On October 1st, 2012, Walt Disney World (WDW) will reach its 41st Anniversary. Over the years so much has changed and yet so much remains the same as it was when it opened its doors on October 1st, 1971. When WDW first opened it was just the Magic Kingdom and 2 resorts – the Polynesian Village, later to be renamed Disney’s Polynesian Resort and the Contemporary Resort Hotel, later to be renamed Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The Magic Kingdom and the 2 resorts were all connected by Monorail. Shortly after, the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground opened up. Over the years, 3 more theme parks, several resorts and a wide variety of shopping, recreational and entertainment places opened making WDW the ultimate vacation destination. In fact, WDW was called “The Vacation Kingdom of the World”!! My family took our first WDW vacation in August of 1974. We took a train from New York and arrived on my 7th birthday. My parents kept saying “isn’t this the best birthday present ever?” Little did they know that day WDW would become a yearly trip for us. The only year we missed going was in 1977, but to make up for it we visited Disneyland in California!
Over the years, Walt Disney World has had many celebrations to mark special anniversaries and birthdays. My family and I were lucky enough to be there for most of these special events.
On October 1st, 1981, Disney World turned 10 years old! This special celebration was called “The Tencennial Celebration” and it ran from October 1st, 1981 to September 30th, 1982. To celebrate, there was a special stage show in Tomorrowland called “Disney World is Your World”, there was a birthday party show at Cinderella Castle and there was a Tencennial parade. In the parade there was a catchy song all about Disney World being 10 years old and my favorite line in the song was “it’s a year long and a smile wide!” WDW carried a wide variety of Tencennial merchandise and I was lucky enough to purchase some of the items. I have a bumper sticker and a Lucite keychain with the 10 logo on it. Since we were there at the later part of the celebration, the t-shirts in bigger sizes were sold out. I remember that I would check every store in hopes of finding my size and one day while shopping in The Emporium, I found my size!! The day after this celebration ended, EPCOT Center opened its doors! Before EPCOT opened, the promo for this park was “The 21st Century Begins October 1st, 1982”. On October 1st of this year, EPCOT will turn 30!
The next big celebration at Disney World was the 15th Anniversary. This celebration started on October 1st, 1986, and ran through September 30th, 1987. Again, I was happy that my family was able to be there for this momentous occasion. When you arrived at the Magic Kingdom there was a giant Mickey Mouse clock and all the numbers around it were 15. When a guest would go through the turnstiles they were given a computer-printed ticket stating if they had won a prize. Prizes were given away every 15 seconds, including a new car once a day. When my family was at WDW, we stayed for 2 weeks and not once did any of us win a prize. I am unsure what was given away, but I am sure it was some merchandise with the 15 year logo on it. The celebration included a new show at Cinderella Castle and a parade with a catchy tune. I remember the song’s chorus went “15 years, we’re having a party”! I was also lucky enough to purchase a bunch of 15 year merchandise including an enamel pin. This was way before pins became a phenomenon at WDW!
In 1988, WDW celebrated Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday in style. There was a parade, lots of shows and a new land called Mickey’s Birthdayland opened which was later named Mickey’s Starland and then Mickey’s Toontown Fair. I wanted to mention this celebration, since they made a big deal about it, but in this article I want to focus on just the anniversary celebrations at WDW.
The next big WDW celebration was the 20th Anniversary. This celebration began on October 1st, 1991 and the theme was “Surprise Celebration”! At the Magic Kingdom, they celebrated with a new parade that had a Mardi Gras theme and was called “Surprise Celebration Parade.” This parade featured Disney character balloons that towered 35-40 feet in the air. The characters were Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Roger Rabbit, who played a big role in this celebration. During the day he would “surprise” guests during various shows and other things, and the guest would win a 20th anniversary themed prize. Also debuting was the new nighttime parade Spectromagic, which replaced the Main Street Electrical Parade. The celebration also stretched to Epcot where there was a daytime show over the World Showcase Lagoon called “Surprise in the Skies”. Towards the end of the show large character balloons, much like the ones from the parade, popped over all around World Showcase. Each character was dressed like the country that it was in front of. I remember running around after the show with my dad to make sure we got a close up picture of each balloon. I was happy that I collected a bunch of 20th anniversary merchandise. I have t-shirts, a keychain, a bumper sticker and a pin set. From what I remember, a new pin came out monthly. I was there in December and only got the first 3. The following year I went to a local Disney convention and was able to obtain the rest from the set. In the end there were 15 in all because the celebration lasted 15 months.
If you haven’t guessed yet, the next big celebration was the 25th Anniversary of WDW, which began on October 1st, 1996!! During this celebration, Cinderella Castle was transformed into a giant pink birthday cake with lots of frosting and candy. There were mixed reviews of this transformation because guests coming for the first time wanted to see the regular castle and not the pink one. The theme of this celebration was “Remember the Magic”. Guests who had been to WDW before were considered “Guests of Honor” and were able to get a badge with the year of their first visit to WDW on it. This was free and it was fun seeing everyone walking around the parks wearing them. There was a Remember the Magic parade which I remember had a catchy tune as well. The part I remember was “It’s time to remember the magic”. I couldn’t help but sing it every time I watched the parade and I remember all the cast members on the floats sang it as well. I am also happy that I collected a bunch of 25th Anniversary merchandise! The coolest item I remember I got was a t-shirt which on the back had all the logos of all the WDW Anniversaries!
The 25th Anniversary was the last big Anniversary celebrated at WDW. In 2000, there was a very big Millennium celebration which is when pin trading became really big. In 2001, which was the 30th Anniversary, the theme instead was “100 Years of Magic”, which celebrated Walt Disney’s 100th birthday. In 2005, Disneyland Resort turned 50 years old and Walt Disney World celebrated with what was called “The Happiest Celebration on Earth”. During this celebration, each of the WDW theme parks got a new attraction or show. In 2006, which marked 35 years, the theme was “A Year of a Million Dreams”, where guests were randomly awarded prizes which included an overnight stay at Cinderella Castle!! October 1st, 2011 marked the 40th Anniversary. They didn’t have any major celebration in honor of this, but they carried a lot of nostalgic Disney 40th merchandise. On October 1st, 2021, WDW will turn 50 years old!! I can only imagine what kind of celebration they will do for this. I am hoping they do something really big and over the top!
Were any of you at these major celebrations? Do you have other memories of them or do you own special merchandise? I would be happy to read any comments. But for now, Happy 41st Anniversary Walt Disney World!! After all these years, you are still a source of enjoyment and fun for people all over the world. I know WDW will continue to entertain people for years to come and always be a special place and hold special memories in my heart!!