In the previous article, we showcased the first Walt Disney World decade. In celebrating the resort's 40th anniversary, we offer Part II of its history. Again, I've tried to use as many official, as well as unofficial, resources as possible in gathering this chronology. Am I missing an event? Do I have a date wrong? Share with us your knowledge so we can build the best timeline possible.
It might have been called Walt Disney World from the beginning, but it was really the second decade of 1982-1991 where Walt Disney World and all of Central Florida transitioned from largely being an East Coast Disneyland to becoming a world-wide destination. It is really a decade with two book ends: The opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, and the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios along with Pleasure Island and Typhoon Lagoon in 1989. Along the way are many additional resorts, attractions, and facilities added both in and outside of the Walt Disney World Resort.
Summary: "To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome."
E. Cardon Walker, the chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, dedicates EPCOT Center. Shortly thereafter, he would step down as CEO, leaving Ron Miller, Walt Disney's son-in-law, to take over the operation of the company. Change is in the air.
October 1: Grand Opening of EPCOT Center. Spaceship Earth is dedicated. Connecting to EPCOT Center is a new four mile stretch of the Walt Disney World Monorail System.
October 3: China is dedicated.
October 4: Universe of Energy is dedicated.
October 5: World of Motion is dedicated.
October 6: The Land is dedicated.
October 11-12: The American Adventure is dedicated.
October 13: Canada is dedicated
October 14: Italy is dedicated.
October 15: Germany is dedicated.
October 18: Communicore is dedicated.
October 19: United Kingdom is dedicated.
October 20: Japan and France are both dedicated.
October 22-24: EPCOT Center Grand Opening Dedication Ceremony. This includes the first presentation on October 23 of Carnivale de Lumiere, which celebrates world festivals with fountains, film, fireworks, music, and other effects. The original show could only be viewed from points between the Mexico and Canada pavilions.
December 4: Journey Into Imagination is dedicated.
December 13: Mexico is dedicated, along with El Rio del Tiempo.
December 23: The EPCOT Center Poll asks guests their opinions on current events and issues.
Summary: EPCOT Center is the dominant subject of this year, having just opened a few months prior to the new year. New attractions would be added, including Horizons on the park's first anniversary.
March 3: Buena Vista Palace Resort opens in Village Hotel Plaza.
March 8: President Ronald Reagan visits EPCOT Center. Vice President Bush will visit on June 3.
April 7: Walt Disney World welcomes its 150 millionth guest, Carrie Stahl.
May 26: The EPCOT Outreach and Teacher Center opens in Communicore West.
June 11: Refreshment Outpost snack bar opens in World Showcase.
Summer: The "New World Fantasy" becomes the 2nd version of an EPCOT Center fireworks show, with music played on synthesizer.
August: Plaza Swan Boats discontinue sailing at the Magic Kingdom.
October 1: Horizons opens in Future World, sponsored by General Electric.
October 2: Ground is broken for the Living Seas, sponsored by United Technologies
November 18: Hilton at the Village opens as the sixth resort in the Village Hotel Plaza.
December 16: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party premieres at the Magic Kingdom.
December 16: Medieval Times Dinner Tournament opens in Kissimmee.
December 25: ABC airs Walt Disney World's Very Merry Christmas Parade for the first time with Joan Lunden and Mike Douglas hosting. For the first several years it would be a live broadcast.
Other: The first Night of Joy is held at the Magic Kingdom.
Summary: The most important events of this year of Walt Disney World's history would not happen in Florida. Rather, they would be a set of events that would oust the former executive team and replace them with Michael Eisner as chairman and CEO, along with Frank Wells as president and COO. By the time they tour Walt Disney World for the first time, things would never be quite the same.
Jan 2: The Astuter Computer Revue show in EPCOT Computer Central closes.
May 19: Donald Duck's 50th birthday celebration premieres at the Magic Kingdom with a parade and 50 real ducks.
June 3: Bistro de Paris opens upstairs at the France pavilion in World Showcase.
June 9: EPCOT Center hosts World Fest and nighttime show Laserphonic Fantasy.
July 12: Show Biz Is premieres in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.
September 7: Morocco opens as the 10th World Showcase pavilion. It is sponsored by the Mohamed Belhami, the Minister of Tourism.
