Overlooked Attractions: Carousel of Progress

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Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Carousel of Progress

We’ve all heard the history of Carousel of Progress. That it originated at some fairgrounds. That the Allman Brothers wrote some jingle for it. That it is probably haunted. History isn’t my thing, so I will defer to other sites that offer a more comprehensive look at those items. Rather, I will give a brief walk-through of Carousel of Progress, indicating why I think it’s an invaluable attraction in the Magic Kingdom, especially during busy times of the year.

While a perennial favorite among the most hardcore fans due to its history (its actual history, not the bunk above), Carousel of Progress is fairly unpopular with the park-going public. I don’t have any statistics to corroborate this assertion, but they’re hardly necessary, as the naked eye can deduce as much by the mostly-empty to half-full theater crowds it draws.

Magic Kingdom (Carousel of) Progress!

Given the light audiences typically viewing the attraction, I am betting a lot of you out there have not seen the attraction. Perhaps not as many as the park-going public, as it is a Walt Disney classic, but still many, nonetheless. Those of you who have been into the attraction may have passed the time by sleeping or taking respite from the hot weather, rather than actually watching the show. Hopefully this post will convince some of you to give this attraction a second chance!

After guests load into the theater the first scene is a brief introduction, setting the historical context of the show. The father, John, is the main narrator of the show, with his wife, son, daughter, parents, and crazy Uncle Orville also appearing throughout the show. In the first three scenes, these other family members are presented through screened rotating vignettes off to the left and right sides of the stage; in the final scene, these rotating scenes are not present, but instead, the entire family is together in the family’s kitchen and living room. Alongside the father in each of the first three scenes is his trusty dog, with whom he interacts throughout the attraction.
Carousel of Progress

The substantive scenes begin in the Spring, around Valentine’s Day at the beginning of the 20th century. As will become a theme of the attraction, the family is using innovations for that era, such as gas lamps, a water pump, a hand-cranked washing machine, and a gramophone.

Taking place in the Summer, around the 4th of July in the roaring ’20s, the second act features the mother (through ) creating costumes for the big Fourth of July Celebration downtown in which the entire family will be participating that evening.During the course of this act, the father introduces us to all of the latest technological innovations, which “perform” in musical unison “Be Our Guest-style” before blowing a fuse.

The third act takes place in Fall and Halloween in the 1940s, and has the family utilizing new devices including the automatic dishwasher and television. The father discusses how he has become a “rat” with fellow other rats in a thing called the “rat race.” In a humorous and somewhat irreverent exchange, the mother also uses a paint mixing system created by the father.

The finale scene is set in Winter, at Christmas-time, and depicts the family interacting with the technology of the present day. Well, if present day technology includes laser discs and car phones. If there were one valid criticism of this show, I think it would be that this scene has not been updated appropriately, and that its dated to the mid-90s (1994 was its last full update). Accordingly, there are some parts that are a little laughable, but overall, even this scene is pretty solid if you can get past these issues. After this finale there is a concluding scene, thanking guests for visiting and sending them on their way.

Given this dry account, you may think of it as a boring show deserving of its poor attendance. It’s not. In an age when many attractions seek to appeal to the lowest common denominator and avoid making any offensive remarks at all costs, Carousel of Progress is a great change of pace. Wry and irreverent in many of the same ways as Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress manages to offer engrossing vignettes with just the right amount of entertainment and even some educational undertones.

The family interacts well with one another, and their little faults and quirks make them all the more endearing. Not only that, but the show has many chuckle-inducing moments, and a fair amount of subtle humor. To a lot of guests, looking only for the next thrill or special effect, this may not be that compelling, but I know TouringPlans.com blog readers are more discerning! In any case, unless you are very limited on time, you should experience every attraction yourself rather than dismissing it out of hand based on the recommendation of someone else. Some of my favorite attractions are ones that are generally unpopular with the park-going public, so you never know what you might like!

Even if you have found all of the forgoing unpersuasive, consider this: Carousel of Progress hardly ever has a wait (except for the next show to begin). Even during the busiest times of the year. If, for some inexplicable reason, you’ve opted against following a touring plan, or find yourself in our “park to avoid” on a 10 day on the Crowd Calendar,  the Carousel of Progress could be just the time-killer you need to pass 20 minutes while waiting for your FastPass window to open. If it’s either that or wandering around Mickey’s Star Traders for the 10th time on your trip, why not just give it a chance?

