You know, it is hard for me to believe the Main Street Gazette has been around for over three and a half years, but it is even harder to reconcile the fact that Walt Disney World has been in existence for nearly forty years. There have so many wonderful events and moments scattered about the past four decades, with so much to reminisce over and about, I felt the history of Walt Disney World was the perfect jumping off point for the newest incarnation of the roundtable. I hope you’ll come along with us in our Time Rovers as we venture way back.
Roundtable Topic: If you could have been at one event from the history of Walt Disney World, what moment would you have liked to be a witness too and why?
Roundtable Contributors: Greg Grimsley (The Disney Obsession), Matthew Sedler (the geekTicket), Elizabeth Caran (Take the Monorail), George Taylor (Imaginerding), Fiona Doyle (DF’82), Melissa Loflin (Makin’ Memories), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Suzannah DiMarzio (ZannaLand), Chris Fore (Yet Another Disney Blog), Scott Otis, Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.
Greg – Out of the many memorable occasions I could choose from I believe I’d pick October 3, 1971. This is the day that Peter Pan’s Flight opened in Fantasyland. This has been my favorite attraction ever since I was mesmerized by my first flight over the city of London. It is a “must do” on every trip; FastPass or Stand-by, doesn’t matter. It is not a trip to Walt Disney World without a ride through the world of Peter Pan. I think I would have loved the opportunity to be the first person to ride. Wow, what a memory that would have made!
Matthew – It sounds silly but out of all the events in the long history of WDW, I want to pick a more recent event: The opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998. DAK is probably the non-Magic Kingdom park I love the most (OK, besides DisneySea, which is a no-brainer) because of its message and its mission. As a vegetarian, I can understand why some people are opposed to zoos, but I constantly hold DAK up as an example of how zoos can be entertaining and educational while caring for the animals and treating them with respect. The work the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund does is a perfect example of this. Being able to see Dr. Jane Goodall speak at the opening dedication (or even the 10-year anniversary) would have been awesome. And it didn't cost anyone $8,500.
Elizabeth – Well, I think the classic answer is "opening day," and although that would have been fascinating and fun, I think I really would have rather been along on one of the flybys or planning sessions for WDW, maybe even just one of the real estate closings. Not very glamorous, true, but it would have put me right there at the beginning of an innovative and world-changing new thing. I think the energy and creativity in those first few moments of park germination would be absolutely magical, even without the fireworks and pixie dust.
George – This is a tough one, as I am sure all of the other roundtable’ers will attest.
I don't have a specific date, as opposed to a time period for my visit. As much as I would love to take another spin on Horizon, World of Motion and Journey Into Imagination, I would love to step back to a week in 1978.
Well, Walt Disney World was such a different vacation destination than today. With one theme park, a handful of places to stay and the Village Marketplace, there wasn't quite the hustle like today. Most days, the Magic Kingdom closed at 6:00 pm and you found entertainment at your hotel or at the Village. Of course, there were also some great options at Fort Wilderness for recreational entertainment.
I would spend two nights at the Contemporary, two at the Golf Resort and three at the Villas at Lake Buena Vista. Evenings spent photographing all of the shops and restaurants in the hotels, including the Gulf Coast Room, the Trophy Room and the shops. I would make sure to collect all of the menus that I could to send to AJ.
At the Magic Kingdom, I can't wait to experience the Frontierland Train Depot, the huge grassy field where two mountains will eventually stand and reliving Flower Street. For the most part, I would be photographing signs, queues and buildings. Several trips on the Mark IV monorail to hear Jack Wagner's 1972 spiel are on queue and I would hop on the World Cruise and check out Discovery Island.
The Village would offer opportunities to cringe at the fashions and to burn through film getting pictures of the signs and all the ephemera I can nab. A day at Ft. Wilderness, where I would ride the rails and get pictures of the playground would round out my trip.
Fiona – I would have loved to have been there at the opening of the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. To listen to Roy make the speech, with Mickey Mouse standing next to him, I really think that would have been something. And to be one of the first to step foot into the beautiful park (which will always feel like Home to me) would be a moment that words cannot describe. It might be a common "I wish I could have been there..." moment, but it's one that really was the start of something special.
Melissa – Recently my love of the Animal Kingdom, its story, detail, and animals, has grown more than I realized. With that said, one event from the history of Walt Disney World that I would have liked to have witnessed would have been when Joe Rohde pitched to the company executives the idea of using live animals in the new park that was being conceived. During Rohde’s presentation, his team let a tiger walk in and simply sit down, scratch his chin, and walk back out. Nothing fancy or frightening, but the executives were so overwhelmed that Rohde and his team knew the argument of live animals not being exciting enough would not be brought up again. I haven’t been able to forget this story since reading it. I feel like this is something that we could all see Walt himself doing. I think back to the video footage of him with animals and his love of all creatures and just think that this moment helped create the vision he had of humans’ encounters with animals. As an animal lover I am thankful for a park that teaches people how to respect all creatures big and small and that we can live together in harmony.
