With Disney Parks Closed, It’s Time to Remember the Magic

“Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They’re going to destroy
Our casual joys.”

“Strange Days,” The Doors

When Walt Disney died on December 15th, 1966, there was talk among the Walt Disney Company’s executives that Disneyland should be closed on December 16th, out of respect for the company’s founder.

The entrance to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is blocked off to visitors. ©Orlando Sentinel

Ultimately, it was decided to keep the park open because, most everyone agreed, “Walt would have wanted it that way.” Indeed, it’s rare when any of Disney’s twelve theme parks around the world have been closed to guests.

Up until this year, weather events, natural disasters, national days of mourning, or terror attacks were reasons for shutting down any of Disney’s parks and resorts worldwide.

Following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Disneyland closed. ©Associated Press

Nothing has ever come close to the level of closure being experienced throughout the Walt Disney Company as result of the global health crisis. All twelve Disney theme parks worldwide remain closed as of this writing.

Every other Disney amusement enterprise is on hiatus until further notice. That includes all on-property resorts, Adventures by Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Store, Disney’s shows on Broadway, and Disney shopping districts, including Disney Springs in Disney World and Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort.

A SCATTERED COLLECTION OF GHOST TOWNS

In short, Disney parks and resorts have gone from the Happiest Places on Earth to a scattered collection of ghost towns.

With our access to the parks temporarily denied, it’s only natural, I guess, to want to reminisce about past trips to Disney … to remember the magic, if you will, back when social distancing wasn’t a thing and when family and friends could gather arm-in-arm for a group photo in front of the Magic Kingdom train station without fear.

The author, right, and his brother-in-law Bob pose for a photo with Honest John in 1972. © Janet Schmidt

Walt Disney World was barely a year old when my wife Janet and I and her younger brother Bob made the trip to central Florida from New Jersey during Thanksgiving weekend in 1972.The place was larger than life, too big to be experienced in a just a day or two.

And mind you, there was the Magic Kingdom and only the Magic Kingdom back then. No Epcot, no Hollywood Studios, no Animal Kingdom, no Blizzard Beach, no Typhoon LagoonOn-property resort options consisted of the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and Fort Wilderness.

Room at the Polynesian Resort in 1972 ©Disney

The majority of guests stayed at hotels and motels off-property and drove to the Magic Kingdom. Magical Express? Decades away from service. Most guests either rented a car at the airport or bypassed flying altogether and motored their way to central Florida.

The back of a 1970s-era Walt Disney World parking lot stub. ©Chuck Schmidt

After parking their cars in areas designated with names like Grumpy, Dopey and Goofy, guests boarded a tram to the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you got on a long line to buy tickets: An “adventure ticket book” got you into the park and gave you admission to either seven or eleven attractions.

Attractions were given designations according to the “thrill level” of each ride. The coupons ranged from A to E. The mildest attractions – Main Street’s Omnibus, Horse Cars, Horseless Carriage and Fire Engine, as well as Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel in Fantasyland – could be accessed by using an A Ticket.

E TICKET ATTRACTIONS IN 1972

The most “exciting” adventures at the time (Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and “it’s a small world”) were worthy of E Tickets. A seven-adventure book cost adults $4.95, while an 11-adventure book was $5.95.

This collage show parking tickets for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, circa 1985. ©Chuck Schmidt

When guests ran out of tickets, they could purchase more at conveniently located Ticket Kiosks throughout the park. Individually, A Tickets cost 10 cents, B Tickets 25 cents, C Tickets 50 cents, D Tickets 75 cents and E Tickets 90 cents.

There were three attractions in the park that were free of charge: The Diamond Horseshoe Revue, If You Had Wings and America The Beautiful. Once you secured your tickets, you had two options to get to the Magic Kingdom: The futuristic monorail or one of the Osceola steamboats, which were much smaller and less reliable than the ferries of today.

In addition to the T&TC, the monorail stopped at the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts, as well as the main gate at the Magic Kingdom.

Back in the day, Disney-themed topiaries lined the route of the monorail. ©AllEars.Net/Jack Spence

I remember our very first ride on the monorail. As it pulled out of the T&TC station, you couldn’t help but notice the collection of Disney-themed topiaries sprinkled on the ground below. Topiaries, of course, have become a much-loved addition to Epcot’s various annual festivals.

Then we quietly glided into and through the main lobby of the Contemporary! How is this possible, we thought? Ah, the magic of Disney …

So much has changed in and around the Magic Kingdom since that first visit in 1972. Inside the park, it all seemed so overwhelming … even though Magic Kingdom mainstays Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Tom Sawyer Island were still years away from completion.

Mickey Mouse leads the afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom in 1972. ©Chuck Schmidt

Even the Disney costumed characters roaming the different lands were an odd lot, to say the least. In addition to The Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto), there were Jose Carioca, Giuseppi Cat, Br’er Bear and Honest John posing for photos.

And Main Street was a veritable forest, with lush green trees lining the park’s main thoroughfare from Town Square to the courtyard in front of the castle. Outside the park, the landscape around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake was relatively sparse. Boat docks extended from the Polynesian, the Contemporary and the T&TC.

It wasn’t until 1988 when the elegant Grand Floridian Resort and Spa opened, giving Seven Seas Lagoon three resorts on its shores. Adjacent to the Grand Floridian, Disney’s Wedding Pavilion opened in 1995.

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa in the early 1990s. ©D23

Bay Lake Tower, a Disney Vacation Club property, opened next to the Contemporary in 2009, the Grand Floridian’s own DVC wing opened in 2013, while the Polynesian upgraded its property to include DVC rooms in 2015.

There’s now a huge bus terminal located outside the MK, which allows guests to travel to and from any Disney resort located on property.

BOLLARDS LINE THE PROPERTY TO PROTECT FROM THREATS

To protect the Magic Kingdom from any outside threats, sturdy bollards have been erected along roadways and entrances. And before you even get to the Main Gate, cast members meticulously check the contents of bags, backpacks and strollers … and then you’re required to walk through airport-style X-ray scanners.

At the turnstiles, instead of handing a cast member a ticket to be stamped, you now scan a Magic Band to gain admission to the park. Around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, the shorelines are lined with rocks, a rope fence and signs warning of the threat of alligators and snakes in the waters nearby.

At some point – hopefully soon – things will return to normal at Disney properties worldwide. Until then, we cling to memories of past Disney adventures with family and friends.

In the meantime, stay safe.

Have any memories of Walt Disney World visits that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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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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2 Replies to “With Disney Parks Closed, It’s Time to Remember the Magic”

  1. My daughter and I was watching the 2001 in room resort 30 min commercial for the 100 years of magic celebration this past Saturday, Sunday we were watching the Disney 1995 Easter parade that aired on tv, feeling nostalgic, I do miss the earlier days of Disneyworld. Something has changed about Disneyworld in the last few years, it has seemed to have lost some Disney magic, definitely different feel than before, not in a good way, either, miss the older days for sure.

    1. In 2013 my husband and I took our 3 grand nieces Abby (age 14), Baily (age 15) and Maura (age 16)to Disney World for a week to celebrate our retirement and to spend some quality time with our nieces. The girls were old enough to be able to go off on their own during the day. They checked in with us several times during the day to let us know how they were doing. It was absolutely one of the best visits to WDW ever! The girls were so respectful and loving to us.

      One night they asked to use the whirlpool tub and filled it with bubbles. Such a sweet memory and they still talk about it.

      Today Abby is a college theater grad, Baily is a Registered Nurse (BSN) and Maura is a teacher. One day we will do it again. It’s a memory that makes my heart heppy.