What Was Disney World Like When It First Opened

Four theme parks, two water parks, and tens of thousands of hotel rooms make for a huge destination.  Add on top of that hundreds of restaurants and shops, and you have a true World of vacation options. Of course, it was not always this way.

Growing Up Disney

Many people don’t realize how different Disney World is today from when it first opened in 1971. Over at the Mouse Planet web site, Jim Korkis wrote a very interesting article about how the Magic Kingdom looked when it first opened.  By the way, Jim is one of the most knowledgeable people about the operation and history of the Disney Company on the planet.  If you ever have a chance to read a book or an article from Jim, I highly recommend it.  You are sure to learn something in a fun and entertaining way.

Back to the main topic:  There are many differences between then and now at Disney World, in areas such as cost and scope.

Cost – Getting In To Disney World

When in the Magic Kingdom first opened, admission was a hefty $4.75. If you translate that into today’s dollars, it’s about $30. However, you also needed to purchase tickets to ride each attraction in addition to purchasing an admission ticket to just get in the gate. Even so, the price is nothing near the almost $100 you may pay today to gain admission to the Magic Kingdom with unlimited attractions on a Magic Your Way ticket.

Parking back then cost fifty cents, which is less than three dollars in today’s terms when adjusting for inflation. This compares to today’s actual cost of $14 (or maybe even a bit more by the time you read this).

However, there were far fewer attractions back on opening day.

Scope – Attractions And Tickets

Each attraction was identified with the letter A through E. To gain admission to the attraction, you needed an admission ticket (at an extra cost) that matched the letter of the attraction. The lesser attractions, such as Cinderella’s Carousel or the Main Street Vehicles, required only the lowly A tickets. The most thrilling attractions were labeled as E ticket attractions.

There were just four E ticket attractions on opening day: The Jungle Cruise, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, It’s A Small World, And The Haunted Mansion.

On opening day there simply weren’t very many attractions in the Magic Kingdom.  But Disney promoted that more was on the way.  By the mid 1970s, Disney had added Pirates Of The Caribbean, Space Mountain, The Carousel of Progress, the PeopleMover, and the ever popular Main Street Electrical Parade.

Getting The Kinks Out

The Disney Company had learned an important lesson from the opening of Disneyland in California. For the grand opening at Disneyland, the crowds were much larger than anticipated – and that created some unique problems. Water fountains were not yet working, and food locations ran out of food. Disney did not want the same thing to happen with the opening of Walt Disney World, especially since the local news media were projecting crowds in the ranges of 50,000 to 200,000  people for opening day!

Given these lessons and concerns, Disney purposefully selected a slow time of year for the opening day of Disney World: October 1. They also positioned that opening day as a soft opening, and at the grand opening ceremonies were not held until three weeks later when Walt Disney’s brother, Roy O. Disney, gave the dedication speech.

The plan worked. There were just about ten thousand people on the first day of the Magic Kingdom’s operation – a pretty light day. That made it easier for Disney to fine-tune and adjust operations with the lower crowds.

However, and there were still issues during the opening. Disney had a hard time getting guests from the Ticket And Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom theme park more than a mile away across Seven Seas Lagoon. In fact, they redeployed some of the parking trams to drive guests from the transportation center to the Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, these vehicles were never designed for work that way and many of them broke down.

Disney World Parking Tram
Disney World Parking Tram