A Magical Half-Century: Disney World’s First 50 Years

A Magical Half-Century: Stories Celebrating Walt Disney World’s First 50 Years by Christopher E. Smith, a book review

Isn’t it hard to believe that Walt Disney World will be celebrating a magical half-century this year?

It seems as if we were just celebrating the 40th anniversary and the 50th anniversary was an impossible date. I was hoping that we’d be celebrating the 50th anniversary while wearing jetpacks.

Regardless, we’re here. Despite the shut-downs, the virus, and the social distancing, Disney has been slowly prepping the Florida property for a celebration of sorts. I assume there will be a 50th anniversary celebration at the Magic Kingdom, but no plans have been formally announced (as of this writing). That being said, I imagine that the celebration on Friday, October 1, 2021, will be somber.

Where Are the Books Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World?

I expected many more books published celebrating the 50th anniversary.  That being said, not many are showing up.

Author Christopher E. Smith reached out to me to review his latest book celebrating Walt Disney World’s first 50 years.

The only history book published that documents most of WDW is Jeff Kurtti’s Since the World Began. Jeff’s well done but surprisingly thin history of Walt Disney World set the standard for how to approach a subject as varied and dramatic as Walt Disney World. Hopes abounded for Jeff to re-visit the work and add the second half-century, but plans never came to fruition. I imagine a thorough history of the Vacation Kingdom of the World would be comparable to one of the later Harry Potter novels.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how Christopher put his own spin on Walt Disney World’s history by sharing 16 well-crafted and well-researched stories focusing on Disney World.

A Magical Half-Century

Christopher shares a unique approach to chronicling the first fifty years of Walt Disney World. Don’t expect a run through of the resort or a year-by-year chronology. Christopher weaves a tapestry that tells a larger story. Throughout the 16 chapters, Christopher regales us with historical tales covering different facets of the resort, while focusing on some pretty big milestones and attractions. And some details that you might take for granted.

I’m not a fan of spoilers of any kind, so I will caution you to skip the chapter on Rise of the Resistance until you’ve ridden it (Chapter 4). Rise of the Resistance is stellar (besides being based on the awful sequels) and any little detail gleaned will spoil some of the surprises. But you still need to read the rest of the book! Christopher offers readers some in-depth insight, including a chapter on the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) that takes around the actual globeto visit some of the other Disney theme parks. Fans of the Adventurer’s Club will love this chapter.

What’s Inside the Walt Disney World History Book?

In the 16 chapters, Christopher visits Sleepy Hollow, the Great Movie Ride, Pirates of the Caribbean and the famed Western River Expedition, the EPCOT film, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, DinoLand, The American Adventure, and some of the littlest details: weather vanes. A Magical Half-Century is more than Christopher reciting a litany of facts; he ties multiple storylines together to present a larger history.  The section on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is really a history of the area and a look at the attraction queue, the ride experience, and the tributes. Christopher travels back in time to share early concepts for attractions that didn’t make the cut, including concepts with Roger Rabbit, Mel Brooks, and Dick Tracy. It’s a very satisfying and engaging read (like the other chapters) that offers much more than you think you’re going to get.

This is the kind of mash-up that is ImagiNERDing approved!

A Magical Half-Century recounts the history through images, as well. Christopher has provided crisp black-and-white photos to accompany the text. He’s also managed to wrangle Rob Yeo to provide the wonderfully retro cover art and line illustrations throughout the book. Rob’s design sensibility and charm help elucidate Christopher’s work.

Christopher includes a lot of details that future researchers and fans will enjoy. In many cases, he includes complete ride scripts and minor walk-throughs of the attractions. Sure, you can find these on the web, but it’s great to have them in a handy reference work.

