The Fantasy Kingdom Comes to Central Florida
Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom Park. Soon three more theme parks followed focusing on technology, the movies, and the world of animals.
It’s hard to imagine central Florida without Walt Disney World but before Disney left his mark the area was mostly agricultural. The Magic Kingdom was the first of the theme parks, followed by Epcot, the Disney Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. Each park focused on a different theme such as technology, the movies, and the world of animals.
Disney World Theme Parks
Many first time visitors to Disney World Orlando don’t realize there are four main parks on the immediate campus. How do you know what to expect at each one? Is one better for younger children than others? Are there special events you don’t want to miss at a particular park? Answering questions like these can make your vacation more enjoyable and relaxing.
The Happiest Place on Earth Expands Eastward
After Disneyland opened on the west coast in 1955, Walt Disney was anxious to expand his growing empire. His sights were set on creating a “Disneyland east” and he found his location in the heart of central Florida in between two major highways, making it easier for tourists to visit. Walt was grateful for his blessing of size in contrast to the now congested area surrounding Disneyland in Anaheim. This gave him more control of space regulations for the “Florida Project.” He did not want the real world to loom its head over the walls of fantasy. Sadly, Walt was never able to see his project come to fruition. He passed away on December 15th, 1966 leaving a large hole in the company he helped create. Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, took it upon himself to continue the project and built it in his brother’s honor.
The Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom opened to the public on October 1st, 1971 marking the completion of the first stage of Walt’s Florida Project. Like his brother before him, Roy Disney read the dedication at the official park opening on October 25th: “Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney…May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place…Dedicated this 25th day of October 1971.”
Depending on where you stay on the Disney Campus, it is worth the extra effort to ride the monorail to the home of Mickey and Minnie. You are able to board the monorail at Epcot and take it all the way to the park. There is also constant Disney campus bus transportation anywhere you want to go. This park was geared more toward younger children. Each day a parade adorns the Main Street, unless of course, a brief afternoon thunderstorm comes up, which isn’t unusual. Once again, if you like to get wet, “Splash Mountain” is your destination. In the evening, don’t miss “Wishes”, Magic Kingdoms nightly event. Watch for Tinker Bell who seems to be flying over the event. It happens quickly, so keep your eyes open.
After the doors to the Kingdom opened EPCOT Center soon followed in October of 1982. This theme park broke the mold and presented a unique perspective on how we look at technology as well as world cultures. Though Walt’s original vision for EPCOT was that of a model city, with EPCOT Center the theme park the designers tried to stay true to the values that were part of the preliminary plans.
This park seemed to be more for children who are a little older. Rides not to miss are “Soarin”, “Test Track“, “Spaceship Earth“, and if you appreciate a little education, “Living With The Land” . “Soarin” was definitely worth a second ride. It is well worth it to make dinner reservations in advance at one of the many diverse ethnic choices in Epcot. Whatever you decide, don’t miss Illuminations, the evening fireworks display held at nine pm each evening. Overall, Epcot is a cultural wonderland and a must-see destination.
Disney Hollywood Studios
Seven years after Epcot, the Disney MGM-Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) opened on May 1st, 1989. This park represented a Hollywood that never was, but always will be. This was the classic Tinsletown of the 30s and 40s complete with replicas of Schwab’s Pharmacy and The Brown Derby restaurant. The main idea behind The Studios was to have an actual working film and television studio, not necessarily a theme park.
If you appreciate movies, don’t miss this park. The highlights for us were the “Indiana Jones Stunt Show“, the new “Toy Story” ride, “Star Tours” and the “American Idol Experience“. Many parks will have special events scheduled in advance. Researching online before you leave home will ensure you not missing a big event. The week we were there was “ Star Wars” weekend. Your young Jedi would not want to miss this. Consider having dinner several nights in Downtown Disney. The evenings are relaxing after spending the day at a theme park and the restaurant selection is fabulous without a reservation.
The last jewel in the crown belongs to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This theme park, appropriately enough, opened on Earth Day in 1998. It is the largest of the four theme parks comprised of 500 acres. Once again deviating from traditional theme park planning, this park was constructed around the ideas of animal conservation and education. Animal Kingdom set itself apart from a zoo in the fact that it offers attractions covering all aspects in the realm of animals.
Wildlife and nature are abundant here. Don’t miss the “Kali River Rapids” if it’s a hot day and you don’t mind getting wet. Relaxing through a show was a nice change of pace, we chose “It’s Tough To Be A Bug”. The greatest adventure here was the “Kilimanjaro Safari”, full of animals you would see on an actual Safari. For those with a strong stomach, the “Mt. Everest Roller Coaster” will not disappoint.
“Keep Moving Forward”
The Walt Disney World Resort is always evolving. They maintain classic attractions for the guests who remember them when the park opened in 1971, and they add new ones for the next generation to visit. Walt Disney World was built in honor of its namesake and to quote Disney himself: “We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Making the most of your time is easily done if you plan ahead. Talking with your neighbors and friends who have mastered Disney will help you avoid the overwhelming feeling that comes easily in such a massive environment. Meal planning also requires some forethought, unless of course, fast food serves you well the entire trip.