Do you remember the good ole days when a family could afford to go to a Disney theme park without worrying about the cost?

Are you sure that you remember that right? In my recent investigation of Disneyland costs in 1955 relative to today, I showed that the admission prices are in line with what they were on opening day more than 60 years ago. Yes, they’ve exceeded the pace of economic inflation, but so has almost everything else from cheeseburgers to cars to houses.

Now that we know that’s true of the Happiest Place on Earth, let’s move the focus to Orlando, Florida. In 1971, the Florida Project culminated in the debut of Walt Disney World, although the Most Magical Place on Earth of that era was merely a fraction of what it’s since become.  Only the Magic Kingdom existed as a theme park, and the only two official Disney hotels available on opening day were Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the Contemporary Resort Hotel.

How much did guests pay back then? Is it more or less than theme park tourists pay to visit Walt Disney World today? Let’s take this opportunity to compare the costs of opening day at the park to what they cost today. We’ll also examine the value of a Disney vacation back then relative to a trip today.

This week in history

The first week of October in 1971 was when Gene Hackman became an action star in The French Connection, which entered theaters six days after Magic Kingdom opened its gates for the first time. The number one song in the country was Imagine by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Soul Train would debut the day after Walt Disney World. And a person who was 21 on that day is likely retired or at least approaching retirement today. Suffice to say that it was a lifetime ago.

On October 1, 1971, Roy O. Disney finally honored his brother’s legacy when he introduced the public to Walt Disney World for the first time. The park’s opening day was much more orderly than the Black Sunday debacle that had transpired at Disneyland in 1955. What curious onlookers discovered when they reached Orlando was that they needed two tickets to enter the Most Magical Place on Earth, presuming that they intended to make use of the accompanying transportation system.

From its beginning, Walt Disney World claimed a novel structure. The bubble began once tourists reached the hallowed ground purchased by Uncle Walt. Anyone staying at the two resorts sidestepped the issue of transportation, as it was an integral selling point for paying the upcharge of those more expensive hotels.

Visitors who didn’t start there had to buy a ticket at what we now know as the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). They also had to purchase a ticket that provided access to the monorail plus the trams and ferryboats that already existed on day one at Walt Disney World. Most guests sidestepped the issue by buying a package that included single day transportation access in addition to side benefits. Let’s explore those now.


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