AJ – I want a BBQ Chicken Handwich. Eisner introduced these bread-y, ice cream cone-shaped sandwich alternatives to the parks during the dark ages (i.e. the years I didn't visit Disney World), and I therefore missed out on one of the quintessential moments in Disney food history. I blame my parents for their misplaced Myrtle Beach and Hershey Park spring break trips (which I loved at the time...tsk, tsk, tsk...), and myself for not sensing the Handwich magic that was taking place. Thanks to my favorite Disney historians, I now know what I was missing.
Suzannah – I struggled with this answer, because I've been lucky enough to enjoy several key periods in Walt Disney World history. I have fond memories of the Skyway (and miss it so) and the Orange Bird, as well as staying at the Lake Buena Vista Vacation Villas back in the early 1980's. Walking through the Village Marketplace during that time period are some of my most treasured Disney moments. Similarly, I was able to experience EPCOT Center within its first year and in fact my family moved to central Florida in 1985, so we'd often visit weekly. We also made many trips during the Disney-MGM Studios heydays, and I was able to witness opening day of Disney's Animal Kingdom. So for all of those reasons, I feel almost greedy wanting to experience another WDW milestone event. But if I must...
If I could have been at any one event from the history of Walt Disney World, it would be opening day of EPCOT Center. I debated adding a condition to my pick: being older on opening day. I thought maybe I would have a better understanding of all things Disney and therefore appreciate the special situation in which I found myself. Upon further reflection, I realize that my first visits to the park were marked by such wonder and amazement at every turn, I would not want to trade those feelings for any amount of increased park knowledge. EPCOT Center was just so unlike any other park of its time - and still today, though it has obviously changed in many ways since 1982. Of course this was never the EPCOT Center Mr. Disney envisioned but if you gave it a different name, it would still hold all of the enchantment that we saw back then. The technology at the time was unlike any other. Touch screens, video dining reservations, blue screens, lasers! Don't even get me started on the World Showcase Dancers and rainbow space-suit Mickey and Minnie. Or Horizons. My love for EPCOT Center runs deep and given any opportunity to do so, I would gladly step into my time machine vehicle again and again.
Chris – The book "The Story of Walt Disney World" describes a moment that has stayed with me since I first read it decades ago.
The time is December, 1968. The location - a barren construction site on the shores of Bay Lake. It looks like any other piece of cleared Florida land, except for a big yellow "X" on the ground, a huge balloon rising 180 feet directly above it, and four more balloons at the corners of a football field-sized parcel over by the lake.
This was the construction "stake out" for the Magic Kingdom - a way to check out the spatial relationships between the major elements.
I'd like to stand on that yellow "X" and stare up 180 feet and imagine the peak of Cinderella Castle, then look over to the four corners that would become the footprint for the Contemporary's A-frame. I'd stroll that cleared plot of land and try to wrap my mind around all of the sights, sounds, and memories it will bear witness to over the next 42 years. I'm pretty sure it would blow my mind.
Scott – I would choose to have been present for the initial planning of the Florida Project. It would have been something special to see Walt excitedly explaining his ambitious plans for Disney World and especially his Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow.
I would have loved to fly over the property to try to picture the layout of everything; walk into the amazing Project X secret room of plans; see the entire Vacation Kingdom being developed from scratch and view the filming of Walt's EPCOT film that explained the project to the Florida citizenry, governments and businesses.
Eric – I would like to have been witness to the opening of EPCOT Center. Of all the projects completed by or in Walt’s name I EPCOT Center was the closest to Walt’s larger ambition executed within Walt Disney World. True, EPCOT Center was not at all a realization of Walt’s ultimate desire to create a true, working “model” community. However it remains in my mind a unique creation, original in scope and truly impressive in its scale.
In terms of theme parks EPCOT Center also represented the first departure from the Disneyland model and remains unique among the portfolio of theme parks Disney has since created world wide.
Ryan – At the opening of Space Mountain, the Magic Kingdom first “thrill ride,” there were several astronauts that I had grown up admiring. The combination of the space program heroes like Gordon Cooper and Jim Irwin and Walt Disney World seems tempting enough, but I wouldn’t pick that day. Nor would I pick the day my beloved Horizons was opened in EPCOT Center. In fact, I wouldn’t go back to the opening of EPCOT Center, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the star studded Disney-MGM Studios, or even the October 25th dedication of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World by Roy Disney, although each has their appeal to me.
Being a Floridian through and through, I would head back to November 15, 1965. On this date Walt and Roy were joined by Haydon Burns, then the governor of Florida, at the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando. At 2:00pm the group announced plans for Disney World, later renamed Walt Disney World after his passing. While only broad strokes were painted at this presentation, the seed of Disney in Florida is planted at this moment, and seeing it in person would have meant the world to me.
Planning and flights to and from Florida, dedications and the opening of spectacular attractions all hold an allure for me, but nothing would compare to seeing Walt Disney announcing he was bringing his talents to Central Florida.
Now that we know what events the Gazette Roundtable would love to attend, we want to hear from you. To what date and highlight of Walt Disney World past would you set your time rover towards?