Major events in Walt Disney World’s history

Photos from Walt Disney World

After years of anticipation, Walt Disney World opened to the public on October 1st, 1971. Tens of thousands of guests entered Magic Kingdom, the first park to open at the resort, for fun and fantasy with family and friends.

Since then, three more theme parks, two water parks, dozens of resort hotels, and a massive retail, dining, and entertainment district opened at the Florida resort.

RELATED: The history of Walt Disney World and its opening 50 years ago

With these expansions, Walt Disney World Resort has experienced many important moments throughout its 50-year history.

Those events include but are not limited to:

November 15, 1965: Walt Disney World says that Walt Disney and his brother, Roy O. Disney, announced the plans for Disney World in a press conference held in Downtown Orlando.

October 27, 1966: Walt Disney recorded a film outlining plans for the Florida Project, including details on its location in Central Florida, the theme park company said. He also discussed the ‘the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,’ known as ‘Epcot.’

December 15, 1966: Walt Disney reportedly passes away at the age of 65.

May 30, 1967: Walt Disney World said that crews broke ground at ‘Magic Kingdom,’ the first park to open at the company’s Florida resort, on this day. Roy O. Disney also named the project ‘Walt Disney World’ at this point to ensure that the world will always remember the man behind it all.

January 16, 1970: The ‘Walt Disney World Preview Center’ opened in Lake Buena Vista, Disney said. This was the first location to welcome guests on Walt Disney World property and featured scale models and artist renderings of the experiences coming to the resort.

October 1, 1971: Walt Disney World officially opened to the public. Phase one reportedly included the debut of the ‘Magic Kingdom’ park, ‘Disney’s Contemporary Resort,’ and ‘Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.’

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Magic Kingdom entrance in 1971 (Photo from Walt Disney World)

October 25, 1971: Walt Disney World said that while Magic Kingdom opened on the first of October, it was not until October 25th, 1971, that Disney held its grand opening and dedication ceremony. Roy O. Disney was in attendance and read a dedication plaque aloud with Mickey Mouse at his side. A parade followed, featuring Mickey Mouse playing the world’s largest bass drum at the time and a performance from a 1,076 piece ceremonial marching band.

November 19, 2021: ‘Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground’ opened, Disney said.

December 15, 1973: The theme park company said that the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ attraction opened at Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland on this day. A new hotel, ‘Shades of Green,’ also debuted.

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Pirates of the Caribbean (Photo from Walt Disney World)

June 30, 1974: The ‘Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue’ reportedly opened at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. It stands today as one of the longest-running dinner shows in American history.

January 15, 1975: Walt Disney World said that Tomorrowland expanded with two new attractions: ‘Space Mountain’ and the ‘GE Carousel of Progress.’ The latter still holds the record for the longest-running stage show in the history of American theater.

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Space Mountain (Photo from Walt Disney World)

March 22, 1975: The ‘Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village’ is said to have opened with 28 shops and four restaurants. It evolves into ‘The Marketplace at Disney Springs’ over the decades.

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Lake Buena Vista Village Shopping Center (Photo from Walt Disney World)

June 7, 1975: The largest daily parade ever staged at a Disney park, ‘America On Parade,’ honors America’s bicentennial, Disney said. It featured 50 floats and more than 200 performers.

July 1, 1975: The ‘WEDway PeopleMover’ attraction, also known as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, is reportedly added to Magic Kingdom.

July 14, 1975: Preliminary plans for Epcot are said to be announced.

June 20, 1976: ‘Disney’s River Country’ reportedly opens next to Fort Wilderness. This is what eventually inspires the theme park company’s ‘Typhoon Lagoon’ and ‘Blizzard Beach’ water parks.

June 11, 1977: Walt Disney World said that ‘The Main Street Electrical Parade’ made its Florida debut.

October 1, 1979: Construction began at Epcot after years of planning, the theme park company said.

September 23, 1980: According to Walt Disney World, this is when the ‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’ attraction opened at Frontierland in Magic Kingdom.

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Photo from Walt Disney World)

October 1, 1981: A ‘Tencennial Celebration’ reportedly begins at Magic Kingdom to mark ten years of operation. That year, the Epcot Preview Center would open along the park’s Main Street, U.S.A.

October 1, 1982: Epcot opens with with five ‘Future World’ pavilions — Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination, and The Land — and nine ‘World Showcase’ pavilions, representing Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, France, United Kingdom and Canada, Disney said.