Disney World and Intellectual Properties

In his regular job, Christopher is a lawyer that works with IP, or intellectual property. One of the chapters looks at IP and the Disney Parks, specifically to counter the argument that Disney is populating attractions solely based on IPs, like Frozen and the Pixar films. Christopher offers unique insight and provides a section at the end of the book replete with tables broken down by era (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). The author goes a long (and entertaining) way to show how IPs were present well before it was a conflagration.

All-in-all, Christopher’s dive into the first 50 years of Walt Disney World is an engaging and satisfying read. The chapters go deeper than you expect and incorporate more history than you would think. He also provides a select bibliography, which is a must for any good historical work on any theme park.

Christopher used some top-notch titles for his research.

With the obvious dearth of titles related to Walt Disney World history, Christopher fills the void. He shares fascinating reads that will reach out to all Disney World fans, regardless of your experiences and interests. Grab a copy of the book, sit back, and enjoy A Magical Half-Century!

What’s Your Favorite Memory from the First 50 Years of Walt Disney World?

FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

George’s Favorite Books of 2020

George’s Favorite Books of 2020

Each year, there are more and more Disney- and theme park-related books published. As a theme park nerd, this makes me very happy, but it also means there’s a lot of wheat to separate from the chaff. And that’s part of why ImagiNERDing exists; I always want to present a fair and unbiased look at Disney and theme park books.

With the ease of self-publishing, it means that everyone can tell their theme park story or create their own Disney book. This is a double-edged sword: not only do we get an enormous amount of material, but it also means that quality control (editing, proof-reading, copy-editing, design, etc.) is often neglected. Regardless of the content, grammar, spelling, and style are all important and are a big part of whether a book makes my list.

Books, Books, and More Books from 2020

What follows is the list of my favorite books from the past year in chronological release date.

  • Rolling Through the Years: a Cedar Point Atlas & Chronology by Ken Miller—This is the ultimate history of Cedar Point and might be one of the greatest amusement park books ever written. It’s a huge book and is the most comprehensively detailed book about Cedar Point. And I always recommend that Disney park fans spend time visiting regional parks, like Cedar Point, because they offer a look into the growth and development of themed entertainment.

  • The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt, and Paul Wolski—talk about the ultimate release for fans of Walt Disney and the history of the monorail! The book takes us on a trip through the different iterations of the monorail through history (no, Disney did not invent the monorail) and the development of monorails at Disney parks. Every Disney fan needs to own this!

  • Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter by Graham Allen, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price—this is a book that Disney fans have been waiting years for. It’s a massive book that looks at all the how the holidays are celebrated in all of parks, resorts, hotels, and cruise ships. There is a smattering of history, which is nice, but the majority of the 1900 photos are from the past few years. This is an important release, especially concerning the lack of celebrations happening in the parks in 2020 and for the many fans that aren’t able to travel. I enjoyed the book, mainly for the photos, but really with there had been more of a vogue on the history of the holidays in the parks.

  • Polishing the Dragons: Making EPCOT’s “Wonders of China” by Jeff Blythe—Polishing the Dragons is a perfect example of how small and independent publishing houses can offer incredible content that is well-written, well-designed, and, fortunately, well-edited! Disney fans will relish every sentence and they will devour Jeff’s book about the making of the Circle-Vision film. Seriously, I’m still amazed that there is a whole book dedicated to one subject. The book is awesome.

  • Boundless Realm: Deep Explorations Inside Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Foxx Nolte—I’ve known Foxx for more than ten years and her blog has been one of the main inspirations for what I do at ImagiNERDing. The Haunted Mansion is a fan favorite and the attraction has been plagued by a lack of a stated backstory. Foxx takes us very deep to explore all of the influences of the Imagineers that led them to make the spooky house on the hill. This book is amazing and deserves to be in every Disney and theme park fan’s collection.

Haven’t Quite Finished It Yet…

My Favorite Books of 2020?

