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Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney never intended for the Magic Kingdom to be the heart of his "Florida Project". Instead, he hoped that his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) would take that role - but he knew that he needed to build a theme park to secure financing for the ambitious undertaking. Following Walt's death in 1966, the Magic Kingdom didbecome the main element of Walt Disney World. Although it borrowed its design (and many of its attractions) from the original Disneyland, it quickly surpassed the California park in terms of popularity after opening in 1971. Today, it is the best-attended theme park in the world. Let's take a look at how the Magic Kingdom has evolved over the four-plus decades since its made its debut.

1. Walt Disney decides on Florida for second theme park project (1963)

Walt Disney in Florida
Image © Disney

Following a flight from New Orleans to Burbank, California on November 22, Walt Disney declares: "Well, that's the place - Florida." On the same day, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Several further visits to the state follow as Walt hunts for the perfect site.

2. Disney goes public with Florida Project (1965)

Florida Project
Image © Disney

After the Orlando Sentinel reports that the "mystery buyer" of large swathes of land in Central Florida is Disney, Disney breaks cover. A press conference is held with Walt Disney, Roy Disney and Governor Hayden Burns on November 15 to confirm plans for a new theme park near Orlando.

3. Walt Disney dies (1966)

Image: Disney

On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney passes away. Roy Disney, who had been hoping to retire, decides to stay on and complete the construction of the Florida resort in his honor.

4. Construction of Magic Kingdom (1967-71)

Image: Disney

Construction work on the Magic Kingdom gets underway. The central castle, Cinderella Castle, will stand at 189 feet tall, compared to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland which is just 77 feet tall.

5. Magic Kingdom opens as Walt Disney World's first theme park (1971)

Image © Disney

The Magic Kingdom opens at Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971. On October 25, Roy Disney joins Mickey Mouse to dedicate the park. He dies just two months later.

6. Plaza Swan Boats open (1972)

Swan Boats.jpg

Image © Disney 

Desperate to increase capacity at the Magic Kingdom, which is short on rides following its debut, Disney adds the Plaza Swan Boats to the moat in the Central Plaza in front of Cinderella Castle.

7. If You Had Wings opens (1972)

Image: Disney

 

The high-capacity Omnimover dark ride If You Had Wings opens in Tomorrowland, as a thinly-disguised promotion for Eastern Air Lines.

8. Tom Sawyer Island opens (1973)

Image: Disney

Artificial island Tom Sawyer Island is opened up to guests, enabling children to roam freely as they explore it.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean opens (1973)

Pirates of the Caribbean

Image © Disney

The first major expansion to the Magic Kingdom was set to be the Western River Expedition, a major attraction in Frontierland. However, guests complained so frequently that there was no clone of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean at the park that management opted to cancel those plans and install a version of the popular boat ride instead.

10. Space Mountain construction (1974)

Image: Disney

The popularity of the Magic Kingdom with teens and young adults led to Imagineers rushing to design thrill rides for the park. A clone of Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds was considered, but ultimately a space-themed roller coaster (based on an idea from Walt Disney before his death) was installed instead.

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Comments

What a great article! I was 7 when Walt Disney World first opened and I was there and have been back numerous times since. Thank you for taking us on a journey through time and some of the changes that have taken place since the beginning. The ending of your presentation however ended a bit underwhelming but great job on the story and pictures!

Great to see those photos, but it's painfull to see that they stopped building new rides in the 2000s (except for fantasyland expansion) but still choosed to raise their prices this much.

Very cool. Thanks!

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