Walt Disney World is an ever-changing place. Walt Disney himself wanted the parks to be lively and up to date, never having the feel of a dusty old museum or relic. However, a balance must always be found between the old and the new. Many fans feel that during the dark days of the Eisner years, much that was traditional, classic and most of all unique was lost in favor of off the shelf rides with no real character, simply because they were cheaper to build and maintain. Regardless of personal feelings as to why certain things were done or not done, the fact remains that much has changed in the parks over the years. If you have not visited in some time, you might be caught off guard. Here, then, is a guide to the major changes that have taken place at the Magic Kingdom since the park’s inception.
The Magic Kingdom is Walt Disney World’s flagship park. Many guests from around the world first visited as children, and now return to bring their own children to see their beloved childhood spot. However, the Magic Kingdom of today is a far different place than the Magic Kingdom of the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s. Each decade has brought its own flavor, perhaps none so dramatic as the sweeping changes of the mid-1990s. Many attractions closed forever during that decade, so much so that attraction closures are the subject of a separate article. Here we will focus not on closings but on changes to what is still there.
Beginning your tour on Main Street USA, which bridges the transition from the real world to the magic that lies beyond, you will notice that the shops have changed dramatically. Gone are the Penny Arcade (although a few of the machines now reside at the top level of the Train Station), the films at the Main Street Cinema (although old cartoon reels can now be seen at Exposition Hall), the Tobacconist, the House of Magic, and many other unique shops. In their place is a much expanded Main Street Athletic Club (sports and warmup gear) and several standard, run of the mill T-shirt and gift stores. Also on Main Street, the Crystal Palace, while still serving excellent buffet food, is now a fixed price character meal featuring Winnie the Pooh and friends.
Continuing to Adventureland, you will be relieved to find that the Swiss Family Robinson still claims their Treehouse. In Disneyland, the Robinsons were evicted to make room for Tarzan, but the Walt Disney World original has not changed. However, Aladdin is now in residence in Adventureland with his own Dumbo-style Magic Carpet Ride. The biggest changes in Adventureland, however, are found in Pirates of the Caribbean and the Enchanted Tiki Room (now Under New Management).
Pirates of the Caribbean has undergone two major renovations since its birth. In the mid-1990s it was decided that certain pirate behaviors were too controversial for modern audiences. Therefore, the women now chase the pirates rather than the other way around. Much of the pirate spirit was lost, and most long time fans were quite angry with the changes. In 2006, the ride changed again, this time to incorporate the characters from the hit film series. This change was actually quite seamlessly done, and most fans feel that the new animatronics, which fit the look and feel of the ride nicely, are an enhancement rather than a detraction.
The Tiki Room changes did not work at all. The new show pokes fun at the old show, and somehow manages to fall completely flat. Regardless of your feelings on birds singing words and flowers crooning, watching a show make fun of itself is a strange experience at best.
In Frontierland, very few major changes have taken place. The Country Bear Jamboree show is tweaked from time to time but not enough to substantively change the flavor of the show. Splash Mountain was added in the late 1980s, causing the train station to move, but overall Frontierland is much the same as it always was.
With only two major attractions, the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion, Liberty Square has experienced very little change since its creation. Cosmetic changes to the Mansion and the addition of new presidents to the Hall are the only real changes to this land.
The changes in Fantasyland primarily have to do with the controversial removal of several beloved rides, which will be addressed in a separate article. Among the still existing attractions, very few major changes have taken place.
Mickey’s Toontown Fair began life as a temporary addition known as Mickey’s Birthdayland. It was intended to be removed following the yearlong celebration. However, the land proved popular and was renamed Mickey’s Starland. Eventually the idea was proposed to redevelop the land as a sort of street fair area, hence the modern day Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Other than name changes, though, the land has not changed much.
Tomorrowland was completely re-conceptualized and redone in the mid-1990s. Since Epcot’s opening in 1982, the Walt Disney Company had struggled with what to do with Tomorrowland. Epcot’s Future World was designed to showcase emerging technology and was built with wide open spaces and temporary display space. Tomorrowland, on the other hand, consisted primarily of gleaming white 1970s-futuristic concrete buildings. It was much costlier and more difficult to upgrade or change exhibits in Tomorrowland on a regular basis, resulting in Tomorrowland’s becoming dated and old fashioned.
As part of the sweeping park changes in the 1990s, it was decided to remake Tomorrowland in a way that would not require constant updating. Tomorrowland became a tribute to “the future that always was and never will be.” Now a retro-land focusing on 1950s-1970s ideas of what the future will hold, Tomorrowland is now a lasting tribute to the human imagination.
As a result of this design decision, Tomorrowland is now practically unrecognizable to those who last visited pre-1990s. Many of the same attractions are still there, but have been renamed. The buildings have been painted and the façades changed. A few new attractions such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (which replaced If You Had
Wings/If You Could Fly/Delta Dreamflight) and Stitch’s Great Escape (replacing Flight to the Moon/Mission to Mars/Alien Encounter) bring Pixar characters into the mix as well.
Guests who have not visited the Magic Kingdom in recent years will be surprised at the vastly changed landscape. Yet many beloved attractions remain largely unchanged. Try to get a park guide map before your visit, to prepare yourself for the changes. If you keep in mind Walt’s philosophy that the parks should never be allowed to become old and stale, you will then be able to appreciate the changes and introduce your own children to the Magic Kingdom of today, while pointing out many of the classics that remain from your own childhood.