The theme park opened on Oct. 1, 1971
A few decades ago, it was incredible to imagine a theme park surpassing the size and scope of California’s Disneyland — but Walt Disney World, which opened on this day, Oct. 1, in 1971, did. “‘World’ is right,” TIME marveled in the Oct. 18 issue of that year, alongside a map of the new attraction. “The latest Disney enterprise, four years in the building, includes a spotlessly clean amusement area, two enormous and elaborate hotels with marinas and beaches, two championship-caliber golf courses, lavishly landscaped lakes and a futuristic transportation network linking everything.”
The article went on to praise the “futuristic unisex jumpsuits” worn by workers, the $4.25 roast beef dinner at Cinderella Castle and the skill of the lawyers who worked to make Disney World “in effect a city-state” with near complete control of what goes on on its property.
So we can only imagine how much ooh-ing and aw-ing there would have been if those writers in 1971 had gotten a load of this modern map of Disney World:
Roll over to zoom; on mobile, click.
Everything included in the original map fits into the upper right-hand corner. Though the basic layout of the Magic Kingdom is unchanged, the resort — that’s Epcot, Animal Kingdom and rest of the whole shebang — now covers an area about the same size as San Francisco, by Today.com‘s count. But the craziest thing of all on that up-to-date map isn’t a new addition to the park; it’s that there’s still so much empty space into which it could still expand.
Read the 1971 article about the theme park’s opening, here in TIME’s archives: Pixie Dust Over Florida
A damning documentary hasn't helped the struggling theme park
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.
By Ben Geier
On Friday, SeaWorld Entertainment announced that it is building new, bigger enclosures for its signature attractions — the orcas (also known as killer whales). Their jumps and tricks have delighted some, but their alleged poor treatment and inadequate habitats have enraged others.
The theme park company said it plans to upgrade the killer whale tanks at three of its theme parks, starting with the one in San Diego, Calif. The new orca tanks will be 50 feet deep and have a surface area of nearly 1.5 acres.
Will improved conditions be enough to reverseSeaWorld’s declining revenue? Earlier this week the theme park company said its revenue dropped 1 percent in the three months ended June 30 during a period that’s considered the company’s peak season. SeaWorld also attributed its poor quarter to bad press following the release of the “Blackfish” documentary, which accused the theme park operator of mistreating orcas.
Wall Street wasn’t impressed and sent the company’s stock price down over 30 percent.
For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.
A new theme park area in Orlando and marijuana stores in Washington state both opened for business for the first time on Tuesday.
And that, perhaps surprisingly, is not the only thing they have in common. Here’s how the two opening days match up:
Diagon Alley: Universal Studios says Diagon Alley will double the size of its Wizarding World theme park area
WA Pot Shops: Washington says it will collect $190 million in pot-related taxes and fees over the next four years
OPENING DAY WAIT TIME
Diagon Alley: Up to 300 minutes (a.k.a. five hours) for visitors to get inside the park on Tuesday
WA Pot Shops: Up to one day—at least a couple people waited in line overnight outside pot shops anticipating a Tuesday opening
Diagon Alley: Anti-authoritarian fans of magic and fantasy
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much the same
PERSON YOU MOST WANT TO AVOID
Diagon Alley: Know-it-all spewing theories about stuff like the pros and cons of Half-Blood Prince vs. Order of the Phoenix
WA Pot Shops: Know-it-all spewing theories about stuff like the pros and cons of Cannalope Haze vs. Jamaican Lion
THING THAT WILL FREAK YOU OUT
Diagon Alley: Creepy animatronic goblins staring at you on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride
WA Pot Shops: Creepy alive goblin-like customers staring at you—or at something—in front of the pot counter
Diagon Alley: Minimum height of 4 feet to ride Gringotts alone
WA Pot Shops: Minimum age of 21 to purchase marijuana
Diagon Alley: Many rides not recommended for women who are pregnant and people prone to nausea
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much the same
MOST MEMORABLE THRILL
Diagon Alley: Trip on the Hogwarts Express
WA Pot Shops: Trip on edible marijuana snacks like those “enjoyed” by Maureen Dowd
Diagon Alley: Fire-breathing dragon atop the Gringotts ride
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much everybody
After crunching the numbers, researchers concluded that the most expensive weekend of the summer in Orlando is just about here.
Specifically, the last weekend of June. As for the cheapest time of the summer in theme park central, that supposedly takes place on the second-to-last weekend in August—in other words, the weekend before Labor Day.
This is all according to the folks at dealnews, who asked Priceline to dig into its reams of data and figure out when families would get the best deals on hotels in Orlando for a summer vacation. Based on 2013 numbers, Priceline determined that Orlando hotels cost an average of $93.54 on the last weekend of June, compared to $82.08 on the second-to-last weekend of August. When looking strictly at three-star hotels, the differential was bigger: $94 at the end of June, versus $76 for the August weekend.
