Featured Attractions

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Florida Project: Walt Goes East

While Roy Disney hated his brother’s plans for an experimental prototype community, he loved the idea of building another Disneyland back east. Despite Roy’s initial doubts, DISNEYLAND had brought financial security to Walt Disney Productions. Building a second park seemed like a no-brainer. As a result, he enthusiastically began lining up financing, hopeful that he could convince his brother that his plans for a real city were not feasible. Meanwhile, Walt Disney began taking on projects at the 1964 New York World’s Fair to prove that his attractions could be successful outside of his Magic Kingdom in Anaheim.

Walt Disney lined up an impressive slate of projects, like the General Electric Carousel of Progress, a unique revolving audio animatronic show that featured an engaging show that amazed audiences and featured the song that its legendary writers considered to be an unofficial Walt Disney anthem- There’s A Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow. 

Another amazing pavilion was Ford’s Magic Journey, a ride through attraction that allowed guests to get behind the wheel of a Ford and ride through elaborate animatronic scenes featuring the past, present and future of the world.

The final project that Walt Disney planned to oversee was Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, a jaw dropping animatronic show featuring Walt’s favorite President- Abraham Lincoln- who would literally come back to life in a sophisticated, reverent presentation.

With these projects, plus the ones taking place at DISNEYLAND, plus the secret planning for a possible Florida project, Walt Disney Imagineering had its hands full. Meanwhile, PepsiCo was involved in a power struggle. After the death of its chairman Alfred Steele, his widow, the Hollywood actress Joan Crawford, had insisted on taking his place on the board of the company. When the company pledged to build a fundraising attraction for UNICEF at the World’s Fair, the warring factions on the board couldn’t agree on what the attraction should be or who should build it for them. Confronted by the PR department, who felt not having the promised attraction would be a black eye for the company, the board agreed to authorize Joan Crawford to approach her Hollywood friend Walt Disney to see if he could put something together. The result was the classic attraction it’s a small world.

The attractions were a smash success. Three of them- General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and it’s a small world moved out west to DISNEYLAND and Walt was emboldened to take his ideas for EPCOT and Disneyland East to the public.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Florida Project: An Experimental City

As DISNEYLAND became a worldwide sensation, Walt Disney was pressured to try to replicate his Magic Kingdom elsewhere. At first, he was resistant. He didn’t see the point in making a copy of his beloved DISNEYLAND. After seeing Anaheim’s mistakes in managing the area around his park, however, Walt began to think bigger than just building another theme park. He wanted to build a model city.

Walt figured that if cities weren’t willing to move forward with mass transit, cleaner energy and more modern ways of living, he’d have to show them how to do it. Originally he thought that he could buy thousands of acres near Palm Springs, California and construct his experimental city there.  His brother Roy, however, thought it was a terrible idea. Roy called up his friend Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA and Universal Studios to try to talk some sense into his brother.

Why would Roy want Lew to talk to Walt? As the head of Universal Studios, Lew had inherited a headache called Universal City. Setup by studio founder Carl Laemmle, Universal City was an actual privately owned and incorporated city surrounded by Burbank and Los Angeles. It began life as a publicity stunt, but by the 1960’s it had become a mess that Lew was trying to clean up. Lew told Walt about his problems with infrastructure, resources and zoning issues. Carl Laemmle had originally setup the municipality to give his studio more freedom in building whatever it liked and also for the publicity having his own city would bring. Lew insisted that Walt wouldn’t really want these problems- and besides, wouldn’t a “Disney City” in Palm Springs take away business from DISNEYLAND?

Walt seemed to take his conversation with Lew seriously, but he didn’t take away the lesson that Roy hoped he’d learn. Walt realized that people probably wouldn’t go to his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow unless there was something else to attract them to it. He also didn’t want to take business away from DISNEYLAND. Walt would decide to look East for a place with cheap land far away from DISNEYLAND. He turned his eyes to Florida.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Florida Project: A Better Future

DISNEYLAND’s success brought the world to Anaheim, California. The park’s visitors marveled at how clean and wonderful Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom was. The city tried to put its best foot forward to attract new residents and visitors.

