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Walt Disney World Facts That Will Make You Feel Old

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida officially opened to the public on October 1, 1971. That’s only a few weeks shy of 49 years ago—almost half a century ago! And as Disney World preparations are underway to make the 50-year marker into the ultimate celebration, laden with an abundance of new attraction debuts and other resort-wide premier innovations, we can’t help reminiscing about how far we’ve come in all that time. In reflecting back on some of the comings, goings, and defining milestones the company has experienced over the years, we sometimes pause a moment in realization of how long its been. While some of our dated memories do kindle a rediscovered awareness of a more antiquated nature, others make us shake our heads and ask “Has it really been that long?” Here are a couple of Walt Disney World facts that will no doubt make you feel old, whatever your age.

20. The opening of Walt Disney World Resort

If you were born prior to the second half of the 1960s then you may have some stirring recollections about when the Walt Disney Company officially revealed plans to open a second theme park near Orlando, Florida. Official announcements for this new Disney “World” came during a press conference in 1965 featuring Walt and Roy Disney, after much speculation over who was eyeing the nearby land in question. Two years later groundbreaking construction was underway. Walt Disney World Resort officially opened to the public on October 1, 1971. But sadly, Walt Disney did not live to see the successful completion his fruits of labor bore.  So for you and anyone else who was around during these milestone marker years, you certainly may still remember all the updates surrounding the Disney Company’s massive Florida-based project as well as the shocking news of Uncle Walt’s untimely death. And just think, all this happened nearly half a century ago!

Credit: Disney

19. Being present for Park premier dates

When Walt Disney World first opened to the public, at that time, it only consisted of Magic Kingdom Park and two on-property hotel resorts—Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Expanding had always been part of Walt Disney’s initiative and the very reason he purchased so much surrounding land for future development. It also ensured more privacy and exclusiveness for his vision and a way to preserve identity and integrity, as not to be intruded upon by any later and potentially congesting area-based developments that may come about.

What we know as Disney Springs today dates back to March 22, 1975. And if you’re old enough you may remember the various names once attached to this major shopping district. It was first known as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, renamed Walt Disney World Village two years later, keeping this title for several years. From 1989 on through 1997 it became known as the Disney Village Marketplace before changing its name once more to Downtown Disney, as it was known up until 2015 when it was once again revised into its current identity—Disney Springs.

EPCOT was the second theme park to open at Walt Disney World Resort, a decade and one year later on October 1, 1982. A centralized focus on human progress throughout the world (as seen in the Park’s two sectional divides) was always an intention of Walt’s and one he already had working concepts for even before construction was finalized for the Magic Kingdom.

EPCOT Opening Day
Epcot Opening Day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened a few years later on May 1, 1989. A celebration of Hollywood glamor, glitz, and Tinseltown nostalgia, the Park has undergone many developments though the years, including its notable name change from its original Disney-MGM Studios to its current Hollywood identity.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is the youngest and largest of all Disney World Parks, having opened back on April 22, 1998—appropriately enough on Earth Day. With a focus less on Disney entertainment in the traditional sense, most of the theme and motif (not to mention objective behind this Park’s establishment) is focused on preservation practices for the natural world, most notably animal life.

18. Flooding memories of Disney’s water parks

In addition to its four theme parks, any loyal Walt Disney World Resort vacationer over the years knows about its water parks as well. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon opened on the grounds back in 1989 with Blizzard Beach following suit in 1995. We find it hard enough to believe that Disney’s youngest onsite water park is already in its 25th year, especially for those who were around long enough to remember well its grand opening. But for older fans, memories of Disney’s first water park still kindle fond memories. Disney’s River Country was the original premier water park at Disney World, even predating Typhoon Lagoon with an opening date of 1976. Operations ceased in 2001, leaving some younger generations with perhaps a bit of recollection for this place. All the same, it’s hard to believe that it’s been shuttered for nearly two decades already!

waterpark

 

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17. Rediscovering the original Discovery Island

