8 Epic Ways Walt Disney World Has Changed That Make Us Nostalgic

  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 22 February 2023
  • Revised 24 February 2023
8 Epic Ways Walt Disney World Has Changed That Make Us Nostalgic
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 22 February 2023
  • Revised 24 February 2023
8 Epic Ways Walt Disney World Has Changed That Make Us Nostalgic
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 22 February 2023
  • Revised 24 February 2023
Some things never change…

Disney has been a part of the lives of millions for decades. Think of cosy childhood afternoons sitting wide-eyed in front of the TV, hearing "When You Wish Upon a Star" as Cinderella’s Castle emerges in the opening credits - then waiting for the VHS to rewind to watch the film all over again. These days even DVDs are old news, still that fairy-tale feeling remains for generation after generation, whether seeing the iconic castle on screens or before our eyes at theme parks.

One thing that has changed over the years is Walt Disney World Resort. There's always new attractions on the horizon and bittersweet goodbyes to the lands and rides we loved. With this in mind, join us on a trip down memory lane as we explore 8 ways Walt Disney World has changed since its gates first opened over 50 years ago…

Then when you're ready, we can help you make 2023 or 2024 your most magical year yet, with a Disney holiday to cherish forever. 

A Brief History of Walt Disney World

Since opening its doors in Lake Buena Vista in 1971, ‘The Most Magical Place on Earth’ has been a mecca for Disney lovers. For some it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, for others it’s an annual pilgrimage, for all it holds an undeniable magnetism.
The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World (1971)

From its humble beginnings as solely Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the resort is constantly growing, evolving, and modernising, offering ground-breaking and enticing new attractions each year. These changes keep up with the latest and most popular movies and franchises –  think Star Wars and Marvel, among many more.

Three unique parks joined the family in the years that followed: Epcot in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989 and Animal Kingdom in 1998, as well as two world-class water parks, Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995.

Beloved Attractions New and Old

As well as new rides and parks, subtle changes throughout the resort are continuously happening to keep the themes thriving, from tweaks to restaurant menus and interiors and even gift shop names. The once generically themed hotels are being given extra special Disney touches of late and are being redesigned around specific movies. For example, Disney’s Contemporary Resort now features updated room décor based on The Incredibles, with unique artwork, hidden details, and cleverly thought-out amenities for eagle-eyed fans. While Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort overhauled its rooms with a strong focus on Moana, one of its most successful animated films in recent years.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort

It's easy to wistfully remember early features of the Disney parks – a time before immense queues and FastPass options; a time when your favourite Disney characters wandered the parks freely and you diligently kept their cartoonish scrawls in your autograph book. But remember, with change often comes progress. 

Still, before reminding ourselves of what we love now, in the spirit of nostalgia, let’s look back at some of the most greatly missed Disney attractions from the last five decades. Tissues at the ready!

Attractions We Loved Then 

Studio Backlot Tour 

This part-walking, part-tram ride tour was one of the most exciting and long-running attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into movie set life, it showcased lots of cool props and paraphernalia from many beloved Disney films but closed in 2014 to pave the way for the colossal Toy Story Land.

Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! 

If you’re an 80s or 90s kid you're likely to have been enthralled by the brilliant Honey, I Shrunk the Kids film. The Disney ride it inspired was one of the first 4D attractions around, using 3D and in-theatre effects that were a major feature at Epcot for 16 glorious years before closing in 2010. Riders would sit in a huge movie theatre on a moving platform and watch Professor Wayne Szalinski accidentally ‘shrink’ the audience in a hilarious chain of events, ending with his loveable dog, Quark, sneezing and spraying everyone (using hidden water jets behind the seats). 

The Great Movie Ride

One of the primary fixtures at Disney’s Hollywood Studios since opening in 1989 – and the main inspiration for the whole premise of the park – the Great Movie Ride took guests through a cornucopia of classic movie sets like The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Mary Poppins. In 2017, it was replaced by Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which is surprisingly the first-ever themed ride dedicated to Disney’s most iconic duo.

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

This ride never quite screamed ‘Disney’ and was loved and hated in equal measure. The scary and rather dark ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was based on the famous Alien films. Not one for the faint-hearted, the ride took place in a round theatre with shaking seats and terrifying special effects to make you think you’re in a lab with an escaped Alien. The experience resided at the Magic Kingdom until 2003 when Stitch’s Great Escape, a much more family-friendly option, took its place. Whether you're glad this attraction is gone or not, you can't deny it was memorable!

Attractions We Love Now

Immersive Parks

After the phenomenal success of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, it could be argued that Disney was prompted to concentrate on more immersive park experiences. Or in other words, there has been a renewed emphasis on transporting visitors to new worlds using multimedia technology, as well as distinctive sights, sounds, tastes and smells that further blur the lines between film fantasy and reality. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is like walking the streets of Batuu, while the giant colourful building blocks and string lights at Toy Story Land will transport you straight to Andy’s bedroom. 

Expedition: Everest

Arguably Disney’s best rollercoaster – and one of the most expensive – Expedition: Everest is the tallest Disney Mountain, which towers above the Animal Kingdom Park and is now its focal point. This speedy ride provides a thrilling chase through a Himalayan village and up through Mount Everest with enough twists, turns and drops to please every coaster fanatic.

 Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind 

Another venture into Disney’s intellectual property portfolio produced the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind rollercoaster, which opened in May 2022 at Epcot. Regarded as one of Disney’s best rides to date – and its first-ever reverse coaster – this is one for ultimate thrill-seekers. Riders are launched into a rip-roaring journey through space and time, rotating 360 degrees so as not to miss any of the action.

Disney Springs

Formerly Downtown Disney, a raucous spot with nightclubs and a party atmosphere, this now family-friendly area is filled with themed restaurants, bars, and most notably, the world’s largest Disney store. Moreover, it’s the perfect place for an evening out for all ages!

Ready to holiday where the magic happens? Whether you’re a newbie to Walt Disney World Resort or a frequent visitor, we have the expertise to help you fulfil your travel dreams. Discover why we're the UK's Number 1 independent Florida specialist by getting in touch today.

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