Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary: Its Evolution Experienced By A Walt Disney Imagineer – Part 2

In honor of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, I’m highlighting some of the major Walt Disney World milestones through the eyes of a former Walt Disney Imagineer and licensed themed entertainment Architect. This is part two of a two-part synopsis.

Magic Kingdom Hub Concept Site Plan
Original concept drawing for the Magic Kingdom Hub Expansion. Image courtesy Disney.


The 1990’s at Walt Disney World – often dubbed the Eisner Years or Decade – can be summed up one word: expansion.

Walt Disney World arguably saw its greatest transformation and expansion during the last thirty years. From new themed lands to entire new theme parks, the last three decades at Walt Disney World have been incredible.

During this timeframe, I am grateful to say that I worked at Walt Disney World in three different capacities, at three different timeframes. In 1996, while during summer and winter breaks from college, I became a Cast Member – an Attractions Host to be more exact – at the Magic Kingdom. More specifically, at Splash Mountain in Frontierland.

Needless to say, up until that point in my life working at my favorite and the most popular theme park in the world was a dream come true. There are endless stories I have as a Cast Member on the Operations side of the theme park business. Countless information that I learned on how to run a major theme park attraction – pre-FastPass days I remind you – that would later be a basis of knowledge when I became an Imagineer.

In 2010, after years of many attempts, I finally landed a role at Walt Disney Imagineering. Elation doesn’t even come close to describing that professional milestone. A massive bonus was I was working on the historic expansion of the most popular – and my favorite – theme park in the world, the Magic Kingdom and later the expansion of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Upon leaving Imagineering in 2017, my third opportunity to work with Walt Disney World was during my time consulting with Walt Disney Imagineering on multiple new projects. First, I returned to assist in my previous efforts on the expansion projects comprising Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the lesser known third major project at that park the Back of House project.

Other projects post-2017, included a Toy Story Mania! exit shop, a brief effort on Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster at Epcot, and a few other projects I still can’t speak about to this day. #NDAlife

Disney Imagineer on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Rollercoaster
Me as an Imagineer working on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train pre-opening.

The 90’s to Modern Day

The past thirty years at Walt Disney World gave Guests and those in the theme park design business incredible new projects. From the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, to that expansion of the Magic Kingdom, the Hollywood Studios, and later expansion to the Animal Kingdom with Pandora.

Out of the berm, Walt Disney World added new hotels, expanded existing hotels, and the completely reimagined Downtown Disney into Disney Springs transformation.

Another notable, and unfortunate, milestone in Walt Disney World’s history is the complete closure of the resort during the pandemic of 2020. The two-plus years, from 2020 through 2022, saw great disruption in the operations of WDW. From limited Guest capacities to limited operational hours and activities property wide.

It will be interesting to witness post-pandemic and post-2023 what new transformation Walt Disney World will experience. With new competition down the street at Universal – who is opening an entire new Epic Universe theme park in 2025 – to the infusion of new technologies into the theme park business. The future is bright as WDW marches towards its 55 year anniversary and beyond.

Disney Hollywood Studios Sunset
Rooftop picture taken from Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Here is a partial list of the major milestones since the 1990’s at Walt Disney World:

  • 1990: Disney’s Hollywood Studios (originally Disney-MGM Studios) opens with attractions such as the Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
  • 1992: Splash Mountain, a popular log flume ride with a Disney animated film theme, opens in Magic Kingdom.
  • 1994: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a thrilling drop tower ride themed around the classic TV show, opens in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • 1995: Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park opens, featuring water slides and attractions themed around a fictional ski resort.
  • 1996: The first Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is held, offering guests the chance to sample cuisine and beverages from around the world.
  • 1998: Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens, featuring attractions such as Kilimanjaro Safaris, DINOSAUR, and the Expedition Everest roller coaster.
  • 2004: Mission: SPACE, a space-themed simulator ride, opens in Epcot.
  • 2005: Disney’s Hurricane Lagoon water park undergoes a major renovation and expansion, adding new attractions such as Crush ‘n’ Gusher water coaster and a massive wave pool.
  • 2006: Expedition Everest, a thrilling roller coaster themed around the mythical Yeti, opens in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
  • 2008: Toy Story Mania! an interactive 3D ride based on the popular Pixar film franchise, opens in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • 2012: The Art of Animation Resort opens, featuring themed suites based on popular Disney films such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Finding Nemo.
  • 2012: New Fantasyland, an expansion and reimagining of the existing Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom that added a Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast attractions, Toontown was transformed into Storybook Circus, a castle wall was added and later the old Fantasyland Skyway station was demolished and transformed into a Rapunzel area expanding the connection to Liberty Square.
  • 2014: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family-friendly roller coaster based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, opens in Magic Kingdom.
  • 2015: The Magic Kingdom Hub was expanded and reimagined to accommodate more Guests as well as a new Main Street By-pass Street was added on the East side of Main Street, an area previously backstage to the Magic Kingdom.
  • 2016: Toy Story Mania! Third Track was added to the existing, very popular attraction to accommodate and increase the attraction’s Guest capacity.
  • 2017: Pandora – The World of Avatar opens in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, featuring attractions such as Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey.
  • 2018: Toy Story Land opens in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, featuring attractions such as Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers.
  • 2019: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, featuring attractions such as Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance.
  • 2021: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a new ride based on the Pixar film Ratatouille, opens in Epcot.
  • 2022: Star Wars” Galactic Starcruiser Hotel opens. An immersive and exclusive high-priced Star Wars themed hotel that compliments the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge themed land near Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • 2023 Tron Lightcycle Run: a new partially indoor roller coaster added to Tomorrowland directly adjacent to Space Mountain. This attraction is a lift from Shanghai Disneyland.

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