Timekeeping – 1973 – Pirates, Trains and Less Automobiles
Walt Disney World’s second full year of operation saw many things we still know today, as well as things we no longer have, added to the resort. But 1973 was also the first time the real world really began to intrude on the Vacation Kingdom. It became a harsh reality that no matter how big of a berm you build or how much land you buffer with, national and international crises will find themselves on your doorstep.
The Magic Kingdom Grows
The second fiscal year of October 1, 1972 – September 30, 1973 saw 11,593,000 guests pass through the gates, but the park was in a state of flux for the entire year. Heavy construction was taking place on both ends of the park as two now-classic E-Tickets were being built. The first new addition a 1973 guest would encounter would be Station Break Refreshments, a new stand located under the Main Street train station.
Second was the Walt Disney Story, presented by Gulf Oil. It opened in the Hospitality House in April and was dedicated by Lillian Disney on May 6. The queue featured memorabilia including the famous eight-piece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Oscar and a model of the Nautilus.
The Plaza Swan Boats officially opened May 20, loading in the northeast quadrant Hub area. The twelve, 26-passenger boats would travel around the canals of the Hub and into Adventureland, where they would circle the Swiss Family Treehouse before returning.
In Adventureland, another new refreshment stand opened near the Jungle Cruise called the Oasis. In Frontierland, Westward Ho closed to make more room for the Country Bear Jamboree queue.
Along the Rivers of America, Tom Sawyer Island opened in April, followed May 20 by the Richard F. Irvine Riverboat. In addition to areas to explore like the Old Grist Mill and Huck Finn’s Treehouse, Tom Sawyer Island featured Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn, a small counter service restaurant. Fantasyland saw the canopy and central teapot added to the Mad Tea Party.
While much of Tomorrowland was under construction for the entire year, the Plaza Pavilion, the current Tomorrowland Terrace, opened by summer to accommodate the added crowds from all the new attractions in the park. Work continued on Space Mountain, while construction began on the Carousel of Progress, the Peoplemover and the Star Jets. Back across the park and just in time for the Christmas season, Pirates of the Caribbean opened December 15. However, the Caribbean Plaza area would not fully open until 1974.
Inside the Berm
Over at the Polynesian Village Resort, the luau moved from the Polynesian beach to the newly completed Luau Cove area. At the Contemporary, there were more substantial changes taking place. The Outer Rim bar replaced the Grand Canyon Concourse lounge which closed in 1972. Down on the first floor, the Sunshine State Exhibitorium became the Fiesta Fun Center. One correction, while I did state previously the Exhibitorium opened with table games, further research points to the area opening as a conference room area and the games were added before the name changed. The Fiesta Fun Center featured a snack bar, numerous games and a small movie theater showing Disney movies.
The Golf Resort opened at the Palm and Magnolia courses. The resort featured 153 rooms and provided expansion to the courses’ clubhouse facilities. Jack Nicklaus continued his streak of sweeping the Walt Disney World Golf Classic which was the new name of the Walt Disney World Open Invitational.
Over at Ft. Wilderness, the resort expanded to 714 campsites, and the Pioneer Hall complex was under construction. The Fort Wilderness Railway, a steam train that served to transport guests around the campgrounds, also opened with three miles of track.
The Lake Bunea Vista area reached a total of 133 townhomes, and a fourth hotel opened on Motor Inn Plaza, the Dutch Inn. The area that would become the Disney Village Marketplace was also underway with other additions to the Lake Buena Vista area. However, events far outside Disney’s control would scuttle these plans and detour Walt Disney World’s expansion permanently.
The Oil Embargo and Nixon
In October, in response to the October War and failure of ongoing negotiations with oil companies, OPEC cut production and raised prices on exports to countries that supported Israel during the war with Egypt and Syria. This resulted in both gas rationing and up to a 300% increase in gas prices. President Nixon had to order gas rationing by the end of November.
At the time approximately 75% of Walt Disney World’s guests came from outside Florida. The impact hit almost immediately, as the holiday season approached, bringing attendance down about 9%year over year. By the end of the embargo in March 1974, Disney had laid off cast members, cancelled expansion plans, stockpiled fuel, and at one point had lost 55% of its stock value from before the crises. Projects not under construction were cancelled, including the Asian and Persian resorts. Space Mountain was delayed from Summer of 1974 to 1975.
During the middle of the crisis, another event of historical significance would take place at Walt Disney World. On November 17, The Associated Press Managing Editors Association Annual Convention was taking place at the Contemporary. During the convention, President Nixon would give a televised speech where he delivered the now-famous line, “I am not a crook.”
Walt Disney World is never the same place at the beginning of a year as it is at the end, and 1973 would be no different. However, despite iconic additions occurring during the year, not all would last. We as fans love to discuss the loss of the Fort Wilderness Railway and the Fiesta Fun Center, but it’s the losses of things we never got that echo the most from the year. The lost monorail resorts, the change in Lake Buena Vista plans, and arguably the demise of EPCOT as a city all stem from the events that the resort weathered in 1973, and in some ways mirror the circumstances Walt Disney World is currently facing.