Disney Deep Dive: The Florida Studio Park, Part 2

By the mid-1970’s, it was obvious that the initial attendance issues at Florida’s Magic Kingdom Park were an anomaly. The resort was firing on all cylinders, but Roy Disney’s conservative approach to building out the resort was beginning to be a problem. The company needed more things for guests to do and places for them to stay. Roy’s handpicked successor- Card Walker- made it clear that they needed a new theme park to try to keep competitors at bay. But what could it be?

While the Imagineers struggled to answer that question, another guest relations problem sprang up- guests remembered Walt Disney talking about EPCOT on his television show and were constantly asking about it. Lucky for the company, however, most people didn’t realize that Walt Disney’s EPCOT was a real city and not a theme park. Card Walker made the decision that the next theme park built would be called EPCOT Center, so the Imagineers had to come up with a concept that fit the name. When they couldn’t seem to come up with a workable concept, an exasperated Card Walker looked at two of the other theme park concepts they had been working on- “World Showcase” and “Future World”, pushed them together and decreed that they would become EPCOT Center.

The massive project’s budget would balloon to $3 Billion- more than the entire Walt Disney Productions was worth at the time. This would be more of an adult theme park, serving alcoholic beverages and featuring no Disney characters. The soggy Florida swamp land provided an engineering challenge, but luckily the parcel of land they chose for the park (which would have coindentally been the city center of Walt Disney’s EPCOT) was firm enough to build on.

EPCOT Center was seen as a way for the company to cement its dominance in Orlando and possibly discourage others from trying to leech off Walt Disney World’s success. When the park finally opened in 1982, it was a financial disaster. Guests found the park charmless and missed having the Disney characters around. The company desperately tried to address the complaints and had to plow more cash into the already over budget park to entice its guests. The park would eventually threaten the very existence of Walt Disney Productions and send the company into a tailspin. It also opened up an opportunity for competing theme park companies to enter the Orlando market.

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Disney Deep Dive: The Florida Studio Park

Before Walt Disney opened DISNEYLAND in 1955, few tourists ever ventured to Anaheim, California. Southern California as a whole, however, was already a major tourist destination. In the beginning, this was undoubtedly a blessing, since Mr. Disney wasn’t necessarily asking his guests to visit an area that they would have never visited on their own. Tourists had already flocked to Southern California’s beaches and Hollywood studios for decades. DISNEYLAND was just another stop. 

DISNEYLAND would soon supplant all other tourist sites in Southern California, becoming the first stop for most visitors. Others took notice and a new tourism ecosystem sprang up to entice DISNEYLAND guests to spend their time and money elsewhere after they had experienced the Magic Kingdom. This began to grate on Mr. Disney. What if he had more control over the surrounding area? What if more of the tourism revenue he was generating stayed at DISNEYLAND? He was uninterested in making money for money’s sake; he wanted to make more money so that he could build ever bigger attractions. These outside enterprises were siphoning funds away that could have been used to expand DISNEYLAND.

So while Mr. Disney’s decision to build what he was calling “Disneyland East” in Florida was mainly made so that he could build his futuristic city, he also wanted to establish more Disney owned businesses that could generate more profits he could use for expansion. After he passed away, his brother Roy canceled plans for the futuristic city of EPCOT and scaled back plans for multiple hotels and amusement enterprises.

Roy Disney based his decision to scale back on hotels and attractions on the fact that Orlando Florida was not a tourism hotspot prior to Disney World. It was where people stopped to fill up on the way to other more interesting places. Unlike Anaheim, which was already surrounded by attractions and beaches, Disney would be asking its east coast guests to trust that it would show them a good time because there was little else around to entertain them. After a lackluster start, Florida’s Magic Kingdom found its footing, but Roy’s conservative, cut down master plan still resulted in the sort of leech development that happened in Anaheim, except the vast acreage owned by Disney in Florida pushed it further away.

It would take over ten years for the resort to build another theme park. The massive project would forever shape the future of Disney in Florida as well as the theme park that would come after it.

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Walt Wednesdays: A Few Of Walt’s Favorite Things

One of Walt Disney’s favorite foods was popcorn. Whenever he took guests on a tour of DISNEYLAND, he always gave each of them a box of popcorn at the beginning of the day.

Mr. Disney’s favorite song was Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins. Coincidentally, he would typically buy an extra box of popcorn when he was at DISNEYLAND so that he could feed the birds who called the park home.

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Toontown Tuesdays: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin

When The Walt Disney Company built its first full size, full quality Toontown in Anaheim, it was a foregone conclusion that the land would include an immersive ride based on Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin became a huge success, attracting millions of guests to the furthest land from the front gate.

The success of the land and the attraction spawned a nearly identical version that was built in Tokyo. As this picture attests, the attraction was not an exact match to the one in Anaheim.

The attraction was never replicated in Disney World’s now demolished “Toontown Fair”, quite possibly due to the area’s low quality construction.

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Music Mondays: Walt Disney and the Avengers

While Walt Disney’s favorite song was Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins, the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the song, always felt that the piece of music they wrote that best summed up their boss was There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, a bouncy song that was used in the Carousel Of Progress attraction in DISNEYLAND.

The song expressed Mr. Disney’s positive outlook- his feeling that today’s problems could be solved in the future through research and technology. In 2010, Marvel Studios was looking for an inspirational song that would be used at the fictional “Stark Expo” in Iron Man 2. In the film, Howard Stark is portrayed as a businessman who similarly embraced the future. The type of song they had in mind was one that would be similar to There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, so they went right to the original songwriters- the Sherman Brothers- who wrote Make Way For Tomorrow Today, a song that sounds like it could have been right out of DISNEYLAND’s Tomorrowland.

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