For four decades, Walt Disney World has been a 47-square-mile canvas for creative visionaries. From Epcot’s Spaceship Earth to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s innovative architects have turned these marshy wetlands into a world-class resort with extraordinary hotels, theme park adventures and one-of-a-kind experiences. Today, during day one of Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th, Disney historians and luminaries guided D23 Members back in time to give them a rare glimpse at Walt Disney World history.
Steven Clark, head of D23, welcomed Members from 40 states, four provinces in Canada, Australia, Bahamas, Germany, Netherlands, and United Kingdom. He introduced Walt Disney World’s first ambassador, Debbie Dane Brown, to kick off Destination D in style. She reminisced about the resort’s grand opening and the flurry of excitement that happened afterwards.
Next to take the stage was Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline and Disney historian Paul F. Anderson, with a presentation on the strangest and most bizarre parts of Walt Disney World history. They searched through the Archives with one thing on their minds: to find the most hilarious photos and video clips. “I was getting ready for this presentation and was keeping an eye out for peculiar Walt Disney World footage,” Becky said. “I had a stack of DVDs that needed to be reviewed and I ended up finding this great Grad Nite footage.” The old commercials, which showed a guitar player leading high school seniors to Walt Disney World, were an instant hit with D23 Members. But after the presentation you began to wonder if 20 years from now we’ll be looking back at how silly we looked in 2011.
With early construction photos of Walt Disney World, attractions now long gone and some of the first character costumes, Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith treated D23 Members to the last morning session with Walt Disney World: The Way We Were. At lunch, D23 Members had a chance to browse through a special Walt Disney Archives display set up for the event. The exhibit included The Three Caballeros, who originally appeared in the Mickey Mouse Revue in Fantasyland, among several other Audio-Animatronics® and pieces from the resort’s past.
The afternoon sessions included EPCOT: Walt Disney’s Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow with Archivist Steven Vagnini and Disney expert Paul F. Anderson, Past Forward: A History of Walt Disney World on Television with Disney Archivist Rob Klein and Disney author and historian Tim O’Day, and The Walt Disney World That Never Was with longtime Imagineer Tony Baxter. Baxter walked D23 Members through a portion of Walt Disney World history that they wouldn’t remember — because it never existed! “It was really fun to revisit things that I hadn’t thought about for a really long time,” Tony says. “The nice thing about presenting this footage to Disney fans is that you can do it in shorthand. They already know a little bit about it and you are just enriching what they already know.”
To end the night, Baxter returned to the stage with O’Day to showcase films that had not been seen in years. They covered the entire Walt Disney World Resort, from before the resort’s groundbreaking moment up through the creation of EPCOT Center. Members relived the days of counting down to the then-latest attractions and theme parks. And after a fun-filled day of archival treasures, the Members retreated to their respective resort hotels and, on the way, looking at the resort in a whole new way.
Photos by D23′s Heather Ikei and article by Billy Stanek