Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration has finally arrived! This month, rather than listing offbeat holidays and how to celebrate them at WDW – because there are already enough special things going on! – we’re listing historical events: notable firsts, closings, and more that happened in October over the course of WDW’s 50-year history (with our thanks to the “This Day In Disney History” website, a great resource for historic Disney facts).
1971: WDW opens. “On the morning of October 1, we felt like we were bracing for the D-Day invasion. I climbed into a helicopter with our Chief Operating Officer Dick Nunis, and we took off in the early morning light to check the ‘invasion.’ We both got very excited because we could see a long string of car lights coming from the city of Orlando. But, as they approached the property, they turned off at the back gate. Almost all of them were employees. Everyone else was afraid to come out of their houses. The opening day crowd was, you might say, “underwhelming.” We had almost as many employees as guests.” -Executive Vice President Card Walker
1982: EPCOT opens.
1983: The Horizons Pavilion opens in Future World at EPCOT.
1971: The Liberty Square Riverboat opens with the Admiral Joe Fowler taking its first trip around the Magic Kingdom’s Rivers of America. (The boat is named after Fowler, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who was responsible for overseeing the construction of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.)
1983: Groundbreaking for The Living Seas and Morocco pavilions at EPCOT are held.
2016: First performance of “Great Moments in American History” starring the Muppets is presented outside The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square.
1971: Peter Pan’s Flight opens in Fantasyland.
1996: EPCOT’s new “IllumiNations 25” officially debuts to the public.
1982: Fortune magazine runs an article about EPCOT called “Disney Gambles on Tomorrow,” stating, “The success of EPCOT is critical to Disney’s future prosperity, for the fabled entertainment company has recently suffered unaccustomed reverses.”
1982: EPCOT’s World of Motion is dedicated, sponsored by General Motors – the first company to sponsor an EPCOT pavilion. (It will close in 1996 and be replaced by Test Track.)
1992: Main Street Cinema closes after showing “The Walt Disney Story” for the last time. (The location will be repurposed and reopen as a shop in 1998.)
1971: The Sunshine Pavilion in the Magic Kingdom is officially dedicated featuring the “Tropical Serenade” attraction. (It will close in 1997 for refurbishment and reopen April 5, 1998, as “The Enchanted Tiki Room…Under New Management.”)
2016: WDW closes at 5 p.m. due to the threat of approaching Hurricane Matthew and remains closed through Friday, October 7.
1998: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, the first interactive dark ride at the Magic Kingdom, opens in the space that used to be Take Flight.
2006: A female giraffe is born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the first for her mother, a 9-year-old giraffe named Aibuin.
2003: Mickey’s PhilharMagic has its official grand opening in the Magic Kingdom, shown on the largest 3D screen ever built: 150 feet wide!
2003: EPCOT hosts a special evening press event for the opening of Mission: SPACE. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, and Wally Schirra attend in person, while Russian Cosmonaut Commander Yuri Malenchenko and NASA science officer Ed Lu share remarks from the International Space Station.
2016: The Main Street Electrical Parade gives its last performance.
2011: WDW and Walt Disney Imagineering announce opening dates for the new Art of Animation Resort, which is planned to offer 1,120 family suites and 864 guest rooms.
1982: The American Adventure pavilion in the World Showcase has an official opening ceremony.
2003: The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in Tomorrowland closes. It will be replaced with Stitch’s Great Escape!
1998: Key West Seafood Restaurant closes and will be replaced with the Rainforest Cafe.
2006: WDW Annual Passholders are invited to experience the new EPCOT attraction, “The Seas with Nemo & Friends.”
1971: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea opens at WDW, featuring twelve, 38 passenger submarines in an 11.5-million-gallon tank of water.
2009: In EPCOT, the “Sum of All Thrills” opens in Innoventions. Guests can design their own ride and then experience it on a giant robotic arm simulator.
2010: Duffy the Disney Bear makes his grand entrance with Mickey Mouse at EPCOT.
1998: Fantasmic! debuts in Disney-MGM Studios. The 26-minute performance requires 88 people to stage.
