Then and Now: 50 Years of Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland

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On October 1 of this year, Walt Disney World marked its 50th Anniversary and kicked off an 18-month celebration; and while all four parks are in on the festivities, the 50-year milestone only belongs to a few locations at the most magical place on earth.

Back in 1971, Walt Disney World opened with two resorts and one park: the Magic Kingdom. Inspired by the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, the Magic Kingdom made its debut with its own version of Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland, along with its own unique land – Liberty Square.

In previous posts, I’ve covered Then and Now: 50 Years of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, Adventureland, Liberty SquareFrontierland, Fantasyland, and Main Street. U.S.A. For today, I’m continuing my virtual stroll through the park with a visit to the tomorrow that never was – Tomorrowland.

So What is Tomorrowland?

Tomorrowland Entrance

Walt Disney World’s land of the future is located to the right of the Magic Kingdom’s hub and Main Street, U.S.A., and is home to a singing alien, a few monsters, and several iconic attractions.

Facts About Tomorrowland Then:

Fact #1: On October 1, 1971, Tomorrowland looked a lot different than it does today due to its original stark, modern aesthetic, the Skyway overhead, and clear views of the Contemporary Resort. In fact, Tomorrowland has only one original opening day attraction still in operation – the Tomorrowland Speedway which was then known as the Grand Prix Speedway.

Courtesy of Retro WDW

Fact #2: Much like Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, Walt Disney World’s version also opened unfinished and technically wasn’t completed until 1975.

Fact #3: Two other attractions eventually joined Tomorrowland’s roster in 1971, including America the Beautiful and Flight of the Moon. The Star Jets, which was later replaced by the Astro Orbiter, opened in 1974 while Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, the Peoplemover opened in 1975.

Fact #4: When Space Mountain opened, it was Florida’s first indoor roller coaster and one of the Magic Kingdom’s first thrill rides.

Fact #5: When The Carousel of Progress moved to Florida, it debuted with a different theme song titled “The Best Time of Your Life” which, just like “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, was also written by the legendary Sherman Brothers.

While the show reverted back to its original theme in 1996, an electronic version of “The Best Time of Your Life” can still be heard in the land.

Facts About Tomorrowland Now:

Fact #1: While the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland was inspired by Disneyland’s version of the land, today, Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland is more reminiscent of Disneyland’s history than Disneyland itself! This is because East Coast Tomorrowland still offers a PeopleMover attraction and the Carousel of Progress.

Carousel of Progress is an attraction, not a ride or a show, even though it is a presentation and it does move.

Fact #2: Tomorrowlands have always been a struggle for Imagineers as the future is always a moving target. This is why, in 1994, Imagineering unveiled “a future that never was” redesign inspired by Disneyland Paris’ newly opened Discoveryland.

Today, the land appears to be a blend of both its mid-nineties look coupled with tributes and touches to its original style.

Fact #3: Even though the Magic Kingdom’s Skyway closed in 1999, the Tomorrowland station is sort of still standing. While the actual loading platform has been removed, the bottom half of the station is still standing near Space Mountain and serves as a bathroom.

Courtesy of Retro WDW

Fact #4: Tomorrowland’s show buildings have had a number of tenants through the years. For instance, the If You Had Wings attraction became If You Could Fly before it was replaced by Delta Dreamflight. After losing its sponsorship, the ride became known as simply Dreamflight and then Take Flight before closing again in 1998.

Buzz Lightyear
©Disney

Today, that show space is home to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin which still utilizes an Omnimover ride system, just like its various predecessors.

Fact #5: One of the indoor scenes aboard the PeopleMover features a model of Progress City or EPCOT that was once displayed on the upper level of the Carousel of Progress at the New York World’s Fair. It was then displayed at Disneyland before being moved to Walt Disney World.

Fact #6: The Disney Parks have created a number of characters through the years from the Country Bears to Orange Bird to the occupants of the Haunted Mansion. Tomorrowland has its own park-created character as well – Sonny Eclipse.

Sonny Eclipse entertains at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Lounge – Photo by Rikki Niblett

This audio-animatronic alien lounge singer entertains guests at Tomorrowland’s Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and has developed a cult following through the years.

Fact #7: Tomorrowland is the next Magic Kingdom land on the agenda to receive a new attraction – an indoor/outdoor roller coaster known as TRON Lightcycle Run. It’s expected to open in 2022.

©Disney

Did you ever experience the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland back in its early days? Is this land one of your favorites?

 

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

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