Nestled in the heart of Magic Kingdom® Park’s Tomorrowland® lies an attraction which features the single most frequently performed show in the history of American theater. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress beautifully portrays the story of the traditional American family as they move through the twentieth century and encounter new technologies and inventions. Though the featured time periods seem foreign to guests today, the story itself is so relatable that you can’t help but love it. So let’s take a closer look at Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and how it came to be!
While the Carousel of Progress seems right at home in Tomorrowland®, it was actually developed by Walt Disney as part of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. General Electric contracted Disney to build a pavilion featuring an attraction which showcased their technologies. Disney thus utilized the concept of the Carousel of Progress- a circular, compartmentalized theater where guests moved around the acts. Dubbed “Progressland” for the World’s Fair, the attraction was an instant hit and could hold many guests at once thanks to its six large theaters which could each seat 240 guests. The attraction featured the beloved Sherman Brothers song “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as the anchor tying the theme of progress together as the show progressed from one scene to the next.
Once the World’s Fair has concluded, the attraction was renamed Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and moved to Disneyland where is remained from July 1967 to September 1973. Upon closing, the attraction once again relocated to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom® Park in January 1975 and has remained in the same location until present day. While it was a crowd pleaser, the Sherman Brother’s beloved song was noticeably absent throughout this time period. Upon opening in Disneyland, the attraction took on a new theme song titled “The Best Time of Your Life.” While the second theme was catchy, I was especially happy when the original song was reinstated in 1994.
When experiencing the Carousel of Progress today, there are a lot of great details to pick up on throughout the show including some before guests even enter into the theater. Once you are near the doors to the theater, be sure to look up and watch the clip being aired on the overhead televisions. It features both Walt Disney and the Sherman Brothers and talks about the original creation of the attraction. While it is only a few minutes long, it is definitely worth watching! Be sure to also pay attention to the building as it spins!
Once you enter into the theater, pick a seat anywhere you would like- there is rarely a crowd, and you should be able to choose a seat to your liking. Any seat in the house will offer you a great view, so no worries about being front and center. You will then be introduced to the attraction by the narrator and start moving forward through time with the American family. The first scene features Spring and Valentine’s Day at the turn of the century. You are introduced to John the father who is your guide throughout the show as he introduces you to both the new technologies in his home as well as his family members. Lying in front of John is Rover the dog, who’s various names over the years have been Queenie, Buster, and Sport. Such new technologies around the turn of the century include a cast iron stove, ice box, and a “new talking machine” or gramophone. As guests are told about all of the day’s advances, they are also introduced to mother Sarah, daughter Patricia, son James, Grandmother, Grandfather, and good old Uncle Orville. The Grandfather is actually voiced by Rex Allen who originally voiced the Father in the World’s Fair version. Uncle Orville is voiced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc who also provided his talent to Bugs Bunny. When Blanc found out that Uncle Orville would be shown smoking a cigar in the attraction, he put a pencil in his mouth while reading his lines to make it sound authentic. As for Grandmother, well you can actually find her somewhere else in the Magic Kingdom® Park as well…although she might look a little more ghostly. The audio-animatronic figure of Grandmother was also used to mold the elderly woman in the rocking chair featured as one of the swinging ghosts in the Haunted Mansion®’s ballroom scene. Talk about different roles!
The second scene features July 4th in the 1920s, 1927 to be exact. The year can be pinpointed by listening to Father’s reference to Charles Lindbergh. This scene features a great homage to Mr. Edison through an electrical display ultimately resulting in the entire neighborhood losing power. It is in this scene where guests can famously find Uncle Orville lounging in his bathtub and enjoying his “air cooling” system. “No privacy at all around these parts!”
After moving through the roaring twenties, we follow the family into the 1940s on a Halloween night. This scene features such new experiences as the rat race, television (“give him a left, you big lug!”), and a somewhat faulty paint stirrer. This scene was always a favorite of mine as the silver coffee maker found on the stove and the paper mache pumpkin found on the table were both items to be found at my own grandmother’s house growing up.
Finally we move into the present times on Christmas day with the family. There are automatic tree lights, video games, and even a talking oven…which doesn’t always work out. This last scene really helps to tie together the story of the American family as it moved through the century encountering new ideas and technologies and ultimately creating the types of lives guests are familiar with today. I especially love how the show ends with guest leaving with the idea of “what will they think of next?”
While the Carousel of Progress is an amazing show in itself, there are also some great hidden details along the way to look for. Throughout the show, keep an eye out for the original sponsor General Electric’s name and logo on certain electronics and appliances. Then, during the 1940s scene, see if you can find a picture of Walt Disney featured in Patricia’s room. Finally, in the last scene there are several Hidden Mickeys to be found. Up on a mantle lies a Mickey nutcracker, a plush Hidden Mickey can be found under the tree, there is an abstract painting of Sorcerer Mickey found on a wall in the back of the kitchen, and also a pepper mill sporting some mouse ears. Be sure to keep an eye out for all of these great little details hidden throughout the attraction!
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is truly one of my favorite attractions in Walt Disney World. I love experiencing it multiple times throughout each of my trips as I find there is always a new little detail or featured invention scattered throughout the scenes that I have not previously noticed. While the story is so enjoyable, the theater also offers a chance to escape that Central Florida heat for about twenty minutes and enjoy both the attraction and the air conditioning while sitting down. So next time you are in WDW, be sure to stop by the Carousel of Progress and experience firsthand all of the amazing advances we have made over the last century. Just goes to show that there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow!
What is your favorite part of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress? Have a favorite scene or featured technological marvel? Ever spotted the Hidden Mickeys located inside? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.