There you have it: my favorite books from 2020. I’m often asked what my favorite book of the year is, and I’ve offered the ImagiNERDing Book of the Year in years past. But this year, there are so many books that deserve the title that I can’t make an effective choice. If you’re on a limited budget, the Disney Monorails, Polishing the Dragons, Imagineering an American Dreamscape, and Boundless Realm, are all fantastic titles that shed light into Disney history from vastly different points-of-view and offer a wonderful reading experience.

What Are Your Favorite Books from 2020?

FTC Disclosure: In some cases, a copy might have been provided by the company for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Walt Disney World Attraction Guide 2019 by Christopher E. Smith

Walt Disney World 2019 Attraction Guide by Christopher E. Smith

Anyone that knows me understands my passion for books, especially Disney-related books. I have over 1200 Disney- and theme park-related books and I’m always on the lookout for something new.

But, what’s new in the world of Disney travel books? I mean, the first travel guide to Walt Disney World was published in 1982 and there have been hundreds published since then. What could be new?

Let me tell you: a super-nerdy travel guide!

What’s a Super-Nerdy Disney Travel Guide?

I’m glad you asked!

Christopher E. Smith sent me a review copy of his 2019 Walt Disney World Attraction Guide. Chris has written a few other Walt Disney World titles that delve pretty deep into the nerdy side of Disney history and trivia. He really knows his stuff.

With his new travel guide to Walt Disney World, Chris takes his deep knowledge and applies it to the theme park attractions at all four parks. You don’t have to be worried about being overwhelmed with the history and trivia; Chris offers a tidbit or two for each attraction, in addition to travel-related tips.

Book your next vacation with my friends Sarah and Shad to make it the nerdiest ever!

What’s Inside the Guide?

Chris breaks down the book by park and land. For instance, in the Magic Kingdom section, there are six chapters covering each land and every attraction gets a page or two (or three) devoted to it. Chris offers some basic touring information:

  • Ratings by age group;
  • Type, Rank (A, B, C, D or E Ticket), Length, Height Restrictions’ Accessibility, Opening Date (very cool) and Expected Wait Times;
  • Summary of the attraction;
  • Description of the attraction (future theme park historians are going to love this);
  • Queue description (again, this is awesome);
  • Intensity;
  • Ride Vehicle/Seating (what a great bit of information to provide);
  • Best Seat;
  • Boarding/Wheelchair/ECV;
  • Touring Strategy; and
  • MAGICAL DETAILS (I put it in all caps because this is one area that makes the book standout).

Some of the attractions don’t rate more than a page since there isn’t much of a queue or a backstory. Or there might not be any historical importance to the attraction. Regardless, Chris looks at each and every one spread across the more than 40 square miles of Walt Disney World. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it!

I love that Chris offers a description of the attraction and the queue. One of my FAVORITE books of all time is Vinyl Leaves. Even though it is an academic treatise, the author of Vinyl Leaves visited every attraction (circa 1989) and offers a detailed description of the attraction, queue and environs. No one else has done anything like this, except for Chris. Historians and theme park researchers are going to appreciate Chris’s attention to detail.

If you’re looking for a travel guide that focuses solely on the attractions, the Walt Disney World Attraction Guide 2019 by Christopher E. Smith is your guide!

Are You Going to Pick Up a Copy of this Nerdy Travel Guide?

Special thanks to Wes B.,  Aaron R. and Nicole S. for supporting me on Patreon.

FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World

Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World

Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World by Christopher E. Smith is Volume 1 and focuses on three lands of the Magic Kingdom.

Yes, this is a 250 page book that only covers three lands of one theme park at Walt Disney World. Hopefully, Chris will be able to continue this series.

So, Chris takes us on a journey through the backstories, histories (real and imagined) and secrets of Main Street, USA, Frontierland and Liberty Square. These are good subjects since they flow so well into each other, physically and literally. All three lands have a basis in Amercian history, as well.

