On May 27, 1965, the Miami Herald published this headline: “Giant land deal near Orlando revealed.”
But the buyer and the plans were a mystery.
“A Miami law firm working with $5 million in cold cash has quietly engineered one of the biggest Florida land deals in years,” the story went on to report.
So, what would the 30,000 acres be used for? Speculation focused on an atomic energy lab. Another guessed “Disneyland East.”
Never miss a local story.
As we all know by now, Walt Disney was secretly assembling the land for what would become Walt Disney World in Central Florida.
In November, 1965, he announced plans for the theme park. Six years later, the Magic Kingdom opened.
From the Miami Herald archives, here is a look back at the milestones of Walt Disney World.
Oct. 2, 2011: When Walt Disney World opened 40 years ago — officially on Oct. 1, 1971, although the grand opening ceremony was not until Oct. 25 — the less-than-ballyhooed turnout for the first few weeks led some observers to believe Disney's venture into Florida was a dud. Disney stock took a tumble.
Then came Thanksgiving. So many visitors tried to enter Disney World that weekend that the park periodically had to close its doors. "It was a blockbuster, " recalled Charlie Ridgway, who was Disney's publicity director at that time. Disney stock soared - and so did the park.
In the 40 years since, Disney World has grown to become the biggest amusement complex in the world. Spread over 40 square miles, it has four separate theme parks, two water parks, 24 hotels with more than 27,000 rooms, more than 300 shops, more than 300 eating places, five golf courses, a sports complex and many dozens of unique attractions.
In that time, too, the Magic Kingdom has become the biggest theme park in the world in attendance. Disney doesn't release such figures, but the Themed Entertainment Association estimates the Magic Kingdom drew 16,972,000 visitors in 2010, down 1.5 percent from the year before but still about a million more than the second-place park, Disneyland in California (15,980,000).
The success of the Magic Kingdom led to a frantic scramble by developers to create competing theme parks in Central Florida. Circus World, Boardwalk and Baseball, Marco Polo World, Stars Hall of Fame and Splendid China opened but later failed. Among the parks proposed but never built were Bible World, Hurricane World and Little England.
But some big players did come on the Central Florida scene in the wake of Disney World's success. Sea World Orlando opened in 1973 and is going strong. Universal Orlando opened its Universal Studios theme park in 1990, followed by Islands of Adventure in 1999.
Together with Busch Gardens in Tampa, the soon-to-open Legoland in Winter Haven and a host of lesser attractions, Central Florida is the world's biggest playland. Call it Theme Park Central.
Disney World isn't marking its 40th anniversary with any special events, but it's a good time to reflect on what it was like in the beginning and what you can do there now that you couldn't before.
When the park opened in 1971, it had just 26 attractions in a single theme park, the Magic Kingdom. It had only two hotels, both of which were served by monorail.
Early visitors to the Magic Kingdom marveled at the ghostly effects in the Haunted Mansion, laughed at the talking animal heads in Country Bear Jamboree, rode a submarine under water in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, screamed when suddenly confronted with a locomotive bearing down on them in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, solemnly listened to audio-animatronic figures of America's chief executives in the Hall of Presidents, and hissed at the Wicked Queen in Snow White's Adventures.
But Disney World has never been a static park. Just about every year since its opening, Disney World has made additions. Some were simply new attractions, but many were expansions, most of them added after Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over the company in 1984.
Three more theme parks were added to the original Magic Kingdom - Epcot Center (now Epcot) in 1982, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) in 1989 and Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998. Its first water park, River Country, opened in 1975. It's gone but two others have since been built - Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
Disney World also phased out some attractions, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the Diamond Horseshow Revue. Snow White's Adventures will be gone before long as part of the expansion and revamping of Fantasyland.
Still, many of Magic Kingdom's original attractions survive today. You can still enjoy the Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, the Hall of Presidents and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, for example.
Add to those the many popular attractions that have come since, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (opened in 1973), Space Mountain (1975), Big Thunder Railroad (1980), Splash Mountain (1992) and the new Tomorrowland (1995).
With such new attractions came a growing use of modern technology, which Walt Disney was high on, though he didn't live to see Disney World open. "Walt Disney was a visionary, " said Brent Young, creative director of Super 78 Studios, which develops attractions for theme parks worldwide. "He [used technology] to bring to life a story and characters in a dimensional way. Everyone in this industry was influenced by him."
