Celebrating Four Decades at Walt Disney World: Part IV

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

Here we are on the eve of the Walt Disney World Resort's 40th anniversary. Happy Birthday, Walt Disney World!

In my previous articles, I showcased the first, second and third decades of Walt Disney World. This week we are showcasing the fourth decade.

Again, I've tried to use as many official, as well as unofficial, resources as possible in putting this together. Am I missing an event? Do I have a date wrong? Please share your knowledge with us so we can build the best timeline possible. Moreover, help us celebrate this decade by sharing your favorite memories of new attractions that opened during this time.

Let's look at these next 10 years. It doesn't compare with the Disney Decade, but nearly every year something major happens. It's not the opening of a new park, but it's enough to keep Walt Disney World above its competitors.


Summary: It's a recession. Times have slowed attendance in the park. Disney tries cutting back to get through it all. And then there's the events of Sept. 11.

Key Events:

April: "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--—Play It!" opens on Mickey Avenue at Disney-MGM Studios. This effectively concludes the days of a walking backstage production tour.

Artistic details abound in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

April: Disney's Port Orleans and Dixie Landings resorts merge to become Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter and Port Orleans Resort-Riverside, respectively.

April 16: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge opens

May: The Magic Carpets of Aladdin opens in the Magic Kingdom

June: Epcot showcases "The Power of Blast!" as its summer series lineup.

July: Magic Masters opens at Downtown Disney West Side. Motion opens at Pleasure Island.

September 11: All Four Walt Disney World theme parks close early (approximately 11 a.m.) as a response to the terror attacks that were taking place at the World Trade Center in New York City, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

October: Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, takes up a new home at the Disney-MGM Studios. Nearby, "Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage!" opens, as well.

October: Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama! Featuring the TriceraTop Spin opens in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

October: The Walt Disney World Resort begins a property-wide 100 Years of Magic celebration. A new Sorcerer Mickey hat is built at the end of Hollywood Boulevard at the Disney-MGM Studios. Four new or adapted parades open in all four parks. "Mickey's Jammin' Jungle" at Disney's Animal Kingdom; "Share a Dream Come True" at the Magic Kingdom; "Disney's Stars and Motor Cars" at Disney-MGM Studios; and "Tapestry of Nations" becomes "Tapestry of Dreams" at Epcot.


Summary: Things are still in a slump, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11. With the opening of Primeval Whirl, Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama! becomes a symbol of creative droughts and budget crunching. Still, Disney puts the best face on it by pushing on with the 100 Years of Magic Celebration.

Key Highlights: The 100 Years of Magic celebration continues throughout 2002.

April 18: Primeval Whirl opens in Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama! at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A controversial attraction since opening—Primeval Whirl and the entire Dino-Rama experience.

June 1: Thanks to more guest feedback, Journey Into Imagination with Figment is once again re-imagined.

July: The Beach Club Villas are added to Disney's Beach Club Resort

August: Once Upon a Toy opens at Downtown Disney with a grand opening event. Disney's Pin Traders and Disney's Wonderful World of Memories are also added to Downtown Disney Marketplace.

December 31: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror debuts a new drop sequence. It is the fourth show enhancement since opening. Now all ride sequences are unique and random.


Summary: A major new attraction opens at Epcot, while a new value-priced resort opens as another option for families on a budget. Even Fantasyland gets a major new attraction. Attendance starts rebuilding.

Key Events:

A newly revised luau opens this year at Disney's Polynesian Resort: Disney's Spirit of Aloha

January: The 10th annual Walt Disney World Marathon is held, celebrating and honoring 149 runners who participated in all previous nine marathon events.

July 1: Goofy's Country Dancin' Jamboree, opens at the Diamond Horseshoe saloon as a country music party.

August 15: Mission: SPACE opens in Future World at Epcot. Grand opening and dedication festivities take place October 9.