The main reason given for the price differential is that by late August, many kids are either already back in school, or their families are in the throws of hectic back-to-school preparations, so it’s not an ideal time to haul the brood to Orlando for a big vacation. The July issue of MONEY backs this theory up, in an article quoting Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider, who says that crowds thin out and on-site hotel prices dip 25% to 35% in mid to late August.
The end of June, by contrast, is when most kids are freshly released from the clutches of teachers and principals—the perfect time to reward kids for all their work in school, and also for moms and dads to make their case as Best Parents Ever.
Just be aware that you’ll pay a hefty price for visiting Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and the rest of Orlando anytime from the end of June through early August. This is peak summer season in Orlando, and while the hotel rate premium indicated above may not seem like all that big of a deal, lodging is but one vacation cost.
Arguably far bigger “costs” are the ones that don’t technically cost you anything out of pocket: weather and crowds. The Disney fanatics over at MouseSavers.com are among the many theme park enthusiasts who list the peak summer season (end of June to mid-August) as one of the worst times of year to hit Walt Disney World. “Expect it to be very busy and extremely hot, with heavy humidity,” the site warns. Likewise, Frommer’s cautions, “Summer is when the masses throng to the parks. It’s also very humid and hot, Hot, HOT.”
On the other hand, Mouse Savers names the period of late August through September as among the very best times for families going to Orlando, in particular because of “rock-bottom deals” at off-site (non-Disney) hotels and lodging packages that include “free” meals for guests staying at Disney properties.
Many news outlets jumped on the hotel pricing data released by dealnews and Priceline and announced that August was the least expensive and overall best time for visiting Orlando. But that’s misleading. The second-to-last weekend in August isn’t the cheapest time of year in central Florida. It’s just the cheapest weekend in the summer. And hey, based on the hotel rates listed, it’s not all that much cheaper than the most expensive weekend of the summer.
There are generally much better deals to be had—in terms of lodging, as well as lodging-meals-and-pass packages—during the off-season periods of late fall (with the exception of Thanksgiving weekend) and just after New Year’s (with the exception of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend). By visiting during one of these periods, you’ll not only save on lodging and other expenses, you’ll also avoid the end-of-summer hurricane season, when torrential downpours and lightning (if not worse) are to be expected.
Yes, we know that summer is when kids are out of school, and that’s when you want to take the family to the famously family-friendly destination that is Orlando. But there’s so much upside to hitting Disney and the rest in the true off season, it’s worth considering taking the kids out of school for a visit in, say, early December. That’ll make it even easier to stake your claim to the title of Best Parent Ever.
Nowadays, going to a theme park on a whim means you'll pay through the nose and spend more time on line than the folks who booked in advance.
Carefree, spontaneous family fun? It’s been a long time since a visit to a popular theme park fit that description. Nowadays, showing up out of the blue, with no prebooked reservations or admission tickets, to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld, or pretty much any other major theme park is unwise, to put it mildly.
The savvy mouse-ear-hat-wearing enthusiast would laugh at the idea of arriving at a big theme park on a whim. At wdwinfo.com, one of dozens of unofficial Disney park web guides, the #1 rookie mistake (among a dizzying 20 possible mistakes listed) is the failure to plan ahead. To give you an idea of how seriously folks take this, another Disney-focused site calls itself wdwprepschool, where parents can study up and do reams and reams of homework on how to have a relaxed, leisurely vacation.
What’s so bad about just crashing the gates of the Magic Kingdom? For starters, it will cost you. Earlier in 2014, Walt Disney World in Orlando raised its walk-up single-day price $99 ($105 after taxes), up from $89 a year earlier. Universal Studios followed up immediately with a price hike of its own. More recently, Disneyland in California raised its prices, hitting the $150 mark for a one-day Parkhopper pass good for entrance to Disney’s two area parks.
While the price hikes usually affect all manner of admissions—multi-day, season passes, etc.—the promotional structure increasingly rewards travelers who buy multi-day tickets in advance with an array of discounts and benefits. (There’s a good counterargument about the foolishness of spending a ton of money over the course of several days in order to cut one’s average per-day costs, but let’s not get into that now.)
The most recent example of theme parks pushing aggressively to make customers buy admissions ahead of time comes from SeaWorld, which raised its one-day walk-up price to $95, while also introducing a new advance-purchase discount that knocks off $15 (for weekends and holidays) or $30 (most weekdays) to guests buying online ahead of time.
One common argument in favor of raising theme park prices says that doing so benefits park visitors by providing them with more elbow room. SeaWorld, for one, says that it has deliberately lowered visitor numbers by way of higher admissions prices, in order to make the experience better for visitors who have paid top dollar to see Shamu and the rest.