Disney Imagineers —the people who dream up new attractions — transformed simulators used in flight training into vehicles that imparted realistic motions to such attractions as Body Wars at Epcot and Star Tours at Hollywood Studios. Centrifuges, used in training NASA astronauts, produced real G-forces in the simulated space flight of Epcot's Mission: Space attraction. Laser beams were shot from "ray guns" in the Magic Kingdom's Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
Technology is still sparking new developments at Disney World and at the Magic Kingdom, which is undergoing the largest expansion in its history, one that will nearly double the size of Fantasyland. New attractions, the first of which will open in late 2012, include Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid (visitors join Ariel above and below the waves); Castle of the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast); Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (a coaster in a diamond-studded mine); and Princess Fairytale Hall (Disney princesses greet guests in a new home). And Dumbo will double - there will be two side-by-side flying Dumbo rides.
Meanwhile, Disney World's other theme parks also have added numerous attractions over the years, and they're still at it.
At Epcot, for example, Mission: Space, a simulated rocket ride with heavy G-forces, came along in 2003; Soarin', a swooping flight over California landscapes, opened in 2005. At Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, a thrilling coaster ride through the world's highest mountain, arrived in 2006; Finding Nemo - the Musical debuted in 2007.
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, Muppets Vision 3-D charmed visitors starting in 1991; The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror terrified elevator riders in 1994. At that same park, Toy Story Mania!, which opened in 2008, is Disney World's newest ride; The American Idol Experience (2009) the newest attraction, although in May, Disney opened its revamped Star Tours attraction featuring a flight simulator, 3-D videos and such characters as R2-D2, Darth Vader, Jedi Master Yoda and Chewbacca.
Just announced two weeks ago, Animal Kingdom will get a new "land" with multiple attractions based on the movie Avatar, with ground-breaking in 2013 and completion expected in 2016.
And as if 27,000 hotel rooms aren't enough, Disney World is currently constructing another major hotel, the Art of Animation Resort, with 1,120 family suites. It'll open next year.
Prices, too, have ramped upward over the years. In 1971, single-day admission to the Magic Kingdom cost $3.50 for adults and $1 for children, but this did not include rides and attractions. Guests had to buy tickets to those, from the coveted "E tickets, " which got you into the most popular attractions, down to the "A ticket, " which was only good for a ride on a Main Street tram. Disney World kept that cumbersome system in place until the early 1980s, when it changed to the present single-price admission system.
Today, one-day admission to one park is $85 for ages 10 and up, $79 for ages 3-9.
So what's ahead for Disney World in the next 40 years? With technology and lifestyles leaping in directions unimaginable even a few years ago, that's impossible to predict. One thing you can count on, though: Whatever Disney does, it'll be fun.
Disney World at 25
Sept. 29, 1996: Dolls in exotic costumes still sing unendingly in It's a Small World. Ghosts dance in the great hall of The Haunted Mansion. Peter Pan flies high above London with his young companions and the Jungle Cruise boat continues to sail perilously close to hippos and bathing elephants.
Twenty-five years after Walt Disney World opened its gates, many of the original attractions in the Magic Kingdom are still charming visitors. But so much has been added to the Disney complex in Orlando since 1971 that those adventures are almost lost in the vast Disney World of today.
In 1971 there was just one theme park, the Magic Kingdom, with 22 attractions. There were two hotels with a total of 1,500 rooms, two golf courses, a campground and a very long road to the entrance.
That was it.
But in those days it was enough. Visitors flocked to the central Florida park, and to keep them coming, Disney shrewdly kept adding new attractions year by year, decade by decade.
Today, there is not one theme park but three. Epcot opened in 1982, Disney/MGM Studios in 1989. A fourth park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, will open in 1998. Three themed water parks —the newest costing around $100 million —are cool places to go in summertime. Guests can test their skills on five 18-hole golf courses, rent boats and go horseback riding. Instead of two hotels on Disney property, there are 27 and their room count of 22,464 is greater than that of most large cities. "None of us had any idea how successful we would be, " said Marty Sklar, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the company that dreams up all the attractions. Sklar helped Walt Disney create the original Disneyland in California and was one of the key designers of the Florida park. "Our idea then was that Disney World was basically a bigger version of Disneyland, " he said. So Main Street was built considerably longer and Cinderella's Castle rose twice as high as California's Sleeping Beauty Castle. "You could see it from two miles away."
And early on, he said, "there was a misconception we had of Florida, that the audience was older."
Soon after the park opened, they realized their mistake. "The audience is the same [as in California]. People respond to the same things."
In those early days, what they responded to was an amusement park unlike anything ever seen before in the East. Underwater monsters and mysteries came to life when they sailed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Captain Nemo's submarine. In the Hall of Presidents, lifelike figures of all the American presidents talked of their role in building this country. A stuffed bison head suddenly began talking to theater guests at the Country Bear Jamboree, and Mr. Toad took guests on a wild ride that ended with a near collision with a locomotive.