Mission SPACE. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

August 28-September 1: The first Tom Joyner Family Reunion is kicked off. During this time, Magical Gatherings is announced, which is designed to provided focused products and services to large groups and families.

September 30: Mickey's PhilharMagic opens at the Fantasyland Theater.


Donald in the center of Mickey's PhilharMagic. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.


November 18: The 75th anniversary of Mickey Mouse is marked with 75 6-feet-tall, 700-pound Mickey Mouse statues designed by 75 celebrities, actors, athletes, musicians and artists.

December: Basin and Wetzel's Pretzels open at Downtown Disney.

December: "Wishes" makes it's debut at the Magic Kingdom

December 14: Pop Century Resort opens with rooms themed to the latter-half of the 20th century.


Summary: With three major hurricanes passing over the Walt Disney World Resort, you would think it couldn't be worse. But another storm is brewing, and this one revolves around Michael Eisner and the Studios in Burbank, Calif.

Key Highlights:

March 3: Michael Eisner receives a 43.4 percent no confidence vote in the annual shareholder meeting.

March 19: Earl of Sandwich opens at Downtown Disney Marketplace

May: Mission: SPACE Race Online debuts at Epcot. This is the first time guests at home can connect with in-park guests in a game at a Disney theme park.

May 17: Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa opens, with dedication festivities occurring on May 27.

July 1: Disney Tails opens at Downtown Disney Marketplace.

July 31-Aug 1: Disney-MGM Studios hosts the first-ever ESPN the Weekend, in celebration of ESPN's 25th anniversary.

August 13: The parks are closed early in preparation for Hurricane Charley.

August: The 20-acre Hess Sports Fields were added as the first major expansion to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

September: Echoes of Africa premieres as the first exhibit in the new American Heritage Gallery in The American Adventure Pavilion at Epcot.

September 3: Parks operate on an abbreviated schedule to prepare for the second major storm of the season, Hurricane Frances. All of the parks were closed on September 4-5. Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom remained closed September 6 as well.

September 25: Hurricane Jeanne also comes through Central Florida. Walt Disney World was able to reopen the day after.

November 16: Stitch's Great Escape! opens in place of Alien Encounter in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. Also, Turtle Talk With Crush, offering real-time interactive animation, opens. Also Bruce's Shark World opens, bringing new life to The Living Seas at Epcot.

November: Magic of Disney Animation is re-imagined with a different guest experience.

December: Disney's PhotoPass system is introduced to guests in the parks and resorts.


Summary: It's really Disneyland's 50th anniversary, but Walt Disney World got plenty of gifts in the way of new attractions and shows. In return, Disney gives its resorts guests free passage to Walt Disney World from Orlando International Airport in the form of Disney's Magical Express. Attendance is up and new management comes in to head the Walt Disney Company.

Key Highlights:

January: Goofy's Candy Company is expanded to include an interactive show kitchen.

January: "Magic Your Way" ticketing system is promoted for the first time.

March 15: Crush 'n' Gusher opens at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.


Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.


May: Cinderellabration is a new show on the steps of Cinderella Castle. It was originally shown in Tokyo Disneyland

May: Disney's Magical Express is launched allowing complimentary transportation between Orlando International Airport and The Walt Disney World Resort hotels.

May 5: Soarin' at Epcot opens. Also The Land reopens the dining area with "Seasons" counter service and dining experience. Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show brings a major new show to Disney-MGM Studios.

July: Hong Kong Disneyland Preview Center opens in Epcot's China Pavilion.

July: The last remaining branch of Disney's Florida Animation group is closed.

July 28: Lucky the Dinosaur's last day at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

August: Studios Catering Co. Flatbread Grill opened at the Disney-MGM Studios with a Mediterranean-style menu.

August 1: Disney introduces a Shopping and Dining Gift Card.

September: Pooh's Playful Spot opens at the Magic Kingdom.

September 12: Hong Kong Disneyland opens.

