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Extinct WDW Attraction
Opened: June 5, 1972
Ticket Required: None
Space later became:
All photos copyright
If You Had Wings opened to the public in June 1972. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was eight months old at that time and IYHW was the first new attraction that hadn’t simply been delayed from the previous October’s grand opening. Over the course of fifteen years, If You Had Wings entertained millions of Magic Kingdom visitors – spinning them through a loud and happening tour of various vacation locales serviced by Eastern Airlines (the attraction’s sponsor and the official airline of WDW). The ride accomplished its task free of charge (when from 1971 to 1980, most rides required an admission ticket) and as often as not with a wait of less than a minute.
In June 1987, the last guests rode through If You Had Wings. Eastern had withdrawn its sponsorship of the ride and this called for several changes. Later that same month the attraction was renovated and reopened as If You Could Fly, an “alternate” version of its former self. The ride was physically much the same, but the old music and all references to Eastern were of course gone. It lacked the magnetism of the original and invited too many disappointing comparisons.
January 1989 saw the last visitors to If You Could Fly. In the weeks to follow, almost everything visually inherent to If You Had Wings and its successor was destroyed piece by piece and removed from the building’s interior as trash. By the time Dreamflight (sponsored by Delta Airlines) opened there in June 1989, If You Had Wings was a memory with another attraction built around its track. A storehouse of excitement, warmth and innocent fun was lost to the unrelenting march of progress. If that sounds melodramatic, you’d better not read any further.
When that final version pf the rode closed, I was an Operations host in the Magic Kingdom East department, working mostly at 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. During my breaks I would often go down into the tunnel below the park, walk a few hundred feet, ascend a stairwell and arrive in the middle of If You Could Fly. That’s how I ended up walking through the attraction as it was being dismantled. On first witnessing that I could hardly believe the sets and props were being hacked apart simply to expedite their removal. My If You Had Wings “collection” began at that time, thanks in part to some of the debris lying around on the floor. I also started writing about the attraction, tongue partly in cheek, and interviewing friends for their recollections of it while the memories were still fresh. Years later, the project is still ongoing; to my own surprise I’m still learning things about the ride and finding new photographs, audio recordings and home movie images thanks to others who have found this page and offered to help.
In the course of spending so much time on this, a truth has surfaced: Nearly everyone who remembers If You Had Wings attests that it was one of their favorites. Although true for many, it should be pointed out that even during its heyday, If You Had Wings was commonly derided as “weak” or “second-rate” by the same type of unimaginative people who only professed affection for it once it was gone. The ride was dated from the offset and more than a touch silly – but therein lay its charm. It didn’t overreach or ask its riders to buy into anything as unfathomable as being launched into space – as did its early neighbor, Flight To The Moon. It simply asked you to pretend that you were visiting a few vacation spots not that far removed from Florida, encountering both locals and other tourists who were having a hell of a good time. In any event, lots of people can still sing If You Had Wings’ theme song as if they had just stepped off the ride, which is something no one’s done for nearly nineteen years.
If You Had Wings, for me, is symbolic of everything unique to Walt Disney World that has disappeared or been unsuccessfully modified since the 1970s. It was upbeat, fun, colorful and crazy – a product of WED Enterprises’ old guard that existed only in Florida and exuded a simple appeal that the Disney company has rarely matched since the opening of EPCOT Center. The following pages represent my effort to keep memories of the ride alive for those who miss it and serve as an unofficial record of what it was all about for everyone else.
|Widen Your World’s If You Had Wings Pages