Theme Park History: A short history of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
It’s been said that Mr. Walt Disney and those who worked alongside of him embraced a two word mantra: “Plus it!” From production on the Walt Disney Studios’ earliest films to the advent of WED Enterprises, the company’s namesake was aggressive in his admonishment that the creative people behind his productions take their best efforts to the next level. The term “Plus it!” was short hand for “make it better.”
One illustration of the Disney company’s continued commitment to this attitude is weaved into the history of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. For more than 40 years the company has evaluated and refined the Florida park’s daily operation, improving efficiencies and enhancing the themed entertainment experience for its guests.
In fact, after the company’s intentions were revealed, Mr. Disney explained his specific motivations to build the Magic Kingdom. “I'm doing this because I want to do it better,” Mr. Disney said.
Disney started thinking about what would become the Walt Disney World Resort in the early 1960s, but his vision wasn't limited to recreating a "Disneyland East." After researching sites in New York, St. Louis and elsewhere in Florida, Buzz Price (who found the site for the original Disneyland in California) recommended a 30,000-acre site southwest of Orlando. That would provide the space Disney wanted to create an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow," a modernist planned community that would include abundant hotels and recreation facilities, including a new, larger "plussed" Magic Kingdom theme park. Walt Disney died in 1966, and the "EPCOT" community eventually transformed into another theme park, but Walt's brother Roy saw the Magic Kingdom and several surrounding hotels to completion.
From its earliest days, the Magic Kingdom has stood as perhaps the most iconic production in themed entertainment history. Since it’s opening in 1971, a conservative calculation would conclude that half a billion guests have walked into the park.
While the Magic Kingdom borrows its hub-and-spoke layout from the company’s flagship property – Disneyland – many of the attractions operating on opening day were decidedly “Plus It!” productions. California’s “Submarine Voyage” evolved into the more theatrical “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The single commander in chief featured in California’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” was trumped by an army of animated executives in “The Hall of Presidents.” And while the Florida project included its own editions of “It’s a Small World” and “The Haunted Mansion” the Magic Kingdom also premiered its own original productions of “The Mickey Mouse Revue” and “The Country Bear Jamboree.”
The success of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions found its foundation in an additional exercise in progression. In 1969, the implementation of the Digital Animation Control System (or DACS) used revolutionary computer technology to manage the movements of audio-animatronic characters. An individual character’s movements were recorded on computer discs. This allowed Walt Disney Imagineers to fine tune each figure – further enhancing the quality of a production.
In addition to advancements in the park’s attractions, the day to day operation of the Magic Kingdom stands out as another example of Disney “doing it better.” Certainly any fan of Discovery Channel documentaries is well aware about the (not very) secret “utilidors” traversing beneath the park. The backstage tunnels allowed park personnel, retail goods and other material to move freely -- out of the sight of visiting guests. Another example of the park’s operating efficiency is seen in its AVAC system – a series of large pipes that contained compressed air used to transport trash to waste collection stations outside the park. The fascination with the park’s operation has resulted in the company offering behind-the-scenes visits for park guests.
After it opened, the company continued to tweak the park’s operation. Even minor changes assisted in improving the guest experience. Near the end of the Magic Kingdom’s first decade, the company decided to phase out its signature alphabetized ticket books. Responding to the actions of competing park operators Disney retired its fabled “E-Tickets” – electing to allow free and full access to all of the park’s attractions for a single admission price.
Another “low-tech” inspiration that brought a personal touch to cast member/guest interactions was the distribution of complimentary celebration buttons. Guests visiting the parks on a birthday or anniversary were given a button announcing their name and what they were celebrating. Cast members spotting the buttons would then be able to greet a guest by wishing them a happy birthday – adding a personal connection via a small progression.
While the simple addition of celebration buttons has been a successful progression the Magic Kingdom’s dedication to personal service continues to advance toward a state-of-the-art standard. As the company approached the park’s 40th anniversary, it invested hundreds of millions of dollars to implement Disney NextGen – an operation and guest services system that represents an almost exponential advance in efficiency. From the ability for guests to personalize their vacations at the “My Disney Experience” website, to the opportunities to reduce wait times at attractions via the “Fast Pass-Plus” system, the potential efficiencies produced from Disney NextGen has substantial potential. The technology is supported by Disney “MagicBands” – RFID wrist bands that will supplant the need for paper tickets and allow resort guests to purchase retail items and food.
On a personal level the MagicBands will soon enhance the experience surrounding the company’s popularcharacter greetings. Rather than communicate through silent pantomime, Mickey Mouse will soon be talking and addressing a guest by their name. “Hi Robert! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you! Are you enjoying your day in the Magic Kingdom? That’s swell!”
Considering the Magic Kingdom’s history demonstrates a commitment to “doing it better” it’s unfortunate that Mr. Disney (allegedly) passed away before the park welcomed its first guests. Then again, it seems reasonable to believe that Mr. Disney would not be inclined to let the park rest upon its laurels. Certainly his evaluation of the current state of the most successful theme park operation in history would likely be: “Plus it!”
THCreative is is a member of Team TPI and the author of ‘7097-050719’ – Book One in the Theme Park trilogy.
Is this a press release? Why is this on the site? Most of the information is obvious, and the raves about the buttons and Magic Bands are just silly. This feels like a post from the Disney Parks Blog. Disappointing.
