Walt Disney World Resort’s grand opening was on October 1, 1971, with Magic Kingdom as its sole park. Over the next 27 years Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom joined the line-up at Disney World. However, the changes didn’t stop with the addition of new parks. Keep reading to see how much the resort has changed over the past 49 years.
Disney World officially opened October 1, 1971, with its first theme park: Magic Kingdom. Over the past 49 years, the park has undergone tons of small changes and updates. “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was swapped for “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, the Skyway closed in 1999, and more. However, there have also been a few major transformations. The Fantasyland expansion in 2012 was the largest in the history of Magic Kingdom. The project helped the the park jump from 10 acres to 21 acres. This Fantasyland makeover was a first step towards creating immersive park experiences. That concept of immersive lands is now used with most new Disney parks projects. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it was home to 10 attractions. Some still remain mostly unchanged, like “it’s a small world”, “Peter Pan’s Flight”, the Royal Carousel, and Mad Tea Party. However, the area has grown into a fairy tale dreamland straight from a storybook.
The new Fantasyland places a larger focus on the Disney Princesses and their stories. A Beauty and the Beast area includes Beast’s Castle, Be Our Guest restaurant and Enchanted Tales with Belle. Guests can also meet Belle and pose for photos with props inside her cottage. The cottage is complete with advanced audio-animatronic characters like Lumiere, entertaining guests waiting for their face time with Belle. Other new shops include the Bonjour Gift Shop and Gaston’s Tavern snack shop.
Ariel’s Grotto underwent a huge transformation as well. Many years ago the Grotto was a water play area near Pinocchio Village Haus. The splash area eventually closed and became The Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The slow moving dark ride takes riders through Ariel’s Grotto. When the journey ends, you get the opportunity to meet and pose for photos with Ariel inside a shell. Other meet and greet opportunities with the Princesses are in Princess Fairytale Hall, formerly Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Here guests can find Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Tiana.
Snow White’s presence was not completely removed from Fantasyland, just relocated. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train took over the area formerly home to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s one of the park’s only roller coasters, and this ride was also the first to feature an interactive queue. Guests can entertain themselves in line with gem sorting, spinning barrels, and musical spigots for gem washing, and more.
The Toontown section of Fantasyland also got a major makeover, transforming into a huge Storybook Circus. This area is anchored by an updated Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. The iconic attraction now features two spinners, flying in opposite directions. Like the Mine Train, the queue for this ride is interactive. Kids of all ages can pass the time waiting to board the popular ride at Big Top Circus. This play area features slides and climbing nets. Other attractions in the Storybook Circus are The Barnstormer and Casey Jr.’s Splash & Soak Station.
Epcot’s history is much different than the other Disney parks. In fact, Walt Disney’s original vision was for the property to be an innovative housing community titled the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Instead, it opened in 1989 as a more educational park that celebrates global cultures and cutting edge technology. There was a conscious effort to exclude character influences and all of the park’s attractions were run on corporate sponsorships.
The World Showcase has grown from 8 countries to 11 countries, and the attractions are updated every so often. One recent change was the renovation to the Maelstrom attraction in Norway. It is now called Frozen Ever After, dedicated to the popular Disney film.
The biggest transformations at Epcot involve the Future World portion of the park. Originally, this half of the park was loaded with inventive technological attractions and exhibits. Guests could explore the Wonders of Life, which revolved around the human body and health. Horizons offered a glimpse of families living in a future world. At World of motion, you experience the evolution of transportation. Communicore East and West was a large exhibit hall full of different interactive displays sponsored by prominent corporations.
The Wonders of Life pavilion is now an empty space used as a showcase for Epcot’s various festivals. Horizons was replaced with Mission: Space in 2003. Communicore became Innoventions in 1994, still an exhibition hall reliant on sponsorships. However, the number of displays has dwindled severely over the years. The East building only features two exhibits, and the West building is now home to character meet and greets.
There have been some major improvements, such as the addition of Soarin’ at The Land and the Test Track renovation. However, Epcot has largely become a park without a true identity outside of its festivals. Events like the International Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Festival take place for most of the year. These popular experiences have become a huge draw for the park.
The biggest changes for the park are still on the horizon. Future changes are planned to make Epcot more ride and character-centric, much like the other Disney World parks. Additions like a Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride and a Ratatouille ride are part of Epcot’s major multi-year transformation.
