Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World opened 50 years ago today

Magic Kingdom 1971 (Center photo from Walt Disney World, right and left photos from Getty Images)

On October 1st, 1971, Disney opened its first Florida theme park to the public after years of anticipation.

Walt Disney ran his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, successfully for over a decade when he took to the east coast to announce his next project. With his brother, Roy. O. Disney, by his side, the two of them held a news conference in Downtown Orlando on November 15th, 1965. They announced a ‘Florida project,’ which is what became Walt Disney World Resort.

"After taking a look at the land this morning, I say we are starting from scratch. We have many things in mind that could make this unique and different than Disneyland," Walt said. "To have this enthusiasm on the part of our whole organization and on the part of the people of the state of Florida really is a good start."

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About a year later, on October 27th, 1966, Walt filmed an outline for his Florida plans, including details on Walt Disney World’s location.

"We have a perfect location in Florida – almost in the very center of the state," he explained. "Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland – the blessing of size. There is enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine."

Walt also highlighted the park’s location between Orlando and Kissimmee, stating that "the important thing is that the Disney World is located just a few miles from the crossing point of Interstate 4 and Sunshine State Parkway: Florida’s major highways carrying motors east to west and east and south to the center of the state."

Unfortunately, visionary Walt Disney passed away just a few months after filming, on December 15th, 1966. His brother, Roy, would go on to lead the company’s Florida project.

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On May 30th, 1967, Roy and Disney crews reportedly broke ground on what would become ‘Magic Kingdom.’ Roy paid tribute to his brother on this historic day, officially naming the Florida project ‘Walt Disney World’ to ensure that the world would always remember his brother’s dream.

It looks years of work but Walt Disney World Resort opened to the public on October 1st, 1971. Disney said that the first phase included the Magic Kingdom park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Lake Mary resident Susan Kroll, who visited Magic Kingdom on that historic day, told FOX 35 that she and her family were not originally intending on visiting the park on opening day, thinking it would be crowded.


This is a satellite image of the Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, United States, opened in October 1971, the first of the Disney theme parks in Florida. Collected on September 23, 2012. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images via Getty Images)

"Then, we heard on the news that there weren’t [many people there] other than reporters and news people. That was all that was there basically. Nobody else had gone out," Susan said. "So, we said, ‘okay, let’s go there.’ We got in the car and drove out."

She recalled paying just a couple of dollars to park and admission tickets were around $7.


Magic Kingdom entrance in 1971 (Photo from Walt Disney World)

"I couldn’t even believe how beautiful it was. Everybody that was there was just fascinated with the whole place," she said in regards to seeing Magic Kingdom for the first time. "Everyone was very excited to be there."

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Susan added, "I had been to amusement parks before but nothing like that."


Photo from Susan Gaul Kroll

Cindy Inserra also attended Magic Kingdom on opening day in 1971 and told FOX 35 that she also was in awe upon entering the theme park.

"The energy was electric and magical. I remember horses pulling a wagon down Main Street. The smell of Main Street will forever be burned in my childhood," Cindy said. "Everyone around us was in awe of the magic of Mickey. The feeling was like floating and butterflies."

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She further explained, "the smell of Main Street was sweet like candy from the Confectionery and pure happiness."


Photo from Cindy Inserra

Several attractions were open for visitors like Cindy and Susan to enjoy that day. They include:

  • Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, now known as Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Diamond Horseshoe Revue
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Frontierland Shooting Gallery, now known as Frontierland Shooting’ Arcade
  • The Hall of Presidents
  • Haunted Mansion
  • It’s A Small World
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Mickey Mouse Revue
  • Mike Fink Keel Boats
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Skyway
  • Snow White’s Scary Adventures
  • Swiss Family Treehouse
  • Grand Prix Raceway, now known as ‘Tomorrowland Speedway’
  • The Tropical Serenade, now known as ‘Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room’
  • The Walt Disney World Railroad

While the park was officially opened on October 1st, it was not until October 25th, 1971, that Disney held its grand opening and dedication ceremony for Magic Kingdom. Roy O. Disney was in attendance and read a dedication plaque aloud with Mickey Mouse at his side.

"Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and the life of Walter Isias Disney and to the talents and the dedication and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that’s made Walt Disney’s dream come true," he said. "May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place. A Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together."

In the years that followed Magic Kingdom’s debut, Disney continued to open new attractions at the park.

RELATED: 'Electric and magical': Woman describes what Magic Kingdom's opening day in 1971 was like

For example, on December 15th, 1973, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ opened. Two years later, on January 15th, ‘Space Mountain’ and the ‘GE Carousel of Progress’ opened. Months after this, the ‘WEDway PeopleMover’ attraction, now known as the ‘Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover,’ opened.


February 1979: Space Mountain at Disney World in Florida. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Then, on September 23rd, 1980, ‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’ opened.


