Home » 5 Ways That Disney World Would be Different if Walt Disney Had Lived Longer

    5 Ways That Disney World Would be Different if Walt Disney Had Lived Longer

    Walt and EPCOT

    Walt Disney didn’t like to repeat himself. In Walt’s mind, the resort that he planned to build in Central Florida would not simply be a retread of the ground that he had already covered at Disneyland. Yes, it would feature a theme park – that was essential to keep the money-men happy. But its heart and soul would be something different altogether. Of course, Walt died in 1966, five years before Walt Disney World (named in his memory) actually opened. The theme park, which wasessentially a clone of Disneyland, became the centerpiece of the property – and indeed, the Magic Kingdom is still the most popular theme park in the world. Elements of Walt’s vision were carried forward, but others were dropped altogether. What if Walt Disney had somehow lived for another 30 years, into his nineties? How different might Walt Disney World look today? Let’s consider the possibilities…

    5. Epcot would be more than just a theme park

    Walt and EPCOT By far the most famous – and ambitious – of Walt’s never-realised dreams was his plan to build a futuristic city dubbed the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) at Disney World. This would be a place where new technologies and systems could be tested, before being rolled out to other cities across the world. Having reinvented the amusement park, Walt had now turned his attention to solving the problems of the real world. EPCOT would have featured a simple design, not dissimilar to the famous hub-and-spoke layout employed by Disneyland. At its heart would be a 50-acre urban complex, covered to protect it from the elements. At the very center of this would sit an enormous, 30-story hotel. At the base of the hotel would be an international shopping district, with stores representing countries from all over the world. Surrounding the central area would be a series of three further “rings” in a radial system. The first would host high-density apartments. The next would be a greenbelt hosting parks, playgrounds and schools. The final ring would be a low-density residential area, complete with houses that would see their furnishings and appliances replaced constantly with newer versions.

    Walt hoped to persuade leading companies to install research laboratories, factories and other facilities in the city, with visitors able to explore them all. He engaged with hundreds of companies to discuss the project, and EPCOT became his favorite topic of conversation. When Walt died, Roy opted to focus on opening the Magic Kingdom and resort hotels at Walt Disney World first. The more ambitious EPCOT could wait until later. His successors at the company never did find a way to create Walt’s dream city – when it did open, EPCOT Center included some elements of the original plans (including the World Showcase area, inspired by the international shopping distict), but was essentially just another theme park. Other elements of EPCOT, such as underground service areas and the monorail, were adopted elsewhere in the resort.

    4. The PeopleMover would be more than just a ride


    Image © Disney

    It’s well known that Walt Disney loved monorail systems, and expected them to become a key part of transportation infrastructure in the future. At Disney World, he planned to install a monorail network that would be used for longer journeys – from EPCOT to the Magic Kingdom, for example. And, of course, his successors did indeed implement such a system. However, monorails were not to be the only transportation system at Disney World. A second, more flexible system would be needed to carry residents and visitors over smaller distances – and Walt felt he had the solution. This was the WEDWay, also known as the “PeopleMover”, the first example of which opened at Disneyland in the year following Walt’s death.

    The chief innovation of the WEDWay was that the vehicles never stopped moving. Instead, guests boarded via a circular moving walkway, which dramatically improved the loading speed when compared to a linear walkway. This was coupled with a set of small trains that were pushed along by rotating tires that were embedded in the track every nine feet, each with its own electric motor. The cars themselves did not have motors, and the breakdown of any of the spinning tires would not cause the entire system to break down. Residents at EPCOT would commute to work via WEDWay trams, and just like the monorail, Disney wanted to convince cities all over the world to adopt them. Instead, the WEDWay that was installed at the Magic Kingdom was little more than a ride, although it did – just as Walt planned – offer an aerial overview of an area (in this case, Tomorrowland).