Hollywood Studios opened as MGM on May 1, 1989. The park has undergone several changes (including the obvious name change) over the years. As for the major changes, two large immersive lands have been added to Hollywood Studios in recent years.
Toy Story Land
Toy Story Land opened at Hollywood Studios in 2018. The 11-acre expansion that allows guests to explore Andy’s backyard from the perspective of the toys. Andy’s backyard took over the area formerly dedicated to the Studio Backlot Tour. The makeover included expanding and relocating Toy Story Midway Mania as well as the addition of two new attractions. Slinky Dog Dash is a family-friendly roller coaster that stretches all around the Pixar-inspired section of the park. The Alien Swirling Saucers is a spinning attraction similar to the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom. Guest hop into spaceships for a wild ride inside a toy set that Andy got from Pizza Planet.
Toy Story Land definitely brought big changes for Hollywood Studios. However, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the largest land expansion in Disney’s history. This 14-acre extension brings the Star Wars movies come to life with familiar characters, locations, and concepts.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Taking over the Streets of America, the land is a recreation of the planet’s unknown regions along the outer rim. Upon entrance, guests will find themselves in an exotic marketplace. Droids and other creatures hang around buying or selling all kinds of merchandise, including items from the galaxy’s black market. Further inside, the land splits into two areas. One side is a Spaceport controlled by the First Order, and the other is an ancient forest that contains a secret Resistance base. This is where the land’s attractions will be found.
The big ticket ride in Galaxy’s Edge is Rise of the Resistance. On this mission, riders are responsible for piloting the Millenium Falcon. The other ride will be a Battle Escape dark ride, where the goal is to escape the battle between the Resistance and the First Order.
Other new additions to the former home of the Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show and the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie set adventure include an “out-of-this-world” dinner theater experience and a Cantina-inspired restaurant whose menu will feature the iconic Blue Milk drink. This Star Wars project advances much farther than any of Disney World’s other expansions with the introduction of user customization to the land. Depending on a guest’s performance on the attractions, they can earn or lose galactic credits that will determine your status among the locals at the trading outpost and other hang-out spots.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in August 2019, and there are already plans for further expansions, including a themed hotel.
Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998, as a unique hybrid between theme park and zoo. After almost 20 years, Animal Kingdom got a major awakening with the addition of the World of Pandora in 2017. This is the largest addition in the park’s history. Camp Minnie-Mickey was replaced with a 12-acre recreation of the Valley of Mo’ara. The project was a collaboration between Disney Imagineers and James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. With the guidance of James Cameron, Disney was able to create an immersive land that was a major improvement to the park.
The World of Pandora
The highly detailed landscape tells the story of Pandora a generation after the events of the film’s not-yet-released sequel. Visitors of the Mo’ara Valley play the part of tourists traveling to Pandora with Alpha Centauri Expeditions. The group visits to study the ecosystem and learn about repairing and preserving the environment. Pandora can not be seen from the rest of the park. Walking among the floating mountains and bioluminescent plants provides an adventure that is completely unrelated to the typical Disney experience.
Pandora’s extremely advanced technology further adds to the illusion that you’ve actually traveled to a new world. The big-ticket attraction in this land is the Flight of Passage. Riders can take control of an Avatar using mind projection technology to fly on the back of a wild banshee. For a calmer ride, guests can try the Na’vi River Journey. The relaxing boat ride through lush bioluminescent foliage is accompanied by music from the sacred Shaman of Songs.
The high-tech elements of Pandora are not limited to the attractions. At Windtraders gift shop, visitors can pick up a personalized Avatar action figure made with facial recognition software.
The restaurant located in Pandora was a revolutionary addition as well. Satu’li Canteen was the first dining location to feature mobile ordering via the My Disney Experience app. In keeping with the immersive design, the entire menu is inspired by the bounty of the land of Pandora. Diners can create their own meals made up of grains, fresh vegetables, and hearty proteins. Adult visitors can try Na’vi-inspired cocktails like green beer and margaritas topped with boba at Pongu Pongu.
Plans to continue this huge expansion are in the works, including the addition of an elaborate table service dining experience.
With so many developments still in the works, it looks like the evolution of Disney World won’t be slowing down any time soon! You can keep up with all the latest theme park news by following @Tickets2You on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.