construction began in April 1969. The first task for the Reedy Creek
Improvement District was finding a way to drain areas of swampland for
construction without damaging the environment. Since the whole Central
Florida area basically floats on a body of fresh water, any depletion or
damage to one part of this water supply would cause environmental
devastation to the region's entire supply.
Over fifty miles of
canals and levees were constructed on property to control water levels
without losing the supply. Water control structures, such as the
French-designed Emile Gate, keep levels under control by automatically
floating open when water reaches certain peaks and close when peaks
subside. They require no electricity or human monitoring, and greatly
reduce the risk of flooding or drought. These canals were the first
"themed" illusion on property: they curve through the natural landscape
much as a stream would, instead of following the straight lines of
Once they had a way to control and drain
whatever land areas they needed for construction, Imagineers in Florida
and California began various projects simultaneously. The Disney staff
wanted the resort built in two years. They hired an outside group of
engineers to oversee construction, but this group said it would take at
least five years to complete the project. The Disney staff subsequently
let that group go and created their own team.
At the time, Bay
Lake was the only natural body of water on property. It was also one of
the first areas of property Walt wanted to buy (along with an island in
the middle of it, now called Discovery Island). In early planning
stages, designers decided to build a man-made lagoon adjacent to it.
There would be plenty of space for water recreation, and the lagoon
would complement the setting of the Polynesian Village Resort. It could
also offer Guests the feel of an exotic journey to the theme park's
Bay Lake was first drained with pumps and its
bottom layer of muck scooped out. Next to it, over seven million cubic
yards of earth were dug up for the lagoon and used as a foundation for
the Magic Kingdom Park. White sand found underneath all the muck was
used to line the four and a half miles of beach around the newly created
Seven Seas Lagoon. Bay Lake and the 172-acre lagoon were then refilled
with water from the surrounding wetland and stocked with more than
The concepts of EPCOT moved forward. In the spirit
of a self-sufficient city, the resort built its own energy plants,
maintenance shops, food center, and laundry to handle the massive needs
of Cast Members and Guests. Miles of sewage, water, and electrical lines
and pipes were laid, paving the way for future utility plants.
theme parks and resorts' utility systems were constructed with unique
and advanced methods to supply electricity and hot water for heating and
cooling. A wastewater treatment plant was built to treat effluent and
direct it to a nearby tree farm and golf courses.
advanced computer system was installed in the central energy plant to
monitor and control the distribution of power across the property. The
system instantly and automatically recognizes any problem occurring in
the parks or hotels, and usually adjusts the problem from there. The
plant also produces part of the WALT DISNEY WORLD power needs. This is a
necessity since thunderstorms are common in Central Florida. If there
is a power outage, the resort can rely on emergency power from its own
Another monitoring system was installed to detect smoke,
fire, floods, or unusual water flow. It covers more than 3,000 spots
across property and automatically alerts the appropriate response
personnel if needed.
Most of the support facilities were built
north of the Magic Kingdom Park. Central Shops was created to serve as a
major center for fabrication, for everything from trash cans and ride
vehicles, to signs and ornamental iron and wood work in and around the
themed buildings. It is divided into many different areas: the Machine
Shop, Metal Shop, Maintenance Services, Electrical, Plumbing and Air
Conditioning, Staff Shop, Mill Shop, and Paint Shop. Built next to
Central Shops was a dry dock for building and servicing Walt Disney
There was no food distribution center in the
Central Florida area large enough to support the volume of the resorts
and theme park's Guests, so the Disney company built its own. Almost all
food was shipped there before going out to various locations on
property. It had its own bakery for breads and pastry items, and a main
kitchen for preparing soups and sauces, produce, meat, pizza,
sandwiches, and salads. A quality control kitchen allowed chefs to keep
recipes consistent throughout property and evaluate menu items going in
and coming off the line.
Master Planning for Walt
Disney World, 1969
(Artwork by Walt Disney Productions - The Walt
The world's largest working wardrobe,
with offices in the park and separate hotels, was assigned to create and
perform maintenance on Cast Member and Audio-Animatronics figure
costumes. To clean all those costumes, the world's largest laundry
facility was constructed. It not only cleans costumes, but resort
towels, sheets, and napkins handled by Cast Members and Guests . . .
about 100,000 pounds of linen each day.
