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Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th

A good sign...

D23 has announced schedule and ticketing information for its upcoming Destination D: Walt Disney World event in May. Tickets will go on sale online at 1 PM EST on February 24th; the somewhat startling price for the two-day event is $175, or $215 for a ticket and registration of one Great Disney Scavenger Hunt team. The Scavenger Hunt will be held May 12-13, with Destination D following from May 14-15. The convention will be held at the Contemporary Resort’s Fantasia Ballroom. Last year’s Destination D at Disneyland sold out fairly quickly, so one expects that the pent-up demand that Walt Disney World fans have for attention will lead to another packed event this year.

The details for the event mirror closely the lineup of last year’s gathering at Disneyland. Remember that Destination D is on a much smaller scale than the D23 Expo, and the events are limited to a single room and a single slate of speakers and presentations. There’s no exhibit floor or anything like that, and the discussion is more narrowly focused.

Disney’s blurb:

Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and D23: The Official Disney Fan Club is marking this milestone May 14 and May 15 with their highly anticipated member event Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th, another unforgettable experience available exclusively to D23 Members. The event will take D23 Members on a journey from the moment when the first parcels of land in Central Florida were purchased in 1964 through the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982 and beyond.

Guests may also now register for D23’s Great Disney Scavenger Hunt: Walt Disney World, which takes place May 12 & 13, and will send hundreds of teams across the Resort’s four theme parks in what will be the largest scavenger hunt to ever hit Walt Disney World! Registration for the Hunt is open to both D23 Member and the general public. (Registration for the Hunt is separate from Destination D.)

The weekend’s activities will illuminate the rich history of Walt Disney’s “Project Florida.” Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th will feature a remarkable gathering of Walt Disney World pioneers, retrospectives, screenings of rare and newly discovered film and TV footage and lively presentations that will give D23 members an unprecedented look at this truly spectacular World.

All Destination D guests will also receive a complimentary, limited-edition reproduction of the 1970 “Preview Edition” of the Walt Disney World souvenir guidebook from the Walt Disney Archives Collection. The 22-page, colorful book is just one of the gifts Members will receive. The complete Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th line-up (as well as information about D23’s Great Disney Scavenger Hunt) is available at the D23 Web site.

Want more details? Here’s the official schedule, remembering of course that the details are subject to change:

SATURDAY, MAY 14, 2011

Opening Program
9:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.
D23 Head Steven Clark welcomes D23 Members with some special guests and a few surprises you won’t want to miss!

Weird Walt Disney World
10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Following their laugh-out-loud antics at Destination D: Disneyland ’55, Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline and Disney historian Paul F. Anderson are at it again — this time taking guests on a fun-filled trip through the strangest and most bizarre parts of Walt Disney World history. A peculiar “lawnmower tree?” A crazy cast of singing fruits and vegetables? Who knows what the duo will unearth as they explore the wonderfully weird and wacky side of the Vacation Kingdom.

Walt Disney World: The Way We Were
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Remember the charm of the Orange Bird and the musical delights of the Mickey Mouse Revue? The elegant Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and backwoods adventures along the Fort Wilderness Railway? Join Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith as we explore vintage pictures of Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts, including rare photos of construction and a fond look at some favorite attractions, shops and restaurants of the past.

Lunch Break
12:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

EPCOT: Walt Disney’s Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
2:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Walt’s vision for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow far transcended the realm of family entertainment and for many years remained shrouded in secrecy. Re-enter the 1960s hallways of WED Enterprises with Archivist Steven Vagnini and Disney expert Paul F. Anderson in this unprecedented look at the inspirations and plans for Walt’s EPCOT, and find out the little-known ways that Imagineers brought their late founder’s dream to reality throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort.

Past Forward: A History of Walt Disney World on Television
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Like its predecessor, Disneyland, the early success of Walt Disney World Resort can be attributed to the extensive television exposure it received through both Disney broadcast efforts and news media coverage. Be sure to tune in to this nostalgic journey through Walt Disney World Resort history as reflected in the many national network TV specials and nascent offerings from the early years of The Disney Channel. Join Disney Archivist Rob Klein as he takes TV remote in hand to stroll through some of the many highlights of Walt Disney World Resort on television.

The Walt Disney World That Never Was
4:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
What do the Western River Expedition, Asian Resort Hotel and Sleeping Beauty dark ride have in common? While these amazing experiences were crafted in the minds of skilled artists at Walt Disney Imagineering, they comprise a different kind of dimension of Walt Disney World history: the grand experiences that never made it off the drawing board or out of the model shop. With an array of rare artwork and photographs, longtime Imagineer Tony Baxter lifts the curtain and takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour through the incredible world of the Walt Disney World that never was.

Dinner Break
5:45 p.m. – 8 p.m.

From the Vault: Walt Disney World Resort on Film
8 p.m.
Walt Disney World is not often associated with motion pictures and film, but from before groundbreaking up through the creation of EPCOT Center, Walt Disney World Resort was heavily promoted through such theatrical and internal films as “Project Florida,” “The Magic of Walt Disney World,” “A Dream Called EPCOT” and “EPCOT 77.” Join your hosts Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter and Disney author and historian Tim O’Day as they screen these rare treasures from the Disney film vaults, plus newly discovered and restored documentation footage of the construction and early years of Walt Disney World Resort.

SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2011

Sunday Morning Surprise with the Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador Team
9:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.
You won’t want to miss this very special — and did we mention surprising? — presentation at the start of your day!

