When Walt Disney World opened 50 years ago, on Oct. 1, 1971, it was very different from the sprawling resort you’ll find today. Now it’s the home of four theme parks, two water parks, more than two dozen hotels, and dozens of restaurants and shops. You can easily spend a whole vacation without ever leaving the resort grounds, and many guests do exactly that. Disney World feels removed from the world itself, and that’s part of its appeal.
That wasn’t the case 50 years ago. When Disney World opened, it boasted two hotels and a single theme park. The Magic Kingdom, as Florida’s take on Disneyland is called, opened with a number of attractions found in the Anaheim original, as well as two original shows of its own. It shared Disneyland’s basic layout, with a main street leading to a central hub from which different themed areas branched out, with the classic lands of Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland featuring a few attractions each. It also introduced a new land, Liberty Square, themed to colonial America.
Some of the most beloved rides found there today didn’t exist yet. There was no Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or Splash Mountain. Tom Sawyer Island debuted two years after opening day. Even Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t open at the Magic Kingdom until the end of 1973, when an abbreviated version of the original was hastily built after widespread guest demand. And some of the attractions that did exist on opening day are no more, replaced by newer attractions based on more popular characters or stories.
Disney World and the Magic Kingdom have both changed dramatically over the last five decades, but many of its opening day attractions are still in operation today. You can find Magic Kingdom originals in every part of the park, from Adventureland to Tomorrowland. 15 rides or attractions have been running since the park opened, and if you count all of Main Street, U.S.A., as its own attraction (which we do), that comes out to an even 16. (And this doesn’t even count Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, which actually predates Disney World; it debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 before moving to Disneyland in 1967 and then its ultimate home at the Magic Kingdom in 1975.)
If you plan on visiting the Magic Kingdom during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, and want to experience the theme park’s foundation, here’s a complete list of every opening day attraction still open today. Disney World wouldn’t have made it to 50 years without experiences like this; here’s hoping they last for another 50.
When Disney fans talk about “castle parks,” they’re talking about the Disneyland-style theme parks that have a castle as their central landmark. The Magic Kingdom, the first of four Disney World theme parks, and the one that originally opened on October 1, 1971, is just such a castle park. Cinderella Castle is significantly larger than Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland—at almost 200 feet tall, it was the biggest of all Disney castles until Shanghai’s park opened in 2016—and has been the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom since opening day. Currently home to a restaurant, a shop, and an incredibly exclusive hotel room, Cinderella Castle has also become a canvas for Disney’s night-time shows, where images are regularly projected onto the castle walls. It may not offer the physical excitement of a ride, but for Disney fans, nothing sums up the magic of Disney World more than Cinderella Castle.
A true Disney World original, this show was created specifically for the Magic Kingdom. It has everything I’m looking for in a show: Audio-Animatronics, hillbilly bears, country songs from the ‘60s and early ‘70s, and numerous references to the southeast. I’ve said before that the country bears are my people—that, as somebody born and raised in the south, their culture is my culture—and I’m only slightly joking. I relate to this show more than I probably should, and hopefully it never goes away. A Disneyland version ran for just under 30 years before being replaced by a Winnie the Pooh ride, whereas the Disney World original was shortened by about five minutes in the early ‘10s; it’s extremely popular in Japan, where the original version runs unedited at Tokyo Disneyland, complete with two seasonal overlays themed to Christmas and summer vacation.
Location: Fantasyland / Storybook Circus
This simple airborne carousel has been a Disney staple since the original premiered a month after Disneyland opened in 1955. The Magic Kingdom version was running on day one, and could be found at the heart of Fantasyland for decades. In the early 2010s it was moved to a new part of Fantasyland called Storybook Circus, and joined by a second version that runs in the opposite direction.
This simple shooting gallery lends Frontierland a taste of both the old west and classic midway attractions. For most of its history it’s cost a small fee to play, but it’s currently free in honor of the park’s 50th anniversary. You better enjoy it soon, though; it’s scheduled to close on Nov. 27, and it’s unclear when (or if) it’ll reopen.
Location: Liberty Square
When Disney was planning its “Florida project,” as Disney World was codenamed, the plan was to always make something far bigger than Disneyland. You can see that difference in scope with the Hall of Presidents; Disneyland is home to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, a one-man Audio-Animatronic show featuring our 16th president, so the Magic Kingdom, obviously, had to be home to Audio-Animatronics of every president. Opening with Richard Nixon, the show has added every president elected since, with its latest guest, Joseph Biden, debuting in August, 2021. The show currently consists of a brief film about American history, followed by a roll-call of each president; only Lincoln and the current president actually get to speak, and since Bill Clinton it’s become tradition for the president to actually record his own speech. That can make the Hall a bit of a political minefield during these heavily polarized times—I won’t lie, it isn’t that cool hearing a president I don’t like give a speech at Disney World—but in more normal times it’s a cool show for both Audio-Animatronic fans and history buffs. It’s also always a great respite from Florida’s heat and almost daily rainstorms.