Big Thunder Mountain Railroad under construction at Magic Kingdom Park in 1980 at Magic Kingdom Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo from Walt Disney World)


Disneyworld In Florida, United States - Adventureland. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Walt Disney World Resort continued to expand with new parks, resort hotels, and shopping options while Magic Kingdom thrived. As anniversaries rolled around, the park honored them with celebrations.

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For instance, on October 1st, 1981, Disney said that a ‘Tencennial Celebration’ was held to mark ten years of operations. 15 years after that, a 25th anniversary celebration was held over the span of a year. It brought new entertainment to the park and even transformed Cinderella Castle into a giant birthday cake.


Cinderella Castle décor for the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in 1996 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo from Walt Disney World)


25TH ANNIVERSARY OF DISNEY WORLD (Photo by Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images)

Over the next 25 years, Magic Kingdom continued to grow. One of the more recent major expansions was the debut of ‘New Fantasyland.’ This was said to be a 26-acre expansion of the original land. It included three new attractions and the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant. One of those new rides was the ‘Seven Dwarfs Mine Train,’ which officially opened on May 28th, 2014.


Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Photo from Walt Disney World)

Walt Disney World Resort officially turned 50 on Friday, as Magic Kingdom opened on October 1st, 1971. A 50th anniversary celebration, dubbed ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration,’ has begun and will go on for 18 months as new experiences debut across all four parks.

MORE NEWS: Disney World History: Cinderella Castle over the last 50 years

Magic Kingdom will be home to many of these new additions.

This is especially true as the centerpiece of the anniversary magic will be Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. It underwent months of renovation, donning a new color and decor. For instance, jewels and royal blue ribbons adorn the castle as gold draping and turrets surround its towers.


A new crest honoring the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort adorns Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The crest completes the castle’s royal, EARidescent makeover, joining gold bunting, sparkling embellishment

"The entire castle will shimmer with pearls and jewels, and the turrets and towers will be wrapped in iridescent gold and royal blue ribbons," George Adams of Walt Disney Imagineering previously said. "Above the castle gate, a 50th-anniversary crest will warmly welcome guests to join the festivities."


A new crest honoring the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort adorns Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The crest completes the castle’s royal, EARidescent makeover, joining gold bunting, sparkling embellishment

Not far from Cinderella Castle is ‘Disney’s Main Street Confectionery,’ which also has a new look for the theme park resort’s 50th anniversary. The store, known for its sweet smells and tasty treats, has an expanded layout with more room to shop and interactive opportunities to customize your confections like never before, Disney said.


(Disney Parks Blog)

Then, at night, Disney said that Cinderella Castle will be illuminated with lighting enhancements, creating "a dazzling radiance that sparkles with pixie dust."


Also at night, the ‘Disney Enchantment firework show will begin Friday at Cinderella Castle. Disney said that the show will feature fireworks, Disney music, enhanced lighting, immersive projection effects that extend for the first time down Main Street, U.S.A., and an original song, entitled ‘You Are the Magic,’ by seven-time Grammy-winner Philip Lawrence. 

"Since opening day in 1971, dazzling fireworks shows have provided that perfect exclamation point at the end of a fantastic day at Magic Kingdom Park," said Mark Renfrow, Show Director, Disney Live Entertainment. "From ‘Fantasy in the Sky’ and ‘Wishes’ to holiday spectaculars and ‘Happily Ever After,’ each new show has raised the bar, and the best is yet to come! I can’t wait for everyone to see what we’re creating with ‘Disney Enchantment.’"


Included in the show will reportedly be iconic Disney characters, moments, and music from both Disney and Pixar films. For instance, spectators will join Tiana, Rapunzel, and ‘Onward’ brothers Ian and Barley as they set out on a journey with adventurers like Moana, Raya, and Judy Hopps. 

"Joe Gardner from Disney and Pixar’s ‘Soul’ takes us into ‘the zone,’ where we discover a whimsical world inspired by the style of legendary Disney artist Mary Blair and filled with beloved characters from classic stories like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to contemporary tales including ‘Luca’ and 'Wreck-It Ralph," Disney explained. "Everything builds to a climactic moment, as Tinker Bell takes flight, spreading shimmering gold pixie dust and empowering us all to believe in ourselves and the magic all around us."

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Then, across all four parks are the 'Disney Fab 50’ statues. These are a collection of 50 golden sculptures honoring iconic Disney characters like Dumbo, Donald Duck,  Goofy, R2-D2, Groot, and more. Magic Kingdom is home to several of them, including Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.

Disney explained that "the Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse sculptures are also being dedicated to Disney cast members of the past, present, and future. After all, our cast – along with Mickey and Minnie- are truly considered the heart of the upcoming anniversary celebration."


Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are two of the "Disney Fab 50" golden character sculptures appearing in all four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., as part of "The World’s Most Magical Celebration," beginning Oct. 1, 2021,

That’s just a small taste of what’s to come during The World’s Most Magical Celebration. For more of what you need to know about the anniversary festivities planned for the next 18 months, check out ‘What to expect during Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration’ by FOX 35.

In addition, watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest theme park updates.