What do you think? Am I crazy to call Carousel of Progress one of my favorite attractions in the Magic Kingdom, or do you agree with my assessment? What is your favorite overlooked attraction at Walt Disney World?

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Posted on March 25, 2011

50 Responses to “Overlooked Attractions: Carousel of Progress”

  • “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow”…I promise the song with stick in your head just as long as “It’s a small world” does…maybe longer cause the tune is jazzier :)

    • I LOVE There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (then again, I also love IASW!). The real question: There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, or Now Is The Time?

      I’ll bet it’s a pretty even split for CoP fans. Now Is The Time is before my time, but I still like that, too!

  • by Eric Raymond on March 25, 2011, at 5:31 pm EDT

    My family loves this attraction both for the history and for the a/c. We also run there when my lumbago starts acting up to stay out of the rain.

  • by Mike Dunphy on March 25, 2011, at 5:46 pm EDT

    I have to agree with Tom. This is one of my favorites, and the fact that Walt Disney had a hand in it, makes it all the more special. We always make it a point to see COP each trip.

  • You are not crazy at all! CoP is one of my favorites as well! Love the show. Love the theme song! It is definitely one of the most underrated attractions at Disney. I only wish they would modernize the “modern” day scene, so that the non-believers and/or skeptics wouldn’t dismiss it as dated!

  • The best thing about Tomorrowland is that it is home to two overlooked attractions – Carousel of Progress…and Stitch’s Great escape…just kidding, of course I’m referring to the Peoplemover. On President’s Day 2009, with an unexpected additional 10,000 visitors to MK, my wife and I spent an hour going back and forth from CoP to the Peoplemover, just to get away from all of the people. I have two other overlooked attractions at MK – Tom Sawyer Island, which is fun for adults as well as kids – and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse – because I love the book and movie.

    On a related note, I remember the first time when I went into CoP after they changed the song and thinking, “Something is different here,” but not figuring out what until listening to a collection of Disney songs later. It is remarkable to me that Disney created two similarly easy jingles for the same attraction that get stuck in one’s head. Is there any other attraction at a Disney Park that can claim that?

    • You know, I know you’re being sarcastic about SGE, but I actually DO think it is sort of overlooked, if only because it’s a butt of so many jokes that people seem to dismiss it out of hand.

      While I think SGE is a pretty poor excuse for an attraction, I do like to visit it, if only to see Skippy and the other remnants of Alien Encounter. Plus, the Stitch AA is pretty cool.

      Totally agree on the TTA/Peoplemover!

  • This is the best attraction in Walt Disney World. An untouchable Disney classic!

  • “Now is the time. Now is the best time…” It is great seeing a post about the Carousel of Progress. Thank you for keeping this attraction relevant for the Touring Plans fans!

  • Love the Carousel of Progress! I recently watched the Sherman Brothers documentary (very good movie, by the way), and it has a clip of Walt and the Shermans singing “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” — such a great song, such a great attraction.

  • Sorry to be the voice of dissent but it is SO dated. The ‘present day’ segment reflects a reality that has never really occurred. I love the idea of CoP and would be saddened if they ever retired it, but wish they spend a few quid updating it.

    • Oh, I agree. There are so many LITTLE things Disney could do to easily fix that last scene. Even if they leave the script (which I think should be updated), at least update some of the electronics (and the old school ski boots). The TV was switched out last year, why can’t they do more of that?

      I’m not trying to blindly defend the attraction, just give it a bit of its due. I think it has plenty of problems, but even with those, it’s still a top attraction in WDW.

  • Great attraction and the tune is very catch. “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow …”

  • I first saw CoP when I was a little kid at Disneyland in the 70s. At that time the last scene was a late 60s/early 70s living room with a Christmas tree covered in silver tinsel. I remeber thinking it looked like a picture right out of the Sears Christmas catalog. It is still a sentimental favorite of mine!

  • You hit it right on the nose – my sister-in-law saw CoP last week when she was visiting the MK for the first time since since childhood. She and her husband rode CoP because the park was so crowded and of course the attraction had no line. When summing up her Disney trip for me she had the audacity to call CoP boring, strange, and even a bit disturbing. After considering making an argument for its worth and importance in the park, I realized how the attraction may come off to the “general park-going public” …ha.

    • Unfortunately, since the park-going public represents the vast majority of guests, they largely dictate what occurs at Disney parks. This is why some of the great omnimover attractions at EPCOT Center were replaced with poorly-done thrill rides, etc., this is why Spaceship Earth has a watered down script, and it’s why “interactive” is everywhere. In some cases, these changes have been positive, in many other cases, the changes have amounted to appealing to the lowest common denominator. No offense meant to anyone specifically (nor should any be taken–WE’RE the ones who take a theme park too seriously ;) after all!).

