D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Celebration Review

The Review of D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Celebration! 

It has been a week since the D23 Destination D Celebration of 40 years of Walt Disney World (held May 14-15, 2011). Over the past few days, I have gathered my thoughts and spoken to other bloggers about the event.

Disney Archivist Rob Klein and Disney author/historian Tim O’Day host “Past Forward: Walt Disney World on Television” featuring the 1970s version of The Mickey Mouse Club. © Disney

Was It Worth It?
By the far, the most asked question has been whether the two-day event was worth the $175.00 price tag (not including the required D23 membership fee). Especially considering that the other Destination D event and Expos have been cheaper and lasted longer.

Prior to the event, the general opinion you would find on most twitter streams and message boards was one of disbelief. Many bloggers felt they couldn’t afford the cost and resigned themselves to missing the event. Sadly, this is the only celebration that Disney is planning for the 40th anniversary. I assume that the Company will hold a re-dedication ceremony at the Magic Kingdom sometime during the morning of October 1, akin to EPCOT 25, but I have no confirmation.

Debby Dane Browne, the first ever Walt Disney World Ambassador, is greeted by D23 Head Steven Clark as they open the two-day celebration. © Disney

After the event closed on Sunday evening, the energy was high and everyone was rapturous about the closing musical program. So, a week later, I am still enthused about what I saw and learned. And whom I saw!

My answer is still a resounding “Yes” about the worthiness of the Destination D Celebration.

Disney Legend and Walt Disney Archives Director Emeritus Dave Smith takes the audience down memory lane via his nostalgic presentation “Walt Disney World: The Way We Were.” © Disney

What Rocked?
With 15 different presentations and 25 different Disney legends and luminaries, there was a lot to soak in. Surprisingly, there wasn’t anything that was too disappointing, but a majority of the panels/presentations really stood out.

Oh, and Disney? Tim O’Day is a fantastic host. You should sign him up to do more stuff!

  • Seeing Dave Smith present “Walt Disney World: The Way We Were” was fantastic. Dave is a personal hero of mine (it is rather gratifying when a librarian is as famous as Dave) and hearing his personal spin on the extinct attractions at Walt Disney World was priceless.
  • Steve Vagnini, the man behind the entire event, co-presented the “EPCOT: Walt Disney’s Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” presentation. Steve carries a vast knowledge of the Florida property and was able to show how EPCOT was truly integrated into the property from day one.
  • “Past Forward: A History of Walt Disney World on Television” was presented by Rob Klein and the amazing Tim O’Day. The entire audience was enthralled with the rare and long-forgotten video presentations. The Grad Night video was unbelievable on so many levels!
Disney Archivist Steven Vagnini and Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter take their audience behind the scenes for a peek at “The Walt Disney World That Never Was.” © Disney
  • Tony Baxter and Steve Vagnini took us on a wonderful trip through “The Walt Disney World That Never Was.” By far, this presentation had the most geek appeal. It was also one of the few presentations where photography was not allowed. Tony reminisced about the layout of the property; one of the original designs included multiple hotels to surround the Magic Kingdom (in the place of the Seven Seas Lagoon). He also told us about a few attractions that never were: a Sleeping Beauty attraction, one based on the wizard’s duel from The Sword In the Stone, a Mary Poppins ride and a re-imagining of the Carousel of Progress. The most amazing, non-musical part of the entire weekend was the segment on the Western River Expedition. Arguably, the Western River Expedition (WRE) would have been an attraction that would have been Marc Davis’ swan song and the penultimate Walt Disney World experience. Steve Vagnini was able to scour the Imagineering Archives to present a virtual ride-through with long-lost concept art. It was simply astounding. Viva La Western River Expedition!
  • The Final event for Saturday was a two-hour presentation by Tim O’Day and Tony Baxter featuring an amazing amount of studio-produced films, including: “Project Florida,” “The Magic of Walt Disney World,” “A Dream Called EPCOT” and “EPCOT 77.” It was so funny to see Card Walker do his best Walt Disney impersonation.
Disney Legend and Imagineer Bob Gurr surprises the audience by turning the tables and taking pictures of them as his fellow Disney Legends laugh along with the gag. © Disney
  • “Walt Disney World In Detail” kicked off the main part of Sunday. Imagineers Jason Surrell, Alex Wright and Jason Grandt, by far, had the funniest presentation. They delved deep into their work at Walt Disney World to share the finer points, details and hidden goodness that we love so much. Jason, Alex and Jason had incredible chemistry and proved that they will be Disney Legends someday.
  • There were two panel discussions that featured more Disney Legends than you can shake a sorcerer’s wand at. “Creating a Whole New (Walt) Disney World featured Debra Browne, Orlando Ferrante, Bob Foster, Bob Gurr, Ron Logan and was hosted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar. “Making The Magic Happen” featured Jack Lindquist, Bob Matheison, Tom Nabbe, Charlie Ridgway and Bill Sullivan. In both panel discussions, you were able to see 11 Disney Legends, Imagineers and former castmembers as they regaled us with stories of opening the Vacation Kingdom of the World. And it was quite a treat to see them interact in humorous and telling ways. If anyone asks…Bob Gurr is amazing, funny and loves Disney fans.
Many Disney Legends and Walt Disney World Resort “Pioneers” participated in the two-day celebration including (L-R): Bob Foster, Bill Sullivan, Jack Lindquist, Marty Sklar, Orlando Ferrante, Charlie Ridgway, Ron Logan, Tom Nabbe, Bob Gurr and Bob Mathieson. © Disney
And the Best of the Best?
The Award for Most Amazing Thing to Ever Happen in the Fantasia Ballroom goes to…

