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Disney World's 40th anniversary celebration entertains Cast Members as well as Guests

Disney World's 40th anniversary celebration entertains Cast Members as well as Guests

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Since The Walt Disney Resort has long been associated with fairy tales, I'd like to borrow a turn-of-phrase from "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" to describe Saturday's 40th anniversary celebration at the Magic Kingdom.

It wasn't too long. It wasn't too short. It was just right.


Photo by Angela Ragno

The festivities actually started before this theme park opened for the day. As Guests entered the Magic Kingdom Saturday morning, they were each handed a 40th anniversary button. And as these people walked under the Main Street Train Station, they could pick up a special commemorative edition of the Magic Kingdom guide map. One that featured reproductions of this theme park's original souvenir map & ticket books.


Photo by Angela Ragno

But before you could get your hands on that commemorative guide map, you first had to watch the Magic Kingdom's pre-opening Welcome Show. Which had been slightly modified to reflect the importance of this day in Disney World history.


Photo by Angela Ragno

After the Mayor of Main Street and a lucky family from Tennessee had officially opened the Magic Kingdom for the day with a shower of streamers, the thousands of people who had come out to this theme park expressly to be on hand for WDW's 40th birthday celebration then shuffled up to the Hub. Where they found Cinderella Castle suitably draped for this occasion.


Photo by Angela Ragno

The ceremony in front of the Castle officially got underway as Norman Vossschulte and Jennifer Mason, this year's WDW Ambassador Team, came onstage and welcomed the crowd. Norman then shared some fun Disney World-related factoids (EX: If you'd driven down to Orlando to visit the Resort on its opening day of October 1, 1971, you'd have paid $.36 for a gallon of gas. WFTV also had some interesting WDW facts to share during its Friday night news broadcast. Back in 1971, it used to cost you just $.50 to park your car in the Magic Kingdom's parking lot instead of the $14 you pay today. And a book of tickets that got you into the theme park cost $6 back in 1971 versus the $85 that people shell out today).


Photo by Angela Ragno

Getting back to Saturday's event ... As the 40th anniversary procession was stepping off in Town Square, the Main Street Philharmonic came onstage and entertained the crowd in front of the Cinderella Castle with a medley of Disney's greatest hits.


Photo by Angela Ragno

And then the 40th anniversary procession reached the Hub. As Cast Members carrying placards that commemorated earlier WDW birthday celebrations came onstage, they were followed by dozens of Disney characters carrying blue, white, gold & silver balloons.

At this point, Meg Crofton -- president of Walt Disney Park Operations - came onstage. And after looking out at that sea of faces, those thousands of people who had gotten up early on a Saturday just so that they could then be there at the Magic Kingdom for WDW's 40th anniversary celebration ...


Photo by Angela Ragno

... Meg then shared a story about how Walt - once when he was shooting an episode of "The Wonderful World of Color" back in the 1960s - refused to be filmed on an empty Main Street, U.S.A. Why For? Because Disney insisted that depicting this theme park without people wasn't an honest representation of what Disneyland actually was. That the Guests were a key ingredient of the place. That the crowds of  people who daily flow through and fan out into a theme park bring a special energy and excitement to the place.


Photo by Angela Ragno

And speaking of excitement, Phil Holmes (i.e. the Vice President of the Magic Kingdom. Who - back in October of 1971 - was one of 5500 Cast Members who were working at The Walt Disney World Resort on opening day) recalled how nervous & excited he was to be working at The Haunted Mansion that day as the very first Guests came into this theme park.

"This was back in the days of ticket books. And I have to admit that I was pretty nervous about that ticket thing. I wanted to make sure that I was only taking E Tickets from those Guests who wanted to get into The Haunted Mansion," Phil remembered. "But I had a great boss back then. And he told me something that I remember to this day. He said 'Phil, just make sure that the Guests are having a good time. That everyone's enjoying their day in the Park. And we'll figure out that ticket thing late."


Photo by Angela Ragno

"So if you were here at the Magic Kingdom on October 1st, 1971. And if on that day, you managed to get into The Haunted Mansion on an A Ticket, you're welcome," Holmes laughed.