    3. There would be an innovative on-site airport

    Endless runway

    To bring guests into his new resort, Walt planned to build an on-site airport. Like so many other elements of Disney World, this would not feature a standard design. Instead, it would employ new methods for handling baggage and cargo, and getting passengers on and off planes. Incredibly, Walt was considering building an airport with a circular runway. According to Sam Gennaway’s excellent Walt and the Promise of Progress City, at one stage Walt hoped to employ such a design, which would have seen planes accelerating for take-off by racing around a banked curve. This would have enabled the size of the airport to be cut in half. Whether or not he had pursued to the radial airport concept, it seems likely that Walt would have built a much larger airport than the modest Walt Disney World Airport that was eventually built, and which is currently not registered as an active airport with the FAA.

    2. There’d be a LOT fewer roads and cars (above ground)

    Car Tunnel

    Image: Stockicide

    Walt Disney moved to Los Angeles during the 1920s, at a time when the automobile was beginning to change the landscape of America’s cities. He was not happy with the impact that cars had on LA, although he did recognise the important role that they had to play in the modern world. Indeed, one of the first attractions at Disneyland was Autopia, which successfully predicted a future in which America would be criss-crossed by a network of multi-lane highways. At Disney World and particularly at EPCOT, Walt hoped to benefit from the flexibility that road travel enabled, but without it impacting on life in the city itself. Cars and other conventional forms of transportation would be hidden away, restricted to underground tunnels. A highway would pass directly underneath the city center, so that cars and buses could pass through without being stopped by traffic lights. Trucks and other service vehicles would travel one level lower, with loading docks and service elevators connecting to businesses up above. The effect of this would be to create a city which was free of the pollution associated with overground roads, and in which people were encouraged to walk or cycle and enjoy their surroundings.

    1. Disney’s Hollywood Studios would look very different (if it existed at all)

    Disney-MGM Studios

    Image © Disney

    In the days when Walt Disney was in charge, and in the years immediately following his death, Disney took an aloof view of competitors in the tourism industry, describing them as “supporting” rather than “competing” amusements. Management believed that since Disney could not possibility build everything, such supporting amusements would help to pull in more visitors to the areas where it built its own attractions, and – more importantly – to demonstrate the superiority of Disney’s offerings. By 1984, though, things had changed. That year saw Michael Eisner (formerly CEO of Paramount’s movie studio) and Frank Wells (formerly head of Warner Bros.) brought in as Disney’s CEO and President respectively, in an ultimately successful attempt to strengthen the company and ward off hostile takeover attempts. Eisner and Wells immediately saw the potential to exploit Disney’s theme park business for increased profits, and prices began to rise. The company’s attitude to its neighbors also began to change. Hotels and other attractions surrounding Walt Disney World were no longer “supporters”, but “competitors”. SeaWorld Orlando had initially been welcomed to the area with open arms by Disney when it opened in 1973. Eisner, though, was happy to clone others’ ideas if it could lead to increased profit. A half-hearted attempt was made to compete directly with SeaWorld in 1986, when the Living Seas Pavilion was opened at Walt Disney World’s second theme park, EPCOT Center. The ploy failed (SeaWorld Orlando enjoyed record attendance that year), but the pattern was set. In the mid-1980s, Universal was looking for partners to help fund the construction of a version of its popular Studio Tour in Orlando. Eisner was not about to let Universal invade Disney’s turf without a fight. Disney’s Imagineers had put together a plan for an entertainment-themed pavilion (dubbed the Great Movie Ride Pavilion) for EPCOT Center’s Future World area, which had not been pursued. By expanding this into a full-sized, studio-themed park, Eisner surmised, Universal’s plans could be blown out of the water. Disney-MGM Studios

    Image © Disney via Jim Hill Media

    Eisner had seen the plans for Universal’s parks while still at Paramount. When Disney announced the plans for Disney-MGM Studios, it was immediately accused by Universal of copying them (allegations which were never proven). Universal was forced to completely reinvent its plans for Universal Studios Florida, which was eventually built, despite Eisner’s hopes of heading it off at the pass. Was Walt Disney above copying other people’s ideas? Not completely – certainly, some areas and attractions at Disneyland bore more than a passing resemblance to existing attractions (Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town, for example). But would he have countenanced such a wholesale clone of another company’s offering (whether or not it borrowed from the Universal Studios Florida plans, Disney-MGM Studios definitely resembled Universal Studios Hollywood)? Probably not.