Someone pretty fabulous celebrated their 40th anniversary this month! Like anyone of this age, a little work has been done here and there – we’ve seen many additions to the family, others have left us forever, why, some parts have even gone under complete and total makeovers! No, no, it wasn’t me – I still have three more years before I celebrate every future birthday as perpetually 39… I am actually referring to one of the great loves of my life, the Walt Disney World Resort!
It’s hard to imagine Orlando, Florida, as anything other than the home to the Happiest Place on Earth, but 40 years ago, a dream was born. On October 1, 1971, the gates to Magic Kingdom welcomed its first guests and history was made! Like any new addition to the family, swarms of visitors were anticipated to visit the Magic Kingdom that morning and Walt Disney World was ready! While the press anticipated crowds to exceed 300,000 guests, a more manageable 10,000 folks arrived in Magic Kingdom that day. Only two hotels were on property at that time: the Polynesian Resort and the Contemporary Resort. Both were connected to the only theme park, Magic Kingdom, by monorail.
Back then, park tickets were quite different than they are today. Rather than one ticket giving you admittance to every attraction in the park as it is done today, a more state fair approach was used. Each attraction required a separate ticket and each one was rated “A” through “E.” Guests would purchase a book of tickets, each one containing a variety of each ticket type and when you ran out, you would need to purchase more. What a bummer!
Those attractions that were given an “A” were the milder ones – think Prince Charming Regal Carousel. The truly exciting ones, those using the latest and greatest technology, were given the coveted “E” rating. So let’s take a look at some of Walt Disney World’s classic “E” ticket attractions – Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, the Haunted Mansion, it’s a small world, the Hall of Presidents and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Amazingly, nearly all of these attractions are still considered to be the best of the best at the Magic Kingdom! So get those “E” tickets out of your bell bottom pants pocket and let’s travel back in time!
Back in those days, roller coasters were hardly new on the scene, but those that traveled in the pitch black, inky darkness were totally groovy! Space Mountain did just that and the crowds couldn’t get enough. Even today, lines are rarely shorter than 90 minutes and the screams heard throughout are those of pure joy!
Over in Adventureland, Pirates of the Caribbean was immediately just as popular as its “twin” in Disneyland. The pirates are equal parts menacing and musical and its immense popularity has even spawned a series of blockbuster movies. The addition of an Audio-Animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow that looks identical to the actor that portrays him, Johnny Depp, has only made this classic more irresistible! Also in Adventureland, the Jungle Cruise is another classic that packs ’em in daily! Perhaps the main draws of this ride are not the entertaining hippos, gators and lions, but the cheesy one-liners that the Jungle Captains are so famous for. I still giggle when I hear about the butterflies that range in size anywhere from one foot to a whopping 12 inches – go ahead and groan if you must!
Nearby in Frontierland, the Country Bear Jamboree features a loveable cast of characters that are not only cute and cuddly, but great crooners as well. At the time, the fantastic technology packed in the crowds, but today, it’s not something I would consider a must-do. However, just a few steps away, the howling of a dog in the distance beckons you visit the Haunted Mansion…if you dare! Yes, foolish mortals, I am speaking of my favorite attraction of all time and its popularity continues to grow with each soul that enters its gates. It has recently been updated to include a new spooky storyline an entirely new entrance. If it’s the last thing you do, don’t miss the Haunted Mansion. (Insert evil laugh here!)
Just around the corner in Fantasyland is it’s a small world. This delightful boat ride is a joy to most, but beware – the song can get stuck in your head forever! That being said, no trip to Walt Disney World is complete without at least one ride on this truly classic adventure. Another air conditioned break can be found inside the Hall of Presidents. I wish that I enjoyed this attraction, I really do; however, it is a trifle bit boring. The Audio Animatronic figures are amazing and the historical significance is wonderful, but yawn, it is a little less than entertaining.
Sadly, one of the original “E” ticket attractions is no longer there: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I will always miss those teeny tiny little submarines that took you under the murky depths to view life under the sea. However, while I am saddened by the loss of this classic, I am overjoyed by the Fantasyland Expansion being built in its place. Parts of this expansion are slated to open in late 2012 and I am CERTAIN that they will be a welcome addition to the Walt Disney World Resort. So, Happy 40th Anniversary dear Walt Disney World!