September 30: Michael Eisner steps down from the Walt Disney Company. Bob Iger takes over.

October 21: Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant opens at Downtown Disney.

November: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge offers Lunch with Walt Disney World Animal Programs.

December 9: Journey Into Narnia: Creating the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe opens at the Disney-MGM Studios.


Summary: Disney's Animal Kingdom opens with a new mountain. Expedition Everest puts Disney's Animal Kingdom back on the map as a popular place to visit. In an unending of new promotional/marketing events, Disney announces the Year of a Milion Dreams.

Key Events:

January: Ice Station Cool in Future World is rethemed and named Club Cool.

April: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique opens at Downtown Disney.

April 7: Expedition Everest opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The crown of Disney's Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

July: Characters from Little Einsteins makes their debut at Disney-MGM Studios.

July: The Flying Dutchman, a 175- foot ghost ship becomes permanetly docked at Disney Cruise Line's private island, Castaway Cay.

July: Pirates of the Caribbean adds Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa, and a Davy Jones hologram to the attraction.

August: Playhouse Disney in Concert series debuts at Disney-MGM studios as part of the Magical Beginnings program.

August: Turf Club Bar and Grill opens at Disney's Saratoga Springs

October: Dream Along with Mickey premieres on the forecourt stage of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

October: Magic Kingdom premieres new immersive experiences during the "Year of a Millino Dreams" including Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial," "Woody's Cowboy Camp," "Let's Have a Ball" and the "Main Street Family Fun Day Parade."

October: All-Star Music Resort opens 214 value-priced family suites.

October 4: "The Year of a Million Dreams" celebration opens with the Spangler Family of Randolph, Ohio, getting the Magic Kingdom to themselves for the morning.


Summary: The Year of a Million Dreams" campaign begins more formally in January. This includes a new advertising campaign for the Disney parks using portraits by photographer Annie Leibovitz. Epcot quietly celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Key Events:

January: The Big Blue World comes to Walt Disney World when Finding Nemo--The Musical debuts at Disney's Animal Kingdom along with The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot.

January: Disney's Pirate & Princess Party takes place in the Magic Kingdom for the first time.

January: The Fouch family of DeWitt, Mich., was the first family to stay at the Cinderella Castle Suite in the Magic Kingdom as part of The Year of a Million Dreams.

January 25: The Disney Wish Lounge opens for invited Disney Wish program guests.

March 20: Lotus Blossom Cafe in the China pavillion reopens after an extensive refurbishment.

April 2: The Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros debuts in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor opens to guests in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.

May: Fuego by Sosa Cigars opens at Downtown Disney.

May 31: Universal Studios Florida announces a brand new land to Islands of Adventure themed to Harry Potter.

July: A new Grand Marshall vehicle debuts in the daily parade at the Magic Kingdom. This allows guests with mobility difficulties to be selected as the family of the day.

July 2: Disney Vacation Club opens the first phase of Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas—Jambo House at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

August 9: Walt Disney World's president announces that the Disney-MGM Studios would be rebranded as Disney's Hollywood Studios.

September: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique opens at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.

September: The Patina Restaurant Group becomes the sponsor of the Tutto Italia Ristorante in Italy at Epcot.

September: The American Adventure offers a new exhibit featuring National Treasures from museums and foundations across the country.

September: Rawlings opens a permanent store, Rawlings Making the Game, inside Team Mickey at Downtown Disney Marketplace. It offers customizable bats, gloves, and more.

September 23: High School Musical 2: School's Out! debuts at the Studios

October: Mitsukoshi remodes two restaurants in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot under the name Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining.

October: Canada at Epcot offers a new version of O Canada! starring comedian Martin Short.

October 1: Epcot celebrates its 25th anniversary with a Silver Anniversary Ceremony at Future World Fountain Stage. Around this same time, the large wand and Mickey Sorcerer hand are removed from around Spaceship Earth.

