We recently celebrated our five year anniversary! In honor of that milestone, we wanted to take a look back at the first five years of Walt Disney World.
Opening in 1971, Walt Disney World was the second Disney resort in the world and was Walt’s dream project. He took all of his learnings from Disneyland and set off to create a bigger, better, more immersive “vacation kingdom.” Read on to learn about 5 fun facts from Walt Disney World’s first five years!
On its opening day, Disneyland was notoriously swarmed with people – counterfeit tickets were used for entrance, guests were climbing fences to sneak in, and the park became overwhelmed. According to an article on History.com, “food and drink ran out, a women’s high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt of Main Street USA, and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly capsized from too many passengers.”
So for the opening of Walt Disney World, concerns were running high. 5,000 cast members were staffed to the Magic Kingdom and crowds of over 200,000 guests were anticipated. But on October 1st, 1971, only 10,000 guests appeared.
People around the country whispered of the “failure” of Walt Disney World. On October 2nd, Disney stock crashed, in reaction to the soft opening day in Orlando. But with so much anticipation and hype for the park – what happened?
The opening day of Disneyland was broadcast to over 90 million people – meaning that 90 million people saw the mayhem and chaos that was the park’s opening day. Many of those people lived on the East Coast and wanted to visit Walt Disney World, but after witnessing the experience at Disneyland, they elected to skip opening day and wait for crowds to dissipate.
Six weeks after opening, I-4 was gridlocked daily as guests flooded to the park from around the country. Despite initial whispers, the demand for the park was there – people were just smart enough to avoid opening day crowds!
When the park opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was largely unfinished. While it did have four attractions (Flight to the Moon, the Circle-Vision theater with America the Beautiful, the Grand Prix Speedway, and the Skyway station), the main showstoppers weren’t yet built and much of the land was empty, allowing for clear views of the Contemporary.
Despite the park operating daily, construction crews moved quickly – the second half of the Circle-Vision theater would open in 1972 to house the “If You Had Wings” attraction and in 1974, Star Jets began operation. By 1975, the land was mostly complete, with People Mover, Carousel of Progress, and the land’s flagship attraction, Space Mountain, all finally opening! (Next time you ride Space Mountain, keep an eye out for references to “Starport 75”. The “75” references 1975, aka the year the ride opened!)
Opening day ticket prices to Walt Disney World were shockingly low compared to today. An adult ticket cost only $3.50, which is about $21.00 in today’s dollars, and children’s tickets were even cheaper, at $2.50 for 12-17 year olds and $1.00 for 3-11 year olds. However, at that time, a ticket simply got you into the park – unlike today, it did not grant you access to any rides!
In order to go on a ride, you needed to purchase individual tickets, not unlike the tickets you’d purchase at a local carnival or fair. Rides were broken up into five different levels – A ticket through E ticket. “A ticket” rides were the smallest, tamest, “least exciting” rides – so attractions like the Main Street Omnibus. “E tickets” were the biggest, best, flashiest, most innovative rides – on Magic Kingdom opening day, that included Jungle Cruise, Tropical Serenade (aka the attraction that we now know as the Enchanted Tiki Room), Haunted Mansion, It’s A Small World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Mickey Mouse Revue, which was an animatronic show in Fantasyland. Most dark rides, such as Peter Pan’s Flight and Snow White’s Adventures, fell into the “C ticket” category, with all of the other attractions appropriately spread out between the five categories. For a full list, check out this article!
Prices went up with the attraction level – A tickets cost 10 cents, B tickets cost 25 cents, C tickets cost 50 cents, D tickets cost 75 cents, and E tickets cost 90 cents for adults and 80 cents for children. You also could buy sets of multiple tickets for a slightly discounted rate – for example, the “Adventure Book” contained one A, one B, two C, three D, and four E tickets and cost $5.75 for an adult, $5.25 for children ages 12-17, and $4.75 for children ages 3-11.
Ticket books lasted through the first five years of Walt Disney World’s history – they actually lasted just over 10, until they were officially phased out in 1982 with the opening of Epcot. However, the term “E ticket” attraction has remained in Disney lingo, used to refer to the top-of-the-line, most popular rides!
Mile Long Bar
To this day, Magic Kingdom notoriously does not serve alcohol outside of sit-down restaurants – and on opening day, alcohol wasn’t served anywhere within the premises. But then how was there a “Mile Long Bar” within the park?
At park opening in 1971, the exit of the Country Bear Jamboree funneled guests into a “bar” called Mile Long Bar. It lived in the building that we now know as Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe (even the sign remained the same and just got a new paint job!)
This was no ordinary bar, mainly because it didn’t serve any alcohol. As you can faintly make out in the picture below, they instead sold soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi or offered Frozen Bananas and Beef Jerky.
And if you look up above the bar, you may see some friendly animal faces! Those are Melvin the moose, Buff the buffalo, and Max the deer, who lived in the Mile Long Bar until it closed in 1998 and they were relocated to the Country Bear Jamboree, where you can still find them today.
In June 1976, just shy of five years after the Walt Disney World Resort officially opened to the public, the first Disney water park opened: River Country. River Country was a rustic watering hole, located in the northeast forner of Fort Wilderness. It had water slides, rope and tire swings, barrel bridges, and both a “normal” pool and a lagoon that used water from Bay Lake and had a sandy bottom.
That lagoon was an engineering marvel for its time, as it used a unique filtration system that pulled in water from the lake, cleaned and filtered it, and then used it for the lagoon and other park attractions. Since the park’s water sat at a higher level than the lake, unfiltered water was prevented from ever accidentally flowing back into the park.
The park could only hold around 4,700 people, but was quite popular during its early years. However, River Country later had a slow demise that caused it to ultimately be left abandoned for over 20 years. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our full deep dive article here or some of our favorite River Country fun facts here!