Disney World: Fun, fantasy and reality (1973)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to or other companies. Qualifying purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

disney-world-dec-1973 (3)

Disney World — Fun, fantasy and reality

It’s a vacation kingdom — 43 square miles. And more than that, it’s a laboratory for city planners

by John Reddy

Our stately Chinese junk glided through the waters of the lagoon, one night at Walt Disney World in Florida. Ahead, etched in brilliant lights, the golden spires of Cinderella’s Castle rose above the Magic Kingdom.

disney-world-dec-1973 (1)An electrical water show, with sea creatures animated in lights and music blaring, serpentined past us in the darkness. Spotlights ashore pinpointed the flashing figures of water skiers soaring over jumps while one, suspended from a kite, rose higher than a ten-story building before floating safely down. To top it all off, an eruption of fireworks spangled the sky like a giant Christmas tree.

“I only wish Walt could have seen this,” said Card Walker, president of the Disney organization. “He’d have loved it.”

Be their guest

Visitors love it. Ten million flocked to Disney World last year to see this latest and greatest in Walt Disney’s ever-expanding empire of imagination. That is more American tourists than visited Britain, Germany or Austria.

Walt died seven years ago. But Walt Disney Productions, which he started with one mouse 50 years ago, is thriving as never before. “Build a better mousetrap,” says the old adage; Disney built a better mouse and, ever since, people by the millions have been beating a path to his door.

disney-world-dec-1973 (2)Disneyland, California, opened in 1955. It covered 250 acres and was constructed at an original cost of $17 million — Walt had to hock his life insurance to finance it. But it was an enormous instant success (nearly ten million visitors every year).

So for his next venture, ten years later, he bought 27,000 acres in central Florida — an area twice the size of Manhattan.

$400 million dream

The cost of Disney World, as of opening day in October 1971, was $400 million. Walt indeed would be proud of the way his vision materialized from a wilderness of swamps and pine barrens.

MORE  Remember vintage flashcubes? Here's how these old-school camera add-ons worked

The vast and varied layout embraces not only the theme park — a big and shiny hunk of fun and fantasy — but a model town, five lakes, three golf courses, two railroads and a monorail, 50 miles of waterways with 256 boats (giving it the world’s tenth-largest “navy”), 717 campsites, and 7500 acres of wildlife preserve.

The place is filled with eye-popping attractions. The Magic Kingdom here has many of the same features as Disneyland — but bigger and better.

Cinderella’s Castle, for instance, is twice as high as its California counterpart. And where Disneyland has one lifelike Audio-Animatronic figure — of Abraham Lincoln — Disney World has the figures of every US President, from George Washington on.

disney-world-dec-1973 (4)One of the new attractions, housed in a gingerbread Victorian building, is “The Walt Disney Story.” Here his busy, creative life is traced in memorabilia and on film, with his own voice on the soundtrack.


Turning off Interstate 4, I drove about five miles through a park-like setting of woods and lakes before arriving at the gates of Walt Disney World.

Here, day visitors park and board the monorail or old-fashioned stern-wheeler to be transported to the Magic Kingdom.

A cheerful young man whisked me and my luggage by electric cart to a cluster of buildings in the South Seas motif — the Polynesian Village Hotel — and a room fronting on the lagoon… (Continued in the print magazine)

More stories you might like

See our books

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.