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Best Disney Attractions of the 1970s

To true Disney fans, the 1970s mean one thing and one thing only. I’m speaking of the opening of Walt Disney World, the wildly anticipated culmination of the Florida Project. Most of the important innovations understandably come from the development of the land in Orlando. Let’s take a look at the best Disney attractions of the 1970s.

8. The Mickey Mouse Revue

During the early days of Magic Kingdom, the only Walt Disney World park open during the 1970s, its attractions primarily mimicked Disneyland. I’ve excluded anything based on an existing attraction at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Admittedly, this decision makes the list top-heavy, but the entire point of this exercise is to demonstrate Disney’s evolution over time. Many of the early 1970s Disney innovations involved hotels and other money-savvy ventures. Only a few of the actual rides were original and worthy of praise.

The show attractions at Magic Kingdom were indeed memorable, though. Even the failed one, The Mickey Mouse Revue, will haunt your dreams with its almost but not quite life-like Audio-Animatronics (AAs). We’ll discuss better versions of the premise in a bit.

7. Electrical Water Pageant

Image: DisneyThe next two entries may seem like cheats. I’m here to make an argument that they belong. The Electrical Water Pageant or, as my wife calls them, the Noisy Boats, are a Walt Disney World institution. Guests happily watch this glow-in-the-dark flotilla as it plays tinny versions of a few classic Disney tunes.

At the time, Disneyland had messed around with fireworks presentations. The idea of an illuminated evening parade wasn’t one that they’d considered right up until Walt Disney World had one. The impact of this nightly processional was so significant that Disneyland designed its own presentation called…

6. Main Street Electrical Parade

Image: DisneyWhile the Electrical Water Pageant was the original and is currently still in daily operation, I still believe that the Main Street Electrical Parade carries more historical heft. The outcry of joy whenever it arrives speaks volumes about the fondness that lifelong Disney fans have for this show.

The Main Street Electrical Parade is impossible to miss. A series of floats flows through the park. Each one features literally hundreds of lights and takes on a persona like an inchworm or Cinderella’s Pumpkin Carriage. None of the technology is particularly impressive today, but nobody had thought of it before the opening of Magic Kingdom. It’s both revolutionary and a concept that has stood the test of time.

5. Skyway to Tomorrowland/Fantasyland

Image: DisneyTechnically, this one shouldn’t qualify as original, either. Disneyland hosted its own gondola system as early as 1956. I’m breaking my own rule, including it due to the recent relevance of the premise.

During the earliest days of Magic Kingdom, guests could reduce a modest amount of walking by taking the Skyway to/from Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Modern park guests can look back and laugh at the “convenience” of this lift, but its purpose was as much about showing off the views as it was about the utility of (marginally) reduced walking.

The lasting impact of this gondola system is that everything old is new again at Walt Disney World. The Disney Skyliner has arrived, and it connects multiple theme parks and resorts across the Disney campus. Cast members have complete confidence in the premise because a gondola system was still in operation at Magic Kingdom as recently as November of 1999.

4. Hall of Presidents

Image: DisneyBy 1971, the 1964 New York World’s Fair had already dramatically impacted Disneyland. The State of Illinois Pavilion’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln had garnered headlines for its spookily realistic recreation of the American president.

Yes, that seems a bit ridiculous today, but AAs were the closest thing to viable robots in existence at the time. A life-like Abraham Lincoln, a full century after the Civil War, blew people’s minds.

The introduction of Hall of Presidents represented the culmination of longstanding plans from Walt Disney. He’d plotted to expand Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland with a patriotic section that would include wax figures of all American presidents.

The creation of AAs altered those plans. Imagineers suddenly could build robot versions of presidents. And the show at Magic Kingdom became a fitting tribute to Uncle Walt, who had died in 1966. It honored his wish to celebrate the titans of American government. Oddly, history suggests that it wouldn’t have been his favorite Magic Kingdom show, though.

3. Country Bear Jamboree

Image: DisneyYou simply cannot imagine how much Audio-Animatronic technology excited Walt Disney and his time during the mid-1960s. They deemed it a revolutionary innovation that would fundamentally alter the nature of theme park attractions. History has proven them right.

Perhaps the silliest usage of AAs is Country Bear Jamboree, a goofy, hilarious performance of quirky country music. And Walt Disney loved everything about it. He’d planned it as the anchor attraction at Mineral King Ski Resort, a project that fell apart.

During Disney’s final days, Marc Davis, one of the funniest Imagineers ever, showed a few illustrations from the show to his boss. According to Davis, Uncle Walt laughed uproariously, said good-bye, and then left. The two men would never see each other again.

Technologically, I don’t see much to distinguish Country Bear Jamboree from Hall of Presidents. I also can’t decide which one has a more significant historical footprint as a theme park attraction. Both claim massive recognition, after all. So, I favored the bears because I adore that Walt Disney anecdote.

2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Image: DisneyHere’s an odd stat for you. Every Walt Disney World attraction listed so far debuted in 1971. Clearly, park planners were most inspired in the days leading up to the opening of Magic Kingdom.

The only other attraction that I’ve discussed is the Electrical Main Street Parade, which opened the following year in 1972. Card Walker at Disneyland was so jealous of the Electrical Water Pageant that he prioritized Anaheim’s answer to it.

The top two rides from the 1970s are a different story. In fact, I would argue that they are the only two genuinely remarkable rides from the decade. Unexpectedly, both of them are roller coasters. Only one debuted at Walt Disney World, though.

Yes, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad technically opened first at Disneyland in 1979. The Magic Kingdom iteration wouldn’t even qualify for this list since it debuted in 1980. But I don’t have to tell you how spectacular both versions of this attraction are.

This coaster is wildly thematic while still delivering a thoroughly satisfying ride experience. Every version of the ride has its own backstory, but the outcome is the same. You wind up on a rickety mine train, holding on for dear life as your vehicle runs unimpeded through a Disney-fied version of the Wild West. I whole-heartedly adore this attraction and would love to slot it first, but…

1. Space Mountain

Image: DisneyWhen we talk about rides that were ahead of their time, I invariably think of Space Mountain. Perhaps no attraction ever has fit the bill more accurately than this roller coaster.

During the mid-1960s, Imagineers knew that they could design the most breathtaking coaster ever. The problem was impossible to overcome, though. The “modern computer” of the era simply didn’t have the processing power that Disney required to operate the ride safely.

Space Mountain had to wait roughly 10 years from its conception to its debut at Magic Kingdom in 1975. When it finally did open to the public, well, you know the rest.

No roller coaster on the planet claims stronger name recognition than Space Mountain. In fact, it might be the most potent theme park brand of all-time. The 1970s were a shockingly weak decade for ride innovations, as Disney mostly coasted off of the developments at the 1964 World’s Fair.

So, Space Mountain isn’t just a big fish in a small pond. It’s like the Loch Ness Monster while virtually everything else is a tiny guppy.