WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com

Walt Disney World
Celebrates 40 Years


Has it really been 40 years
since October 1, 1971?

I enjoyed the 25th anniversary of Epcot, so I decided to travel to Florida for the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World and its first theme park, the Magic Kingdom. When I made my plans many months ago, I had no idea what Disney would do recognize this milestone.

I expected nothing. Compared to a 10th, 25th or 50th anniversary, any 40th anniversary of a business is not considered a major milestone. And the current Disney Parks & Resorts marketing campaign is built around the slogan, “Let the Memories Begin!” So the 40th anniversary would not be an excuse for a major marketing effort.

The actual experience on October 1 was better than I expected.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, October 4, 2011


Well, I thought there might be slightly more than nothing—I expected to see (but not to buy) limited edition 40th anniversary merchandise. At the beginning of September, with just a month to go, there were no indications of any commemorative events on the milestone day.

Four years earlier, for Epcot’s 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007, that park offered numerous surprises. Apparently, then-VP of Epcot Jim McPhee was not going to let the day pass quietly. Maybe Phil Holmes, the VP of Magic Kingdom Park, would borrow a page from McPhee’s playbook.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Twitter message from September 9, 2011

On September 9, 2011, Disney used Twitter to let fans know that the Magic Kingdom milestone would not be ignored. Subsequent news included a list of Disney Artists who would appear for artist signings at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon in Liberty Square and Uptown Jewelers on Main Street, U.S.A. And there was a rumor of special 40th anniversary cupcakes.

A few days before October 1, the word spread that there would be a parade of characters at 9:45 a.m., a ceremony at Cinderella Castle at 10:00 a.m., and special version of Wishes with perimeter fireworks.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

8:43 a.m. in front of the Magic Kingdom

I wasn’t the only Disney theme park fan who thought the Magic Kingdom would be the place to be on October 1. A crowd gathered before the 9:00 a.m. park opening. Saturdays tend to be busy at Magic Kingdom Park anyway. But this crowd appeared to be on a mission to be part of an event.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

“Celebrating 40 Magical Years”

Weather forecasts called for a prefect day—temperatures in the low 80s, sun, a slight breeze, and no rain. The forecasts turned out to be right.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Procession of Disney characters

A procession of Disney characters made its way up Main Street, U.S.A. to music from other park anniversary celebrations, including “15 Years of Magic” and “It’s Time to Remember the Magic.”

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Cameras above the heads

The main event began at 10:00 a.m. The crowd that had been at the gates before the park opened was now in the Hub, ready to experience of little bit of Walt Disney World history.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Disney royalty at the 40th anniversary

It wouldn’t be Disney without showmanship and Disney characters.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Park Operations (United
States & France) and president of the Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney World Resort president Meg Crofton and Magic Kingdom vice president Phil Holmes each gave short speeches. It’s easy to be cynical when an executive makes a speech, but both speeches were appropriate for the event, well-written, and well-delivered.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Phil Holmes, vice president of Magic Kingdom Park, with Mickey Mouse

Phil Holmes, an opening day Cast Member on October 1, 1971, reminisced about making sure that all guests had a “fantastic time” as he was taking tickets at the E ticket Haunted Mansion on that day: “So for anyone who was here on that opening day, if you visited the Haunted Mansion and you got in on an A ticket—you’re welcome!”

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Dapper Dans

The Dapper Dans led the crowd in a sing-along of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Mylar streamers

The event in front of Cinderella Castle ended with daytime fireworks and a blast of mylar streamers that slowly floated back to the ground.

Soon afterwards, workers removed the big blue banner and other props for the event. The castle stage was set up for its usual daily shows.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Merchandise line at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon

It was almost 1:00 p.m. before I made it over to the Diamond Horseshoe to take a look the limited edition merchandise and the Disney Artists who were there to sign their work. My understanding was that the special merchandise included pins, Vinylmation, apparel, and collectables. I didn’t want to buy anything. I have my share of Disney objects from over the years, but I wasn’t planning to acquire anything commemorating the 40th anniversary.

