Destination D at Walt Disney World

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Date: 16 May 2011 Debra Peterson Disney Travel Examiner.

Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th, a special D23 event, was held at Disney’s Contemporary Resort on May 14-15, 2011. During the two-day event, attendees learned about the history of WDW over its 40 years.

Destination D attracted Disney fans from around the globe to attend presentations on Disney history and special events, see Disney Imagineers and Legends, and see some of the upcoming developments to WDW. D23 guests were also able to see items from the Walt Disney archives both during presentations and in an exhibit room.

With Destination D, Walt Disney World provided D23 guests with a retrospective on Walt Disney World and its influences and creators, from Walt and Roy Disney to Disney Legends and Imagineers past and present. Destination D also built anticipation for the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World, which is Oct. 1, 1971.

Disney also provided D23 guests with information on upcoming WDW developments, including news about the new Star Tours attraction, Fantasyland expansion and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.

What follows is a quick recap of the the two-day event. More Destination D coverage will be published as I sort through photos and materials.


On Saturday, May 14, D23 started out with a light-hearted “Welcome to the World” by D23 Head Steven Clark and gang, as they talked a bit about their special memories of WDW. As part of the welcome session, the first WDW Ambassador Debby Dane Browne – one of the “Disney girls” at the WDW Preview Center –  made opening remarks as Clark provides guests with a peek at her application.

Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline and Disney Historian Paul F. Anderson then kicked off Destination D with “Weird Disney: Walt Disney World and Beyond.” As the title promised, Cline and Anderson, offered archival photos and videos featuring oddities from Disney history, from strange character costumes to a trippy Grad Nite video from the 1970s.

Dave Smith, Disney Legend and founder of the Walt Disney Archives, then presented “Walt Disney World: The Way We Were” for a retrospective of WDW as it developed. The presentation offered photos and stories of planning and construction, people and former attractions and restaurants, and early promotional materials.

In “Epcot, Walt Disney’s Big Beautiful Tomorrow” Disney Archivist Steven Vagnini joined Paul Anderson to look at Walt Disney’s interest in urban planning and plans for Epcot as the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” The session, which featured early planning documents and video on early discussions of Epcot, contextualized Epcot’s influence on WDW and beyond.

Disney Archivist Rob Klein and Disney historian Tim O’Day hosted “Past Forward: Walt Disney World on Television,”a light look at early Disney on TV. Highlights of the event included a look at the “not-so-grade” opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, Bob Hope’s dedication of the Contemporary Resort, a Mike Douglas television special, and the opening of what was then Disney-MGM Studios in 1989 (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter took D23 Guests into the imaginative possibilities of what might have been with “The Walt Disney World That Never Was.” The presentation took a look at alternative dark rides for Fantasyland, planned WDW Resorts, and an extended look at the Western River Expedition as it might have looked based on concept art and preliminary designs.


In the evening, D23 guests attended “From the Vault: Walt Disney World Resort on Film.” The evening of films took a look at vintage – and in some cases, rare – WDW, both promotional and theatrical screenings, hosted by Tony Baxter and Tim O’Day.

On Sunday, May 15, Destination D looked more closely at both the work of specific individuals in creating WDW and at some of the future plans for the resort.

The first Sunday presentation started out with an “Ultimate Disney Trivia” event in which eight D23 fans competed for fun and the first prize – guaranteed entry into the Disney trivia contest at the upcoming D23 Expo in August.

After that active warm-up, Disney Imagineer and author Jason Surrell was joined fellow Imagineers Jason Grandt and Alex Wright for “Walt Disney World Resort in Detail.” The trio riffed on obscure Imagineering details at all levels of WDW, from trash cans and costume accessories to vignettes in Pirates in the Caribbean to subtle details in signs at the attractions.

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) then provided a quick overview of updates to three WDW developments: Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, and Fantasyland Expansion. As part of the presentation, WDI announced the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Magic Kingdom this summer.

The afternoon sessions focused on the individuals who helped make WDW a success. Marty Sklar hosted “Creating a Whole New ‘Disney World’” of Disney names: 1971 WDW Ambassador Debby Dane Browne, Disney Legend Orlando Ferrante, Disney Legal Counsel, Bob Foster, Disney Legend Bob Gurr, and Disney Legend Ron Logan. The panelists shared personal anecdotes of WDW and Walt Disney, agreeing one didn’t say “no” to Walt. In keeping with the chatty tone of the session, the participants in some good-natured ribbing of one another.

In “Making the Magic Happen,” facilitated by Tim O’Day, Disney Legends Jack Lindquist, Bob Mathieson, Tom Nabbe, Charlie Ridgeway and Bill (Sully) Sullivan, looked some of operational aspects of WDW: daily operations, management, marketing and so forth. Among the stories told: the oddly disappointing success of WDW’s grand opening, construction equipment lost to Florida sinkholes and training ducks learning to follow Donald for a PR campaign.

After an autograph session with many of the Disney panalists, followed by a dinner break, D23 guests were welcomed to attend Sunday’s final events: “Magic Journeys: a Flight of Fancy through 40 Years of Walt Disney World Musical Memories” with Richard M. Sherman of the Sherman Brothers followed by Micks N’ Mingle, a nightcap to the weekend. Magic Journey not only featured the music of the Sherman Brothers (known for work on “Mary Poppins” and Disney attractions), but included a special appearance by Dreamfinder and Figment. Sherman and Dreamfinder even sang together.



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