November: Magic Kingdom introduces the stage show Cinderella's Holiday Wish and Castle Dream Lights.

November: Yak and Yeti opens as a two-story eatery in Asia at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Tusker House reopens as a buffet with a character breakfast.

November: Night of Joy celebrates its 25th year at Walt Disney World.


Summary: A quirky new ride at the new Disney's Hollywood Studios becomes the hottest attraction in the park, with wait times at more than 100 minutes and FastPasses being emptying out early in the day.

Mr. Potato Head welcomes guests to Toy Story Mania! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Key Events:

January: Walt Disney World Moms Panel debuts in an interactive online forum consisting of 12 moms.

January 7: Disney-MGM Studios officially becomes Disney's Hollywood Studios.

January 10: The"Curl surf shop by Sammy Duvall opens at Pleasure Island.

February: The Playhouse Disney--Live on Stage show is updated to feature characters from Little Einsteins and Handy Manny.

February: Spaceship Earth gets a new narrator and ending scenes.

March 14: Block Party Bash debuts at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It comes over from its previous home at Disney's California Adventure.

March 19: The Walt Disney World Boys & Girls Club opens in Orlando's Pine Hills neighborhood.

May: The Chapeau on Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom opens with a build-your-own-ear station.

May 31: Disney's Hollywood Studios opens with Toy Story Midway Mania! A similar attraction also opens at Disney's California Adventure.

June: The Wave opens at Disney's Contemporary Resort, offering a similar-style menu to Darden's Seasons 52.

June 24: Journey Into Narnia: Prince Caspian replaces the previous Narnia attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

June: Downtown Disney opens FoodQuest as a quick-service location at DisneyQuest.

September: Pixie Hollow opens at Mickey's Toontown in the Magic Kingdom, providing a meet and greet with Tinker Bell and friends.

September 24: Nine Dragons in China at Epcot reopens after being remodeled.

October: The Center for Living Well opens behind Epcot, providing cast members, Imagineers and their families a one-stop shop for primary medical services on property.

October 14: T-Rex: A prehistoric Family Adventure, A Place to Eat, Shop, Explore and Discover opens at Downtown Disney Marketplace.

October 24:  High School Musical 3: Right Here! Right Now! show opens at the Disney-MGM Studios.

November 15: Disney's Contemporary Resort opens the new Contempo Cafe, a counter service dining area.

November 15-16: Final ABC Super Soap Weekend takes place

Fall: Josten's Center opens at Disney's Wide World of Sports

December 8: Disney's Design-a-Tee opens at the Downtown Disney Marketplace.

December: Disney partners with GoogleEarth to create a virtual walk through of Walt Disney World.

December: Walt Disney World closes all nightclubs at Downtown Disney Pleasure Island, among them the BET Soundstage Club, Mannequins, 8Trax, Comedy Warehouse, Adventurers Club and Motion.

December 9: Portobello reopens at the Downtown Disney Marketplace after being transformed into an Italian trattoria.

December 31: Disney ends its Year of a Million Dreams Celebration.


Summary. The country heads into a big economic recession. People are cutting back everywhere. In an effort to get people out to the parks in a Disney hosts a program where guest get free park admission on their birthdays. Additionally, a number of new and reimagined attractions open around the parks. Then tragically, a tragic accident results in the loss of a young Disney cast member on the Monorail beams.

Key Events:

January: Kim Possible recruits volunteers to save Epcot for a host of villains using Kimmunicators.

February 12: Grand opening of the American Idol Experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

April 10: Characters in Flight, opens at Downtown Disney.

April 19: Space Mountain closes for refurbishment.

May: Sanaa restaurant opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

May 1: Kidani Village opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World. The Animal Kingdom Lodge building itself is renamed Jambo House.

May 6: Stich's SuperSonic Celebration officially opens in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.

May 31: Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney closes.

July 3: The Hall of Presidents officially reopens in the Magic Kingdom, with new speeches by Barack Obama and George Washington.

