p. 15 p. 16 p. 17

Walt Disney World’s opening day, Friday, October 1, 1971, drew only about 10,000 visitors to the Magic Kingdom Theme Park. But the Park’s executives were far from disappointed at the low turnout. They had deliberately chosen to open during Florida’s quietest month for tourism, on the traditionally slowest day of the week, to avoid the problems posed by peak crowds on Disneyland’s first day.

Even so, members of the Disney Executive Committee, headed by Walt’s brother and partner Roy, were concerned. So it was that on October 2, Walt Disney Attractions President Dick Nunis, then Vice President and Park Operations Committee Chairman, found himself before that august group, explaining the reasoning behind the previous day’s attendance.

Said Nunis, “If we don’t have to close the day after Thanksgiving (because of attaining Park operating capacity of 60,000) then we know we have a problem.”

Indeed. His statement, which was also relayed to stock analysts after Disney stock took an opening day tumble, was nothing if not prophetic. For on the Friday after hanksgiving Thursday, so many guests flocked to the new Theme Park that they created what could be called “The Traffic Jam Heard ’Round the World.” Traffic on Interstate 4, the highway leading to Walt Disney World, was backed up more than 20 miles for hours; 14 was dubbed by the press, “The longest parking lot in the world.” As Nunis predicted, the Park reached full capacity, with at least 5,000 cars being turned away.

“That was the weekend everyone in Central Florida decided to descend on Walt Disney World,” says Disneyland President Jack B. Lindquist, then Vice President of Marketing for both Theme Parks. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a day like that. We tried to communicate as much as possible with the public — we had tremendous cooperation from the state police and radio and television stations to get the word out that Walt Disney World was full. We were at full capacity the next day, too.”


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