September 15: American Journeys premieres, replacing America the Beautiful.
September 16: Restaurant Marrakesh opens in the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase.
September 24: Big Thunder Shooting Gallery opens, changing the arcade experience into one using infrared technology.
November: Country Bear Christmas Special debuts at the Country Bear Jamboree in the Magic Kingdom.
Summary: Eisner and Wells begin to catch a glimpse of the possibilities in Walt Disney World. New hotels and attractions begin to be designed and expanded on, including an attraction for EPCOT Center's Future World about movies that looks so promising, Eisner feels it should be a park in and of itself.
April 7: The Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade premieres on ABC-TV with Joan Lunden and Rick Dees as the first hosts. NBC Radio begins regular broadcasts from Magic Kingdom.
April: Disney-MGM Studios plans are unveiled in Tallahassee by Florida Governor Bob Graham, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.
Memorial Day Weekend: Due to a frigid Presidential Inaugural in January, the parade event is re-staged with 21 bands at EPCOT Center for President Ronald Reagan.
Summer: Radio City Music Hall Rockettes join Mickey Mouse at EPCOT Center through the summer as part of the Star Spangled Summer celebration. At the Magic Kingdom, Tinker Bell begins nightly flights from Cinderella Castle.
July 20: Walt Disney welcomes Virgil Waytes, Jr. as its 200 millionth guest.
August 31: Late in the day, the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center close early due to the incoming Hurricane Elena.
September 24: Lotus Blossom Cafe opens at the China pavilion in World Showcase.
October 23: Nine Dragons Restaurant opens in the China pavilion in World Showcase.
Groundbreaking events are held for Norway at EPCOT Center.
The Polynesian Village Resort, Golf Resort and Fort Wilderness Campground expand their facilities.
Walt Disney Productions signs a licensing agreement with MGM/UA Entertainment, paving the way for the development of a third Disney theme park at Walt Disney World.
RCA's Home of Future Living closes within Space Mountain.
The daytime air & water pageant Skyleidoscope debuts.
Summary: Walt Disney World is no longer owned by a company named Walt Disney Productions, because that company's name is now the Walt Disney Company, reflecting the reality that studio production work is really only one small part of the entire organization.
January 15: The Living Seas debuts. The 5.7 million-gallon aquarium is large enough to hold Spaceship Earth. A pre-show film, The Seas; a descent in a hydrolator; a sea cab ride through the aquarium; Seabase Alpha exhibit area; and the Coral Reef restaurant complete the pavilion.
February: Country Bear Vacation Hoedown premieres at the Country Bear Jamboree in the Magic Kingdom.
February: The Golf Resort will be changed to The Disney Inn, and in May would add 150 new guestrooms.
March: Walt Disney World welcomes the 500 millionth guest to enter a Disney park, Don McGrath.
Spring: Groundbreaking is held for the Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and what would become the Pleasure Island nighttime entertainment complex.
August 18: Crockett's Tavern opens in the place of the Campfire Snack Bar at Fort Wilderness Resort.
September 12: Captain EO opens in the Magic Eye Theater at the Journey Into Imagination pavilion, sponsored by Kodak.
October 1: Walt Disney World's 15th Birthday Party is held with the world's largest press party—5,000 media and guests. Yearlong celebration will include daily giveaway of one Chevrolet Cavalier or S-10, plus an assortment of other prizes. It will continue on through September 1987.
October 1: The Diamond Horseshoe Revue ends and is renamed the Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree.
October 26: Gurgi's Munchies and Crunchies fast-food facility opens in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.
King Henry's Feast opens along I-Drive in Orlando.
Summary: If anything summarizes this year, it would be the Daredevil Circus at EPCOT Center. Truly, nothing suggested a more off-brand, out-of-touch with the public approach to running a theme park. It was at the other end of the spectrum from Captain EO, which had premiered the year previous. In truth, the concept worked with with Circus Fantasy, State Fair, and other events at Disneyland designed to bring out local crowds during the off-season. But here it didn't work.
February 14: Circus World in Haines City re-opens as Boardwalk & Baseball.
March 15: Pickett Suite Resort hotel opens in Lake Buena Vista.