Have you ever taken a boat or other watercraft out on Bay Lake and wondered about that abandoned little island, seemingly primeval and untamed? If you’re part of the younger generation either not yet born before or too young to have memories beyond the 2000s, then you can’t be expected to know firsthand that this was once site to Disney’s original Discovery Island. Long before the “Discovery Island” of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this natural oasis, teaming with birds and other wildlife exhibits and first named “Treasure Island,” opened to guests back in 1974. A truly remarkable stop to come out and explore, the island enjoyed a 25-year run before closing to the public in 1999, following the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. All of the animals that once called this island home were largely relocated to the new Park, which also adopted the name “Discovery Island” for one of its Lands. Others went to various zoological parks.

16. Ticket to the past

If you’ve been around for any of the milestone evolutions in the way tickets have been carried out at Walt Disney World Resort, then you know things have come a long way. When Disney World first opened tickets were sold via ticket books. Guests had to pay a separate entrance and admission fee and then have individual tickets for each attraction they chose to pursue once in the Park. Five different levels of ticket books were sold, with A tickets being the cheapest and E being the most expensive, top-notch and most in-demand endeavors. Ticket books could be purchased at the Transportation and Ticket Center while individual ride tickets could be gotten from various booths located all throughout Magic Kingdom Park. When 1980 rolled around Disney began offering a two-day passport option. Ticket books went away entirely by 1982 with the opening of EPCOT.

15. A Park Hopper hop down Memory Lane

Do you remember the pre-Park Hopper days prior to 38 years ago? It goes without saying that Park Hopper options didn’t evolve until 1982 following the opening of Walt Disney World’s second park. While some folks still like to do the whole one park per day method there were obviously many visitors, even back then, itching for a way to cover both parks (and more as the decade progressed) in a single day. With Disney recently getting rid of ticket books and replacing the system with a new one that operated as a one-admission price concept to access all in-park attractions also came the evolution of “passport” specials. Developments continued on as more Disney Parks and attractions opened. First came the introduction of a three-day World Pass, as it was called, with admission good for both Magic Kingdom Park and EPCOT. Other packages to premier included four-day options as well as a grand six-day Vacation Kingdom Passport. Annual Passport packages also emerged on the scene by 1984, and by 1985 the first deals for in-state Florida residents were also introduced.

14. FastPass to the past

The original concept of having a ride reservation system is not as newfangled as many folks like to think, with roots for such workflows first having been proposed and moderately practiced at some world’s fairs long ago. Still, Disney Parks have revolutionized such protocols and structured practices through individualized, innovative methods that other parks have only just begun to take note of. Still, we like to think of FastPass as something new and revolutionary. While undoubtedly innovative, can we really say it’s new? Disney first introduced FastFass in 1999. So technically it’s been around since last century when you come to think about it! With more than two-decades encompassing its tenure, the original FastPass system has undergone many developments and evolutions. It used to be that FastPass ticketing machines were dispensed outside of an attraction, and guests would insert park tickets into the reader, receive as special FastPass printed slip denoting a specific timeslot at which to return to the attraction, and then be admitted via an exclusive (and traditionally much quicker-moving) entrance for FastPass holders. This would allow guests to pursue other attractions in the mean time rather than waiting in a lengthy line. Disney updated to what’s called the FastPass+ system, which allows guests to book up to three FastPass+ reservation times per day, per park for attractions they hope to pursue while in the planning phase of their upcoming trip! Currently, the FastPass+ system is on hold with Disney’s phased reopening. We’re unsure when/if Disney will go back to the same system. How well do you remember Disney’s pre-FastPass past?

13. When the magic of Magic Bands first appeared

While FastPasses are not as new as some people may think, Magic Bands are admittedly younger by comparison. What’s more, within their short run they have grown immensely in popularity as the primary all-in-one management system for vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort. While we emphasize the newness of Magic Bands, we have to point out that they first debuted back in 2013. Seven years may be short on the grand scale, but it’s still one of those moments that hit you when you come to realize you were once doing the “old way” long before they ever even emerged.