Walt Disney World in Detail
10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Think you know everything there is to know about the Walt Disney World Resort? Find out as we join Disney author and Imagineer Jason Surrell as he uncovers the little-known details and design references that have made ride vehicles, cast member costumes and even unassuming trash cans such treasured parts of the magic.

Imagineering Walt Disney World: From Yesteryear to Tomorrowland
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Join longtime Imagineer Eric Jacobson, who oversees the portfolio for Disney’s largest resort in the world. Eric will share insider stories and images of yesteryear, as well as new and exciting surprises of things on the horizon at Walt Disney World.

Lunch Break
12:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Creating “A Whole New Disney World”
2:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
What began as 27,400 acres of quiet Central Florida swampland blossomed into an incredible, one-of-a-kind vacation destination “Where Dreams Come True.” From the top-secret acquisition of the land to the Imagineering and entertainment behind the magic, hear the stories of how it all happened in this impressive panel discussion featuring: Debra Browne, Orlando Ferrante, Bob Foster, Bob Gurr, and Ron Logan. Hosted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar.

Making the Magic Happen
3:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Opening and maintaining a resort the size of the city of San Francisco was no easy task and our panel of Disney Legends — Jack Lindquist, Bob Matheison, Tom Nabbe, Charlie Ridgway and Bill Sullivan — will recount what life was like making the magic happen, from opening the Magic Kingdom through the debut of EPCOT Center. It’s a story of challenges, misadventures, creativity, and unbridled excitement for the leaders who inherited “A Whole New Disney World” from Uncle Walt and his Imagineers. Hosted by Tim O’Day.

Quick Break
4:45 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Autograph Session with Disney Legends and Authors
5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Please note, there is limit of one item per person to be signed for each guest. Thank you.

Dinner Break
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Magic Journeys: A Flight of Fancy through 40 Years of Walt Disney World Musical Memories
8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
As a spectacular conclusion to Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th, Disney Legend and Oscar® winner Richard M. Sherman, who along with his brother Robert has contributed a multitude of tunes to the Disney parks songbook, headlines this unforgettable tribute to the melodies that helped shape the World.

Micks N’ Mingle
9:30 p.m. – 10:45 p.m.
One last opportunity to meet your fellow D23 Members, the D23 Team behind Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th and some of our special guest participants before we officially bring our extraordinary event to a close.

That’s a pretty crackerjack lineup. Everyone who has seen one of Richard Sherman’s presentations knows that that alone is worth the trip, but it’s good to see such an impressive list of guests and interesting topics. I had been concerned about having a diverse enough group of presenters and hosts (where’s Jeff Kurtti?), as that’s more crucial than you might think. One of my concerns all along has been about California-based Disneylanders, who view Walt Disney World as some sort of provincial outpost, showing up and just skimming the surface of the resort’s rich and intricate history. This isn’t some huge slam on them; after all, I’d hardly nominate myself to put together a Disneyland event.

This list hints at my concerns; I hate to see “A crazy cast of singing fruits and vegetables?” on there under “Weird Walt Disney World.” The Kitchen Kabaret is a fairly beloved attraction that ran for more than a decade, not some wacky obscurity that no one remembers. The Kabaret should obviously get some stage time during the event, but hopefully they’ll dig deeper for the “strangest and most bizarre parts of Walt Disney World history” than something that was a fairly prominent attraction until 17 years ago. It’s hardly the Kaiser Aluminum Pig of Walt Disney World. Just a nitpick, but this event is for nitpickers…

Thankfully, I’ve been assured that people on the ground are working to make sure that this event is everything that it should be and is truly a tribute to Walt Disney World. Hopefully that means we’ll get into the real obscure goodies. This list would certainly seem to indicate that. It really is a quality lineup. I’ll be amused to see Tony Baxter talk about Western River Expedition. And I’m absolutely thrilled to see that Steven Vagnini will be discussing EPCOT; I can’t wait to see what he has turned up.

Speaking of obscure goodies, it is pretty neat that they’ll be providing reprints of the 1970 “Preview Edition” Walt Disney World book. It’s a great source of information and pictures, and having reproductions should at least push down the price of originals on eBay! If this obscure ephemera is the direction they’re going with this project, it’s a good sign.

A key issue that has been raised online is the ticket price. At $175, the tickets are a bit steep, and $50 more than the Disneyland event last year. While I’m glad that D23 acknowledges that there’s a deep demand for this kind of event in Florida, and I’m sure the event will sell out easily, it is somewhat bothersome for tickets for a two-day event to be this pricey when people have already chipped in a not-inconsequential amount to join D23 in the first place. This is, of course, a symptom of a problem in the modern Disney corporation – every business unit must justify itself by making a profit. No one is calling for the company to be run like a charity; nevertheless, in “olden times” it was a given that certain units of the organization could be run to break-even or even – gasp! – at a loss in order to generate goodwill and extra commerce down the road. Surely any loss Disney would take on cheaper tickets would be made up in increased merchandise, food, and lodging income.

It should be a fun event, though. The subject matter appears to be well-chosen, there’s a great slate of special guests from Walt Disney World’s early days that rarely appear at these events, and it’ll be wonderful to see all that Walt Disney World vintage video. We’re so used to seeing Disneyland footage released and re-released, but the Florida resort gets short shrift and much of this footage has been unseen for ages. It’s a pretty exciting list of events, and hopefully we’ll know even more by the time tickets go on sale February 24th.

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