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Walt Disney World celebrates its 40th birthday

Written by
Published: October 1, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Updates: Scroll down for an additional report from TPI reader TH Creative, and video of the 40th birthday ceremony.

Thanks to TPI reader Amy Smith for these photos from this morning's 40th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

I love how Disney played with the design of the olf A-E ticket books for the front of today's anniversary guidemap. (All visitors to the park today also got a birthday button.)

Guidemap

And here's the inside of today's guidemap. (How many will we see on eBay today?) Yes, that's Orange Bird at the bottom!

Inside the guidemap

At the castle at 10am, the Disney characters marched in to music from each of the park's previous anniversary celebrations. Walt Disney World president Meg Crofton spoke to the crowd, then the Dapper Dans led the crowd in singing "When You Wish Upon a Star."

Dapper Dans at the castle

With a blast of pyro and streamers, the show came to an end.

Finale

There will be a special anniversary edition of the fireworks tonight. Relatively low-key for a Disney celebration, but we knew that would be the case. (Hey, it was still better than my 40th birthday party!) Here's hoping Disney makes up for the relative lack of festivities today with something truly awesome for its 50th.

Update: Disney's provided an edited video of ceremony highlights:

Another report, from Theme Park Insider reader TH Creative: We arrived in the Magic Kingdom parking lot at 7:30 AM, took the ferry across the Seven Seas Lagoon and were at the turnstiles just before eight. Crowds had already started to form. Park operators relieved pressure on the entrance by letting guests into the area in front of Main Street Station just after 8 AM. At 9 AM, the steam train rolled in with the characters, the park opened and everyone moved forward (snatching up stacks of commemorative guide maps).

We started by dropping in on Mickey and Minnie. Mickey signed my copy of the commemorative edition of the 'Eyes and Ears.' We then moved to the Hub just to the left of Cinderella's Castle. While we waited for the 40th Anniversary parade and ceremony my son darted to Tomorrowland (where he reported via text that the wait time for "Space Mountain" was just 10 minutes). When the parade passed we dropped in behind the trailing rope and moved forward with the crowd during the ceremony we were about twenty feet from the edge of the stage. The presentation (see YouTube link above) was extremely well-done -- relatively low-key, but classy.

Mickey Mouse

At the castle

I imagine crowds became more intense as the day got longer, but between 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM we saw only moderate lines. After the ceremony we walked into the "Enchanted Tiki Room" (no wait at all). It was great seeing the original show again for the fist time in many years. "Jungle Cruise" was a 20-minute wait (thank you for cleaning off the Indian elephants). My wife Barbara went over to Frontierland to pick up Fastpasses for "Big Thunder Mountain." My son and I hit "Pirates of the Caribbean" (equal time for J. Rao). Again the wait time was 20 minutes. We ate lunch at Tortuga Tavern and used the Fastpasses. My son headed to "Haunted Mansion" (he reported a 30-minute wait) while Barb and I wandered over toward Liberty Square. We were delighted to catch a performance by the FANTASTIC Main Street Philharmonic. On the way back we walked right up to the "Move It! Shake It" which my wife loves – Barb likes to dance.

After that we headed back down Main Street. My son ventured off on his own to ride the "People Mover."

It had always been our plan to only stay until around 3 PM. But Barbara ran into some fellow entertainment department cast members who tipped her off that they were having a reunion that day of characters who were working at the park's "Tencennial" celebration. We elected to meet up with the group for the 3 PM parade. With time to kill we ventured over to Tomorrowland and took in a showing of "Stitch's Great Escape." If they tweaked that attraction just a bit it would be one of the park's most entertaining. Having caught a dose of Stitch fever, Barbara ended up dancing with the fuzzy blue alien and Chip and Dale over at the Club 626 Dance Party before eventually moving back to Main Street to meet up with the reunion group.

UNBELIEVABLE! The reunion consisted of more than 40-plus current and former cast members, plus their families. That grabbed curb space in the shade in front of the Emporium. Barb was in heaven. Before the parade the Dapper Dan's strolled up and performed right in front of the group. The quartet was spot-on.

As the parade passed it was clear that many of the characters on the floats recognized members of the reunion group (who cheered and shouted character names throughout the parade's run).

But then to make the day in the park perfect, Barbara was invited to join her fellow cast members in a group photo (professionally taken) on the lawn near the rose garden at the front of Cinderella's Castle. Had we not accidentally bumped in to her fellow cast members she would have never had the chance to pose with her friends.

Posing

Group photo

We headed home after that (at around 4 PM). I am sure that the park became very crowded that night. But in the seven hours we were actually in the park (9 AM to 4 PM) our party of three took in a character greeting, eight attractions, three parades, the 40th Anniversary ceremony, had lunch and took in multiple performances by the Main Street Philharmonic and the Dapper Dans.

Since arriving in Orlando in 1982, I have been inside the Magic Kingdom on hundreds of occasions. Yesterday really was among the most memorable. And the number one, primary reason it was such a great experience was the park's cast members. The people running that park (front line cast members, entertainers and managers) carry themselves with so much thoughtful charm – and that's what makes a park like the Magic Kingdom so amazing. On the 40th anniversary it was apparent that the Magic Kingdom cast members were genuinely proud to be a part of the company's heritage – it really showed. Every cast member we encountered was outgoing, engaging, witty and genuinely nice.

It was a terrific day to be in the Magic Kingdom.

Readers' Opinions

From Phil B. on October 1, 2011 at 2:10 PM
50th=5th gate.
From TH Creative on October 1, 2011 at 3:26 PM
I've spent a substantial amount of time in the Magic Kingdom. I've been inside the park on hundreds of occasions. Today's visit on the Fortieth Anniversary was ABSOLUTELY one of the most memorable.
From Robert Niles on October 1, 2011 at 7:16 PM
Silly joke of the day: Disney should have signed WD-40 as a corporate co-sponsor for today's party - free cans of lubricant for every guest!
From Amy Smith on October 1, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Okay, I just got home from spending the entire day there. It was SO crowded today you could barely move in many areas, especially Main Street and the hub. The group of people I was with had no expectation of riding any rides at all today, we were only there for the the morning presentation and evening fireworks. That's a good thing because we had to stake out spots for the parade/memories show/fireworks 2 hours before it all started and many rides (Thunder, People Mover, Snow White, Pooh, and Haunted Mansion) broke down at some point today causing HUGE lines for what was open. There were also reports of quick service places running out of the topping bar stuff and food in general - so a very busy day!

We mostly met up with other friends in the park, checked all the stores to watch the merchandise disappear (literally whole shelves were empty in some stores selling 40th merch), and enjoyed the scenery. Full disclosure: no one in my party paid to enter the park so we were okay with this plan. I imagine guests who just happened to show up today were less than pleased, but we all enjoyed it and had a great time.

From James Rao on October 2, 2011 at 5:55 PM
Great stuff, TH, thanks for sharing. Sounds like you and Mrs. TH had an amazing experience. And since your son had the sense to visit Jack Sparrow's Pirates of the Caribbean, I KNOW he had an amazing adventure!

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