Magic Bands

12. A nostalgic ride with Disney World Shuttle Services

Complimentary shuttle services for Disney Resort hotel guests first emerged on the scene back in 1983. That was 37 years ago! As part of the services provided via Disney Transport, which also includes ferryboats, Disney’s famed monorail lines, and even the newer Skyliner gondola lifts, we know these buses today as a reliable around-the-clock means for getting to and from resorts, parks, and other Disney area attractions throughout the day. At the time of their debut there were only two Disney theme parks and far fewer resort hotels than there are today. So it goes without saying that as Disney World expansions continued so did the fleet of operating busses and added routes. Do you remember Disney’s first pre-bus decade? It’s pretty hard to imagine!

11. The development of Magical Express

While transportation within the Walt Disney World Resort loop is a reliable and efficient way for guests to get around on their vacations, foregoing the need to book rental vehicles that may prove to be a hassle, for many years the question still stood on the need to transport guests arriving into Orlando International Airport to their resort hotels. The answer came back in 2005 with the introduction of Disney’s Magical Express. Operated by Mears Transportation, these large luxury charter buses take care of all the struggles for you—including seeing that your checked luggage makes it into your hotel room without your need to waste time at baggage claim. Also note, Magical Express will deliver you back to Orlando International at the end of your vacation. It’s an accommodating and convenient system exclusive to Walt Disney World Resort guests, and it’s seen great success and growing popularity throughout its 15-year duration. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, especially when thinking back to those long ago days of needing to hail a cab or other outside mode of transportation to deliver you to your hotel!

10. Remembering the original Skyway

We made previous mention of Disney’s “newer” Skyliner gondola lifts. But in all actuality, the idea of high-in-the-sky transport at Walt Disney World isn’t an entirely new concept. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Disney World prior to 1999 you may have some recollection about the Skyway. Part attraction and part navigational transport system (similar to the way in which the Disney Railroad serves dual functions) Disney’s Skyway operated within Magic Kingdom Park for over 28 years. As an original attraction dating back to the Park’s opening date, Skyway was in many respects considered two attractions—Skyway to Fantasyland and Skyway to Tomorrowland, as the route connected both these Lands.

Skyway

9. First character dining experiences

Over the years dining with classic Disney characters has become a tradition for many, and it’s hard to recall a time when such experiences didn’t even exist. But original attendees during Disney World’s first six years in operation may still remember well when such engagements hadn’t come into practice yet. In fact, the first character dining experience didn’t even get it’s start until 1977 when Coconino Cove, a former dining venue located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, first started offering Disney character breakfasts every Sunday.  So began a trend that was only to grow, with other establishments following suit. Other early character meal inceptions that started to take shape throughout the 1980s included Dining a la Disney dinners every evening at the Golf Resort’s (now Shades of Green) Trophy Room, character breakfasts on the Empress Lilly (currently Paddlefish at Disney Springs), continued character breakfast engagements at the Contemporary (at Terrace Café), and Minnie’s Menehune and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

8. When dining plans were first cooked up

While people have been eating within Disney Parks and resort hotels from the very beginning, Disney Dining Plans didn’t get their start until 2005. Especially beneficial for families and groups intending to eat many meals on-location throughout the duration of their vacations as well as for those looking to pursue special themed or character dining meals, the Disney Dining Plan serves as an upfront prepaid dining package you may arrange for during the planning phases of your trip. In the long run, when done correctly, it can save vacationing parties up to 30 percent on food. Do note, however, that many different Disney Dining Plans have since developed over the years, designed to meet different groups’ unique needs. And while it is true that there are many who still do it old school and opt out of Disney Dining Plans entirely, it’s amazing to think that it’s already been 15 years since the idea was brilliantly baked into being.

7. When “wining” at Disney became a tradition

As we continue to emphasize the Disney World food scene a bit more, we turn our attention next to the historical emergence of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It’s hard to believe, but this annual, highly anticipated summer/autumn event has been a Disney World tradition for 25 years already! Since its debut back in 1995, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival has grown in popularity for both locals as well as vacationers from all around. A tasting and social event, there’s plenty to come out and pursue amongst the varying sampling booths spread out across EPCOT’s World Showcase as well as live entertainment happenings suitable for all ages. In many ways, this yearly tradition has since set the pace for other international festival celebrations held in EPCOT seasonally.

