Let’s have a celebration for Walt Disney World’s Carousel of Progress which is turning an amazing 55 years old today! Few visitors to Disney World leave without a firm feeling about the Magic Kingdom’s oldest ride. You either love or can leave Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, but you have to admire a ride that is seven years older than the park itself.
Before you decide for yourself, here’s some fact’s you need to know about the Carousel.
The Carousel of Progress in one of the few things in Disney World touched by Walt
The Carousel of Progress opened on April 22, 1964 at the New York World’s fair. General Electric (GE) hosted the Carousel as part of the Progressland Pavilion. At the fair there was a second floor where GE projected nature pictures as well as pictures of GE energy sources onto the domed roof.
The Carousel of Progress was featured in a 1964 episode of “The Magical World of Disney” called Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair. There, Walt Disney himself led the audience through a tour of the Carousel of Progress’s stage show and animatronics. You can see that portion of the show in a video released by Disney Parks in 2015 to celebrate the ride’s 40th year at Disney World.
The Carousel of Progress is Disney World’s most traveled ride
You may not travel far on the Carousel of Progress, but the Carousel of Progress traveled far to get you there. Unlike Disney World’s “it’s a small world”, which is a copy of the World’s Fair model, The Magic Kingdom has the original Carousel of Progress. After New York the Carousel traveled to Disneyland for a six year run and then was packed up and shipped to Walt Disney World where it has resided ever since January 15, 1975. So that’s Coast to Coast and back again.
The building features two concepts originally presented in the 1964 World’s Fair
Walt Disney was involved in four World’s Fair attractions. Besides it’s a small world and the Carousel of Progress, the imagineers were also involved in creating “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” sponsored by the State of Illinois and the “Ford’s Magic Skyway” ride. “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” can still be seen at Disneyland. The fourth attraction, “Ford’s Magic Skyway”, allowed visitors to ride on a track in new Ford Convertibles (including the debut of the Mustang). The magic Skyway failed to move to Disneyland when Ford and Disney could not work out a sponsorship deal. The concept, however, became the WedWay People Mover which drives along the roof of the Carousel of Progress.
When is a Ride not a Ride?
When the ride is classified as a Stage Show. While guests stay in their seats they rotate the four stages to see a short four act play. The focus of the Carousel of Progress is the play, not the ride. As such the Carousel has been judged to be the longest running stage show in America.
It’s current song hit home runs on two pitches
Walt Disney was an eternal optimist who lived life believing that the future was brighter. The Academy Award winning Disney duo of Richard and Robert Sherman wrote the Carousel of Progress’ song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as a tribute to Walt. Fittingly, Walt Disney adopted the song as his theme song. Walt Disney sang the song, along with the Sherman brothers, in the pitch to GE for sponsorship of the 1964 World’s Fair attraction. Later an instrumental version provided the underlying music in the 1966 film Disney narrated to convince Florida legislators and the public about a little place near Orlando.
Change is not always good
The Carousel for Progress went through multiple changes since its debut at the New York World’s Fair. Not all of the changes were good. In 1974 the Sherman brothers produced a new song for use when the attraction moved to the Magic Kingdom. The song, “The Best Time of Your Life” was not the best song for the ride. (Though some would disagree who heard that version of the song first.) That song lasted until 1994 when the decision was made to return “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” to the attraction.
Why the dog doesn’t change his spot
Disney legend, Imagineer Bob Gurr was responsible for the design of the dog. For the first three acts the dog lies in the same spot on the floor. It’s not the same dog, he changes color and possibly breeds each act. After all, originally each act is at least 20 years apart. Only in the newest scene does the dog sit in a new location. According to Bob Gurr the idea of the dog staying put came from Walt Disney himself. When the boss says stay the dog stays firmly routed for at least 55 years.
The ride is so good it had a sequel
As part of Phase 2 of EPCOT, GE also sponsored Horizons which opened on October 1, 1983. Here a family was shown living in the 21st century much how like the Carousel of Progress family navigated the 20th century. In one scene a robot cleaning the kitchen of tomorrow is heard singing “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.
The Carousel of Progress takes the heat
While it would be nice to say that the Carousel for Progress gets listed as an overall top attraction, the Carousel does make does make one list consistently; the top places to avoid the heat in sometimes steamy Walt Disney World. You can’t prove it, but the long association this attraction had with GE helped ensure that some very powerful air conditioning units keeps the Carousel of Progress cool for guests year round.
EPCOT’s public debut was at the Carousel of Progress
After the show was over in the Disneyland version of the Carousel of Progress guests were whisked up to the second floor for a four minute show and a viewing of a model of “Progress City.” “Progress City” was based on the prototype for Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). Portions of “Progress City” can still be viewed while riding the People Mover.
A final note:
We both have extensive, personal memories of the Carousel of Progress. Pat fondly remembers reading about the Carousel of Progress in the Weekly Reader. Bob feels incredibly fortunate to have ridden the Carousel of Progress at the New York World’s Fair.
To get a less biased opinion we asked our millennial son, Stu. Stu started his review by saying he loves the carousel but “Every time I’ve seen it, it has somehow been 25 years out of date. I think it deserves an update or a Viking funeral and I can’t decide which is more fitting.” We are all rooting for an update.
Special thanks to Kristen Dyer and Cristina Berg from the Mouse for Less Blog for providing photos. Additional thanks go to Cristina Berg for sharing the anecdote from Bob Gurr.
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