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Epcot opening (Photo from Walt Disney World)

Also in 1982, the theme park company said that it granted its first ‘Make-A-Wish.’ Since then, over 176,000 life-changing wishes have been fulfilled for children facing critical illnesses in partnership with more than 250 wish-granting organizations worldwide.

December 16, 1983: The first-ever ‘Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party’ is said to be held at Magic Kingdom. This started a tradition of popular Disney After Hour events.

December 25, 1983: The ‘Walt Disney World Christmas Parade’ is reportedly broadcasted live from Magic Kingdom. It goes on to become a holiday tradition, including several parades and performances from Disney parks on both coasts of the United States.

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Disney’s Christmas Parade in 2009 (Photo by Matt Stroshane/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images) 

May 11, 1984: Walt Disney World said the ‘Disney Dreamers & Doers’ program began, acknowledging young people who demonstrate excellence in their schools, families, and communities. The theme park resort has recognized about 14,000 students from public and private schools across Central Florida since.

September 7, 1984: Epcot added the Morocco pavilion to its World Showcase, the theme park company said.

January 15, 1986: ‘The Living Seas’ attraction, now known as the ‘The Seas with Nemo & Friends,’ opened at Epcot. It is home to over 200 species of sea life in 5.7 million gallons of saltwater.

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The Living Seas (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

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The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion at EPCOT (Photo from Walt Disney World)

January 25, 1987: The ‘I’m Going to Disney World’ commercial is said to have debuted. The first NFL player to say the famous phrase is New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms after his team’s Super Bowl XXI victory.

June 3, 1988: Epcot added the Norway pavilion to its World Showcase, Walt Disney World said.

June 28, 1988: ‘Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa’ reportedly opened.

October 1, 1988: ‘Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort’ opened, the theme park company said.

May 1, 1989: Walt Disney World said that ‘Hollywood Studios,’ formerly known as ‘Disney-MGM Studios,’ opened.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios opening (Photo from Walt Disney World)

May 1, 1989: ‘Pleasure Island,’ a nighttime entertainment complex, reportedly opened with an array of restaurants and nightclubs. It closes in 2008 to make way for Disney Springs.

June 1, 1989: Disney says its first water park, ‘Typhoon Lagoon,’ opened with a 95-foot-high mountain, eight water slides, and a 2.5-acre wave pool.

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Typhoon Lagoon opening (Photo from Walt Disney World)

November 5, 1990: ‘Disney’s Yacht Club Resort’ is said to have opened.

November 19, 1990: ‘Disney’s Beach Club Resort’ opened, according to Walt Disney World.

January 13, 1990: The ‘Walt Disney World Swan Hotel’ reportedly opened.

June 4, 1990: Disney said that the ‘Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel’ opened.

November 1991: The ‘Disney Harvest’ program is said to have launched on this day. Present-day, the program annually collects over 832,000 pounds of prepared, unserved food from throughout the Walt Disney World Resort for distribution to over 40 Orlando-area nonprofits served by Second Harvest Food Bank.

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Disney Harvest (Photo from Walt Disney World)

December 20, 1991: Disney Vacation Club opened its first resort, now called ‘Disney’s Old Key West Resort,’ the theme park company said.

April 23, 1993: Walt Disney World said that 8,500 acres of land at the Osceola-Polk County line was dedicated by the Walt Disney Company to The Nature Conservancy to preserve for future generations as the ‘Disney Wilderness Preserve.’

January 16, 1994: The inaugural ‘Walt Disney World Marathon’ kicked off, Disney said. It grows into the runDisney races through the decades.

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1997 Disney Marathon (Photo from Walt Disney World)

April 29, 1994: The first-ever ‘Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival’ is said to have debuted. Other festivals dedicated to food and wine, the arts, and holidays join the lineup at Epcot in the years that follow.

April 29, 1994: Walt Disney World said that the ‘Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort’ opened.

May 28, 1994: ‘Disney’s Wilderness Lodge’ opened, the theme park company said.

June 12, 1994: Disney’s Hollywood Studios is reportedly expanded with the ‘Sunset Boulevard’ themed area, bringing more shops, dining, and entertainment to the park.

July 22, 1994: ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ is said to have opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Photo from Walt Disney World)

November 1, 1994: ‘Disney’s All-Star Music Resort’ opened, the theme park company said.

April 1, 1995: ‘Disney’s Blizzard Beach’ debuted with a winter theme and a 12-story waterslide, Disney said.