Unfortunately, the reality didn’t match what Walt Disney had dreamed of. The City of Anaheim squandered its opportunity to develop the land surrounding DISNEYLAND in a way that complemented the park. They approved incompatible projects adjacent to the park like tract housing that would later become blighted and cheap motels that would turn into eyesores. 

While Walt Disney hadn’t solely opened DISNEYLAND just to make money, he eventually grew bitter about the outside businesses that were profiting off of his dream. That money could have gone into improving his Magic Kingdom. Instead it was going into the pockets of the very people whose fly by night operations had turned the area around the park into what Mr. Disney described as a “second rate Las Vegas.”

Inside the park, Tomorrowland pointed to the great big beautiful tomorrow that could be our shared future- seemingly far removed from the mess that Anaheim had made of the surrounding area. Walt had hoped that guests would be inspired by what they saw in Tomorrowland and take those ideas home to demand sleek mass transportation like the DISNEYLAND Monorail. Unfortunately, DISNEYLAND’s use of alternative transportation concepts made it easy for skeptics to ridicule any attempt to improve transportation by deriding it as just a “DISNEYLAND ride”. 

Walt Disney soon realized that he would have to present his futuristic ideas in a more realistic setting to get others to see them as practical. That’s when he started to dream about an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow- EPCOT.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Florida Project: An Orange Grove in Anaheim

Disney World’s roots can be traced back to before DISNEYLAND even opened back in 1955. When Walt Disney first began planning out DISNEYLAND, he found few people who believed in the project. Even his brother Roy doubted its feasibility and only signed onto the project to gain the trademark rights to the Walt Disney name. This meant that Walt couldn’t buy as much land as he wanted. When DISNEYLAND was under construction, Walt would often take his wealthy Hollywood friends out to the site to see what he was building and to try to convince them to buy up the surrounding land. He found no takers, even after he promised that once DISNEYLAND became profitable, he’d buy the land off of them. As DISNEYLAND’s opening day grew near, it was obvious that the surrounding area would not be controlled by Walt Disney Productions.

In a last ditch effort to create an attractive tourism area around the park, Walt Disney appealed to the city of Anaheim to create a special zone around the park which would control the look and feel of what he thought was sure to be a bustling tourist district. The city, however, seemed  to approve any structure that didn’t immediately collapse, much to the chagrin of Walt Disney. This situation was made worse by the fact that most of the earliest business owners who decided to take the risk and open up near DISNEYLAND were smaller operators who couldn’t afford large parcels of land. Anaheim was willing to divide up parcels in any required size, which made for a mishmash of oddly sized properties that would prove to be difficult to sell or buy in the distant future.

By the time that DISNEYLAND was a huge success, the area around it was a tacky mess, and Walt Disney was powerless to clean it up or improve it. While the city of Anaheim has sometimes blamed the problems in its resort area on DISNEYLAND’s explosive success having caught it off guard and unprepared, it actually had every opportunity to prevent them from occurring had it listened to Mr. Disney to begin with. 

While Walt Disney received huge pressure to expand his theme park empire to other cities, he completely resisted it- at first. One look at the real world just outside the gates of his Magic Kingdom made him consider the possibilities of a second attraction- though he was not interested in just building a theme park or a vacation resort. He wanted to build an actual city of his own.

Friday, October 1, 2021

The Florida Project: Before the Beginning

When Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park opened on October 1, 1971, it was billed as Walt Disney’s final dream come true; a dream that became reality due to the determination of a devoted brother who believed in his brother’s dreams and always helped bring them to life. It was an inspiring story, trumpeted by Disney public relations around the world, repeated as fact over fifty years and accepted as the truth by the millions of guests who pour into the company’s massive vacation complex each year. The truth, however, is a bit more complex.

Walt Disney World, as we know it, reflects very little of Walt Disney’s actual plans for the 14,000 acres of Florida swampland that he purchased in the mid 1960’s. While Walt Disney did have plans for a place called EPCOT, it wasn’t a theme park and the “Magic Kingdom” was originally supposed to be an exact clone of DISNEYLAND, but with “more water”. 

In fact, a more accurate name for the Orlando complex might have been “Roy Disney World”. To mark the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, we’ll tell the story behind the “Vacation Kingdom”- how it came to be, what it would have looked like if Walt Disney hadn’t passed away and how it morphed into what it is today. Join us every Friday as we tell the story of the “Florida Project”.