At the tree farm just a
few miles away, landscape designers and horticulturists tended thousands
of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers needed for WALT DISNEY WORLD
greenery. The original inventory of trees numbered more than 8,000. Some
exotic plantlife comes from as far away as Asia, Australia, the Pacific
Islands, and Africa. Many species require three years of acclimation to
Florida soil before they are transplanted onstage. Also, about 1,500
existing trees growing in areas destined for development were moved and
transplanted in other locations.
Monorail beams, made of concrete
with a special polystyrene core to lighten their weight, came by rail
from the state of Washington. The monorail trains themselves were
constructed in California. Plans already called for two monorail tracks
to circle the Seven Seas Lagoon. One would go straight to the MAGIC
KINGDOM Park from the main parking lot, the other stopping at the resort
hotels around the lagoon also. Future plans called for beams to extend
all the way to Lake Buena Vista, where the Disney Village Resort was
under development. This particular monorail route never made it past the
There were no telephone lines or telephone
system on property before it was purchased. The Disney company formed a
partnership with the Florida Telephone Company to create a completely
new state-of-the-art telephone system. Vista-United Telecommunications
was designed to serve resort, park, and administration telephones, as
well as transmit computer data and video signals all over property. It
became the first totally electronic telephone system using underground
cable instead of standard poles with overhead lines. It would be the
first to use a fiber-optics system in a commercial venture, and the
first in Florida to use the 911 emergency system.
hotels used a method of construction never before implemented. While the
hotels' main skeletal structures were being erected, their rooms were
manufactured at an assembly plant miles away. Each one was built as a
lightweight steel module and completely outfitted with wall coverings,
bath fixtures, and mirrors. They were then trucked to the site and
individually "plugged" into the resorts' framework with the help of
Theming was key to their design. Walt wanted the
entire property to be a themed experience, not just the theme park. The
resorts not only had their own individual look, but were specifically
planned and positioned as extensions of the Magic Kingdom Park.
Tempo Bay Resort Hotel became the Contemporary Resort (now Disney's
Contemporary Resort) and was placed as a compatible backdrop to
Tomorrowland. Disney's Polynesian Resort (formerly Polynesian Village
Resort) is an extension of Adventureland. Farther back in the
surrounding forests, the campground known as Fort Wilderness (now
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground), named after the fort on
Tom Sawyer's Island in Disneyland Park, features the quiet country
atmosphere of Frontierland. (The same care used to preserve trees in
other areas of development took place at Fort Wilderness as well.
Subsequent planning of resort campsites and roads saved fifty percent
more trees, including 300-year-old cypress trees).
included at least three more resorts around the lagoon, with Venetian,
Asian, and Persian styles. Space was left open for a large movie theater
complex, and a Western town resort near the Fort Wilderness Campground.
the foundation where the Magic Kingdom Park was to stand, a network of
warehouse-sized rooms, hallways, and office space was built, then
covered with more dirt. This nine-acre tunnel system, called
"utilidors," forms a unique support basement. The Magic Kingdom Park
that Guests see is actually the second and third stories. The utilidors
provide easy, behind-the-scenes access to utility systems, offices, and
storage areas, and also backstage passage to Cast Member work locations.
Master Planning for Walt
Disney World, 1969
(Artwork by Walt Disney Productions - The Walt
Located in the utilidors is the nerve
center for the park's computer systems. The Digital Animation Control
System (DACS) virtually controls everything in the park, from the
hundreds of playback recordings in each attraction to the water pressure
needed to push various boats through each ride track all of it
simultaneously. Computers also control all the projection systems,
fireworks, and parade operations . . . even park cash registers.
Swedish-built Automated Vacuum Assisted Collection (AVAC) was the first
waste system of its type installed in the United States. It is an
integral part of waste collection for the theme park, intricately linked
through the utilidors by pneumatic tubes. Trash is deposited in several
collection points around the park. Every fifteen minutes it is drawn
through the tubes at speeds up to 60 miles per hour and sent to a
central compactor station.
