Disney fans feeling nostalgic for extinct Magic Kingdom attractions had a chance to relive a few fond memories of the past over the weekend during the “Florida Project” event at Epcot. The merchandise-driven event focused around trading pins and Vinylmation, taking place inside the World Showplace pavilion (formerly the Millennium Village) from Sept. 9 – 11, 2011. But while attendees had a chance to buy and trade merchandise, see upcoming designs, and chat with Disney artists, some of the biggest thrills around the Walt Disney World Preview Center-themed decor were familiar facades and ride vehicles on display from four decades of Orlando theme park history.
Upon stepping foot inside the World Showplace, guests arrived into a farm setting, as if walking onto the hundreds of acres of orange groves that once stood where Walt Disney World exists today. Greeted by the memorable Florida Orange Bird character, who appeared at the Magic Kingdom when the park opened in 1971, Florida Project attendees found themselves immersed in an environment that paid tribute to classic Disney attractions and iconic buildings, many still existing today, but some having been lost into “Yesterland” over the years.
Included among the life-sized displays were fan favorites Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Haunted Mansion, the Skyway, and the soon-to-be-transformed Seven Dwarfs Mine. Also featured in the Preview Center motif were displays themed to resorts that opened with Walt Disney World in 1971: the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, and Fort Wilderness. Take a quick walk around these elaborate displays in the video below.
Video: Florida Project event retro display tour inside Epcot’s World Showplace
While the Orange Bird was at the center of attention throughout the Florida Project event, included in each of the themed displays and with its catchy Sherman Brothers’ tune playing occasionally inside the pavilion, that character was a bit before my time. After all, the Orange Bird left Disney’s parks by 1981, when I was less than a year old. But many Disney fans my age certainly have fond memories of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, two Magic Kingdom rides that have since been replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and the upcoming New Fantasyland expansion. As such, I offer a more thorough look at each of these displays in the two videos below, with the facade and cars of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride seeming so authentic that I kept waiting and wishing for the fake doors inside the fireplace to magically open for just one more ride on this extinct attraction.
Video: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride Nautilus submarine in Florida Project event at Epcot
The Florida Project event cost $100 – $115 to attend on Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday, for those who wanted first crack at the merchandise and auction items made available. But on Sunday afternoon, as is always the case with these annual Epcot pin events, all park guests could walk among the displays from 2-5pm at no extra charge. And as it turned out, very little of the limited edition merchandise had sold out by Sunday afternoon, allowing me to walk away with several Haunted Mansion, Mr. Toad, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea pins, among others. But those attending the days prior also enjoyed stage entertainment and received special gifts as part of the ticket price.
Next year’s Epcot pin event theme was announced to be Mickey’s Circus – Under the Big Top. By then, the new Storybook Circus area of the Magic Kingdom should be open, so the event theme will likely tie in well. In the meantime, those who attended this year’s Florida Project event not only remember visiting Walt Disney World’s early days, riding gone-but-not-forgotten attractions, but now also enjoy new memories of recently reliving pieces of Disney theme park history, which ought to help to keep those older memories fresh.
More photos from the Florida Project event at Epcot:
Full Slideshow (70 photos):