Dan, I see you've been on the site for well over a year. If you follow it on a regular basis, you'd know that Robert said that there would weekly history posts. And certainly by now, you should know TH.
This is, if a history article, is a weak one. I don't want to be negative about anyone willing to write, but if you want to call it a "history" article, cover more than what was here at opening and then nothing else added to the park up to the present.
here's the thing..... There is A LOT of history with this park. I would say that this one is harder to write about than Disneyland itself because not many people have covered the Magic Kingdom because its hard to figure out where to start. I love how you opened with the article. The only thing I would of backed off on is the nextgen technology because there are A LOT ALOT A LOT of people who are not feeling so happy about this technology. They feel cheated about it because they feel that the billion dollars going into this technology should have gone into new attraction capital expenditures. I would maybe narrowed in on HOW MUCH the Magic Kingdom has changed throughout its history. If you just look at the map from when it opened in 1971 to now, its really quite amazing how much the park has grown and changed. HECK, you could of done a history of just Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom. That would have been a great article within itself. So I would just say next time to make more MK fanboys happy, focus more on Magic Kingdom in the 80s and 90s because as of late, MK has not received too much love (BESIDES THE NEW FANTASYLAND(which as Robert has said was all done wrong with not opening it all up at once))..... thank you for this article. It's nice seeing a different POV with this park..
I like how TH asserts that NextGen is just another example of "plussing" the parks - and I hope he is right. Anything that helps me streamline my vacation and maximize my in park adventures is a plus. The jury is still out on NextGen, but it is a nice change of pace to read an article with a positive outlook on the technology.
It's clear that the writer has a lot of enthusiasm for the Magic Kingdom, and the anecdotes are interesting. But this doesn't read like the rest of the Theme Park History entries, which chronologically chronicled changes and additions to the parks covered, along with changes in management and such.
Forget about plussing, how about maintaining what was already there? Neither plussing nor maintenance has been a hallmark in the last 15 years. The billion dollar Magic Bands have yet to prove that they're worth the investment, and attraction-wise they're only starting to play catch up with Universal.
"For more than 40 years the company has evaluated and refined the Florida park’s daily operation, improving efficiencies and enhancing the themed entertainment experience for its guests."
Last time I visited WDW in 2010, I packed in ten full Disney days - and never once ran out of things to do. Anon, I think you have lost your perspective. You live in SoCal and are surrounded by excellent theme and amusement park options. You need to spend a few summers in Kansas City where your local park is Worlds of Fun and you will quickly regain your appreciation for WDW.
James: The last time I visited WDW was 2000. Nothing much has changed since then except for a ton of new DVC timeshare developments and the laughable New Fantasyland, but many things did change at Disneyland Resort. You're correct that I live in SoCal and surrounded by amusement park options, BUT you ignore that Orlando is similarly surrounded by these options. If Orlando has these options, why only go to WDW for 10 days?
Wow, so much negativity. I have been to WDW 20 times and always find things to do, whether they are new things or things that I have done before. By the way, always have a great time too.
Anon, I am not saying you shouldn't visit other parks in Orlando... of course you should. My point was simply that to me and mine, there was plenty to do at WDW to keep ten days filled to the brim. Our opinions simply differ in that I do not agree most folks will get bored after a few days at WDW. But again, I live in KC, and the closest, good, theme park, Silver Dollar City, is four hours away.
While I disagree that the New Fantasyland is "laughable" (it's not) as well as his contention that Disney has not enhanced the themed entertainment experience for its guests(it has), I'd say Anon Mouse's assessment is pretty much on target.
James "if you are bored of the parks after just a few days, then perhaps you might be more of a ride junkie than a themed entertainment junkie."
Anon, my comment related to
Anon Mouse: "It's great that WDW is offering a brand new parade. 'Festival of Fantasy' is going to the Magic Kingdom.
Rao-Stabout writes: "I love WDW, DLR, USO, and SWO ..."
James: Okay, you're getting way ridiculous. Nonetheless, I'll note that Disney only has attractions. Confusion eliminated. You're buying too much Disney marketing when they are selling us short.
Why compare the Dwarf Coaster to the Potter attractions? It seems like they're meant to attract different audiences.
Was the New Fantasyland meant to be an answer to Harry Potter? I would think so especially when they changed the direction from a more girly approach to what it is now. I didn't think the dwarf coaster worked to attract more boys since it was based on the girly Snow White movie.
Anon, I guess I am going to be even more ridiculous when I point out the obvious: there is a huge difference between rides and attractions. Rides are a subset of the attraction category. If all you want is to ride rides, Disney is not your best bet.
Anon writes: "Was the New Fantasyland meant to be an answer to Harry Potter?"
Harry Potter's biggest fans are girls.
"If all you want is to ride rides, Disney is not your best bet."
Of course Disney has rides... remember, they are a subset of attractions. Stop being obtuse just for argument's sake. We can agree to disagree and still be friends.
James: Getting more ridiculous and obtuse. Keep at it. You love it.
Anon Mouse: "I know you're a 2 year old, but you don't have to complain that you haven't seen Harry Potter yet."
Because, TH, it is easier to tear down than to build up. Furthermore, name calling is the last defense of a failed argument. I know, cause I do it all the time. TH, you are a poo-poo head.
I popped my self some popcorn and really enjoyed this thread!
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