As Walt Disney World Nears Its 50th Anniversary, We Thought It Might Be Fun to Look Back

For those folks who haven’t visited Walt Disney World in a while, you’d be surprised at how things have changed over the past few years. Actually, stunned might be a better word.

All four theme parks have subtracted beloved attractions, replacing them with exciting new adventures, most of which became instant classics worthy of hours-long wait times.

Entire new lands have popped up in the parks, with the most recent being Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, both in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The entrance to the new Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The new land occupied the space that once featured the Backstage Studio Tour. [Chuck Schmidt]
Even outside the parks, the transportation system has been upgraded. Roadways leading to and from the parks have been updated, turning once bucolic two-lane roads into superhighways, complete with overpasses and elaborate on- and off-ramps.

And there’s a new gondola system, the Disney Skyliner, which enables guests to go from Epcot to Hollywood Studios, with stops at several nearby resorts.

Changes are in Advance of WDW’s 50th Anniversary

All of the changes come in advance of WDW’s 50th anniversary in 2021.

The Magic Kingdom started the parade of re-imagined lands and attractions with the introduction of New Fantasyland, where Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid took up shop in 2012, followed a few months later by the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster.

During the construction, Dumbo the Flying Elephant was moved to a new location in Fantasyland and actually doubled in size, with the addition of a second twirling ride apparatus.

The area in front of Cinderella Castle also received a makeover, with more space added for guests to enjoy the nightly fireworks and castle projection shows.

Looking ahead, a new TRON-themed lightcycle attraction is taking shape near Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom.

Makeover in Disney’s Animal Kingdom was Next Up

Once New Fantasyland was up and running, attention switched to the incredible makeover in Animal Kingdom. Pandora: The World of Avatar opened to rave reviews in 2017.

The new land, which took the place of the less-than-exciting Camp Minnie Mickey, features Na’vi River Journey, Flight of Passage, and a landscape that has guests convinced they are walking through the lush foliage and under the floating mountains of Pandora.

The park also placed an added emphasis on night-time entertainment, with a nightly projection show on the Tree of Life, a Kilimanjaro Safari ride in the dark, and a water spectacular called Rivers of Light.

New Lands Added to Hollywood Studios

In 2018, Hollywood Studios saw the opening of Toy Story Land, with the Slinky Dog Dash coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers joining the existing Toy Story Midway Mania attraction.

Late last year, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, with two out-of-this-world attractions – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance – opened to resounding applause from Star Wars fans and non-fans alike.

To make room for the Star Wars and Toy Story lands, the Backstage Studio Tour, New York Street, and the Lights! Motors! Action! attractions were razed.

To complete the Hollywood Studios’ makeover, the much-anticipated Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will open on March 4, supplanting The Great Movie Ride.

Finally, Epcot is in the midst of its own massive overhaul. In the months ahead, a Ratatouille-themed attraction will take up shop in the France pavilion and a Marvel-themed coaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, will replace the former Universe of Energy pavilion.

With all that in mind, we figured it might be fun to take a look back to the way things used to be a few decades ago in Walt Disney World.

Here are a few photos we found recently tucked away in an old shoe box:

Remember the Cinderella Castle cake in 1996? The sugary pink transformation was made to help Walt Disney World celebrate its 25th anniversary. [Walt Disney World]

The Diamond Horseshoe, located in Frontierland, was a rip-roarin’, Western-themed show that was a top draw for decades. These days, the venue serves classic Midwestern fare. [Chuck Schmidt]

This collage shows parking tickets for the Magic Kingdom, left, and Epcot, circa 1985. Yup, it cost just $2 to park your car back then. [Chuck Schmidt]

A scene from the former Horizons pavilion in Epcot’s Future World. The attraction allowed guests their choice of three different endings. Horizons was replaced by the Mission: SPACE attraction. [Chuck Schmidt]

The Dreamfinder and Figment were the stars of the Journey Into Imagination attraction in Epcot. [Chuck Schmidt]
A scene from World of Motion, an Epcot World Showcase original. The Ward Kimball-inspired attraction, which delved into the history of transportation, was replaced by Test Track. [Chuck Schmidt]
A concept drawing for the Expedition Everest attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. [Walt Disney World]
An early rendering for the water raft ride in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The ride, now known as Kali River Rapids, was originally called Tiger Rapids Run. The waterway on which the rafts were to traverse was first called Chakranadi River, which translated meant “river that runs in a circle.” [Walt Disney World]

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Did any of this help take you on a trip down memory lane? Let us know in the comments!

Chuck Schmidt, bitten by the Disney bug at an early age, remembers watching The Mickey Mouse Club after school in the mid-1950s. During his 48-year career in the newspaper business, he channeled that love of Disney as the Sunday News and Travel editor for The Staten Island Advance. Chuck has written or co-authored seven books for Theme Park Press, including Disney's Dream Weavers, On the Disney Beat, An American in Disneyland Paris, Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History and The Beat Goes On. Chuck has shared his passion for all things Disney in his Still Goofy About Disney blog on AllEars.Net since 2016. He resides in Beachwood, N.J., with his wife Janet. They have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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