Location: Liberty Square
Liberty Square is unique to Disney World; it essentially replaces New Orleans Square, the Disneyland area that’s home to both Pirates of the Caribbean and the original Haunted Mansion. The Magic Kingdom’s take on Disney’s classic haunted house replaces the antebellum architecture of the original with a Gothic revival style, and also features a slightly longer ride. For my money, this is the only attraction found at both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland that’s actually better at Disney World. It’s a beautifully designed, delightfully goofy treat that’s just creepy enough to legitimately scare younger guests. Disney World’s Mansion also doesn’t get the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that can be found at Disneyland from September to January every year. That overlay is very popular, but as somebody who thinks the original ride is a legitimate masterpiece, I’m glad that it runs undisturbed every day at at least one American park.
Fantasyland has the most currently active opening day attractions, despite replacing a handful of them over the decades. It’s a Small World is one of four rides that have been there since the start. It lacks the gorgeous show building of the Disneyland original, but the ride itself is as charming (or, for the cynics, as annoying) as ever. A huge part of its appeal is Mary Blair’s beautiful, whimsical art; this is, simply, the best looking attraction Disney has ever made. The optimism behind all the children of the world peacefully uniting in song only becomes more heartwarming over the years, and the way the same simple melody is translated into different musical styles and cultural idioms makes this not just a ride, but a fascinating musical experiment. It’s a must-ride for me whenever I go to a Disney park.
The recently refurbished Jungle Cruise was an opening day ride not just at the Magic Kingdom in 1971, but dates all the way back to Disneyland’s launch in 1955. The Magic Kingdom version isn’t an exact replica—it has a dark ride portion set inside a tunnel—but it features most of the same show scenes, and the same pun-heavy banter from the skipper. This is a ride I appreciate more the older I get, from the 1930s setting, to the intentionally groanworthy jokes.
Here’s the opposite of a must-ride, if only because I prefer not getting nauseous in public. The spinning teacups, as they’re popularly known, was a favorite as a kid, but constant fast-paced spinning becomes a tougher sell the older you get. Still, this is about as iconic as Disney rides get.
Location: Uh, Main Street, U.S.A.
Main Street, U.S.A. is an attraction in itself. Much of what you can find here today dates back to opening day, from the Dapper Dans singing quartet, to the various vehicles that go up and down the street in the morning. The specific stores and restaurants have changed over the decades, but this has always been a place to buy Disney-themed merch and treats. And although the parades and fireworks shows change regularly over the years, Main Street U.S.A. and the hub between it and the castle have been the main home of both since the Magic Kingdom first opened.
One of Disney’s most enduring favorites, the Peter Pan dark ride in Fantasyland regularly sees long wait times in every park in which it’s found. Guests soar above London and journey to Neverland on a flying pirate ship attached to an overhead track, which sets this ride apart from the other classic Fantasyland dark rides, which are all grounded . The Magic Kingdom version has seen various updates over the years, including a new, expansive queue that’s intricately themed to the Darling house from the movie. It might not always be worth the long wait, but this is a genuinely magical ride for children, and is as full of that classic Disney charm as any other attraction. And okay, sure, it actually opened on Oct. 3, 1971, two days after opening day, but c’mon: that’s close enough.
Yep, that’s how they spell it, with two R’s. This classic carousel was built in 1917, and could be found at amusement parks in Michigan and New Jersey before Disney bought it in 1967. After restoration, it opened in the Magic Kingdom on opening day as Cinderella’s Golden Carousel. It received its current name in 2010.
Who wouldn’t want to explore a massive treehouse, even if the tree is made out of concrete and stucco? This walkthrough exhibit gives guests a peek into the daily lives of the Swiss Family Robinson, the stars of one of Disney’s most successful and beloved live action movies. The Disneyland version was rethemed to Tarzan over 20 years ago, but the original remains at the Magic Kingdom.
Originally known as the Grand Prix Raceway, Disney World’s version of Autopia has been running since day one. It might not be all that futuristic—these cars don’t even fly, or anything!—but it’s been a cornerstone of Tomorrowland ever since the park first opened. When you’re a kid, this is the next best thing to actually driving.
When the original Enchanted Tiki Room opened at Disneyland in 1962, it was the first attraction to feature Audio-Animatronics—that iconic robot technology that has gone on to power so many of Disney’s most unforgettable experiences. Its dozens of birds, flowers, and chanting Tiki gods have gone on to “perform” thousands of shows over the 60 years since. As with so many other Disneyland attractions, a version of the show opened alongside the Magic Kingdom in 1971, although under a new name: Tropical Serenade. The charmingly kitschy show has seen minor changes over the years, and was briefly replaced with a reviled update in 1998 based around characters from two of Disney’s popular ‘90s films. Fortunately the original show returned in 2011, and has been one of my favorite parts of the Magic Kingdom ever since.
Locations: Main Street, U.S.A.; Frontierland; Fantasyland
It’s not a Disney castle park without a railroad. (Uh, don’t tell Shanghai that.) Walt’s love of trains is infamous, and a railroad circles Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland, with stops at multiple lands within. All were opening day attractions, although the Magic Kingdom’s is currently closed due to construction of the upcoming Tron Lightcycle Run coaster in Tomorrowland, which is expected to open in 2022 or 2023.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.