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Disney’s Blizzard Beach Resort (Photo from Walt Disney World)

April 22, 1995: The ‘Disney Conservation Fund’ is said to have formed, providing support for conservation organizations saving wildlife and protecting nature. The fund has directed $100 million since to nonprofits.

July 15, 1995: ‘Disney’s Wedding Pavilion’ reportedly opened at on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon.

February 9, 1996: Walt Disney World said that the ‘Disney Institute’ opened for guests to experience over 60 interactive programs of fun and self-enrichment. It eventually became a training and professional-development organization that helps others become more successful through business insights and best practices.

October 1, 1996: Walt Disney World’s 25th-anniversary kicked off with a year-long celebration, new entertainment, and Cinderella’s Castle decorated as a giant birthday cake, the theme park company said.

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Cinderella Castle décor for the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in 1996 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo from Walt Disney World)

March 28, 1997: The 220-acre ’ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex’ is said to have opened with outdoor playing fields, baseball/softball diamonds, a track and field complex, a fieldhouse, and a 9,500-seat ballpark. Over time, two more fieldhouses, an ESPN broadcast center, and more outdoor playing fields were added.

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort (Photo from Walt Disney World)

August 1, 1997: ‘Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort’ reportedly opened, becoming the largest of the Disney resort hotels that cater to meetings and events. It features a convention center and 1,900 guest rooms.

April 22, 1998: ‘Disney’s Animal Kingdom’ opened on Earth Day, the theme park company said. It is the resort’s largest park and home to about 1,800 animals representing 200 species. At the center of it all is the ’Tree of Life,’ which features more than 300 carved animal images.

October 15, 1998: Walt Disney World said that ‘Fantasmic!’ premiered at Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. The show has over 50 live performers, massive sets, and lights, lasers, fireworks, and water animation all set to music.

December 23, 1998: Cirque Du Soleil and Walt Disney World reportedly teamed up to bring the ‘La Nouba’ show to the iconic white tent theater at Disney Springs, known as Downtown Disney at the time.

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La Nouba (Photo from Wlt Disney World)

March 18, 1999: A new themed area inspired by Asia opened at Animal Kingdom, Disney said. It features the ‘Kali River Rapids’ and ‘Maharajah Jungle Trek’ attractions, introducing tigers and other animal species to the park.

October 1, 1999: The ‘Millennium Celebration’ is said to have kicked off at Epcot. It was a 15-month event to commemorate the start of the nighttime spectacular, ‘IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.’ The ‘Millennium Village’ and ‘Tapestry of Nations’ parade debut on this day too. This celebration brought pin trading to the forefront for collectors too.

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A giraffe grazes near the balcony of guest rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. (Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

April 16, 2001: ‘Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge’ reportedly opened. The resort is home to one of the largest collections of African art in the United States and home to over 200 animals.

October 1, 2001: The 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth is commemorated with the ‘100 Years of Magic Celebration’ across all four parks, Disney said. There were new parades at each park and a 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey hat officially became the icon for Hollywood Studios.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo from Walt Disney World)

December 2004: Walt Disney World said that ‘Disney’s PhotoPass’ launched.

May 5, 2005: Walt Disney World joined the ‘Happiest Celebration on Earth,’ the theme park company said. Disney parks commemorated the day by saluting the 50th anniversary of the Disneyland Resort in California. ’Soarin’ at Epcot and ‘Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show’ at Hollywood Studios opened on this day as well.

April 7, 2006: ‘Expedition Everest’ is said to have opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Expedition Everest (Photo from Walt Disney World)

January 17, 2008: The first ‘Disney Dreamers Academy’ event reportedly brought 100 exceptional African American high school students from around the U.S. to a four-day mentoring experience at Walt Disney World Resort. This goes on to become an annual event, encouraging over 1,000 participants of the free program to pursue their dreams and make a difference in the lives of others.

September 2011: Disney said that the luxury residential resort community ‘Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort’ welcomed its first residents. The community was designed by Disney Imagineers and includes several distinctive neighborhoods, nature preserves, and concierge-style resident services.

May 31, 2012: ‘Disney’s Art of Animation Resort’ is said to have opened with family suites for parties up to six people a new style of accommodation at the Florida resort.

December 6, 2012: Walt Disney World said that ‘New Fantastyland’ opened at Magic Kingdom. This was a 26-acre expansion of the original land. It included three new attractions and the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant.

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‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant at Magic Kingdom (Photo from Walt Disney World)

2013: ‘MagicBands’ and the ‘My Disney Experience’ mobile app launched, Disney said.

