November 15, 1965 was a date Governor Hayden Burns pronounced as “the most significant in the history of Florida.” Was Governor Burns’ statement hyperbole? The dramatic series of events proceeding that date are well documented, but worthy of another read on this historic day in our state’s and industry’s history.
As a 7-year-old boy, sitting at the dinner table in Kissimmee on that November evening, I distinctly remember my father saying, “Kids, I have some exciting news. Walt Disney is going to build a Disneyland down the road.” To which my reply was something like, “That’s nice. May I have more meatloaf, please?”
Less than 6 years later, 50 years ago today, Walt Disney World opened, and the trajectory of our state would never be the same. No one, not even Walt Disney himself, could have imagined how our state would look 50 years later.
For our Florida Attractions Association members whose attractions predate 1971 (and there are many), the founders of your attractions knew long before Walt Disney that Florida was a special place. They understood the unique geography, climate, natural resources, and people made Florida a vacation wonderland. Some of our members were around even prior to the turn of the 20th century! Your Florida Attractions Association itself pre-dates Disney’s opening by 22 years.
For our members opening A.D. (after Disney), you recognized that in some way, shape or form, your business was influenced by Disney’s presence in the Sunshine State. The nexus may be big or small, but it’s undeniable that Walt Disney World has significantly influenced the attraction industry here and around the world.
Whether Disney’s impact on your business is explicit or not, it has firmly positioned Florida as the attraction epicenter of the universe. Governor Burns calling the Disney announcement the most significant event in Florida’s history is a matter of opinion, but he might have been absolutely correct.
Many years later, that seven-year-old boy began what would become a 46+ year career in the attractions industry as he stepped onto Main Street USA as a Walt Disney World Custodial Host. That’s my story. There are many of us in the FAA family whose attractions industry careers began under the tutelage of Mickey.
Today, as Walt Disney World launches “The World’s Most Magical Celebration”, we remember Roy Disney’s dedication of the resort with these words, “May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place … a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together.”
Irrespective of which attraction you represent today, we are all privileged to be in an industry that’s dedicated to providing experiences “where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together.” Few can claim to work in a career with a higher calling or a more noble purpose.
Happy 50th Anniversary Walt Disney World!
President & CEO