Dreamfinder and his pal Figment, longtime WDW entertainer Denny Zavett, Richard M. Sherman, the Kids of the Kingdom and members of Encore! (the Walt Disney World Cast Choir and Band) take their bows at the conclusion of the “Magic Journeys: A Flight of Fancy through 40 Years of Walt Disney World Musical Memories” concert. © Disney
Disney Legend and Academy Award® winner Richard M. Sherman charms audiences with a lively performance of some of the film and attraction song hits from the Sherman Brothers’ Disney songbook. © Disney
Conductor Clay Price leads a rousing performance by Encore! (the Walt Disney World Cast Choir and Band) during the closing night “Magic Journeys: A Flight of Fancy through 40 Years of Walt Disney World Musical Memories” concert. © Disney

The musical presentation featured as the closing act on Sunday evening was awesome, unbelievable, goose bump-inducing and once-in-a-lifetime.


As a surprise (one of many), we were treated to a song by the Kids of the Kingdom–all grown up! It was hard to see how they maintained so much energy. The Main Street Marching Band played some Magic Kingdom-themed songs and had the audience wanting to eat an ice cream and march along.

There’s not much one can say about seeing Richard Sherman perform the songs that he wrote with his brother. He played more than 15 songs and each one brought back a specific memory from a film, theme park or time of my life (Now is the time, now is the best time!). Tim O’Day did a marvelous job acting as the emcee and he helped Richard tell the stories behind the songs. Probably the biggest surprise of the evening was when the original Dreamfinder, Ron Schneider, joined Richard Sherman to sing One Little Spark. The whole crowd rose to their feet and sang along.

The Encore! Walt Disney World Cast Choir and Band finished the evening with a rousing 30-minute set of EPCOT Center songs. Hearing cast members singing these amazing EPCOT songs was heat warming. It was obvious that they love the music as much as we do and wanted to share it with us. I would love to have the musical program on DVD (hint, hint).

What Didn’t Rock
My biggest issue with he event was simply how much they crammed into two days. Adding a third day, with the ability to tour the parks in the evening would have been a fantastic way to spread out the excitement. Of course, that would have increased the price since Disney was paying for the speakers to stay in local hotels. Also, there seemed to be a large glut during the breaks for food services at the Contemporary and while waiting on the monorail. Disney did provide a food services area adjacent to the ballroom, but the prices were fairly high and the food fairly plain. Who wouldn’t rather hop on the monorail and eat at one of the other resorts? Or, you could have schlepped over to the Magic Kingdom for a quick bite.

The two morning sessions of both days were rather lackluster and disappointing. “Weird Walt Disney World” by Becky Cline and the self-aggrandizing Paul F. Anderson was a lackluster look at WDW. Where was the handwich? Where were Dick Nunis’ tiny pants? There have been weirder things presented on most blogs. And why was half the presentation the same material from the Expo at Disneyland?

This begs the question of why there was no mention of Dick Nunis during the entire weekend. Nunis started with the Company in 1961 and was in charge of Disneyland and WDW by 1972 until his retirement in 1999 (when he was chairman of Parks and Resorts Worldwide). Not many people have had a longer career at Walt Disney World nor effected it nearly as much.

The first morning session on Saturday was an odd attempt to deify Steven Clark, the head of D23. The Armchair Archivist, Josh Turchetta, presented a video program about Steven Clark that seemed a little over-the-top. If it had not been a Disney production, I would have assumed it was a little satirical, but it wasn’t. It was a look at how cool Steven Clark is presentation. Very odd. Of course, when Dave Smith came out, he received a full standing ovation without any prompting.

You Should Do This
If you get the opportunity to attend one of the D23 events, I would recommend it. Besides getting the opportunity to meet Disney Legends, you can strike up friendships with other people that share the same obsessions.

You should also become a member of D23. Being a member of D23, attending the events and purchasing the D23-related memorabilia is a way of supporting the Archives of the Walt Disney Company. If you think about it, the Archives is a business unit for the Company; it is a business unit that doesn’t sell or offer a product outside of D23. So, when you join D23, you are helping to make the Archives a more self-sustaining business unit.

I did receive and accept free press credentials for this D23 event.

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2 thoughts on “D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Celebration Review

  1. For what it’s worth, I was chatting with an early cast member who in response to our conversation wondered if I would be returning in Oct. It was his impression that there was somthing special going on then. hmmmm

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