Nothing strayed from the Disney theme. Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck walked the streets, thrilling the small fry. They still do. Restaurants and shops carried out the themes, and still do: Fantasyland's Pinocchio Village House serves fast food in a building that looks like a Tuscan villa, while Tomorrowland's aptly named Geiger's Counter sells extraterrestrial souvenirs.
It was all great fun, but so people would never be able to say, "I've already seen Disney World, " space was left for future attractions. Pirates of the Caribbean came along in 1973, Space Mountain in 1975, Big Thunder in 1980, Splash Mountain in 1992. All quickly became among the park's most popular rides.
Today, the winds of change are blowing in two directions at the Magic Kingdom.
Disney went futuristic last year when it completely modernized its Tomorrowland, scrapping its trite 1950s decor to a more zappy science-fictionish look. Replacing the tame Mission to Mars attraction was a truly space-age adventure, Alien Encounter, in which a terrifying creature from outer space is accidentally teleported into your theater . . . and let loose.
Going in the other direction -- back to its roots -- Disney has just finished upgrading a somewhat slapdash attraction, Mickey's Starland, into a new and larger Fantasyland sector called Mickey's Toontown Fair. Here, visitors can explore Mickey's and Minnie's houses, complete with skewed roofs, bulging windows and cartoon furnishings. Donald Duck's boat surprises visitors with water jets and the Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacres Farm, opening Tuesday, features a kid-sized roller coaster that crashes through a barn.
All told, the Magic Kingdom, where Disney's Florida saga began, now has 48 attractions, more than double the number in 1971. That's quite a change.
Something else changed along the way. Many of the early attractions had been based on fairy tales and tried-and-true children's stories. When Epcot came on line, its themes were more contemporary. Its World Showcase section gave visitors a taste of life and customs in foreign lands. Its Future World looked at earth's resources and at man's efforts to explore his world.
More sophisticated rides were built. It was at Epcot that Disney's first motion simulator, Body Wars, debuted. Motion simulators are capsules that provide a highly realistic motion experience by coordinating their movement with action projected on a motion picture screen.
Three-dimensional movies — a decades-old gimmick — were brought back on a much higher technological level with Michael Jackson's space-traveling Captain EO (now replaced by the Honey I Shrunk the Kids 3-D movie) And most recently, Disney latched on to the computer craze by creating Innoventions, an attraction that showcases cutting-edge developments in high-tech products.
And restaurants at Epcot crossed another barrier — for the first time, alcoholic beverages were served in a Disney theme park. (The Magic Kingdom does not serve alcohol in any of its restaurants.)
Disney/MGM Studios came on the scene in 1989, beating Universal Studios to the Florida punch. Universal had run a highly successful movie-themed park at its Los Angeles studios for years and was planning a clone (today's Universal Studios Florida) in Orlando. But Disney got its movie-themed park finished first.
Its guests watched Indiana Jones run for his life in front of a huge rolling ball in a live-actor attraction. Star Tours drew on George Lucas' smash Star Wars films with another motion simulator experience. Disney added hilarious in-theater effects to 3-D films in Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3-D and the later Honey I Shrunk the Kids show.
The year 1989 also marked another departure for Disney: It opened its first attraction aimed strictly at adults. In usual Disney blockbuster style, Pleasure Island offers seven themed nightclubs plus several dining options, including a Planet Hollywood. Coming soon: Lario's Nightclub, House of Blues, Virgin Records, Wolfgang Puck's Cafe, Cirque de Soleil.
Expanding on the Chautauqua theme, The Disney Institute opened in 1995. Designed to provide educational programs in a resort environment, the facility offers more than 60 programs in arts, life styles and fitness.
What's ahead for Disney World?
This fall will see the formal opening of Celebration, a town Disney is building from scratch. About 50 residents already have moved into the 4,900-acre town, which eventually will have 8,000 homes constructed in six architectural styles. The first phase, due for completion in 18 months, will have about 350 homes, two office buildings, a school, medical center, teaching academy, golf course and 14 businesses in its town center.
Next year, another major resort will open on Disney land. The Coronado Springs Resort, set on a lake, will be the company's first convention hotel in the moderate price range.
Disney's Animal Kingdom, opening in 1998, will be the company's first incursion into the exhibition of live animals, save for the fish in the Living Seas pavilion at Epcot. Disney will fill 500 acres with more than 1,000 animals in habitats replicating those of their native environments, and you can bet Disney will employ a few gimmicks in its presentations. Also part of the park will be Dinoland, which will feature a major adventure called Countdown to Extinction.
Also in 1998, Disney will launch its first cruise ship, the Disney Magic, whose cruises out of Port Canaveral will be packaged with three- or four-night stays at Disney World.