Food and Wine Festival

6. Disney World’s first Disney Vacation Club Resort

Today you’ll find plenty of proud Disney Vacation Club Members out and about Walt Disney World Resort as well as those actively pursuing various other Disney designated destinations across the globe. But that wasn’t always the case, as pre-1991 vacationers to Disney World can surely recollect, for that was the year when the first Disney Vacation Club Resort opened on the premises. Known in its earliest days simply as the Disney Vacation Club Resort, a much more creative, themed renaming by early 1996 saw it transformed into what we know today as Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

5. An artsy addition that’s not so “new”

While we have our focus on Disney Resorts, we can’t pass on mentioning Disney’s newest addition in the Value Resort designation—Disney’s Art of Animation. With its opening back in March 2012 came many innovative attributes not previously seen at other Value Resorts prior to this. Standard rooms are generally larger than those at other Value Resorts, and aside from Disney’s All-Star Music, this was the first Value Resort to boast primarily family suites. The food court is stellar in both presentation and in diverse offerings when compared to those at other resorts (Moderate and Deluxe accommodations included), and let’s not forget about the Big Blue Pool—currently the single largest hotel pool in all of Walt Disney World. Interesting enough, this “newest” Value Resort isn’t so new anymore, having been around eight years already!

4. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Here’s something else that’s been around a lot longer than you may have initially realized. The first venue for Disney’s popular fairytale makeovers debuted on April 5, 2006 back in what was then Downtown Disney. Delivering on all the works in hair, makeup, and wardrobe, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique locations have since expanded to Magic Kingdom Park as well as Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, allowing the process of making over princesses and princes between the ages 3 to 12 to become even more accessible. And here’s a little food for thought to make parents and past participants feel a little older; given the slated age range, any child who was originally young enough for such undertakings upon Bibbidi Bobbidi’s premier is now far too old to do so.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

3. Observing character transformations

If you’ve been a longtime visitor to Disney Parks over the decades then you’ve no doubt seen the various developments in character costume and wardrobe changes firsthand. Perhaps you even have pictures from the 1970s or 80s to compare with your most recent trip! From Disney’s Fab Five to newer characters that have been around since the 1990s or later (Jasmine and Ariel being two great examples) character changes to overall attire are not uncommon. But when you do stop and think about some of the milestone changes in character development through the years it can make you feel a little dated. For instance, Mickey and Minnie’s costumes didn’t even have fur until 1978, at which time Minnie’s character also developed the femininity of eyelashes and was given a new dress with polka dots. By the late 1980s other changes in appearance emerged, including more organic, natural-looking head shapes for costumed characters. Other changes to develop, redevelop, and then go through more reimagined processes have been underway since the 2000s, including the introduction of articulated heads and moving mouth components once intended to become a standard for guest interactions. Such plans have been laid to rest, at least for the present time, but characters with articulated heads can still be seen in various stage shows and performances.

 

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2. Character Meet and Greet policies—always a work-in-progress

The ways in which visitors interact with characters throughout the parks and at various resorts always seem to be in development, forever changing with the times—especially given current situations being what they are in the world today. And if you’ve been coming to Walt Disney World Resort on a long-term basis then you can reflect personally on your own experiences in affirming how such changes have taken shape. Perhaps you remember seeing more or less of a particular character out and about. And on that note, consider the ways in which random character interactions used to be much more frequent than the more recently designated Meet-and-Greet character specific spots that have been the norm for the last two decades, at least. And as we watch and wait, observing current trends and emerging conditions, changes are still in the air as far as this category is concerned. And having been around to witness such changes firsthand can really make you feel old and somewhat nostalgic.