October 16 (Not something that happened AT WDW, but certainly impacted it):
1923: The Disney Brothers Studio is founded in Los Angeles after Walt and brother Roy sign with a cartoon distributor to produce the “Alice Comedies” series of animated shorts.
October 17 (Ok, also not technically something that happened AT WDW, but had a direct impact):
1965: The World’s Fair in Flushing, New York, officially ends. The fair included 4 attractions developed by Walt Disney: General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, Ford’s Magic Skyway, Pepsi-Cola’s It’s A Small World, and the State of Illinois’ Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
1971: President Nixon visits WDW to see his Audio-Animatronic double in The Hall of Presidents.
1989: EPCOT’s first thrill ride, Body Wars, opens in the new Wonders of Life Pavilion. Cranium Command also debuts this day.
1982: The Japan Pavilion in the World Showcase is officially dedicated.
1982: El Río del Tiempo (later changed to the Grand Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros) is dedicated along with the Mexico Pavilion.
1982: The formal grand opening celebration of EPCOT Center begins.
1997: The Orlando Sentinel reports that sources have revealed plans to close Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in favor of a trip through the Hundred Acre Woods with Pooh and his friends.
1971: Day 1 of WDW’s three-day grand opening celebration commences. Attending celebrities include Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Walter Brennan, Fred MacMurray and Annette Funicello. The World Symphony Orchestra comprised of 144 musicians from 60 countries and 26 states, and under the direction of conductor Arthur Fiedler, performs in front of Cinderella Castle to 2,500 invited guests.The performance lasts an hour and a half and ends with the first official fireworks display at WDW.
1982: The first World Showcase evening show, Carnival de Lumiere, debuts. It can only be viewed from spots between Mexico and Canada and will be replaced the following summer with A New World Fantasy.
1997: John Lefante launches his “Save Mr. Toad” website the day after The Orlando Sentinel reports that Walt Disney World is going to replace the classic attraction with one featuring Winnie the Pooh.
1971: Day 2 of WDW’s three-day grand opening celebration takes place. The formal dedication of the Contemporary Resort is followed by the dedication of the Polynesian Village Resort. A special luau takes place at the Polynesian followed by the debut of the Electrical Water Pageant in the Seven Seas Lagoon.
1982: EPCOT Center is officially dedicated at 11 a.m., by Disney Chairman E. Cardon Walker.
1997: The Orlando Sentinel runs an article over the controversy raging about closing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst, stars of The Wonderful World of Disney’s upcoming “Tower of Terror,” come out strongly pro-Toad while Darius Rucker, lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, makes it clear that he’s a Pooh man.
2014: Disney confirms it will be removing the Sorcerer Hat from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2015.
1971: The formal dedication of WDW takes place with Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney officiating. A grand opening parade down Main Street, USA featuring a 1,076-piece band and led by Music Man Meredith Wilson (the composer of “76 Trombones”) kicks off at 2 p.m.
2007: WDW unveils the new logo for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Park will officially change its name from Disney-MGM Studios on January 7, 2008.
2011: Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrates the Year of the Bat at Conservation Station with family-friendly activities.
1996: The very first Epcot International Food and Wine Festival concludes.
1999: The Polynesian Resort officially changes the names of most of its longhouses to more accurately reflect the Polynesian islands. In particular, Tonga became Hawaii and Hawaii became Samoa better represent their relative geographical position of those islands to each other.
1971: A 90-minute NBC-TV special, The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World, takes a look at the new resort (filmed during WDW’s 3-day grand opening on Oct. 23, 24, & 25) and includes appearances by Julie Andrews, Glen Campbell, Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, and Bob Hope.
1997: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party takes place at the Magic Kingdom, the first time it’s held on the night before Halloween.
1995: The very first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is held at the Magic Kingdom; tickets cost $16.95.
2008: The 37-year-old Hall of Presidents attraction closes to update the light, sound, mechanical, and projection systems. It will re-open in eight months and feature the new animatronic of the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama.
Those are just some of the milestone events that happened in October at Walt Disney World — and of course there’s plenty more to be made in this special celebration time.
Do you have a favorite from those events listed? Let us know in the comments.