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Disney Then and Now – 10 Ways Disney World Has Changed Over The Years

After the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney set his sights on Florida so he could create a whole new world of possibilities. In his own words Walt said, “There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we could possibly imagine.” Walt Disney World was to be an ever evolving land of progress and has undergone many changes over the years. Here are 10 ways Disney World has changed from the beginning:

10. Prices: When the Magic Kingdom first opened on October 1, 1971, admission tickets for adults were $3.50! At that time, you also had to purchase tickets to ride individual attractions, almost like you would do at a state fair. Each attraction was assigned a letter, A-E based on popularity and experience, and could be purchased as ticket books or individually from $.10 to $.90. As these were done away with, admission has increased 60 times. A single-day Magic Kingdom admission will now cost non-Florida residents as much as $105! There are many ways to save and a big one is to just move to Florida for resident and seasonal pass discounts!

9. Theme park options: In 1971, Walt Disney World Resort consisted of the Magic Kingdom, golf courses and three resort hotels. Since then the theme park family has grown. Epcot Center opened in 1982, the Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998. There have been countless changes within these parks as well as outside of them. Here some highlighted details…

8. The Magic Kingdom: Throughout the years many attractions have been added, removed and swapped out. Fantasyland in particular has undergone the most change. In 1994, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage attraction closed. Not far behind, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was closed to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1998. Snow White’s Scary Adventures eventually also closed in 2012 to make way for an altogether new iteration with the coming of the new Fantasyland expansion. This is now home to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and the Be Our Guest restaurant. In Tomorrowland, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (1998) took over the building which used to house DreamFlight (1989) and earlier If You Had Wings (1972). Stitch’s Great Escape (2004) used to be Alien Encounter (1995) and even earlier Mission to Mars (1975). The other most notable “recent” addition to the Magic Kingdom was Splash Mountain in 1992.

7. Epcot Center: The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT) was a part of Walt’s original visionary dream for the Florida Project. Combining elements to entertain, inform, and inspire, the theme park originally existed to highlight the unity in diversity of worldwide cultures (in World Showcase) while also instilling in humankind the technological advancement to create a better tomorrow( in Future World.) Future World has since seen much change with classic dark rides being swapped: Horizons was demolished to make way for Mission: Space and Test Track now resides where World of Motion once existed. The Journey of Imagination has also been drastically (some might say regretfully) altered from the days of Dreamfinder and Figment. The highly successful Soarin’ Over California was added to the Land in 2005. New additions of familiar characters from the animated movies, like Nemo and friends as well as Frozen characters, have begun moving into Epcot more recently. This has created some considerable controversy as many of Epcot’s original ideals have seemingly been abandoned.

6. Disney’s Hollywood Studios: This theme park has already experienced one name change (from the Disney-MGM Studios) in 2008. Based on the current expansion plans, it has been confirmed the name will change again. The Sunset Boulevard expansion occurred in 1994 featuring thrill rides, the Tower of Terror (1994) and Rock’n’roller Coaster (1999), as well as Fantasmic (1996). Toy Story Midway Mania opened in 2008 and Star Tours received a brand new 3-D ride experience in 2011. The Great Movie Ride has the most recent update with a new pre- and post-show (2015). Rumors abound about the Star Wars expansion which looks like the next big change to the park!

5. Animal Kingdom: As Disney World’s newest park, additions have been steady. The Everest Expedition which opened in 2006 is the most significant update. Other notable changes include the modification of Dinosaur from Countdown to Extinction, altering a few different storylines for Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the swap of Tarzan Rocks (1999) to Finding Nemo – the Musical (2006) in the Theater in the Wild. The Pandora expansion from Avatar began in 2014 and should be completed in early 2017. This will take the place of the originally planned Beastly Kingdom and will dramatically add to the atmosphere of the park.

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4. Non-theme park options: In addition to the theme park changes, the Walt Disney World Resort has grown exponentially. Besides the hotel resorts, Disney has added two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995), World Wide of Sports Complex (1997) and Downtown Disney (1995). Downtown Disney was converted from the Lake Buena Vista Village Marketplace (1975), Pleasure Island (1989) and expanded to the West Side (1997). It will now be known as Disney Springs divided up as Marketplace, Landing, Town Center and West Side with many updates to restaurants and shops.

3. Ticket System: Once upon a time, you had to purchase individual tickets to ride each attraction. Now one ticket gets you in the park, except it’s not even a ticket anymore. Tickets have evolved to magnetic cards and MagicBands. Gone are the days of the invisible hand-stamp I loved as a kid to gain you re-entry (Anyone remember those special moments on dark rides with blacklights so you actually see the images?). FastPass tickets are also no longer used, as FastPass reservations (and every other reservation or ticket) is stored on MagicBands. The My Disney Experience app has evolved as well and is really your one-stop-spot for all your Disney planning needs.

2. New beverages in the parks: Walt Disney was adamant that his theme park would be one that a whole family could enjoy together. As such, alcohol was only available at the more adult park of Epcot around World Showcase. Now, every park has alcohol availability, with the Magic Kingdom finally joining this list in the form of the Be Our Guest restaurant (note, alcohol is only available for the dinner experience). Another recent change has been the Starbucks brand coffee becoming a staple at all Disney parks. One beverage, however, has stood the test of time at Disney with a partnership lasting over 70 years – Coca-Cola!

1. Missing Experiences: Do you remember the Swan Boat rides or the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes? How about requesting to ride in the front car of the Monorail? All of us probably have some parade or attraction or restaurant that once existed within Disney World that has been removed. Before Discovery Island at Animal Kingdom, Disney World had a standalone Discovery Island attraction. River Country has stood abandoned along the shores of Bay Lake since November 2, 2001. I really miss seeing views of the Magic Kingdom from the Skyway ride that was closed in 1999. With the constant renovations and improvements Disney makes every year, guests are forced to say goodbye to beloved experiences. What attraction do you most miss from the days of yesteryear at Walt Disney World?

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About Jared

I believe there's magic everywhere and love Story in all of its forms. Disney has impacted me from childhood, helping to instill in me the lost art of wonder and imagination. Having spent time as a cast member and now as a professional communicator, I long to inspire others with those same values. A few of my favorite Disney things are Fort Wilderness, extra-magic hours at the Magic Kingdom, and the nostalgia of EPCOT Center. My wife and I recently traded the Walt Disney World mountains (Space, Splash, Everest, Big Thunder and Mount Gushmore) for the mountains of Tennessee but writing about the Disney experience helps keep the magic alive!