      • Couldn’t agree more :) …EXCEPT I do enjoy the Turtle Talk update to the Seas…

        I took my husband on Spaceship Earth for his first time in years last week and tried to explain the Cronkite to Irons to Dench evolution…when we got home I played him a youtube version of Jeremy Irons and he (not even being a Disney geek) couldn’t believe how much better it was before poor Judy…

        • Oh dear! I’ve only ever experienced the Judy version, and I love that ride. How was it watered down?

  • I love the CoP. It is one of my favorite things at the MK and I make my kids go at least once and sometimes twice a trip! I even recorded (illegal I know) the song on my phone at the end and sometimes play it on my iphone to torture my youngest child :-). For me the history is important and the characters are very endearing. It always makes me smile and it is nice to be in airconditioning with no lines. When my son and I went last Sep/early Oct, both times we were the only ones in our section of the theatre.

  • I love Carousel of Progress also and it is always on my “must see” list. It’s nice to know that even though the last scene is dated, there are others who enjoy it as much as I do.

  • I have always enjoyed Carousel of Progress!

  • I first saw CoP in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, so naturally my wife and I have to visit whenever we go to WDW. I recently showed parts of it from the Disney Goes to the Fair episode of Wonderful World of Color to our 6-year old granddaughter thinking that she probably would find it boring. On the contrary, she wants to see it when we go this summer. I agree that there should be an updating of the last scene, but it is still worth a visit. And here’s some trivia: besides a hiccup in Pinocchio, this was the only time that Mel Blanc worked for Disney (voice of the parrot).

  • I know just what you mean Tom! I grew up going to Disneyland and CoP was my favorite attraction. I lamented when it closed the marvelous rotating theater and was very disappointed that WDW got to have it while we had “America Sings” replace it. But the part I loved the most was after you left the theater and saw the most incredible model, Progress City. I could have stayed there all day! Look it up on YouTube. I look forward to CoP when I visit WDW in August but I wish PC was there to greet me afterwards.

  • My complaint about CoP for years has been that they need to revamp the attraction so that the intervals between scenes are roughly equivalent, like they were when the ride was first conceived. Each scene was about 20 years later than the one preceding it. Now we have the turn of the century, the 20s, the 40s… and then present day? Wha? They could change it to the turn of the century, 1940ish, 1980ish, and present day and be able to come up with something that keeps with the spirit of the attraction better.

    • I agree on revamping the attraction so roughly the same number of years pass between scenes. Either that, or go back to the original 1960s scene at the end. I’d love to see the attraction as it was originally conceived for the New York World’s Fair.

  • I love Carousel of Progress! I was actually surprised at how much my young kids enjoyed it. My kindergartner loved watching Grandma play the video game in the last scene. However, I would warn parents of kids younger than about 4 or so to consider how your child will behave on a 20-min attraction that will likely not hold their interest. I have seen some disastrous meltdowns on this ride.

  • I’ve been a big fan of CoP since seeing it at the New York World’s Fair in ’64 and in ’65. Back than the technology of the Animatronics were simply amazing (still is in my book). What many people forget about the pavilion was that after you exited the show you went to another floor where they had an exhibit about splitting the atom. I can still hear the tremendous “boom” at the climax of the exhibit!

  • I think when COP was created for the World’s Fair this was an outstanding concept and execution on that vision.

    My problem with the attraction is that it is 50 years later and the timeline which worked so nicely in 1963 does not work at all anymore. Plus, I don’t think the AA figures have the charm and ongoing enjoyment as the figures in other attractions of similar vintage (Pirates, Mansion).

  • I was so happy to see this article. I love COP and was sad to have missed it my last time in WDW, can’t wait to see it again in June! My favorite thing to listen to on MouseWorld Radio is the soundtrack to COP – it’s so hokey, and it always puts me in a good mood.

  • I remember seeing the Carousel of Progress as a child at the NY World’s Fair. The first time I went to WDW, I went to see it again! And I go every time I’m visiting. I am still amazed at how the auditorium moves around the stages, and that’s what I remember most from my childhood! Now I’ve shared it with my son and he loves it too. And you really can’t get that song out of your head! I hope they update it and I hope they never shut it down!

