... in the 1970’s
The 1970s were a time of progress and excitement over new technologies that were emerging and influencing art, culture, science, and travel. It was a perfect time for Disney’s flagship resort to hit the scene, and on October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened to the public.
Before we dive into WDW in the 70’s, let’s take a quick look at how Disney came to Orlando in the first place.
Disney searches for the blessing of space
Disneyland opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California. By 1959 Walt was itching to open a second resort to build upon the legacy of the first, improve many aspects of operation, and afford Disney more control over the area surrounding the resort. The hunt was on for the perfect space, and in 1963 Walt Disney first set his sights on the grounds we now know as Walt Disney World.
After several years of buying up plots of land under the radar via dummy corporations, on November 15, 1965 the official reveal was made by Walt Disney and Florida Governor Haydon Burns – a bigger, better Disney theme park was coming to Orlando – Disney World.
At this point in history things were delayed by Walt’s untimely death in 1966, but his brother Roy Disney forged ahead to build the start of the greatest theme park resort on the planet. In memory of the man who started it all, the resort was renamed to Walt Disney World.
Now that you’re all caught up, let’s fast-forward to opening day. On October 1, 1971, the Walt Disney World resort was very different from today, although much has stayed the same. On opening day guests saw the debut of Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and the Walt Disney World Monorail. Over the decade a few more things would be added, and while that’s a very small glimpse of the WDW we know
now, it was indeed a “world” compared to the Disneyland Resort.
Magic Kingdom was first and foremost on people’s minds – how would it stack up to Disneyland? Of course, it was a hit and many of the most popular attractions still run today. But, a number of 1970’s attractions are now gone, but not forgotten.
The Magic Kingdom
These include eleven Magic Kingdom attractions that were beloved by fans over the years. Heading up Main Street USA, guests could board one of twelve Swan Boats for a tranquil ride around the waterways the connected the central hub and the Swiss Family Tree House. The boats were retired in 1983.
Working clockwise around Magic Kingdom, we come to Frontierland, where the Diamond Horseshoe Revue ran a western saloon show daily. Over the years, entertainment was removed from the venue and it has functions as a quick service and table service restaurant at different times ever since.
Also in Frontierland were Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes (actual canoes powered by guests, guided by a Cast Member) and Mike Fink Keel Boats, which both opened in 1971 and closed in 1994 and 1997 respectively. These boats roamed freely on the Rivers of America, without tracks.
Over in Fantasyland, guests in the 1970’s could take a spin on dark rides like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which closed in 1998) and Snow White’s Scary adventures (recently closed in 2012). These fan favorites are fondly remembered, alongside 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – a submarine ride right in the heart of the Magic Kingdom! Sadly, the last voyage for the subs was in 1994.
The skies of Magic Kingdom were certainly busier in the 70’s as the Skyway ran gondolas from 1971-1999 between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
Once arriving in Tomorrowland, guest could board a Flight to the Moon from 1971-1975 and then a Mission to Mars from 1975-1983. Both attractions shared the same space and a simulator style of experience. At this time in history, Circle-vision 360 films were extremely popular, and Tomorrowland hosted a presentation of America the Beautiful.
Probably the biggest thing that’s gone but not forgotten from the Magic Kingdom in the 1970s are the tickets! Nowadays, guests are used to paying a flat admission fee for entrance to the park and all of it’s rides and shows. In the 1970s, tickets were very different! You would purchase an “Adventure Book” containing tickets for 7, 9, or 11 attractions (additional ride tickets could also be purchased). Each ticket was coded A, B, C, D, or E and has a different value assigned to it. For example, you would have the choice to ride any one attraction listed on a B ticket by using that ticket at the entrance to the ride.
This format of ticketing lasted through the decade, but is still remembered today as we often hear the biggest, most popular attractions being referred to as “E-ticket Rides” – hearkening back to those coveted, most expensive, e-tickets.
The Monorail and Resorts
Leaving the Magic Kingdom, guests in the 1970’s could hop aboard the Monorail on the Resort or Express loops. Mark IV trains were used at that time.
Hopping off the monorail at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, guests encountered fewer longhouses than we have today, and there was only one resort pool until 1978. The longhouses also had different names than today – do you remember Bali, Hai, Hawaii, Maui, Tahiti, or Oahu?
Something most folks don’t know about the Polynesian Village Resort – on December 29, 1974, John Lennon signed the paperwork to disband The Beatles there.
Moving along to Disney’s Contemporary Resort, guests in the 1970’s had fewer rooms to choose from as only the main A-frame building and garden wings were in existence.
Both resorts were constructed using the (then) very modern method of unitized modular construction, which allowed rooms to be assembled off site and then slid or stacked into place. The nightly rate during the 70’s averaged $30-70.
A few more resorts were planned – the Asian, Venetian, and Persian resorts – but those are all but a distant memory today as more than 20 other resorts have sprung up on WDW property.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness was the only other resort to open during this decade and beside it is one of the most sorely missed attractions in WDW history: River Country.
River Country and Bay Lake
As the original Disney waterpark, River Country was open from 1976 to 2001 when it was finally closed. It had 2 pools, 5 water slides, areas for kids, and lots of fun extras like rope
swings. Guests at Fort Wilderness could literally walk right over. It was themed like an old fashioned swimming hole, overlooking Bay Lake (where it drew it’s water from). It has been left abandoned and decrepit, but rumors swirl that Disney may be demolishing the park to make way for something new in the coming years.
Across Bay Lake, Treasure Island (later Discovery Island) was another attraction that has been left to be reclaimed by nature. From 1974-1999 it functioned as a wildlife observatory, primarily for birds and tortoises.
Looking to the future
As the 1970’s came to a close, the horizon for Walt Disney World was bright – Epcot construction was well underway, and the public couldn’t wait to see what WDW has in store for them during the next decade.