Meanwhile, Imagineers were putting
other elements of the Magic Kingdom Park together in California. The
park attractions went through months of meticulous planning before
actually being built. Each ride and show was given a storyline, with a
beginning, middle, and end. Extensive historical backgrounds were
researched to bring authenticity to the stories, from Pirates of the
Caribbean to The Hall of Presidents. Then, sketches and a script of each
scene in order, were drawn up on a storyboard to give Imagineers a
visual impression of what the attraction would look like in sequence.
With the storyboard and hundreds of sketches as visual guides,
Imagineers then crafted scale models of the entire attraction so they
could see and experiment with what Guests would see during their
experience. Every angle of view had to be taken into account, including
what would be seen if Guests turned around.
The models provided a
guide for the full-size clay sculptures of animated figures and props.
These sculptures were used to create molds for the actual show pieces.
As the pieces were fabricated and assembled, audio tracks of voices and
sound effects were recorded in studio booths, and background sets were
constructed and painted. Thousands of set props, such as old tables and
chairs, firearms, window shades, curtains, doors, bird cages, carriages,
lanterns, and artificial trees and rocks, were found, purchased, or
made from scratch in Imagineering shops. After each attraction building
was constructed, the ride system or show equipment was installed. The
sets, props, Audio-Animatronics figures, and special effects went in
next, followed by the final audio recordings. Finally, each scene's
visual and audio effects were programmed to play back in sync, thanks to
the massive computers of DACS.
The old-fashioned steam
locomotives which circle the park were found in Mexico and refurbished
in Tampa, Florida. Paddle-wheelers, ferryboats, and submarines were also
built there for the planned naval fleet.
The Magic Kingdom Park
would open with six themed lands: Main Street, U.S.A.; Adventureland;
Frontierland; Liberty Square, a land originally planned for the
Disneyland Park in 1955; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland. Mickey's
Birthdayland was created in 1988 to honor Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday,
and eventually changed its name to Mickey's Starland in 1990. In 1996,
the land changed again into Mickey's Toontown Fair with the addition of
more interactive play areas, character greeting locations, and a kiddie
roller coaster called The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacres Farm.
construction of the Magic Kingdom Park began in early 1970, starting
with Main Street, U.S.A., and the Cinderella Castle. Years of research
went into the planning and design of the Walt Disney World signature
castle. Imagineers used several French castles for inspiration, among
them the Chambord, the Usse, and the Chenonceau. Inspiration also came
from the castle in Walt Disney's own film Cinderella.
one had built a 189-foot castle in America, there was difficulty finding
craftsmen experienced in the field. There were no local gargoyle or
trellis makers in the area, so Imagineering fashioned its own. It took
eighteen months to complete. Six hundred tons of steel were used in the
framework. Imagineers then sculpted exterior and interior fiberglass
walls to resemble solid granite. The ten towering spires, fabricated and
finished on property, were then slid into place above the main building
and permanently attached (contrary to some myths, the castle cannot be,
nor has ever been dismantled in the event of a hurricane). Finishing
touches applied to this architectural marvel included the Cinderella
mice carved into decorative columns, family crests of Walt's family and
friends in the second story stained glass windows, and Walt's own family
crest in stone above the breezeways.
Eventually, all the lands
came together with their own unique themes. Ordinary buildings were
cloaked with intricately designed exteriors and interiors. Details were
installed and the final coats of paint were put on. Imagineers used an
architectural trick called "forced perspective" to make buildings look
taller than they actually are. They shrunk windows, balconies, and even
furniture on the second floors and shrunk any third floors even further
to achieve the illusion of tall buildings climbing far into the sky. To
complete the feeling of being in a three dimensional movie, background
music was created for each particular land, as if it was part of any
film's soundtrack. In the end, it took more than 9,000 workers to build
the world's most famous vacation resort, at a cost of just more than
In Lake Buena Vista, the Walt Disney World Preview
Center hosted more than one million Guests prior to park opening. For
eighteen months, a staff of tour guides used artists' renderings,
slides, and film to show what the Vacation Kingdom would be all about.
Without question, anticipation for this resort was enormous.