The book starts on Main Street and Chris discusses all of the little details and stories. And Main Street has a lot of them. He even covers every single window tribute and the stories behind the shops. Chris follows the same path for each land, including offering the scripts for the attractions and the details in the queues. He shares the little tributes from boxes and displays while describing their importance.

In a few instances, Chris dedicates an entire chapter to just one attraction or shop/restaurant. The Haunted Mansion, Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and a few others offer more detail, partially because of the scope of the secrets and details.

What’s important about this book (and hopefully the series) is that Chris has documented all of the secrets and backstories in a book. He’s compiled official stories, unofficial stories, rumors, myths, legends and fan stories. He also takes the time to explain each one and the merits of them. In some cases, he might dismiss them or show how it’s a fan-based rumor and not grounded in reality. But he has done an exceptional job of getting everything in one place.

My only issue with the book (and this has happened with other Theme Park Press (TPP) books) is the utter lack of notes, be they end note, foot note or chapter note. There is no way to trace Chris’s research, so future historians and fans won’t be able to follow-up. This is a really big issue. Granted, I know that TPP wants to appeal to the lowest common reader and most people just want to read about Disney as opposed to thinking critically. I do wish that Chris had included where he ran across some of the facts and stories  because there were quite a few stories that I’d not read before.

Walt Disney World fans, especially those enamored with the history and backstories and going to love this book (and the series). I’m glad that Chris took the time to write the book and offer thoughtful rationale on the subjects, especially since many of the facts about Disney can be urban legends.

Title: The Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World: Main Street, U.S.A., Liberty Square, and Frontierland (Disney Backstories) (Volume 1)
Author: Christopher E. Smith
ISBN: 978-16639601006
Release Date: November 20, 2017

Are you going to pick up a copy of The Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World?

FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

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The Walt Disney World That Never Was Book Review

The Walt Disney World That Never Was by Christopher E. Smith, a book review

The Walt Disney World That Never Was by Christopher E. Smith is a book that Walt Disney World fans are going to devour. The book is replete with stories of attractions that simply never made it off of the drawing board. Many of these projects, like the Western River Expedition, have become the stuff of legend and lore within Disney fan circles. But here, Smith has compiled all of the major attractions and placed them in one book.

David Copperfield’s Magic Underground, Muppets Studio, Mt. Fuji Coaster, Villains Mountain, Enchanted Snow Palace and so many more are featured in the book.

The Walt Disney World That Never Was covers the entire Walt Disney World resort, with each chapter focusing on a major attraction. Smith covers all of the lost attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Disney Studios, Animal Kingdom and the never-built resort hotels.

The strength of the book lies in the fact that all the stories have been compiled in one place; Smith does a great job of relating those stories to us. He does mention a few of the sources that he pulls information from but that is where my negative thoughts on the book come in.

The book really does read anecdotally but there’s no way to track down where Smith got the information. When he quotes directly from a book, Smith at least relates the title of the book but there’s no pagination. In other cases he’ll he’ll mention that the information came from an annual report or a company newsletter, but there’s no direct reference to what it was. The same goes for most of the information that Smith presents.

Having been a Disney fan for many decades, I can corroborate most of the stories in The Walt Disney World That Never Was. I know that Smith really has done his research and I was always aware of what he was talking about. But this book simply doesn’t help future researchers or historians. With no end notes, footnotes or a practical bibliography, there’s really no use of this book for the future. It did remind me of a Jim Korkis book with the fact we just have to trust what he is saying instead of being able to see for yourself.

All negativity aside, I still really enjoyed the book and I do recommend it. Fans of Walt Disney World are going to love this title because there are things that they are not going to be familiar with. There were even a few surprises that I ran across.

Smith’s style is very relaxed and it’s obvious that he’s a fan of Imagineering and is passionate about these lost projects. Walt Disney World fans are going to tear through The Walt Disney World That Never Was and dream wistfully of these long-lost Imagineering projects.

Have you read The Walt Disney World That Never Was? Which project do you wish you could ride?

FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!