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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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
... 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.
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."
"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."
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.
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.
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 ...
... 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.
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
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.
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?
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.