BAY LAKE, Fla. – With nearly five decades of history, it might surprise you to learn there are relatively few attractions unique to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. If we weren’t in pandemic times, I could talk about Princess Fairytale Hall -- a meet and greet that replaced the Snow White’s Adventures ride, or the more ambitious Enchanted Tales with Belle meet and greet with some impressive illusions and animatronics. Sadly, they are closed indefinitely right now. If I was making this list for the 45th anniversary, I surely would have included one of the most divisive unique-to-Florida attractions, Stitch’s Great Escape, but that ended its run in 2018.
A great many of The Magic Kingdom’s attractions were, of course, “inspired” by similar-to-identical attractions found at Disneyland, and with six castle parks and 12 major theme parks worldwide, good to great ideas tend to be replicated.
Country Bear Jamboree was unique to Florida -- for five-and-a-half whole months. Then Disneyland opened a copy with double the capacity in a new land called Bear Country. I plan to talk later about another opening-day attraction, Mickey Mouse Revue, that was only at Walt Disney World, until it was packed up and shipped to Tokyo in 1980. Its ultimate replacement, Mickey’s Philharmagic, started in Florida, but now can be found in every Disney resort complex, except Shanghai.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was designed for Florida, but was built first in California. Space Mountain opened here in 1975, but was first dreamed up for Disneyland in the late 1960s and, though much smaller, opened there two years after its Florida debut.
The largest two rides built here since Splash Mountain in 1992 were designed first for Shanghai Disneyland: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened two years early at the Magic Kingdom in 2014.
Tron Lightcycle Power Run was a 2016 opening day favorite in Shanghai. In that park, it was designed to replace Space Mountain. Here it is rising up next door.
Still -- there are at least five attractions unique to the Magic Kingdom that you can actually enjoy today:
1. Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Like a futuristic version of the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover provides a scenic overview of its land, while adding much-needed kinetics to a future “world on the move.” When it opened in July of 1975, as the WEDWay Peoplemover, it was one of the first -- and certainly the largest scale -- applications of linear induction motors. The ride uses electromagnets to propel the blue train cars throughout the journey.
The increases in speed are based on how many and how fast magnets turn on and off. Not just an amusement ride, it was intended as a demonstration of a technology meant for EPCOT the city, and was planned to connect what was meant to become the bustling vacation community of Lake Buena Vista. Disney actually sold and built a PeopleMover for Houston’s International Airport. The same basic technology evolved into the launch systems used for thrill rides like “Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and “Velocicoaster” and “The Incredible Hulk” at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
When Renamed “Tomorrowland Transit Authority” ahead of 1994′s then-novel-now-outdated New Tomorrowland, Imagineers added whimsical future vignettes, like a woman getting an automated hairdo. Still, most everyone pretty much called it “the PeopleMover” -- and that name was added back in 2010.
Just as it did in 1975, the blue trains take you through the heart of Space Mountain, though the sights are much less visible since reflective stickers were removed from the coaster trains in 2009. It also gives glimpses into “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, ” but not as cleverly as the more well-thought-out (and more numerous) looks into the first attraction in that space, “If You Had Wings.”
The PeopleMover still includes about one-third of the enormous Progress City model that filled an entire floor above Disneyland’s version of Carousel of Progress. While hacked down for Florida -- and without all the moving vehicles -- the model still gives a good idea of what Walt had in mind for EPCOT the city when he passed away in 1966.
2. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
Speaking of which, no attraction better captures the optimistic spirit of Walt Disney more than the Carousel of Progress. Like “It’s a Small World,” it was originally created for the 1964–65 World’s Fair. Disney Legend Admiral Joe Fowler once said “there was more of Walt in the Carousel of Progress show than there was in anything else we’ve done.” While the rotating theater show is long overdue for an update, generations of guests have come out singing or humming another classic Sherman Brothers’ song.
Currently, it’s “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” which debuted at the World’s Fair, and was re-used when it ran in Disneyland from 1967-1973. Longtime Florida guests fondly recall a different Sherman Brothers song that was written for the 1975 opening at the Magic Kingdom: “The Best Time of Our Lives,” meant to better sell sponsor General Electric’s message of bringing good things to life. The carousel’s ending was updated in 1981, 1985 and, most recently, 1993. Many of the sets and props are still from the New York World’s Fair. The robins seen in the 1900s spring-time scene were featured in Mary Poppins.
3. The Hall of Presidents
There’s another attraction with ties to the 1964 World’s Fair. Walt dreamed up The Hall of Presidents first, but technology of the early 1960s wasn’t advanced enough to bring all of the presidents -- living and dead -- together to share a stage. The first figure developed for the show -- Walt’s hero, Abraham Lincoln -- was completed in time for the Fair. A version of that original show, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” still plays inside Disneyland’s Main Street, even if the original Lincoln figure is on display at “Walt Disney Presents,” near the entrance to Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The Hall was finally built, almost to the letter of how Walt first envisioned it for the opening of The Magic Kingdom, at the heart of the only new-to-Florida land: Liberty Square. The U.S.A. was just a few years away from the Bicentennial in 1976, so the nation was more nostalgic then for the Revolutionary War-era and beyond.
Richard M. Nixon was president in 1971 and later approved of his own likeness. He was friends with Walt Disney in the years before the White House. All presidents through George W. Bush were sculpted by Disney Legend Blaine Gibson. The Hall reopened in July of 2021 with the addition of President Joe Biden.
4. The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini
On one hand, this is a simple kiddie coaster, one left over from its days as “Goofy’s Barnstormer,” which was added to the Magic Kingdom in 1996 as Mickey’s Birthdayland/Mickey’s Starland was replaced with the more well-thought-out Mickey’s Toontown Country Fair.
It received a thematic and storytelling upgrade as that land became the Storybook Circus neighborhood of New Fantasyland in 2012. The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini, turns the young and young-at-heart into the stars of a sideshow attraction, and it’s not everyday you get to “fly” in a Bi-Plane strapped to steel rails. Though at a minute-and-a-half of ride time, the thrills and your fame are fleeting.
5. Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Did you know that there’s a portal to Monstropolis in the Magic Kingdom? Located in Tomorrowland, across from the defunct Stitch show, The Tomorrowland Science Center brings guests into a comedy club in the monster world. Why? Since the events of Monsters, Inc. revealed “It’s laughter they’re after” -- not screams -- to solve an energy crisis.
“Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor” uses innovative digital puppetry technology to bring “dad” jokes to guests and even interacts with the audience. Sometimes the acts will feature witty one-liners texted in by people in the crowd. “Laugh Floor” first opened in 2007, a year after the marvelous “Timekeeper” 360-degree movie/show ended its run. Originally meant to be copied worldwide, incredibly harsh internet reviews during soft-opens and previews dampened enthusiasm for the show. Fortunately, the creators and entertainers kept at it and turned this into a crowd pleaser.
To all who come to this happy corner of ClickOrlando.com, welcome! Walt Disney World is counting down to its 50th Anniversary, and so are we. With 50 days until 50 years, we are taking a daily look back at the past, how Disney’s opening shaped Central Florida’s present and a peek at what’s in store for the future.
We’re also looking to hear your memories of Walt Disney World: What do you love? What do you miss? What are some of your magical moments? You can share them with us by sending us an email and we’ll post them all for everyone to enjoy. Some might even be featured during our News 6 TV coverage of Walt Disney World’s 50th.
Here’s to dreaming, and here’s to another half-century of The Most Magical Place on Earth!