April 19: Team Mickey's Athletic Club shop opens at the Walt Disney World Village.
May: The Golden Anniversary of the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was celebrated by gathering 25 young performers who had portrayed Snow White in the Magic Kingdom.
June 6: The If You Had Wings attraction at the Magic Kingdom is renamed If You Could Fly and all references to Eastern Airlines are removed with the replacement of Eastern by Delta Airlines as the resort's official airline.
July 12: Fort Liberty Dinner Show opens in Kissimmee.
October: Daredevil Circus Spectacular debuts in Future World with elephants, aerialists, "skycyclists" and high-wire walkers, and space-age dancers. It was proclaimed, "The Greatest Show in Space."
October: The Walt Disney World Information & Reservation Center opens on Interstate 75 in Ocala.
October 1: Minnie Mouse debuts in "Totally Minnie" stage show in Fantasyland.
October 2: Disney Dollars debuts both $1 and $5 dollar bills with portraits of Mickey Mouse and Goofy.
December 15: Magic Journeys opens in the Fantasyland Theater in the Magic Kingdom.
Universal Studios Florida is formally announced at a press conference in Hollywood
Celebrating the U.S. Constitution's 200th birthday, the "All-America Parade," premieres with some 17 floats representing American landmarks from sea to shining sea.
Groundbreaking ceremonies are held for Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.
Summary: For the first time in 15 years, Disney opens a Disney resort—two of them, in fact—The Grand Floridian and the Caribbean Beach Resort. This will launch what will become a massive 10-year hotel expansion program over the next decade. Those rooms will be needed—as Walt Disney World is about to expand in a major way before the end of the decade.
January 28: Groundbreaking is held for the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan Hotels.
January 30: "Illuminations" laser/fireworks/fountain musical spectacle debuts during a January press event at EPCOT Center. Meanwhile, ground is broken for MetLife's Wonders of Life pavilion in Future World.
January: Arabian Nights opens in Kissimmee.
May 6: Norway opens as the 11th World Showcase pavilion, complete with dining, shopping, and the Maelstrom water ride.
May 28: The Gulf Coast dining room at the Contemporary Resort closes.
June 18: Mickey's Birthdayland opens in the Magic Kingdom in time for Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday celebration. Four thousand underprivileged children selected by mayors of 125 U.S. and international cities, including Misha the Bear and 10 children from the Soviet Union, fly in to share a 1,000 foot birthday cake. On June 8, Nancy Reagan visits EPCOT Center and Mickey's Birthdayland for Foster Grandparents Jamboree.
June 28: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort opens with 900 rooms. In July the Beach Boys will film the music video Kokomo at the beach in front of the Grand Floridian.
June: Manatee education exhibit opens at The Living Seas pavilion.
June: Motion picture and television production gets underway at Disney-MGM Studios with TV's Win, Lose or Draw, Siskel & Ebert, Carol Burnett Special, and Superboy TV series.
October 1: Disney's Caribbean Beach resort opens the first 764 of 2,112 rooms. It becomes Disney's first moderate-level resort.
"We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was--and always will be."
So stated Michael Eisner in his dedication of the Disney-MGM Studios. Much had happened since EPCOT Center opened in 1982. It's now a very different Walt Disney World. And the major additions of this year would put Walt Disney World on the map as one of the hottest places in the world to visit. It also becomes one of the biggest single site employers in the United States.
January 26: If You Could Fly closes, as Imagineers begin modification of the attraction that they designed in conjunction with Delta Airlines. It will reopen on June 26 as Delta Dreamflight.
February: Crossroads shopping center opens in Lake Buena Vista.
March 27: The Venetian-palace themed Disney Casting Center opens between the Walt Disney World Village and I-4.
April 24: The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (MMC) show, filmed at Disney-MGM Studios, premieres on this date and would run through 1994 on The Disney Channel.
May 1: Disney-MGM Studios opens with a bang. It's the smallest Disney theme park ever built, but the attractions offered keep the gates closing early every day as millions of guests pour in to see Hollywood in a whole new way.
May 1: Pleasure Island opens with six nightclubs plus shops and restaurants. It will give Orlando's Church Street Station a run for its money.