  • i went to disney for the first time in 2009 (i was 27) anyway. we were in magic Kingdom for only one day. I told my 4 friends taht we had to get to the carousel cause it was Walt’s favorite, and the others wanted to relax. We didnt expect much. We were a handfull of people in the place. One of us, who didnt understandenglish, fell asleep. For the rest of us, we suprisely really enjoyed it! Its been 2 years since we went to Disney, and were still singin that brainwashing song! haha. ‘,Theres a great big beautiful tomooooorrooowww , and its shining at the end of everydayyy!

  • think it was the sherman brothers not the allman brothers

  • I saw CoP about 2-3 years ago for the first time since the early days of WDW. I didn’t even know it was still there and sort of stumbled upon it. Now I make it a point to see it on every trip. Yes, it’s terribly dated, but in a nostalgic sort of way. Even the last scene seems so quaint to me that it doesn’t bother me at all it hasn’t been updated. Definitely one of my favorites, right along with It’s a Small World and the PeopleMover. Thanks for giving it some love!

  • I’m LOLing at the Allman Brothers comment. As an ABB fan (and a CoP fan), I’d pay a lot of money to hear them cover that song!!!!!

  • Agreed. CoP is absolutely overlooked and my kids get tired of me singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” when we aren’t in Orlando. It is also a great place to do some Hidden Mickey hunting (the Sorcerer’s hat and Sorcerer Mickey abstract painting are my favorites).

    Thanks, Tom!

  • CoP is an absolute must for me. It may be my favorite. Even my kids enjoy it. Every once in a while I will go to youtube to watch it….no joke!

  • I love this attraction! Just the fact that there’s no thrills (aside from the turkey burning up!) and it’s a relaxing look on progress. And I love that they call it “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress” since it was one of the attractions that Walt supervised. And even though it’s been changed over the years, the message is still the same, and that’s progress. ;)

  • Great article! Couldn’t agree more. I’ve loved CoP since I was a kid. It was always my dad’s favorite ride, so I always think of him when I see it. On my recent trip (Feb 2011), I saw it four times (every day we went to the MK!). It was my husband’s first time on the ride and I told him if he didn’t like it, I wasn’t sure we could stay married. But no worries because he loved it too! Always a must see for us, along with the Peoplemover. Don’t know how people don’t love these attractions more, but I’ll take it since they’re both walk on rides even during the busiest times.

  • During our recent WDW visit, our 15 year old son literally dragged us onto the CoP despite our assurances that we’d seen it before, that it was low tech and slow paced, and that he was sure to find it boring.

    Guess what? It was one of his favorite attractions in the Magic Kingdom! He loved the history and the theme song!

    Our 18 year old daughter enjoyed it too — definitely worth a try especially during busy times of the day.

  • Completely agree! We make a point of going on CoP several times each visit. My entire family loves it. We sing the song the entire week prior to the trip and after.

  • I enjoyed it; I loved the window into the past.. No pun intended.

  • Where else in the Magic Kingdom are you going to find anything as sexy as Father’s stereoscope, his delight about all the things Mother has time to do now, and the delightful “rumpus room” conversation? The best part is, it’s all self-cleaning innuendo. Pretty sophisticated!

  • This ride has long been one of my favs.
    Only problem is, of the 5 times I’ve been to WDW,
    3 times this attraction was closed.
    So alas, I’ve only seen it twice.

    The coolest thing about it is that it’s like a “time machine”,
    giving you a glimpse into what WDW was like 30+ years ago.

    It’s too bad the atrocious “Disney Channel” doesn’t have more
    *real* family programming like this, rather than the obnoxiously
    kid-centric-Dad-is-my-best-buddy-who-gets-dissed fare on there.

  • I haven’t been on this ride in ages. When I was a kid, we went on it every time we visited WDW. And we loved the song that went with it!

    Now is the time
    Now is the best time
    Now is the best time of your life!

    In fact, we used to sing it to each other when we were back at home and missing Disney.

    Then I came back as an adult and they had changed the song! I was incredibly disappointed. Later I learned that Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow is actually the ‘original’ song, but it isn’t to me. I miss ‘Now is the Time’… I wish they would bring it back, at least occasionally!

    So I haven’t been on the attraction since that one horrible time when I realized that the song had been changed. :-(

    • An instrumental version of “Now is the Time” is part of the area music loop in Tomorrowland – so it’s not forgotten!

  • When I visit the Magic Kingdom, this is a MUST see for me. I love seeing the difference in eras and every change gets me all festive. If that song doesn’t get stuck in your head, I don’t know what will.