As for overall trends, Sklar believes today's theme park visitors want more control over the things they do.
"They want more participation, more hands-on" experiences, Sklar said. And with new technology blazing the way, they'll get it, he believes.
But not everything will go high-tech. Other forces are at work.
"Parents want to come back, " said Sklar. "They were here as kids, and they want to take their children on the same attractions they enjoyed."
So, while new attractions may look into the future, there will always be a place for Snow White, Peter Pan and Dumbo the Elephant.
Oct. 2, 1971: Walt Disney's $400 million world opened Friday with cloudless skies and balmy temperatures - an extravagant spectacle.
Nevertheless, only 10,422 persons filed into the park before its 6 p.m. closing - far below the 30,000 to 35,000 that had been predicted.
Those who came to the unofficial opening day saw Disney's newest Magic Kingdom at its best, gleaming with fresh paint, almost completely free of the lines of people and of transportation problems that have plagued "preview" openings during the past two weeks.
Whining monorails, puffing steam engines and authentic paddlewheel steamboats moved everyone smoothly around the park, but their whistles and bells had to compete with the screams of ecstatic children meeting Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other Disney characters in front of the 200-foot Cinderella's Castle.
Most excited of all were Mr. and Mrs. William J. Windsor Jr. and their two sons, who were selected from among the 100 or so at the gates at 7:40 a.m. to be Walt Disney World's "First Family."
"We couldn't have found a better-looking couple if we'd recruited them, " said one Disney official as he looked at the couple's two blue-eyed, straw-blond youngsters, Jay, age 3, and Lee, 1 1/2.
The Windsors carried matters one step further by confessing they had slept Thursday night in their Volkswagen, a "love bug" of Disney movie fame.
"It was worth it, " declared Windsor, 21, owner and manager of a Lakeland apartment building. Mrs. Windsor accepted a lifetime silver pass to Disney World from Mickey Mouse himself.
Less impressed, however, was little Lee: Only after considerable coaxing by his father did he place his hand in Mickey Mouse's white glove.
Nov. 15, 1965: The videotape was in black and white, but a suave Walt Disney kept his present-day audience enthralled Monday during a replay of the press conference 31 years ago that announced a Florida home for Mickey Mouse. Walt's nephew, Roy E. Disney, was joined by Gov. Lawton Chiles and former Govs. Reubin Askew, Claude Kirk and Bob Martinez for a re-enactment of the Nov. 15, 1965, event that disclosed the nature of The Florida Project.
That project was the Magic Kingdom, the theme park that made Florida a worldwide tourist destination.
"We are going to develop something that's more than just an entertainment enterprise, " Walt Disney told what was then considered the largest press gathering held in Florida.
"It's something that contributes in many other ways" to society and the family, Disney said.
With then-Gov. Haydon Burns sitting at his side, Disney said the project would cost around $100 million.
"There was a time in my life when I didn't know there was that much money, " he quipped. "But my big brother says we can do it."
That big brother, Roy O. Disney, opened the $400 million theme park Oct. 1, 1971, and dedicated it to his brother, who had died shortly after announcing the Florida project.
The Magic Kingdom has grown into three theme parks, with a fourth on the way, plus numerous hotel resorts and other attractions with an estimated total investment of $3.5 billion.
The reception featuring the four governors was the unofficial kickoff to four days of parties and activities surrounding Disney's 25th birthday in this state.
Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of Walt Disney Co., will be joined today by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a rededication ceremony at the Magic Kingdom. Disney's father dedicated a plaque to Walt Disney on the same spot in front of Cinderella's castle 25 years ago.
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner was the host Monday night at a glittering party at the Orlando Arena called Remember the Magic.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America honored its first National Youth of the Year, and performers Betty White, Kathie Lee Gifford, Arturo Sandoval and others entertained some 15,000 specially invited guests at the home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.
Walt Disney's 1965 announcement culminated many months of speculation about a "mystery industry" coming to Central Florida. The rumors were stirred by an anonymous land-buying spree of swampland, forests and lakes southwest of Orlando.
Disney told his 1965 press conference audience that after Disneyland in California, which was then 10 years old, "We wanted to see what we might do when we were starting from scratch."
Turning to Gov. Burns, he said, "Here, after looking at the land this morning, I must say we are starting from scratch."
Chiles said Monday that no one dreamed that Disney's arrival would transform the state into a world destination, giving it a new identity besides beaches and citrus.
Chiles, who was a state legislator when he attended the 1965 press event, recalled that Walt Disney had insisted he wanted to build something besides an amusement park -- a community of the future.
But, the governor said, Walt's brother "kept saying the money's gotta come in first."