In the 50+ years since Walt Disney World opened to the public, the theme park complex has acquired enough history to fill two to three times that many years.
From theme park and hotel openings to the closures of beloved rides… and even a whole water park, WDW has continued to change overtime. Today we’ll be looking at 20 facts about Disney World history, from headline stories to little known changes.
1. Ticket prices used to be way different. When the Magic Kingdom opened, tickets cost $3.50 for adults and only $1.50 for children. While that may be depressing, the fact that entry was so much cheaper (even taking inflation into account) isn’t all that surprising. However, what many guests may not know is that those original tickets didn’t include access to the rides! When Disney World first opened, guests were still required to purchase ticket books for the park’s attractions. The books contained a certain number of tickets labeled A-E, and the rides were classified to match the tickets. The “E ticket” rides were the most popular rides in the park — that’s why we still call the most famous rides in the parks “E tickets.” This wasn’t changed until the opening of EPCOT Center in the early 1980s.
2. Speaking of EPCOT Center, that park’s unique design came about due to a moment of frustration. Through the 1970s, Imagineers debated how to best bring Walt Disney’s concept of the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow to life, at least partially — since the company had decided not to pursue the concept of a futuristic city. By the middle of the decade, two camps had emerged: One wanted the park to be a futuristic display of modern technology, while the other wanted a “permanent world’s fair” featuring pavilions representing countries around the world. According to Disney legend, one day the two conflicting models were literally pushed together, and voila: EPCOT was born.
3. Walt Disney World, like Disneyland before it, has its trashcans spaced out about every 30 feet. This spacing came directly from Walt Disney, who found that that was the amount of steps people would take before dropping their trash on the ground.
4. Walt Disney World has only closed a handful of times over the last five decades. Most of these have been for hurricanes, however the park also closed on 9/11 and of course for several months during the COVID pandemic.
5. While it’s relatively well-known that the Magic Kingdom features a system of underground tunnels known as utilidoors that link the park’s lands — allegedly born out of Walt Disney once seeing a Frontierland cowboy walking through Disneyland’s Tomorrowland — what many don’t realize is that these tunnels aren’t really “underground” at all. Rather, they were constructed at ground level and the park was built on a “second level” above them.
6. When the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park — then known as Disney MGM Studios — first opened in 1989, the park doubled as a working film studios. In fact, Disney’s plan was to establish a “Hollywood of the East” in Florida. Suffice to say, this didn’t work out.
7. Disney World’s tallest structures — like Cinderella Castle and the Tower of Terror attraction at Hollywood Studios — come in at or below 199 feet tall, as any structure that reaches 200 feet tall needs to have a blinking red beacon atop it due to federal aviation regulations, and that would detract from the park’s theming.
8. When it first opened, MGM Studios featured the largest Hidden Mickey in the world, which was only visible from the air. The Chinese Theatre was Mickey’s mouth, Echo Lake was the right ear, the roof of the Brown Derby restaurant was the left ear, and planters and trees made up the eyes, eyebrows, and nose. Over the years, some elements of the Mickey have been removed/lessened due to various changes in the park, but it’s still mostly recognizable from above.
9. A portion of the scale model of Walt Disney’s original Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow can be seen while riding the Peoplemover attraction at the Magic Kingdom.
10. Spaceship Earth weighs in at a mind-boggling 15.5 million pounds.
11. Spaceship Earth also features a fascinating drainage system. To avoid rainwater running down the sides of the sphere, rain instead drains through spaces in the triangular tiles, flows through a system of ducts in the legs, and eventually into the World Showcase Lagoon.
12. During the 1990s, World Championship Wrestling shot numerous episodes of television at MGM Studios. These include a “welcome to the company” parade for Hulk Hogan, many hours of syndicated wrestling programming, and a live episode of WCW Monday Nitro.
13. Over the years, there have been numerous pavilions planned for EPCOT’s World Showcase that have gone unbuilt for one reason or another. These include Africa, the Soviet Union, Israel, and Iran.
14. River Country, Walt Disney World’s first water park, closed for the season as normal in 2001… and never reopened, due to a litany of factors. It sat decaying for nearly two decades before being demolished to make space for a new hotel, which was in-turn canceled.
15. The video for the Beach Boys’ 1988 #1 hit “Kokomo” was filmed at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, which had opened weeks before filming.
16. The aquarium at EPCOT’s Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion (previously known as The Living Seas) has 5.7 million gallons of tank volume, making it the second-largest aquarium in the U.S. and the sixth-largest in the world.
17. Animal Kingdom’s official logo features a dragon because the park was originally planned to include a land based on mythic creatures known as Beastly Kingdom. The land was moved to “phase 2” of the park due to construction budget cuts, before going unbuilt entirely. Beastly Kingdom was to be located where Pandora: The World of Avatar currently stands.
18. At the time of its construction. Expedition Everest was the most expensive roller coaster-style attraction ever built.
19. John Lennon signed the documents to officially dissolve the musical partnership of The Beatles at the Polynesian Village Resort while on vacation.
20. Mama Melrose restaurant at Hollywood Studios was initially supposed to be a Muppets-themed restaurant, with plans calling for animatronic rat waiters to deliver guests’ food. The tracks for these once-planned animatronics can still be seen in the restaurants ceiling.
Did you know all of these Walt Disney World Facts, or did any of them catch you off guard? Let is know in the comments below.