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In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World , DISNEY NEWS will be running a multi-part series on the development of the Florida resort. We start with the concept, planning and construction that led to Opening Day, October I, 1971. — Ed.

Shortly after Walt Disney World opened in 1971, two elderly ladies surveyed the sights of the Magic Kingdom Theme Park. Said one to the other, “Wasn’t it marvelous of Mr. Disney to pick such a beautiful place for his Park?”

The men and women who worked on Walt Disney World would enjoy a good laugh if told of this remark, which was overheard by a Disney designer. For in reality, the site of the Magic Kingdom and its environs was anything but beautiful when Walt Disney selected it as the future home of his premiere vacation destination. Rather, it took Walt’s foresight and imagination, his designers’ creativity, and years of manual labor to transform, in true Cinderella fashion, over 28,000 acres of almost uninhabited Orlando, Florida, swampland into what has become the United States’ number-one vacation destination.

Ironically, in fact, while this time around the Disney project did not face the kind of naysayers who had predicted Disneyland’s rapid demise back in 1955, its own designers had to overcome their doubts as to the project’s success.

“On one of our early visits to the site, in 1968, we flew weather balloons to tell heights and see how things were going to relate to each other,” recalls John Hench, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering. “It just seemed endless, open. There was a terrifying amount of space to fill.” Hench, who was instrumental in planning and designing the Florida resort, was more than a little concerned with the prospect of building in the swampland Walt had purchased. “The water level was so close to the surface,” he explains. “I remember digging a little hole where the castle would be. The next morning it was filled with water.”

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