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Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Virtual Vacation Back to Early Walt Disney World

By Keith Mahne




Imagine yourself in the 1970s. For years, you have heard about Walt Disney's dream of building a "living showcase that more people would talk about and come to look at than any other area in the world." And now, that dream known as Walt Disney World, a magical oasis being built in phases on 27,400 acres of land and water southwest of Orlando, Florida, is a reality. It currently features a destination-vacation resort, and plans for the future still include an industrial park designed to highlight American industry at work, and, eventually, the city of EPCOT. The first phase of Walt Disney’s living showcase just opened its gates on October 1, 1971 and its time for us to visit this incredible new "Vacation Kingdom" and see the magic with our own eyes and ears. Join us as we embark on a virtual adventure back to early Walt Disney World and attempt to capture the resort destination in its early years...









Encompassing 2,500 of the 27,400 acres, Phase 1 of Walt Disney World is a total and complete destination vacation resort, an area so vast in scope that includes an almost endless variety of activities and experiences for guests.








The Magic Kingdom theme park, theme resort hotels, extensive camping facilities, Championship golf courses, big name entertainment, one of the most fascinating transportation networks in the world, these are just some of the many exciting features of the world's first “Vacation Kingdom”. It's the early 1970s. You and your family are sitting at home and have been hearing all the news going around about Walt Disney's dream of building a east coast Disneyland and how that dream has finally come true. Suddenly an Eastern Airlines commercial appears on your television screen...








It's time for us to pack our bags and go experience this thing they are calling the "world's first Vacation Kingdom" for ourselves...







Theme Resort Hotels


The time has finally come for you to visit a brand new Walt Disney World Resort. In keeping with the concept of a destination-vacation resort, Walt Disney World features its very own resort hotels. It's time to see them with our own eyes here in Walt Disney World's early days. Our first stop is the futuristic, 1,057-room Contemporary Resort Hotel resembling a long, hollow pyramid with sloping walls rising like the lower half of a giant "A" toward the 14th-floor Top of the World penthouse-restaurant and lounge. The Contemporary Resort Hotel, unlike any other hotel in the world, contains an interior concourse mall so vast that landscape architects were called upon rather than interior designers.








Ninety feet high, over 400 feet long, and 120 feet wide, the Grand Canyon Concourse has all-electric Walt Disney World Monorail Trains running silently through its length 50 feet above ground, on their way to and from the Magic Kingdom theme park. A decorative ceramic mural 90 feet high covers the central elevator shaft.








The Contemporary Resort Hotel is definitely a must see here in the early 1970s. What are we waiting for? Let's go take a look at one of our first stops here in Walt Disney World...





(Video Credit: All footage of the Contemporary Resort from the 1:22 mark on is home video footage edited by the amazingly talented folks at RetroDisneyWorld.com and changed to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Be sure to check out their YouTube Channel HERE for hours of amazing, vintage WDW footage)




In contrast, the Polynesian Village offers an informal, leisurely way of vacation living in keeping with the romantic, South Seas mood it creates. Its 500 themed guest rooms are gracefully grouped in seven, low-silhouetted Longhouses with views of the sparkling Seven Seas Lagoon and the emerald sweep of two championship golf courses. Glass walls give an open feeling to the main dining room, as guests look out over cascading waterfalls and garden lagoons.








At night, the "Papeete Bay Verandah" takes on a special magic with dancing and entertainment keyed to the South Pacific theme. Luaus under the stars and moonlight excursions on the lagoon are part of the total experience for us on this trip here in the 1970s.








Now that we've walked around the Contemporary, it's time to make our way over to the Poly. Let's head that way now, shall we...








In addition, here in the infant years of the Vacation Kingdom we can't wait for the three other resort hotels that will be added during the first phase of Walt Disney World, each with a unique theme: Persian, Venetian, and Asian...









Camping Facilities


For those who prefer to bring their own "hotel," Walt Disney World offers 600 acres of lush woodland at the Fort Wilderness camping area to accommodate truck-campers, trailers, and tents. Each site is so situated that guests are screened from neighbors by stands of cypress, bay trees, and other foliage, yet they are close enough for visiting and for easy access to other camping and recreational facilities.