1. Gone but not forgotten

Speaking on notes of nostalgia, we can all relate to those long-ago memories of our past favorite attractions and other in-park/resort experiences that have long since been eliminated from the Walt Disney World Resort scene entirely. While it’s understandable that updates and premier new attractions are always in the works, it’s also true that during the elimination process some beloved classics ultimately become casualties to change. All the same, we can’t help feeling a continued sense of longing for some since-retired magical experiences we once loved so well. Every Disney Park has them, and while there would be far too many to list them all, here’s a look at some of the gone but not forgotten past favorites older fans still enjoy reminiscing about.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom may be the youngest of all four major Disney World Parks, but within its tenure, several experiences have come and gone. Consider some of the past in-park performances for example. Journey into the Jungle Book and it’s replacement Tarzan Rocks! are two excellent examples. How about some of the past parades you may recall, like March of the Art-imals or the more recent but since discontinued Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade? Do you remember taking a ride with Discovery River Boats during the Park’s first year of opening? What about the Dinosaur Jubilee exhibition? And speaking of dinosaurs, perhaps you were one of the “lucky” past park visitors who got to see Lucky the Dinosaur—Disney’s automated animatronic dinosaur who has since visited many Disney designations across the globe and now enjoys a permanent home with Walt Disney World Imagineering. Lucky is still active and operating in participation with Backstage Magic Tours from Adventures By Disney when offered.

When given its years in operation, smaller size, and the magnitude (and subjective controversy to discontinuing popular attractions while still in a well loved phase of operation) Disney’s Hollywood Studios has arguably seen the greatest percentage of changes than any other Disney World Park. While the current theme still largely emphasizes the heyday of Hollywood, this once more distinguishable motif has undeniably tapered off a bit, revamped and reimagined with a greater focus on Disney affiliated productions, including Pixar and Marvel entertainment. Some of the beloved classic attractions that did not make the cut in this Park include The Lights, Motors, Action!: Extreme Stunt Show, the Studio Backlot Tour, and the still-debatable discontinued Great Movie Ride. Other since-retired sights and experiences include the Earffel Tower landmark, Sounds Dangerous!, The American Idol Experience, Honey I Shrunk the Kids Set Adventure, Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and various limited engagement walkthroughs that have come and gone in conjunction with current movie releases.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

EPCOT has seen many reimagined and new experiences over the years as well. Some of the past presentations, attractions, shows, and other spectacles most lamented by longtime fans include Horizons, World of Motion, CommuniCore, Ellen’s Universe of Energy, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable. The chance to custom-create and then experience your very own simulated rollercoaster via Sum of All Thrills is also a much-missed highlight. Some still look favorably to the past World Showcase parade Tapestry of Nations as well as the past fireworks display IllumiNations. And while Frozen Ever After has many fans, its predecessor Maelstrom still has a nostalgic fan following that cannot be denied.

It goes without saying that as Disney World’s oldest park, the Magic Kingdom, has seen many comings and goings over the decades. We already mentioned the former Skyway attraction, but there have been so many others in addition—some popular, others not so much. Perhaps you still remember riding along the waters with Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes or Mike Fink Boats. How about diving into deep-sea adventure with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Remember Magic Journeys? Perhaps you recall the “horrors” of Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Before hopping along with Tigger and Pooh perhaps you can still recollect when you joined in with Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Remember visiting Tinker Belle’s Magical Nook, or more popularly, Mickey’s Toon Town Fair and all the attractions that came with it? How about those past parades? Remember Disney’s nighttime highlights like the Electrical Parade and the later SpectroMagic Parade that followed, then the comeback of the Electrical Parade before operations ultimately ended? We can go on and on with all the past magic within the Magic Kingdom, but the point is, attractions may come and go or get an update or reimagining altogether, but the memories of the magic you make with Disney live on in our hearts forever.

Your specific memories and experiences are all personalized to your unique, individualized interests and may be contingent on age and years in which you visited various Disney Parks. Whether you’re eight or 80, any past visitor of any age can reflect back on the many changes and emerging developments throughout the Disney World timeline. But Disney remains resilient and constant in all times, making magic and memories a lasting mission.

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