A few weeks ago I took a look at first impressions and the arrival experience for Epcot. This week, I will turn my attention toward the Magic Kingdom.

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To give Price guidance, Walt laid down only a couple of constraints. He did not want to purchase land that was near the ocean because people would be distracted and it would be more expensive to maintain the park. What he wanted was lots of flat land. He would create his own mountains, valleys, and rivers. After considerable research Price found the perfect property in Anaheim just one hour south of Los Angeles in rural Orange County. Ever the numbers guy, Price calculated that this area would be the center of the Southern California population within 25 years. By 1980, he was only off by 4 miles.

Walt convinced his brother Roy that he was really on to something with this Disneyland idea and the two of them gave Price the go ahead to purchase as much land as they could afford, which wasn't much. Just as Walt predicted, Disneyland would become an instant hit and millions of visitors would flock to Anaheim. As much as the Disney brothers wanted to acquire more property, they found themselves priced out of the market.

Disneyland in 1956

In the early days, the first impression most guests had was not exactly magical. What they found was a jumble of tacky roadway signs that tried to compete with the iconic Disneyland gateway marquee. You turned in to the parking lot line, drove under the high-tension power line towers that crossed the property, paid your fee, and then were efficiently guided to your spot by a friendly cast member. From there it would only a short walk to a parking lot tram (unlike the way the Mickey and Friends parking structure is set up today). The tram would whisk you to the front of the park where you bought your tickets. Once you passed through the turnstiles, you experienced the familiar process of spaces unfolding and the Disneyland experience began.

Walt knew what he wanted and he instructed his Imagineers to put the theme park at the far north end of the property as far away from the main highway as they could go. This served two objectives. First, the theme park was a familiar concept and it would become the "wienie" that would draw guest in and take them through the property past his real dream - the City of EPCOT. The second objective would be to create an arrival experience that would be far different than the one visitors experienced in Anaheim.

Back when the Magic Kingdom first opened, once guests left the main highway, they had to travel almost six miles. You had to leave the safety of the newly completed Interstate highway and drive north into a vast wilderness. The Imagineers knew that they needed to reassure the visitors that that they were not just driving into a swamp in Central Florida. The solution was Cinderella Castle.

The spires of Cinderella castle are visible up to two miles away. The castle in Florida is more than twice as tall as Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. The original idea for a tall structure came from Walt. He encouraged the idea of a tall iconic design element for Disneyland but the lack of money made that impossible and it was not until the Florida project that the concept could be fully realized.

In Since the World Began, ,

As I stated earlier, getting to the front gate at Disneyland was pretty easy. You either walked from your car or hopped on the free tram. For many of us, we would count the tram as our first ride of the day. For Walt Disney it was all too jarring. There was no transition from the real world to the magical world beyond the gates. Walt hated that. At Walt Disney World, he knew it would be different. This time he had the land.

Since people who came from the movies designed the Magic Kingdom, it seems logical that they would unfold the sequence of spaces you have to travel through as if they were storyboarding a film. The show starts with a wide shot that provides a panoramic view of the adventures that wait. From afar, the first things you spot are the spires of Cinderella Castle or the great white dome for Space Mountain. Throughout your journey, the view is constantly deflected and sometimes removed just to tease you and heightening your anticipation.

From the long shot, we move toward a close up of the train station that acts like the movie theater marquee. It also blocks your view of everything behind. Once past the security gates and turnstiles, you step on the red bricks (carpet) of the movie theater lobby. Instead of a curtain hiding the screen, the Magic Kingdom uses the tunnels that go below the railroad tracks to achieve the same effect. As you pass through the tunnel (the curtain rises) the show begins with two quick visuals. The first is the immersive environment of Town Square in Main Street USA. The second comes when you move into the space and see, for the first time, Cinderella Castle from the base to the crown. Throughout your journey you have been constantly teased by the spires and now comes the full emotional pay off. The Imagineers have controlled what you can see and when you can see it. This allows them to unfold the story at their own pace.

Early promotional materials highlighted the attractions that were unique at the Magic Kingdom including Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Space Mountain, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The materials were also heavy on pushing the amenities such as boating, golfing, and other resort activities.

What was your first impression when you arrived at the Magic Kingdom?

Introducing My New Book
In October, my new book, WALT and the Promise of Progress City, will be available. Just in time for your holiday gift list!