Main Street USA. Cinderella’s Castle. Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland. What do all these places have in common? Well, Walt Disney World, of course! And that’s just the beginning of the wonderful world of Disney delights!
This conglomeration of theme parks serves as the world’s playground. It never ceases to amaze me how many people come to visit the Floridian compound when there are now Disney dynasties that are quite similar all around the world. Yet, there is something different about the Florida model.
When Walter Elias Disney, better known as Walt to his friends and employees, was designing the Floridian parks in the 1960’s, he wanted something to simulate the success of Disneyland here on the East Coast. Additionally, he wanted something totally different; he wanted a city, a prototype city, a futuristic city really. His earliest design was to be a fully functional town with hard working people, no retirees, with full educational and recreational systems. Walt’s idea was to continually offer state-of-the-art ingenuity and industry as they were made available. Disney’s name for this new offering was to be called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow or E.P.C.O.T.(EPCOT) for short. For most, this name is very familiar! However, the EPCOT city of Walt’s dreams never came to be.
While the parks were still under construction, Walt Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer which ultimately caused complications to his circulatory system. It was this complication that brought on his untimely demise on December 15, 1966.
By Arthur Dark [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
After his death, Walt’s brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney, continued ‘walking in Walt’s shoes’ to complete the Walt Disney World Theme Park as a tribute to his brother’s memory.
At the time of the Grand Opening, which was on October 25, 1971, the Magic Kingdom was the only Disney park open. There was a soft opening of the park on October 1, 1971, but not all the exhibits and rides were completed. The cost of park admission on opening day: $3.50! It was Walt’s dream to have an amusement park that was clean, family-friendly, and had something of interest for the whole family, including the grown-ups! Additionally, he wanted to offer all this at an affordable price so that as many families as possible could enjoy the fun in the sun. A lofty goal but brother Roy saw to it that Walt’s dream came to fruition.
Why all this Disney history? Because to understand today’s Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Parks you must first understand the man and his story that created all that history. Walt Disney was a true family man, creative, talented, driven, yet a dreamer that took those lofty dreams and turned them into realities. He invited the people of the world to join him as his dreams and aspirations began to unfold. Through cutting-edge animation, dynamic characters and pioneering those magical, Walt Disney theme parks, Disney, even long after his passing, has taken us through 89+ years of magic (Mickey Mouse turns 90 yrs old on November 18, 2018).
What was Walt’s secret to the magic he created? Commitment, high standards, dedication to his work and family, love of people, and love of the job. Walt loved being ‘one of the guys’ in his company. He was ‘Walt’ to everyone. His company was his life during the day. The other half of his busy life was his family. He did make time for his wife and children. His standards were as high at home as they were on the job. His other secret to success was his brother Roy O Disney. Roy was the down-to-earth brother in the family as much as Walt was the dreamer. He was also the ‘money man”. He helped Walt make financing happen for the studio. They were an awesome team, those Disney brothers. They didn’t always ‘see eye to eye’ on everything but they did work those differences out. They remained partners throughout Walt’s life. With several committed employees, financial investors and a few fiduciary institutions behind them over the years, the Disney brothers were the heart and soul of the Disney magic that we have come to know and love.
Walter Elias Disney has left a legacy of love that is unparalleled. His legacy transcends time and place, it surpasses people and cultures. His legacy of love for families everywhere impassions every heart of parent and child that it touches. Though Walt certainly had his faults, he is one of my biggest heroes. He brought smiles and happiness to generations of families, children and adults alike. And anyone who can leave a legacy of love like that gets my undying admiration and respect for a job well done. Kudos to you Walt!
Till we meet again! Have a magical day and may all your dreams come true!
Footnote: Information on Walt Disney, Roy Disney, Disney family, Disney Studios or any and all Disney production/theme park-related information was based on:
“Walt Disney: the triumph of the American imagination” by Neal Gabler and
“Walt Disney: An American Original” by Bob Thomas