Book Review: “A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth”

Hi everyone!

I received A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth as one of several books celebrating Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary to review. This beautiful coffee table book releases on the day I am posting this – September 28th, 2021 and is available to order at online locations including Amazon, shopDisney and it should also be at the Disney parks. The debut is just in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which kicks off on October 1st. I have read over half the book now and skimmed the rest so far. It is an easy book to read but still will take a few days for me this week.

Disney says of Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth: Walt Disney World honors its fiftieth anniversary with “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” an incredible 18-month event that begins October 1, 2021. As part of the festivities, this must-have coffee table book paints a robust portrait of the Florida resort, through vibrant voices and rare Disney theme park concept art, photographs, and ephemera.

The book jacket has beautiful concept art – like a fairy tale – that includes Cinderella Castle as it is decorated now for “The World’s Most Magical Celebration”. The design shows a monorail running behind it (it does not in real life) and Cinderella’s coach with horses. The hub is also a little different…so it’s a stylized version of the castle. It does feature the golden anniversary statues we see there now.

On the back of the jacket, there are the three other park icons including Spaceship Earth and they all allude to being Beacons of Magic for the parks.

The actual book cover is blue with a gold 50th anniversary emblem.

The foreword is from CEO Bob Chapek, who talks about how he went on vacation to Walt Disney World almost every year as a kid and then a little about the history of Walt Disney World.

The authors – Kevin Kern, Tim O’Day and Steven Vagnini write the preface, which sets the tone for the book. They mention that there is rarely seen artwork and photos plus new historical material within the pages. The authors all are Disney fans and all have worked for the Walt Disney Company in some capacity now or in the past.

A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth starts with when Walt Disney’s grandparents moved to Central Florida. Their stay didn’t last, but many years later Walt returned to buy land for what became Walt Disney World. The book goes into some detail on that in the chapters Destination: Florida and Building the Dream. Much of this isn’t new information to those with an interest in Disney history. There are some photos of Walt and his team visiting the acreage.

Shown are concepts I’ve not seen of the Walt Disney World logo – after it took several years to come up with the name. And there are a couple of pages on the Walt Disney World Preview Center and pages with construction photos.

I enjoyed reading the few pages from Dick Nunis, who talked about optimism in “Why Not Florida”?. Roy O. Disney wasn’t sure the project could be completed, but Nunis and others in the company were vocal about wanting to push ahead even after seeing the vast amount of land they had. Roy Patrick Disney offers a nice tribute to Roy O. in “A Grandson’s Appreciation and Memories”.

There are nice photos of the dedication in October, 1971 along with a few pages leading up to it on opening the resort.

Nostalgia: an Idealized Yesteryear (chapter 4) comes into play with a look at Main Street U.S.A., Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and the BoardWalk area resorts along with Liberty Square and more. There are quotes from current and former Disney Imagineers including Tom Fitzgerald – plus quotes from Diane Disney Miller and historians, journalists and more throughout the book.

A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth feels like a 320 page pictorial souvenir that blends together past, present and future, especially starting from chapter 4. Subsequent chapters have titles such as “Fantasy”, “Discovery” and “Tomorrow”. “Fantasy” starts with Cinderella Castle and then intertwines pages that include New Fantasyland and the 20,000 Leagues Submarine Voyage; PhilharMagic and The Mickey Mouse Revue; Frozen Ever After and Maelstrom with a couple of pages on Journey Into Imagination. Walt Disney World is a huge place with a lot of history and as such, many of the topics are really just touched upon throughout the four parks and many resorts.  As much as the book is rooted in the past, it discusses the present day – from Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure to Pandora – The World of Avatar to Toy Story Land to what the book calls the Wonders of Xandar Pavilion (I had not heard that name before).

I enjoyed the couple of pages on Muppet Vision 3D and Lisa Henson’s mention of her father drawing inspiration from the Adventurers Club at the former Pleasure Island. Toward the end of the book, Pleasure Island is touched upon as is Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground and the Fort Wilderness Railroad.

The final pages of  A Portrait of Walt Disney World offer a look at the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, including the Beacons of Magic.

The last image in the book is concept art of Walt Disney as the upcoming Dreamer’s Point statue as EPCOT continues its transformation.

A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth is an easy-to-read book, written by fans for fans – it should have something for everyone from longtime Disney aficionados to those who enjoy the parks more casually. It isn’t an all-encompassing book (for example, think Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks, a book that has binding that can’t sustain the weight of the incredible photos and pages within it). But “A Portrait of Walt Disney World” packs a lot into its 320 pages with a lot of meaningful content, recollections and photos celebrating 47 miles x 50 years of the Walt Disney World Resort.


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