Fort Wilderness




Fort Wilderness also provides a general store, with everything from steaks to Mickey Mouse sweatshirts; air-conditioned shower facilities; recreation sites; and winding streams for canoeing. The camping fee includes unlimited use of the Walt Disney World transportation network (monorail, steamboats, and motor trams) and special admission to the Magic Kingdom theme park. Organized recreation programs include educational nature hikes with identification of native flora and fauna, trail rides, box-lunch picnics, tether ball and volleyball games, early-morning nature walks on the crystal sands of Fort Wilderness beach for the children, and for the entire family, there are campfire programs and nightly entertainment.








Now that we know all the things Fort Wilderness has to offer, let's make our way over there from the Polynesian and take a peek for ourselves...








Recreation






Walt Disney World offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities to vacationing guests, making it possible for them to have something new and exciting to do every day of their vacation. Included are: four-and-a-half miles of white-sand beaches for sunbathing and beach games; children's playgrounds; facilities for horseback riding, picnics, swimming, fishing, sailing, water skiing, motor-boating, and bicycling; areas for playing tennis, croquet, shuffleboard, tether ball, and horseshoes; and two outstanding 18-hole, championship golf courses. Designed by one of the nation's foremost golf-course architects, Joseph L. Lee, the 6,410-yard, par-72 Magnolia Course are designed to provide a mental challenge for everyone from beginners to professionals. Sparkling, white sand traps, jewel-like lakes, winding canals, and lush, wooded groves make the courses beautiful to look at and extremely interesting for everyone to play.









Transportation






Guests visiting the "Vacation Kingdom" will find that getting around is half the fun. Walt Disney World features some of the most fascinating and unusual transportation in the world. Included are: sailboats, steam-powered launches, 200-passenger sidewheel steamboats, a 450-passenger, rear paddlewheel steamboat, sloops, pedal boats, canoes, catamarans, trams, six monorail trains, and a STOLport (an airport for Short Take-Off and Landing aircraft).









The futuristic Walt Disney World Monorail Trains incorporate a new air-suspension system for the smoothest ride possible. Silent and all electric, the monorail trains are wider than their Disneyland counterparts and are 171 feet long. They travel atop concrete beamways as high as 60 feet above ground level and are fully air-conditioned, operational in either direction, and boardable from either side. Carrying up to 7,700 passengers an hour, the trains enable guests to travel from the main parking area to the Magic Kingdom theme park and resort hotels. Speaking of the Magic Kingdom, let's take a trip aboard the "highway in the sky" around Walt Disney World here in the early 1970s. Who knows, we might even run into a few Monorail hosts and get our own little tour along the way. Magic Kingdom here we come...








The Magic Kingdom






Charged with the same excitement as California’s Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom theme park features six magical lands: Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Each land creates its own atmosphere to tickle the imagination and sweep “the young at heart of all ages” into the world of fantasy, history, and adventure.








Nostalgic Main Street depicts eastern seaboard America at the turn of the century, a time when gas lamps we're giving way to electric lights and the sounds of the rinky-tink pianos and barbershop quartets were mixed gently with the “clippity-clop” of horse-drawn streetcars and the “putt-putt” of horseless carriages. Old fashion shops and stores with very ornate trim capture the flavor of a time gone by, and steam-powered trains again have their day as they depart from a grand Victorian station on Town Square for a tour around the theme park.









We've read all about Main Street in our brochures on the way to Walt Disney World. Let's see if it really does capture the flavor of a time gone by...








Tomorrowland is an ongoing preview of exciting new developments in store for the near and distant future. Many of America's leading companies present adventures and shows designed as "living blueprints of tomorrow." Tomorrowland explores new frontiers with attractions such as Monsanto's Circle-Vision 360 and the exciting Flight to the Moon.









Guests actually experience what many of America's foremost men of science and industry predict for the world of tomorrow. Let's experience it here in the 1970s...