May 28, 2014: The ‘Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’ ride reportedly opened at New Fantastyland in Magic Kingdom.

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Photo from Walt Disney World)

September 29, 2015: ‘Disney Springs’ officially debuted after a three-year reimagining of what was formerly ‘Downtown Disney,’ the theme park company said. It retail, dining, and entertainment district now has four ‘neighborhoods’ all themed to Florida towns of the early 20th century.

April 12, 2016: Walt Disney World said that a 48,000-panel, five-megawatt Mickey-shaped solar array was introduced near Epcot. It can produce the same amount of power as 1,000 residential rooftop systems.

May 27, 2017: ‘Pandora — The World of Avatar’ is said to have opened as a new themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It includes two attractions, dining, retail, and floating mountains.

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Pandora — The World of Avatar (Photo from Walt Disney World)

December 31st, 2017: The Cirque du Soleil show ‘La Nouba’ at Disney Springs completed its final performance.

June 30, 2018: ‘Toy Story Land’ opened at Hollywood Studios, Disney said. It features three attractions and multiple shopping and dining experiences for parkgoers to enjoy.

July 9, 2019: ‘Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort’ reportedly completed its multi-year transformation as the ‘Gran Destino Tower’ opened with over 500 new guest rooms along with additional dining and convention spaces.

August 29, 2019: Walt Disney World said that ’Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’ opened at Hollywood Studios. The land encompasses 14 acres and featured the ‘Star Wars: Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run’ upon opening. In addition, several themed shopping and dining options debuted.

September 29, 2019: The ‘Disney Skyliner’ takes flight, connecting Epcot and Hollywood Studios to four resort hotels, Disney said.

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Disney’s Skyliner (Photo from Walt Disney World)

December 5, 2019: The ‘Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’ attraction is said to have opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

December 16, 2019: Another Disney Vacation Club property, ’Disney’s Rivera Resort,’ opened, the theme park company said.

December 2019: A 270-acre, 57-megawatt solar facility reportedly went online, generating enough renewable clean energy to operate two of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks annually.

March 4, 2020: Walt Disney World said that ‘Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway’ opened at Hollywood Studios, becoming the first ride-through attraction at a Disney park dedicated to the iconic ‘Mickey Mouse’ and ‘Minnie Mouse’ characters.

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Photo from Walt Disney World) 

March 15, 2020: The Walt Disney World parks closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning what is said to be the park’s largest closure in its history, according to the Orlando Sentinel. This was also only the seventh time that the Walt Disney World parks closed.

July 11, 2020: Walt Disney World reopened Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom after months of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New protocols to keep parkgoers safe were set in place, including mandatory temperature checks, reservations required for entry, reduced capacity, and a face mask requirement.

Photo from Walt Disney World

July 15, 2020: Hollywood Studios and Epcot joined the rest of the Walt Disney World parks in reopening following the months-long close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

August 10, 2021: An all-new, after-hours Halloween event called ‘Disney After Hours Boo Bash’ kicked off at Magic Kingdom.

This Halloween season, something special is brewing for Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “Disney After Hours BOO BASH” will be a three-hour event that begins when the park closes on select nights from Aug. 10 t

August 17, 2021: Walt Disney World and Cirque du Soleil announced that a new show, ‘Drawn to Life’ will return to Disney Springs after the previous show, ‘La Nouba’ came to a close almost two years prior. The show will debut on November 18, 2021.

Photo from Walt Disney World

August 18, 2021: Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort announced the debut of ‘Disney Genie,’ described as “a complementary and convenient new digital service” to help park guests better plan their day. Disney also announced the retirement of the ‘FASTPASS,’ ‘FastPass+,’ and ‘Disney MaxPass’ services in exchange for two news ways to utilize upcoming ‘Lightning Lane’ entrances at attractions.

August 23, 2021: Walt Disney World Resort kicked off its first-ever ‘World Princess Week’ celebration, bringing new experiences inspired by iconic Disney princesses to the theme park company’s resorts across the globe.

A new era of Disney will kick off with the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration, dubbed ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration,’ on October 1st, 2021. Festivities will go for 18 months as new experiences debut throughout the resort. For example, some of the new offerings include the opening of ‘Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure’ at Epcot, a new ‘Disney Enchantment’ fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, and the ‘Disney KiteTails’ show at Animal Kingdom.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for what’s to come during Disney’s 50th anniversary celebration.