Disney through the decades: 50 Years of magic but not a lot of change

Magic Kingdom maintains familiar feel decades later

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Walt Disney World knows its fans don’t just come back for the new but also for the nostalgia.

If you were among the lucky ones who visited The Magic Kingdom in 1971, you might be surprised to know Disney has kept much of it the same. Modeled after Walt Disney’s hometown in Marceline, Missouri, Main Street is where guests come for a little slice of Americana.

The stores have changed over the years with updated merchandise and there’s even now a Starbucks Coffee shop on-site, but, for the most part, it feels like time has stood still.

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Mostly because Magic Kingdom has stood the test of time.

Photojournalist Paul Giorgio and I got the rare opportunity to take in Magic Kingdom one Friday morning before guests were even allowed to enter.

Disney Ambassadors, Raevon Redding gave a special tour of The Magic Kingdom’s Main Street U.S.A. on the cusp of a milestone anniversary.

Aside from a few cast members making sure the park is pristine upon opening, Main Street looks like a ghost town before guests arrive. It has an almost eerie feeling to not have crowds jostling on either side as we take our first steps down Main Street U.S.A.

As we talk about the Magic Kingdom’s legacy Redding is quick to point out how special this theme park is because it’s all built on barren swampland.

“This had to be built up. Land that had to be filled in from swamps,” Redding said while gesturing and pointing to all the buildings.

He added, even after Walt Disney passed away in 1966, his dream kept going.

“There was a vision, and it wasn’t stopped. You know it kept going even after that visionary went on, that dream continued and that magic, still to this day, 50 years later,” Redding said.

All these years later, Main Street is a mainstay of the Magic Kingdom and holds a special place in the hearts of so many. Even annual pass holders and park vets may miss out on some unique details if they forget to look up.

The windows on Main Street have names etched on them. Much like movie credits, paying tribute to the people who have paved the way for Disney’s success.

Even the lights on Main Street tell an illuminating story of progress through the years.

“At the turn of the century our gas-lit lamp posts will continuously change to electric light posts as you make your way down to Cinderella’s (castle),” Redding points out.

But the real show stopper, where Main Street ends and the best-known fairy tale begins — Cinderella’s Castle.

“I mean this icon is only 189 feet tall but looks a lot larger,” Redding explains.

The fact that it looms larger than life is by design. Thanks to the work of the Imagineers and an old movie trick called forced perspective. It makes the castle look bigger than it really is.

“The buildings at the end of Main Street are a lot bigger and they get smaller as you go toward the castle to really draw your eye into how large the castle is. You know the grandeur of it all,” Redding said.

Again, a little bit of that Disney magic at work. Even when the castle was under construction for 18 months, you could tell it was going to be something special.

Over the years, like any true beauty, it has had a few makeovers. For the 25th anniversary, it was turned into a birthday cake with sprinkles.

Later it was covered in toilet paper for the grand opening of Stitch’s Great Escape.

Today, for its 50th, it is decked out in what Disney calls “earidescent” blue and gold.

But with each transformation guest still get that feeling of awe and wonder.

“This castle will still evoke that joy, that magic and that hope that there are wonderful dreams out in the world,” Redding said. “All the transformations in the world won’t ever take that away.”

And Redding said we would be remiss if we failed to mention the one thing at Walt Disney World that will never change: cast members who go out of their way to make sure every guest has a magical experience.

“These are just building that we’re sitting around, you know beautiful building, but our cast members are the ones that truly immerse our guests into that story and making them feel wanted, making them feel as if our dreams are reality right now. This land of make-believe and fantasy is real and that’s because of the cast members, the driving force behind this all,” Redding said.

About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.