After 50 years, it goes without saying that there’s a lot of history to be found at Walt Disney World, but it’s hard to beat the kind of history you can become a part of at Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress at Magic Kingdom.
After starting out in 1900s America, you’ll watch a family (and their technology) change through the decades, ending on Christmas Day in the 21st century.
Some people may see it as an opportunity to spend 20 minutes in the air conditioning and out of the Florida heat, but for others, it’s a must-see, can’t miss attraction every time they visit the Magic Kingdom. And for better or for worse, you’re sure to leave the show with the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” stuck in your head.
Whether you’re a fan of stage shows, Disney history, or just animatronic dogs, there’s a lot to appreciate about this long-running attraction, and it’s become one we can’t imagine Disney World existing without.
So get ready to jump into the future — at least, how we imagined it would be in the past — with our guide to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.
Before we get too far into it, make sure you check out our guide on the Best Rides at Magic Kingdom for information on every attraction and show at Magic Kingdom.
Carousel of Progress Quick Facts
Description: Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is a 20 minute long indoor show that takes place in a revolving theater. The show begins as you meet John, Sarah, and their children in turn of the century America before traveling through the ’20s, ’40s, and into the 21st century, watching technology and advancements that are made through the decades along the way.
If you enter Tomorrowland from the castle hub area, walk straight back and the attraction’s entrance will be on your right.
How to Experience Carousel of Progress
Carousel of Progress is always pretty easy to visit with a minimal wait, which is part of what makes it such a convenient time filler while hanging out in Tomorrowland. There is no Lightning Lane available here, nor is there a Single Rider Line.
To experience Carousel of Progress, your only option is to use the Standby Line, but that’s not a bad thing. Far more often than not, your wait will be very limited — we’re talking 10 minutes or less (and it’s usually much less).
Do I Need To Use Genie+ at Carousel of Progress?
Since Lightning Lanes aren’t available here, the answer to this question is no. Don’t let that deter you from checking it out, though; we really aren’t kidding when we say your wait time will be minimal!
Rider Switch/Child Swap
Carousel of Progress doesn’t offer Rider Switch, Disney’s service that allows guests to take turns riding an attraction with a height requirement while an adult in the party waits with the non-riding child.
However, it can be a great attraction to visit while taking advantage of the service at nearby attractions like Space Mountain. You’ll have the chance to get out of the elements and to sit down for awhile as you recharge your batteries for the next adventure while enjoying a show that has been such a big part of Disney’s history.
What To Expect When You Watch
There’s not much of a queue at Carousel of Progress. If you can’t go directly inside, you’ll wait outside of the attraction for your turn.
The queue area is all outdoors, and there are TV screens you can watch while you wait that show footage of Walt Disney on the set of the show, and at the piano as he worked with the Sherman Brothers, who created the iconic song for the attraction, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
Ride Vehicles (aka the theater)
The ride vehicle at Carousel of Progress is actually the theater itself. When you enter the attraction, you’ll see rows of theater seats and a stage.
This is just one theater; there are a total of six theaters that rotate through the show (like a carousel) that each have a capacity of 240 guests. The seats are similar to what you’d find in a movie theater.
The attraction rotates so slowly that there aren’t any seatbelts available to use, but when you’re experiencing it, you’ll see that they aren’t necessary for safety, though guests are asked to remain seated throughout the show.
Though some people prefer to be in the front row of the theater to take it all in, it’s a small enough space that there isn’t really a bad view in any of the seats.
Guests using a wheelchair or ECV may stay in it for this attraction.
Handheld captioning is available for guests with hearing disabilities via devices that feature audio description, video captioning, and assistive listening.
In the Show
Once you arrive in the theater (and enjoy the magic of that first rush of air conditioning hitting your face) you’ll pick a seat and get ready for the show to begin. But if you want to be surprised when you experience the show for the first time, you may want to proceed with caution — there are spoilers ahead!
First, you’ll be treated to an audio introduction to the attraction, with an explanation of how it was first introduced at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and how much the project meant to Walt Disney. Soon, you’ll hear the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” start to play, and your theater will begin to rotate to the first scene.
You’ll meet the whole family on Valentine’s Day in the 1900s, when John and his dog, Rover, are hanging out in the kitchen. Meanwhile, his wife Sarah is working on the laundry, his daughter, Patricia, is getting ready for a date, and his son, James, is watching belly dancers Little Egypt on the Stereoscope. How scandalous!