On July 4, Disney hosts the citizenship ceremonies for 1,000 new Americans. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

July 4: Two monorails collide resulting in the death of 21-year-old Disney cast member Austin Wuennenberg.

August: Via Napoli opens as a new restaurant in Italy at Epcot.

August 4: Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort opens as part of Disney Vacation Club.

Bay Lake Towers joins the original Contemporary Resort. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

August 23: Jay Rasulo formally announces a major expansion for Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, along with a new Star Tours attraction.

October 3: A ticker-tape parade is held for Buzz Lightyear at the Magic Kingdom to celebrate his return from 15 months in the International Space Station.

October 14: The Sum of All Thrills, sponsored by Raytheon, opens at Innoventions at Epcot.

November 13: Space Mountain reopens with a new queue, rail, special effects, and post show.


Summary: Disney launches "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" program with overwhelming response in the first few months. Still the remainder of the year seems very quiet. The economy seems very much in the slump. Making things worse, Universal's the Wizarding World of Harry Potter takes away guests from Walt Disney World.

Tom Staggs at the "Give a Day" press event not long after being made chairman of Disney's Parks and Resorts. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Key Events:

January 29: IBM's redesigned "Smarter Planet" opens in Innovention at Epcot

February 25: Disney's Wide World of Sports becomes ESPN's Wide World of Sports.

May 12: Disney's Art of Animation is announced as a new Value Resort in the Disney's Hollywood Studio Resort Area.

June 18: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opens at Islands of Adventure.

June 23: Disney's Golden Oak residential development is announced.

July 2: Captain EO returns to Epcot.

September 7: The original Star Tours offers final flights to those in attendance.

September 15: La Cantina de San Angel reopens along side of the new Hacienda de San Angel.

November: A new interactive queue awaits guests at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

November: Pollo Campero opens at Downtown Disney. It also serves symbolically to replace much of the presence of McDonalds at Disney.

November 18: Hyperion Wharf is announced as a new project to replace Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney.


Summary: With the exception of the Disney Dream, the year seems fairly quiet for what is the eve of Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary. Fans are especially disappointed when D23 comes and goes and little is mentioned of Walt Disney World. Everyone is excited for the new Fantasyland, but what of the other parks? All that changes on September 20, when Disney announces that James Cameron's Avatar is going to be a major addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Key Events:

January 6: The Disney Wonder leaves Florida for its new home on the West Coast,

January 27: The new Disney Dream, the first of two new Disney Cruise Line ships, sets sail.

The Disney Dream at sea.

March: Guests begin entering the new interactive Haunted Mansion queue in the Haunted Mansion.

April: Town Square Theater opens in the Magic Kingdom, creating a new meet and  greet location for Mickey, Minnie, and the Disney Princesses.

May 20: Star Tours: The Adventure Continues formally opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

May 29: Phineas and Ferb take up residence at Disney's Hollywood Studios with a new meet and greet interactive experience.

July: Lightning McQueen and Mater join Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

July: Tinker Bell and her Pixie Hollow friends take up a new home in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom.

August 29: Disney Vacation Club opens the Aulani resort on Oahu, Hawaii.

September 10: Chronicles of Narnia finally closes at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

September 6: Sorcerers in The Magic Kingdom, a new interactive experience is being created.

September 20: Disney announces that James Cameron's Avatar will become the next major land for Disney's Animal Kingdom. Between new cruise ships, a new Fantasyland, and now Avatar, the next few years at Walt Disney World look to be very promising.

October 1: Walt Disney World is now 40 years old! What an amazing 40 years! Despite its quieter times, this resort goes from a swamp to become premier family resort attraction in the world. Who would have thought a swamp would become the ultimate vacationing experience? I guess Walt Disney did.

Do you have favorite Disney memories, especially of the last several years? Share them with us.

Happy Birthday Walt Disney World!