come, Disney would add other fan favorites such as the very first Space Mountain in 1975.

READ MORE: 10 Secrets Behind the Magic of Walt Disney World

The one question that I keep asking is “How did Walt Disney World become so popular?”

The one answer that keeps popping up is total immersion. A popular story is that Walt Disney himself was mortified to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland and a convenience store next to the line to get into Disneyland. In Disney’s eyes, these moments ruined the illusion that you were in another land altogether. He wanted to build a place that had enough space that you would never see other areas interacting with each other, and you would never see any influence from the outside world.

So he used dummy corporations to hide the fact that he was buying 26 square miles of land in the middle of Florida. The land under Disney is full of tunnels and underground areas, easy enough to have the cast and crew slide from one side of the park to the other without being seen. And the outside world? Once you are in a Disney park, you’re unlikely to see anything that will take you away from the fact you are in a magical world.

The other thing that helped Disney become a huge destination is the fact that there are so many unique things to do. There are four theme parks, two waterparks, Disney Springs — which encompasses more than 100 different shops and restaurants — and about 30 different hotels. The hotels alone are one of the keys to the success of Disney, boasting more than 30,000 rooms.

READ MORE: 5 Walt Disney World Attractions To See Before They’re Gone Forever

For a family on vacation, there really is no reason to leave the Walt Disney World property, but naturally other theme parks have sprung up around the area. Another key is the fact that other parks like SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland Florida offer different types of attractions, and experiences. This naturally keeps people coming to the area. They may be going to Disney, or Universal, but a family who is visiting the area is more likely to visit other parks on their visit as well.

On Saturday, Magic Kingdom will hold a huge ceremony in front of Cinderella Castle at 9:30 a.m. There will be music, speeches, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a visit from Mickey and friends. There will also be special merchandise, treats and more. If the 45th is like the 40th, you can expect to see special guide books and pins for the day as well.

What will the future hold for Walt Disney World? If the past has been any indication, then we all need to get ready for even more magic and Pixie dust, because we haven’t seen nothin’ yet!


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