To mark Walt Disney World's
30th anniversary, a look at the Magic Kingdom's most popular attractions
Thirty years ago today, Walt Disney
World opened its Magic Kingdom. Ever since, the Orlando resort
hasn't stopped growing for a second. The Magic Kingdom is now just one of
four Disney World theme parks, with countless other amusements both on the
property as well as a short drive down the Interstate.
Ironically, 1971's centerpiece attractionthe Magic Kingdomremains
the biggest draw in town. What's most popular inside the Magic Kingdom,
however, has changed dramatically.
Top Attractions 1971
It's interesting to note the types of rides that were the biggest draws
30 years ago. Half of them were remakes of popular, highly publicized
attractions at Disneyland. Half were located in Fantasyland, although none
was strictly a kiddie ride; all six could be equally enjoyed by adults and
As well, most made heavy use of audio animatronics, a still-evolving
technology which in the years ahead would decrease in use (due in part to
their high cost) and, once the novelty wore off, in popularity (due in
part to their low "repeatability;" animatronic presentations
don't change from performance to performance).
6. Hall of Presidents. This show featuring every U.S.
president was originally proposed for Disneyland in the late 1950s, but
Anaheim would end up with only an animatronic Abe Lincoln. Disney World
got all 37 presidents. Early visitors were awe-struck.
There was the rare detractor. Noted one critic from a Toronto
newspaper: "If you're a Canadian, keep your distance from this one.
It's a schmaltzy, drum-beating piece of nationalism which could only be
stomached by flag-waving middle Americans."
Sadly, the attraction's popularity mirrored that of Disneyland's one-
bot-show: after captivating audiences in their first years, attendance
plummeted. Of all the original 35 attractions opened at the Magic
Kingdom in 1971, the Hall of Presidents is the one still in existence
that has suffered the largest decline in popularity.
5. Haunted Mansion. All the publicity for the opening of the
Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, just two years before, was still fresh in
The ride is both fun and spooky (but not too spooky), appealing to
all audiences. Touted one 1971 reviewer: "This is a beaut of a
ride, guaranteed to send shivers up the spine of adults and children
alike, but not scare the wits out of you."
4. Mickey Mouse Revue. Most Disney World visitors probably
don't remember this charming animatronic revue. It ran for less than 10
years and has been gone for more than 20 years. A cast of 87 Disney
characters performed selections of classic Disney tunes, with the
orchestra led by maestro Mickey.
An Opening Day newspaper columnist pegged its popularity: the
attraction guaranteed that kids could see Mickey. "Mickey Mouse,
after all, was the one who started all this extravagant nonsense, so a
visit to Disney World without seeing Mickey himself is like a hamburger
without French fries," he wrote.
Such wisdom makes you wonder why more Disney parks don't have Mickey
Mouse rides. (Tokyo Disneyland has the most popular one: Disney World's
transplanted Mickey Mouse Revue.)
3. It's a Small World. After opening at Disneyland five years
before, this ride was a proven winner. "It's completely enchanting
for both young and old," gushed one reviewer.
Interestingly, Disney World's attraction packs them in despite a
rather ordinary entrance; Disneyland's eye-catching facade was recreated
for the Tokyo and Paris versions.
2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Modest capacity didn't
prevent the Magic Kingdom's submarine voyage from attracting long lines
from opening till close. The ride remained popular for 23 years, until
it was mothballed due to high operational and maintenance costs.
Although the subs arrived in Fantasyland several days before the
park's grand opening, last minute mechanical problems kept them from
surfacing for the public until two weeks later.
1. Country Bear Jamboree. It's difficult for the average fan
to fathom that when the Magic began, this animatronic revue was the most
popular attraction in the park. "Bear Band" proved to be the
Magic Kingdom's first stand-out hit, becoming the first Disney World
attraction to be copied at another park.
Disneyland, of course, was expecting a similar response, so rushed to
open its version less than six months later. Disneyland even built two
theaters instead of one to double capacity and gave the bears their own
land, Bear Country. It was space that wasn't needed, since the show
never really caught on out West, playing to half-full houses until it
closed for good last month.
Top Attractions -2001
My, times have changed, and so have the Magic Kingdom's most popular
rides. People today operate at a faster pace and have shorter attention
spans. As such, today's faves are a much more thrilling bunch. Half of
them, in fact, have minimum height requirements.
6. It's a Small World. The one holdover from the 1971 list may
have become an object of derision over the years, but it remains a
must-see attraction for first-time visitors. Its high capacity doesn't
5. Pirates of the Caribbean. Ironically, this is one of two
star attractions in Anaheim that Disney was determined not to build in
Orlando. They thought an old West version, called Western River
Expedition, might prove more exotic to the Southeast. But visitors kept
complaining, "Where are the pirates?" So, two years later, the
pirates finally arrived.
Although it's animatronic, it remains popular for the same reasons
that keep Small World humming: its classic status, wealth of detail, and
its high capacity.
4. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Thunder Mesa, which was
supposed to contain Western River Expedition, in time gave way to
another copy from Disneyland, this Old West-themed roller coaster.
3. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. It's fresh, it's based
on a popular character, and it's a lot of fun. Most of all, its
interactive nature keeps guests returning over and over again. The
ultimate in a high repeatability attraction.
2. Splash Mountain. Technically, Splash Mountain might be
considered an animatronic attraction, but that's not why it's so
popular; at its heart is a swift flume ride with a stunning drop. Splash
opened at Disney World three years to the day after opening at
1. Space Mountain. The unique roller coaster sends riders
hurtling through star-lit darkness, not only simulating a wild ride
through space, but also making it difficult for riders to anticipate
turns and drops so they can brace themselves.
The other classic Disneyland attraction purposely omitted from the Magic
Kingdom was the Matterhorn, since plans were already under way to build
Space Mountain instead. Right out of the gate, Space Mountain becameand
remainsthe Magic Kingdom's most popular attraction and, of course,
inspired Space Mountains in Anaheim, Tokyo and Paris.
Don't be surprised if it still tops the list of Top Attractions 30
years from now.
Note: inclusion and ranking of the attractions are not based on actual
ridership figures, but on news accounts and the opinions of long-time
You can write to David atthis link..
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.
You can contact David here.
Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.
Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)