June 1: Typhoon Lagoon opens with a 95-foot-high Miss Tilly tottering on top of Mount Mayday. Eight water slides and the coolest wave pool ever built makes this a popular new spot.
June 21: Comedian Harvey Korman greets the 300 millionth guest, Matt Gleason, at the gates of Disney-MGM Studios.
August 25: The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular premieres at the Disney-MGM Studios.
September 28: Busch buys Sea World, Boardwalk and Baseball, and Cypress Gardens from Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
October: Disney Character Hit Parade debuts in the Magic Kingdom.
October: The Walt Disney Company signs an agreement with Henson Associates Inc. for MuppetVision 3-D film adventure plus other attractions at the Disney-MGM Studios.
October 19: Wonders of Life opens in Future World with shops, food and beverage, interactive exhibits, The Making of Me, Cranium Command, and Body Wars.
November 2: Disney announces two new moderate price hotels to be called Dixie Landings and Port Orleans.
Summary: To manage attendance demands at the new Disney-MGM Studios, new attractions and facilities rapidly open. Knowing that they have a gold mine on their hands, Michael Eisner announces on January 15 a comprehensive 10-year plan for Walt Disney World known as the Disney Decade. The expansion plan would include two dozen new attractions in three theme parks, at least six new resort hotels, a Disney Vacation Club hotel offering, the residential City of Celebration and a fourth theme park. Meanwhile, the competition becomes more serious than ever as Busch has now added Sea World to its collection the year previous, and Universal Studios Florida now sets up shop.
January: Star Tours formally opens at the Disney-MGM Studios.
January 13: Walt Disney World Swan Hotel opens.
January 17: Boardwalk & Baseball in Haines City closes permanently without warning.
April: Pleasure Island introduces a nightclub/theme park concept featuring a New Year's Eve celebration and countdown every night.
April 7: The Cage nightclub opens at Pleasure Island.
April 27th: Mickey's Birthdayland now becomes Mickey's Starland. This includes Minnie's Surprise Birthday Party show being replaced by Mickey's Magical TV World show.
May 16: The world is shocked as Jim Henson suddenly passes away at the age of 53.
May 25: "Here Come the Muppets" theater show opens.
June: Dick Tracy premieres with many stars at Walt Disney World. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman lead the all-star lineup at the new AMC Theater's Pleasure Island 10 complex. Dick Tracy & the Diamond Double Cross stage musical premieres at the old Theater of the Stars adjacent to the Brown Derby.
June 4: Walt Disney World Dolphin opens.
June 7: Universal Studios Florida opens.
July: Chef Mickey's restaurant opens at the Disney Village Marketplace, replacing the former Village Restaurant.
July 1: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make daily appearances at the Disney-MGM Studios.
Fall: Construction begins on Disney's fourth and fifth championship golf courses, to be designed by all-star course architects Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.
November: "Sorcery in the Sky" fireworks opens at the Disney-MGM Studios in conjunction with Fantasia celebrating its 50th anniversary.
November 5: Disney's Yacht Club Resort opens.
November 19: Disney's Beach Club Resort debuts. To accommodate all of these hotels adjacent to World Showcase at EPCOT Center, a new International Gateway entrance is built.
December 16: The Commissary restaurant opens at Disney-MGM Studios.
December 17: "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" Movie Set Adventure opens at the Disney-MGM Studios.
Disney Mania castle show premieres.
Let's Make a Deal tapes daytime TV shows on Disney soundstages.
The Star Today program premieres bringing a star to the Disney-MGM Studios for a parade down Hollywood Boulevard, interviews, and the opportunity to create a set of hand prints. Some 35 stars will participate in the first year, to include Sally Struthers, Eddie Albert, Bert Parks, and Howie Mandel.
We leave this decade and enter the next one in a competitive mode. Walt Disney World will now not only continue to dominate Central Florida as the top Mouse in town, it will go head-to-head with locations like Las Vegas and industries like the cruise lines to become the greatest vacation destination in the world.
(Send an email to Jeff Kober)
J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) president of Performance Journeys and CEO of World Class Benchmarking, is also a thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars, and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as a "Disney at Work" series of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available via DisneyatWork.com. You can find out more about his newest book, "Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence" at LeadWithYourCustomer.com.