You’ll get a few clues on the timeline here — John mentions that the Wright Brothers are working on a “flying contraption,” though he doesn’t have much faith in it, while Thomas Edison is improving electricity.
(Be sure to take notice of the little girl who is with Sarah while she’s doing the wash. After this scene, she disappears… and there has never been a clear explanation of why.)
Soon enough, you’ll be transported into the 1920s, and a lot has changed in John’s home. Now, he’s surrounded by wires and electricity, though it’s a not a perfect invention yet — a fuse gets blown, causing the entire theater to go dark for a few moments. The family is preparing to celebrate the 4th of July, while their Uncle Orville is lamenting the lack of privacy in this home.
Act three takes place on Halloween in the ’40s, and things are starting to look more modern. Check out that refrigerator and dishwasher! Sarah’s busy painting the family’s rumpus room (using a paint mixer John crafted for her out of a food mixer), while James is carving a pumpkin and Patricia is using an exercise machine while chatting to a friend on the phone.
The final scene takes place on Christmas in the 21st century, and it’s occasionally updated — most recently, with refreshed costumes and props in 2022. They’re playing a virtual reality game (even grandma gets in on it) while John burns the turkey and Sarah is working on her laptop. That’s what we call progress!
You’ll get a final round of the ride’s theme song as your theater rotates one last time, bringing your journey through the decades to an end.
Is Carousel of Progress Kid-Friendly?
Most kids will probably do just fine on Carousel of Progress. Some might end up getting a bit bored and/or wiggly, though, because 20 minutes can be a long time to sit still, especially while at Disney World.
It’s also important to keep in mind that guests are asked to remain seated, so while there are emergency exits available, walking out during the show is discouraged.
The ride moves very slowly, and the tone of the show is lighthearted and upbeat, which means that it likely won’t frighten children of any age. Be sure to check out our guide on things that may scare little ones at Disney World for more tips.
If you’re traveling with a stroller, you’ll have to leave it behind. There’s plenty of stroller parking to the right of the ride, just before you enter.
Be sure to take anything valuable with you, including items like cell phones, wallets, and keys, and you may want to cover your stroller to protect it from any Florida rainstorms that may pop up while you’re inside enjoying the show.
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress originally debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, though it was then known as Progressland. Walt Disney partnered up with General Electric to demonstrate how electricity had progressed through the years.
Disney Imagineers worked to create a show with animatronics that was revolutionary for its time and allowed visitors to experience each stage without having to walk, hence the rotating theater.
It ended up being such a success that, a few years later, the exhibit was placed in Disneyland. A new theater was built (along with a few other changes), but the sets and the animatronics used remained the same. It wasn’t quite as popular there, and only ran from 1967 to 1973.
The attraction was then moved to Walt Disney World in Florida, opening in 1975. A few more changes were made at this point, with one big one: the Sherman Brothers created a new theme song called “The Best Time of Your Life.” The final scene took place on New Year’s Eve in the ’70s, not Christmas Day, and updated to the ’80s in 1981.
But as fans of Carousel of Progress now know, those changes didn’t end up staying for the long term. In 1993, the show began shaping up to what we know it as today, adding the current voice cast, changing the final scene back to Christmas Day (this time in an imagined version of the 2000s), and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” returned as the theme song.
Other Fun Details
- There are a lot of cool Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the attraction, especially in the final scene, when the family is celebrating Christmas. For example: on the white board by Sarah’s desk, you’ll see grandpa and grandpa’s flight information, including their flight number, which happens to be 1964, the year that Disney flew the animatronic grandma on a plane to get to the original Carousel of Progress at the World’s Fair.
- There are plenty of Hidden Mickeys to be found here, too — including four in that final scene alone.
- If John’s voice sounds familiar to you, that’s because he’s voiced by Gene Shepard, the narrator of A Christmas Story. Uncle Orville, who famously takes up residence in the family’s bath tub, is voiced by Mel Blanc, who also happens to be the voice of Bugs Bunny.
- Disney Imagineers like to reuse the molds for their animatronics’ faces, and that includes the grandmother from the attraction. She can also be found sitting in a rocking chair in the Haunted Mansion ballroom scene. You can also spot John and Patricia as the lute and violin players in the Renaissance scene on Spaceship Earth.
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