Frontierland captures the spirit of the Old West as it was when hardy pioneers first explored the wilderness. Keel boats, log rafts, and a steam-powered sternwheeler cruise the frontier rivers of America. And, nearby in a pine-walled northwoods theater, the "Country Bear Jamboree" features a foot-stompin', country-western hoedown starring the zaniest troupe of bears ever assembled.The male members of the "Country" troupe include: A seven-foot-tall bear that wears a beaver hat and talks with a drawl; a five-bear string band; Gomer and his rinky-tink piano; Big Al and his unstrung guitar; and the grizzly singing voices of Wendell, Ernest, Terrence, and old Liverlips McGrowl. Among feminine performers, the cast includes: the original swinger, Teddi Barra; Trixie, the Tampa Temptation; and three little golden-haired bears in blue. Nearby in The Mile Long Bar, a gold-pistol-packin' hostess belts out songs with the help of three fugitives from a taxidermist mounted on the wall: a grumpy moose, a sarcastic buffalo, and a kind-hearted stag.









Here on our first trip to this brand new Magic Kingdom, let's do a bit of exploring around Frontierland with our own eyes...








Adventureland re-creates exotic, far off regions of the world. Here, guests can shop midst the sights and sounds of a bustling marketplace, feast on Chicken Fiji and Cantonese rice at the Adventureland Veranda, and join an enchanted luau at the Sunshine Pavilion. On the famous Jungle Cruise, they can board Irrawaddy Irma or Bomokandi Bertha, only two of the 16 explorers’ launches available, for an exciting safari, encountering lions, hippos, headhunters, singing elephants, and dozens of other “wild” creatures found on the tropical rivers of Africa, Asia, and South America. For a change of pace, climbers can ascend the towering Swiss Family Island Treehouse and visit the Swiss Family Robunson’s living quarters, with a secret lookout of the entire jungle area.








It's time for us to hop aboard the famous Jungle Cruise and listen to the sounds of a steel drum band in 1970s Adventureland...








Liberty Square portrays the United States at the time of its founding and features the most dramatic attraction in the Magic Kingdom: The Hall of Presidents. Here, life-size and lifelike figures of all 36 Presidents here in the early 1970s (Grover Cleveland was elected twice nonconsecutively) are seen on stage together in a striking production that blends the amazing Disney "Audio-Animatronics" system with a new motion picture process. Also in Libery Square is the eerie, foreboding Haunted Mansion, home of 999 of the strangest and most fun-loving ghouls, ghosts, and goblins ever assembled. Overlooking a riverbank in "deathly splendor," The Haunted Mansion resembles the nightmare architecture of Edgar Allan Poe: gloomy granite laced with wrought iron, a dagger-shaped belfry, and a gargoyled doorway that looks like the entrance to a massive tomb. Guests brave enough to enter find an array of lively spirits that seem to appear and disappear "supernaturally."









It's now time for us to head to Liberty Square and visit this patriotic land themed after colonial America as it appeared here in the 1970s. I can't wait to see the Haunted Mansion and the "talking Presidents" attractions...








Cinderella Castle, towering some 18 stories above the Magic Kingdom, forms the entrance to the happiest land of all, Fantasyland. Here, Peter Pan, Snow White, Alice from Wonderland, Mr. Toad, and many other well-known Disney characters "come to life" in their own special attractions. Other highlights of Fantasyland include: "It's a Small World;" "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea;" and "The Mickey Mouse Revue."








The "Revue" is a very special visit with 86 of Walt Disney's most memorable characters. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pluto, Goofy, and all the gang are on stage "in person" to sing songs and play such familiar tunes as "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah". What do you say we go see a show...








Now that we've seen The Mickey Mouse Revue, let's check out what else Fantasyland has to offer...










What a day it has been here at this new Vacation Kingdom. The sun is beginning to set in the sky creating a whole new environment for us to explore. Walt Disney World at night is certainly a special time. It's like the entire resort just transformed into a whole new world. Evenings in the Magic Kingdom and around Walt Disney World here in the early years effortlessly evoke sophistication, and means starlight, dancing, and high quality music acts.



















What would it be like to walk this new "Vacation Kingdom of the World" under the stars in the 1970s? Let's discover the answer to that question for ourselves...








What a day it has been! Walt Disney World really is tangible proof that man's most valuable single asset is his imagination and his ability to dream. When we are able to share that dream with others, we truly create a world like no other.







"You can dream, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world," Walt Disney once said, "but it requires people to make the dream a reality." Whenever we visit Walt Disney World, we really do become one of those people.









*******







Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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