A look back on the Walt Disney World Preview Center

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Walt Disney World Preview Center

A look back on the Walt Disney World Preview Center. Driving towards Disney Springs on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, squished in between the Best Western and the Wyndham Garden Lake, sits what now looks like a small cement building that has a small sign out front for the Amateur Athletic Union. At one point this small cement structure wasn’t so small looking, as is the case now being swallowed up by the multi-story hotels around it. Once it was the setting of one the first Disney Attraction in Florida and had seen over a million visitors, The Walt Disney World Preview Center

Long before Walt Disney World Resort welcomed guests on Oct. 1, 1971, more than a million people visited one of the first Disney attractions in Florida – The Preview Center. Now home to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), one of the largest youth sports organizations in the world, this contemporary-style building once offered a first look at an exciting new world under construction only a few miles away. While I didn’t visit the center in the 1970s, I have felt drawn to the building ever since serving as a Disney Ambassador 20 years ago.

Related: 50th Anniversary Banners now on display in Epcot

Walt Disney World Preview Center

Walt Disney World Preview Center

Located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard (originally known as Motor Inn Plaza), the center was already under construction when it was announced in early October 1969. Sneak previews for dignitaries, officials, and the press started on Jan. 10, 1970, while public tours began six days later on Jan. 16. It operated daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 30, 1971, the day before Magic Kingdom Park opened.

Fourteen cast members were selected from hundreds of applicants to serve as tour guides. One guide was Debby Dane Browne, who was later selected as the first Walt Disney World Ambassador in October 1970. I recently spoke with Debby about her experience.

“During our interviews, we did not know what to expect, as none of us had visited Disneyland,” Debby reminisced. “We knew, however, Walt Disney World was going to be the most incredible and the best thing to happen to Florida.”

Under guidance from Disneyland cast members who relocated to Florida, the newly selected team spent two months of intense training. They learned everything they could about The Walt Disney Company and the new resort in development.

Related: Star-Studded Cast Announced for Disney World’s 50th Anniversary TV Special on ABC

Walt Disney World Preview Center

“We were surprised at how many people came to see us,” continued Debby who is pictured above wearing her Disney Ambassador costume. “Families along the East Coast were longing for a place to have magical vacations. The center gave them the first taste of Disney. More than 5,000 people visited our opening weekend, and it was wonderful sharing pixie dust with them.”

During the tour of Walt Disney World Preview Center, guests spent 12 minutes viewing a short film in a room that housed a 625-square-foot model of phase one (about 2,500 acres). Debby said parts of the model lit up during the show. The vintage postcard image above is the closest I got to the model.

Guides then escorted groups down a hallway lined with concept artwork. No photography existed since everything was still being built.

Following the presentation, guests could shop for souvenirs or enjoy beverages at a refreshment station with soft drinks and freshly squeezed orange juice. Outside, animal topiaries flanked the modern building while a path stretched down to a wooden gazebo by a small lake. 

Walt Disney World Preview Center is rarely featured on merchandise, yet a prized possession is a tour guide Minnie Mouse pin from a Disney trading event in 2011.

It’s fun thinking back to this important moment in Walt Disney World history as we get ready for “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” beginning Oct. 1. Be sure to keep checking back with us here at the Disney Parks Blog for more of my memories and our coverage of the 50th-anniversary celebration. You can follow #DisneyWorld50 on social platforms, too! 

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