Another Very Happy Birthday Walt Disney World

Today marks the birthday of Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary and the Polynesian Village Resort in Orlando Florida.

Happy Birthday Walt Disney World The Magic Kingdom GatesOn opening day, Julie Andrews described Walt Disney World as follows. “Just a few miles from Cape Kennedy, where men point their space vehicles towards the skies, Walt Disney decided to launch his final dream: a commitment to the future for your children and mine. This is a World of lakes and waterways, of incredible new rides and illusions, of wildlife sanctuaries for nature’s creatures, as well as campgrounds and golf courses and all manor of wonderful things for the human species. Best of all, it is a place to stir the imagination and instill a sense of hope for tomorrow. A joyful land, built by an inspired dreamer for other dreamers and dreams still to come.”

Walt started dreaming of what we now know as Walt Disney World not long after Disneyland proved to be a success. (You can read more about how he picked Florida in an older post of ours). However, he passed away long before the dream became the reality that so many of us know today. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have become the park we all know and love if it weren’t for Roy Disney. 

Walt and Roy

Walt was the dreamer, Roy was the doer. When Walt made the plans; Roy found the means to make them a reality. He banked everything on his little brother’s dreams. And Roy spent most of his adult life balancing those dreams with his own brand of pragmatism. But when Walt passed away before completing the Florida Project, Roy made it his goal to honor his little brother’s dream to the letter. He went so far as to come out of retirement just to oversee the process. Every tree, every note, every plan that had crossed Walt’s desk was painstakingly brought to life under Roy’s watchful eyes.

From the colonial city of Liberty Square to the newest version of the Jungle Cruise, Roy put every one of his brother’s plans into place no matter how small or great the undertaking.

The Story of the Liberty Tree

There’s a story that emphasizes just how dedicated Roy was to creating the kingdom of Walt’s dreams. The Liberty Tree in front of the Liberty Tree Tavern is at the heart of Liberty Square. When Walt was surveying the land that he had purchased for his new project, he came across a marvelous live oak tree out in the swamp. Once he had seen that tree, Walt decided that that had to be his Liberty Tree, regardless of the fact that it would need to be driven over 6 miles to find its new home.

Happy Birthday Walt Disney World The Liberty Tree

I’ve read plenty of accounts about the way the brothers interacted over the years. I think its safe to say that Roy probably wasn’t too thrilled at his brother’s plan initially. In fact, when Walt was alive, moving a 100-year-old tree miles across swampland would probably have been something Roy would have tried to talk him out of. But now that his brother was gone, Roy made the decision, and the tree was excavated, put on the back of a truck and slowly moved to its new home.

It wasn’t smooth sailing, however. First, the tree had to have holes drilled and steel rods placed in it to help move it along. (A process first developed by Disneyland-scaper Bill Evans). And add to that, somewhere along the way the tree cracked. I’ve heard different accounts as to how it cracked, but the important part was that is was Walt’s tree. And because it was Walt’s tree, no other tree was going to work. So instead of finding a, smaller, closer and lighter tree to replace the massive live oak, Evans and his team did their best to make sure the tree survived the harrowing ordeal. And now, 47 years later, it’s still one of the biggest trees in the Magic Kingdom. It’s also the oldest and arguably most important. And Roy made it happen because that’s what older siblings do.

Roy’s Dedication

We all know Walt’s dedication speech of Disneyland. But Roy’s dedication of Walt Disney World is just as important.

“Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney … and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. 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.” Roy O. Disney, October 25, 1971.

Walt Disney World has been open for 47 years today. Those are 47 years of wishes, dreams, hopes, and joys. For kids, it’s a land of wonder and joy. But for adults, it’s a chance to take a breath and shed the layers we’ve built up around us to help weather the challenges we face every day. So happy birthday Walt Disney World, a land built by a brother, created by a dreamer, and gifted to the world for other dreamers to enjoy.


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