Then again, price hikes can be explained in a simpler way: Theme park operators charge more because they can. Each year, prices inch up by a few bucks, and each year, the tourists keep showing up in strong numbers. Until theme park enthusiasts start staying away in droves, there’s no business justification for slowing the rise of admissions prices.
While paying extra for a spontaneous theme park visit is annoying, visitors arguably pay a much steeper cost in terms of wasted time by doing what comes naturally on vacation: just wandering around, casually looking for fun. As the Orlando Sentinel reported, SeaWorld just added a new feature to its mobile app, allowing guests to buy its QuickQueue line-skipping service, for $19, via smartphone, even when waiting in a line at SeaWorld.
The app feature is one of a long line of services and guest options that not only make it possible to plan nearly every minute of one’s theme park visit in advance, they make it seem foolish and wasteful to not plan nearly every minute of one’s theme park visit in advance.
From line-skipping passes and wristbands, to dinner reservations and character breakfasts that must be booked months ahead of time, to the walk-up admission price premium, the goal of theme park companies is clear: They want guests to visit multiple days rather than one random day at a time, and they want guests to plan and pay for their big trips long in advance.
Is this what park guests want? The theme parks don’t really care, so long as people keep showing up.
Some employees at the Disney World theme park and many others at local businesses in Florida's Osceola County reportedly say they can't afford the area's average $800 per month rent making $8.03 an hour
Updated 11:56 a.m. on April 28
Those employees at the happiest place on earth? Some of them are homeless parents, according to the Associated Press. Many Walt Disney World employees cannot afford the average $800 per month rent while being paid a starting minimum pay of $8.03 per hour working at the park. Meanwhile, any one person pays about $100 just for admission to Orlando’s theme parks.
1,216 families in Florida’s Osceola County are living out of hotels because they cannot afford to live anywhere else and because the county does not have any shelters. Many small hotel owners—running mom-and-pop businesses—have complained to the county sheriff that families are overcrowding rooms and unable to pay long-term. Some have even filed lawsuits. (Larger, more expensive hotels that house many of the tourists visiting Disney World don’t have to deal with the same issue.)
Advocates blame the problem on low wages and comparatively high rent given those salaries in the 300,000 person county. According to census figures, the median income in Osceola County is just $24,128 a year.
A Disney spokesperson said it’s “a stretch to make a connection between our strong collective bargaining offer to Cast Members and the homeless issue in Central Florida.”
“Walt Disney World is actively involved with community organizations to help address homelessness in Central Florida and its underlying causes,” spokesperson Jacquee Polak. “Our efforts range from financial contributions and in-kind support to volunteer service.”
For an extra $35, Disney World guests get to snack on “cultural fare” and toss back a shot of tequila inside EPCOT—after the park has officially closed.
Walt Disney World in Orlando just introduced a new program called the “After Hours Wind Down” at its EPCOT theme park. Admission to what’s being billed as an “exclusive after-hours lounge” experience costs $35 plus tax and tip, on top of the regular park admission—which earlier this year was hiked to $99 plus tax at Magic Kingdom, and to $95 at EPCOT and the other parks, for a single-day’s entrance.
The extra $35 grants guests a single beverage and a selection of snacks in a choice of four restaurant-lounges, each in a different country-themed EPCOT location: La Cava del Tequila (in “Mexico”), Spice Road Table (Morocco), Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar (Italy), and Rose & Crown Pub (UK). While $35 may seem like a lot for a drink and some appetizers, the real draw here seems to be the “after hours” exclusivity. The late-night lounge sessions begin after the evening’s fireworks show has ended, and guests can stay as late as 11 p.m. The masses, meanwhile, must leave by 9 p.m., which is usually the time EPCOT closes its gates.
The new program, available through September 15 with reservations available up to 180 days in advance, is the latest example of Disney’s relentless strategizing of ways to siphon more money out of guests, during more hours of the day and night. It’s also part of a smaller but noticeable trend, in which alcohol is more readily available at Disney theme parks. Only on Disney’s family-friendly terms, of course. The new EPCOT experience only includes one alcoholic beverage per person, which simultaneously increases the chances of making profits and decreases the likelihood of guests getting tipsy.
“It’s more of an educational experience than it is a party-bar atmosphere,” an EPCOT representative said to the Orlando Sentinel of the new “After Hours” program.
What’s on the after-hours menu at each of these spots? Disney hasn’t released all of the details yet. But the (unofficial) Disney Food Blog managed to wrangle up a few examples of what’s to be served. La Cava del Tequila, for instance, will offer paying guests samplers of dishes such as “Tlacoyo de Puerco (Marinated Pork served over a grilled corn dough, garnished with mixed greens and crema),” along with a choice of booze, including a “Shot of Tequila Partida Reposado” or a “Shot of Tequila Ambhar Blanco.”
There may come a day when theme park companies see a backlash among vacationers, who refuse to pay ever-high admissions prices. But that day hasn’t come yet. (more…)