After Meg & Phil had completed their remarks, the Dapper Dans came onstage and - as they were accompanied by the Main Street Philharmonic - led the crowd in singing "When You Wish Upon a Star."


Photo by Angela Ragno

Then - as this song concluded - Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (who had been observing this entire ceremony from the balcony over the Castle's entrance) waved her wand and threw open her arms, daytime fireworks shot through the sky and silver & blue streamers rained down on the crowd.


Photo by Angela Ragno

WDW's entire 40th birthday commemoration ceremony lasted maybe 20 minutes. And as all the characters & Cast Members who had taken part in Saturday morning's program exited into the Ultilidors, the crowd in front of the Castle quickly dispersed to all points of the compass within the walls of  that theme park.

Some folks - like myself - headed over to Adventureland to check out the slightly-trimmed-down version of "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room," which recently re-opened at the Magic Kingdom (So what did I think of this revived / revised AA show at the Sunshine Pavilion? Nostalgia ain't what it used to be). While still others got on line with those folks (some of which arrived at the Magic Kingdom at 4:30 on Saturday morning) who were now determined to get their hands on some of the special limited merchandise that had been created to help celebrate WDW's 40th anniversary.


Photo by Angela Ragno

It seemed everywhere you looked in the Magic Kingdom on Saturday, there were 40th anniversary-related lines. For the better part of the morning, there were people lined up outside of the Main Street Bakery. With the hope that they'd then be able to purchase one of those 10 dozen birthday cupcakes that WDW Chef Eric Brennar had created just for this event.

Likewise there were long lines snaking through Frontierland for much of the day. With Disneyana fans hoping that they'd soon be able to gain entrance to the Diamond Horseshoe ...


Photo by Angela Ragno

... so that they'd then be able to meet with Disney artists like Kevin Kidney & Jody Daily. Who had created some wonderfully witty pieces for WDW's 40th anniversary celebration. Like the ceramic replica of an original Walt Disney World paper cup depicted below.


Photo by Angela Ragno

After a long day of shopping for 40th anniversary merchandise& eating birthday cups as well as revisiting many of the Magic Kingdom's opening day attractions, many of the Guests who arrived at this theme park so earlier on Saturday morning found themselves back at the Hub again as night fell. So that they could then see a specially beefed-up birthday edition of "Wishes," which had been enhanced with perimeter fireworks.

Now what was kind of cool about my own Saturday at the Magic Kingdom was that - just as "Wishes" was wrapping up that night - I found myself backstage. I was on that temporary walkway that they sometime sets up between Main Street, U.S.A. and Tomorrowland when this theme park is really, really crowded and they need to give Guests an alternate way to get back to the entrance.


Photo by Angela Ragno

But here's the thing: As I was moving through this backstage area, I couldn't but notice that there were dozens of Cast Members up on Main Street, U.S.A.'s rooftop. Not to mention dozens more right down at street level. But they were all looking up as the last of the special birthday shells exploding around the perimeter of this theme park. And I couldn't help but notice that a few of these folks had tears in their eyes.

So if The Walt Disney World Resort can put together a 40th anniversary celebration that not only manages to entertain the paying customers, it also moves the battle-hardened Cast Members who actually work at the Magic Kingdom day in & day out ... Well, like I said at the very start of today's article, I think that the Mouse did things just right this time.


Photo by Angela Ragno

Of course, your mileage may vary. If you were in the Magic Kingdom this past Saturday for WDW's 40th anniversary celebration, could you please share your impressions of what this day was like?

Your thoughts?

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  • I hope the 50th will be better

  • I spent the day at the Magic Kingdom, along with some of my fellow cast members. Overall It was a great day to visit the park, You could definitely tell the 40th put a smile on every cast member’s face. Im sure the free cupcakes in the Mousecateria helped ; )

  • I was there and missed getting early access to the merchandise by about 100 people.  Needless to say when I ventured into the shops with the day specific merchandise, after the ceremony, everything was already sold out.  I had to order my 40th anniversary shirt from Disneystore.com!  The park was crazy packed compared to the crowds earlier in the week.  I had a blast hanging out with other Disney fans and trying to avoid lines wherever possible.  It was a great feeling just to be there on this special day.

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