Over the years, I have amassed several boxes full of Disney paper goods. This is a collection of park maps, tickets, guide books, postcards, magazines, stock reports and more. The other day, while rummaging through this unorganized assortment of goodies, I came across a Vacationland Magazine from the summer of 1974.
Vacationland was a free magazine that was placed in hotel and motel rooms both on and off Disney property. It was printed quarterly and highlighted the latest happenings at Disney. There were both a Disneyland and Disney World edition. Vacationland was the brainchild of Disney legend Marty Sklar.
The above edition featured stories about Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Carpet ‘Round the World, Pioneer Hall, and Treasure Island. But instead of covering these topics, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the full-page advertisements that graced the pages of this magazine. The Disney Company has always been a master at getting other corporations to pay for their advertisements and this magazine is a perfect example.
Kal Kan sponsored the kennels at Walt Disney World and Disneyland for many years. The copy in the ad below reads, “Kal Kan thinks Walt Disney World should be for the whole family. So if you have pets – bring them along! They can stay at our modern Kal Kan Kennel Club. And enjoy a complimentary meal on us.”
Kal Kan dog food was later renamed Pedigree and their cat food Whiskas.
For just $198 (one way), you and a fellow passenger could have your car loaded onto a train in Washington DC then ride in a comfortable reclining coach lounge seat for an overnight trip to Sanford, Florida. While on board a buffet dinner and breakfast were served along with midnight snacks. Additional occupants cost $25 each.
The Auto-Train still runs today. Sanford is about 45 miles from Walt Disney World and the drive takes about one hour. For more information, click here.
Early visitors to Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom knew all about View-Masters. These stereoscopic viewers allowed guests to see three-dimensional pictures of the parks and characters. A View-Master was always on display in the Emporium and picking one up to view the sights was irresistible.
The Imagineers have not forgotten about this magical souvenir of the past. While in the queue of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom you can see a giant View-Master clicking away scenes from Buzz’s universe. And a giant disk featuring pictures of Disneyland can be seen in Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Started in 1957, Sambo’s was a coffee shop style restaurant that offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual atmosphere. At its height in 1979 the chain had 1,200 eateries. The restaurant’s moniker came from portions of the founder’s name, Sam Battistone and Newell Bohnett. However, as time progressed, the restaurant became associated with the children’s tale, “The Story of Little Black Sambo.” The story tells of a young boy, who while trying to escape a hungry tiger, is chased around a tree until the tiger is reduced to melted butter which is later used on his pancakes.
In the late 1970’s, the name Sambo became controversial. Several of the restaurants were renamed “The Jolly Tiger” and “No Place Like Sam’s.” However, between the controversy and the changing trend in American eating habits, business declined. In November, 1981 the company filed for bankruptcy and in 1982 the restaurant chain passed into history.
Gulf Oil was the official service (gas) station of Disneyland and Walt Disney World for a number of years.
Hoping to capitalize on Disney’s success, many other Florida attractions chose to advertise in Vacationland Magazine.
Marco Polo Park was located in Flagler County between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach just off of Interstate 95. The park’s theme was based on the Italian’s famous journey through the Middle and Far East. The park’s “lands” included Venice, Turkey, India, China, and Japan. Attractions included a flying chairs ride, a log flume, Ferris wheel, bumper cars and more.
The park opened in early 1971 to considerable fanfare. However, it was never profitable and two fires ravaged the park in 1975. It was temporarily closed to repair the damage and it reopened later that year under the name Passport to Fun World. But this wasn’t enough to save the park. Most folks weren’t interested in stopping at this lesser attraction with Walt Disney World beckoning further down the road.
Circus World opened southwest of Disney World in February, 1974. It featured an IMAX theater within a building designed to look like a giant circus tent. Other attractions included a carousel, elephant rides, and a cart pulled behind a camel. The park was later sold to Mattel as part of a larger deal. Although Mattel wasn’t interested in the property, they did expand the park with a wooden roller coaster, Wild West show, a diving show, and petting zoo.
The park was sold twice and when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich took over ownership, they shut it down for a makeover. When it reopened in 1987, a new theme and name graced the property. Boardwalk and Baseball would recreate a turn-of-the-century seaside boardwalk. Unfortunately, Disney World became a wall that most tourists refused to travel past. Boardwalk and Baseball never turned a profit and on January 17, 1990 the park closed.
Six Gun Territory was another of Florida’s many attractions that debuted before Disney came to town. Located north of Orlando between Ocala and Silver Springs, this relatively authentic recreation of the Old West featured a courthouse, hotel, jail, schoolhouse, Indian Village and a non-denominational church that actually held services on Sunday mornings. A variety of shows were also presented including a bank robbery and saloon girls.
In the 1980’s, Westerns, once a TV staple, were a dying breed. Couple this with the opening of Walt Disney World and Six Gun Territory saw sinking attendance. On Jan. 1, 1984, Six Gun Territory closed its doors for good
The Ocala area was seriously considered when Walt was scouting sites for Walt Disney World. However, Orlando’s proximity to the intersection of the Florida Turnpike and Interstate 4 gave this more southern location the edge.
Unlike so many other Florida attractions, Lion Country Safari, located near West Palm Beach, is still going strong. Begun in 1967, investors opened similar attractions near Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Richmond. However the Florida Park is the only one that still remains in operation. A lot of this success can be attributed to its distance from Walt Disney World. South Florida attracts a different set of tourists and competition for the “theme park” dollar is less in this location.
Unlike Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom, guests at Lion Country Safari are allowed to travel the five miles of roadway in their own vehicles. Here they see the typical assortment of African animals such as giraffes, rhinoceroses, zebras, and of course, lions. While touring at their own pace, a prerecorded narration is played describing the sights. For more information, click here.
The advertisement for Cypress Gardens, the venerable attraction that was synonymous with Florida for many years, graced the back cover of Vacationland Magazine.
Cypress Gardens was opened by Dick and Julie Pope on January 2, 1936 as a botanical garden. In later years, it became known as the "Water Ski Capital of the World" due to the many world records broken there. But like so many other Florida attractions, Cypress Gardens fell victim to Walt Disney World’s success and as Epcot, the Disney/MGM Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom opened, attendance continued to decline.
The park was sold to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and then to Anheuser-Busch. Busch continued to operate Cypress Gardens until April 1, 1995. At that time, a group of the park's managers, led by Bill Reynolds, bought the property. The 9/11 attacks hit Florida tourism hard and on April 13, 2003 Cypress Gardens closed.
In November, 2004, the park reopened as Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. The new park would feature a roller coaster, water park, and other carnival rides. However, this was not enough to compete with Disney. Over the next several years, the park continued to evolve and downsize in an effort to save money. On September 23, 2009, the park closed again. On January 15, 2010, Merlin Enternments bought Cypress Gardens and announced that they would be opening their fifth Legoland in October, 2011.
Vacationland Magazine had other, smaller advertisements for local attractions like Gatorland. It also featured a “Highlights” section that mentioned “nearby” destinations such as Kennedy Space Center, Marineland of Florida, and Weeki Wachee Springs. But this was at a time when the Magic Kingdom was really all that Disney World had to offer. Folks needed other activities to fill out their two-week vacation. Today, it’s rare that Disney ever mentions any tourist destination other than their own. They go to great lengths to keep you on their property for your entire stay.
I hope you enjoyed this walk through Florida theme park history. Believe me when I say, these are just a handful of the many mom and pop operations that vied for your tourist dollar – and most of them have succumbed to Disney’s success.
The previous post in this blog was Carousel of Progress - Part Three.
The next post in this blog is Casey’s Corner.