Widen Your World – The Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom
1971 – present

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Altered WDW Theme Park

North end of WDW property

Opened: October 1, 1971

Disney Personnel:
Walt Disney,
Roy Disney,
Richard F. Irvine,
Gen. Joe Fowler,
Gen. Joe Potter,
Claude Coats,
Marc Davis,
Bill Martin,
George McGinnis,
Tony Baxter,
thousands of others

Descendant of:

All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company.
Text 2009 by Mike Lee

Last Update to this page: June 27, 2009 (expanded text, additional images, corrected links)

Once referred to by the company as the “crowning jewel” of Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom has remained the resort’s most popular park since its opening date of October 1, 1971.

Based on Disneyland’s winning arrangement of nostalgia, history, fantasy and futurism, Florida’s Magic Kingdom did not face the same type of economic uncertainty that followed its older sibling’s July, 1955 debut.  Within two months of admitting its first guests, the park was drawing monstrous holiday crowds that tied traffic in knots from Winter Haven to Orlando.  This successful visitation only dipped seriously once, during the energy crisis that began in 1973, but shortly rebounded with a ferocity that has continued, if not intensified, to the present day.  Compare some video from the 1980s and 1990s to a modern-day trip to the park … there used to be days where you could walk through the lands at a casual pace without tripping into untamed hordes.  Now you only see that if there’s a hurricane coming.

No one who has visited both Disneyland and WDW’s Kingdoms denies that the former has the upper hand in terms of intimacy.  The Florida version was designed to handle many more visitors than Disneyland and was built on a substantially larger scale.  The results can be off-putting to people who grew up with the California park and, even after 38 years of tree growth, visitors to the WDW Magic Kingdom will sometimes notice how some of the buildings look like warehouses with too little trimming to mask their volume.  The closure of the Skyway, however, helped diminish that perception by making it harder to see the park’s many big rooftops.  The total rebuilding of California elements, like its Fantasyland in 1983, have not yet made it to WDW with the same sense of grandeur and today’s Disneyland is so well-manicured compared to WDW’s Magic Kingdom that one could believe they weren’t run by the same company.  Those disparities notwithstanding, Florida is where Disneyland’s designers honed their craft – correcting many crowd flow issues and topping much of their previous work with improved versions of Disneyland attractions (making later renovations less crucial) or all-new creations.  It’s also where millions of people have their first exposure to a themed Disney experience and love it, even without the Matterhorn.

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Growing up next to the Magic Kingdom and working there for years certainly made the park personally significant to me, but those were almost coincidental factors.  What was of equal meaning is that within the park’s 90-something acres once existed the most impressive combined applications of spatial design, functional harmony, architectural detail, color theory, thematic content and conceptual diversity to be found in a single location.  Between 1971 and 1986, no other place in my sphere of reference* did so much to entertain, so well, for such multitudes amongst so vast a selection of backdrops and motifs.  Disneyland may have run a close second all the while, but WDW’s first theme park once represented a marriage of form, function and scope that made it supreme by implementing the lessons of Disneyland on more ambitious and cohesive levels.

As the park matured, it began to surrender many of its early attractions, shops and restaurants at an exponentially increasing pace.  From the first losses (Adventureland’s Safari Club arcade in 1972 and Frontierland’s Westward Ho shop in 1973) to the ones that really began transforming the Kingdom’s character (The Mickey Mouse Revue in 1980 and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in 1994), there have expired enough rides and other venues to populate an entirely separate park – albeit one that will never get built.  The same goes for a wide variety of plans that were considered for the Kingdom but came short of reaching the construction phase.

Widen Your World is committed to propagating recollections of those lost, forgotten or changed institutions.  The related pages show a clear bias in favor of components related to the park’s first fifteen years, when WDW’s crowning jewel sparkled with a radiance that was perhaps imperfect but as brilliant as a place conceived by man could actually be.

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WYW’s Magic Kingdom pages

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