I assumed that the crowds would be gone by 1:00 p.m., along with the highest demand merchandise. I hoped to go into the Diamond Horseshoe to take photos for this article.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Waiting to enter a side door into the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon

I was wrong about the crowds being gone. A line stretched across the front of Diamond Horseshoe. I followed the line around the side and saw more people in line.

I learned that guests had been waiting outside the Magic Kingdom since around 4 a.m. At 6 a.m., Disney Cast Members began to hand out wristbands to the first 400 people so that those people could be at the front of the line at the Diamond Horseshoe. As soon as the park opened at 9 a.m., guests with wristbands could get in one line. Those without them could get in a second line to enter after the wristbanded guests had finished their shopping.

It took until around 1:00 p.m. to take care of all guests with wristbands. Then the line of other guests, who had been waiting close to four hours at that point, could finally begin to enter the Diamond Horseshoe, a few guests at a time.

I have no idea what the merchandise in the Diamond Horseshoe looked like or how much it cost. I’m just glad I didn’t have my heart set on limited edition 40th anniversary pins or other collectables.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

One of the artist appearances

I decided to see if Uptown Jewelers, the other location with Disney artists, was equally crazy. I was surprised that I could walk right in.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Robert Olszewski

I don’t own any of Robert Olszewski’s Disney park miniatures, but I can understand why Disney theme park fans like to collect his work. Olszewski’s highly detailed miniatures allow collectors to bring their favorite Disney park buildings and attractions into the homes. Not merely small scale models, his miniatures capture the essence of the subjects with just the right textures, colors, and details.

While trying to take a good photo, I observed how gracious Olszewski was with guests who came to see him.

I assumed there would be regular 40th anniversary merchandise too—items that had already been on the shelf before the anniversary day and would continue to be sold afterwards. I headed to the Main Street Emporium.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

40th anniversary merchandise for people who didn’t want to wait in line

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

40th anniversary mug

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

40th anniversary frame

It took a while, but I found a counter with 40th anniversary items in a corner of the retail space that takes up most of the former West Center Street. I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Free 40th anniversary buttons at the entrance

I do, however, now have two 40th anniversary items that I like. On October 1, Cast Members handed out commemorative pins and souvenir Guidemaps—as free souvenirs of the day.

When I first entered the park in the morning, I was in such a crush of people that I didn’t realize some people were getting buttons. In the afternoon, buttons were still available and the crowds were gone.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Free 40th anniversary Guidemap

The Guidemap is particularly well done. One side functions as a current Magic Kingdom Guidemap, while the other side reproduces a park map and attraction list from 1971. Far larger than the usual Guidemaps, this is a perfect souvenir of the milestone day. When Disney does something like this, it shows real class and respect for its loyal guests.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Main Street Station banner

Although the banner on the castle came down quickly after the morning event, the one at the entrance stayed up all day.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Main Street Electrical Parade

Like the Magic Kingdom, the Main Street Electrical Parade premiered in the 1970s. After its enormous success at Disneyland beginning in 1972, a clone of the parade came to the Magic Kingdom in 1977. Since then, it’s traded places with Spectromagic a few times. I enjoyed seeing the parade from the 1970s on this day that commemorated an event in 1971.

Walt Disney World Celebrates 40 Years

Enhanced version on Wishes fireworks

The final commemorative event of the day was a special version of Wishes, the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular. It was the usual show with the usual soundtrack, but with additional skyrockets—perimeter fireworks— in some scenes. It was a pleasant bonus.

I enjoyed the day immensely. Part of the credit goes to the perfect weather. And a big part of the credit goes to the all the great people I spent time with over the course of the day, including numerous bloggers and website columnists.

Disney management deserves credit too. They didn’t have to do anything; after all, the 40th anniversary was not part of their marketing strategy for 2011. They could have used it only as a merchandising opportunity. But, instead, they added enough extras to the day to make it special and memorable for those of use who made a point of being there that day.


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© 2011 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated October 10, 2011.

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All photographs by Werner Weiss, October 1, 2011.