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Walt Disney World
Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom.jpg

Location

Orlando, Florida, USA

Opened

October 1, 1971

Size

30,080 acres (47 square miles, 121.7 square km)

Walt Disney World (also known colloquially as Disney World), is the world's most-visited entertainment resort. Located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, approximately 21 miles (34 km) southwest of Orlando, Florida, United States, the resort covers an area of 30,080 acres (47 sq mi) and includes four theme parks, two water parks, 23 on-site themed resort hotels (excluding eight more that are on-site, but not owned by the Walt Disney Company), including a campground, two health spas and physical fitness centers, five golf courses, and other recreational venues and entertainment. It opened on October 1, 1971 with only the Magic Kingdom theme park and has since added Epcot (October 1, 1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (May 1, 1989) and Disney's Animal Kingdom (April 22, 1998).

The resort was originally developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s to supplement Disneyland in California. In addition to hotels and a theme park similar to Disneyland, Walt's original plans for the resort also included an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow," a planned city that would serve as a test bed for new innovations for city living. After extensive lobbying, the Government of Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special government district that essentially gave the Disney Company the standard powers and autonomy of an incorporated city. Walt died in 1966 before his original plans were fully realized.

Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971 with only the Magic Kingdom theme park and has since added Epcot (October 1, 1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (May 1, 1989), and Disney's Animal Kingdom (April 22, 1998).

History

In 1959, Walt Disney Productions began looking for land for a second park to supplement Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. Market surveys revealed that only 2% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, where 75 percent of the population of the United States lived. Additionally, Walt Disney disliked the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wanted control of a much larger area of land for the new project. A more romanticized anecdote was that Walt Disney himself once encountered a family who left Disneyland early because they saw congestion building on the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) from the Skyway ride, an incident that committed him to producing a greater buffer from reality at future parks.

Walt Disney flew over the Orlando site (one of many) in November 1963. Seeing the well-developed network of roads, including the planned Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike, with McCoy Air Force Base (later Orlando International Airport) to the east, Disney selected a centrally-located site near Bay Lake.

To avoid a burst of land speculation, Disney used various dummy corporations to acquire 27,443 acres (11,106 ha) of land. In May 1965, some of these major land transactions were recorded a few miles southwest of Orlando in Osceola County. Also, two large tracts totaling $1.5 million were sold, and smaller tracts of flatlands and cattle pastures were purchased by exotic-sounding companies such as the Latin-American Development and Management Corporation and the Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation. Some of these names are now memorialized on a window above Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. In addition to three huge parcels of land were many smaller parcels, referred to as "outs."

Much of the land acquired had been platted into 5-acre (2.0 ha) lots in 1912 by the Munger Land Company and sold to investors. In most cases, the owners were happy to get rid of the land, which was mostly swamp. Another issue was the mineral rights to the land, which were owned by Tufts University. Without the transfer of these rights, Tufts could come in at any time and demand the removal of buildings to obtain minerals. Disney's team eventually negotiated a deal with Tufts to buy the mineral rights for $15,000.

After most of the land had been bought, the truth of the property's owner was leaked to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper on October 20, 1965. A press conference soon was organized for November 15. At the presentation, Walt Disney explained the plans for the site, including EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which was to be a futuristic planned city (and which was also known as Progress City). He envisioned a real working city with both commercial and residential areas, but one that also continued to showcase and test new ideas and concepts for urban living.

Walt Disney died from lung cancer on December 15, 1966, before his vision was realized. His brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney, postponed his retirement to oversee construction of the resort's first phase.

On February 2, 1967, Roy O. Disney held a press conference at the Park Theatres in Winter Park, Florida. The role of EPCOT was emphasized in the film that was played, the last one recorded by Walt Disney before his death. After the film, it was explained that for Disney World, including EPCOT, to succeed, a special district would have to be formed: the Reedy Creek Improvement District, with two cities inside it, the City of Bay Lake and the City of Reedy Creek (now the City of Lake Buena Vista). In addition to the standard powers of an incorporated city, which include the issuance of tax-free bonds, the district would have immunity from any current or future county or state land-use laws. The only areas where the district had to submit to the county and state would be property taxes and elevator inspections.

The legislation forming the district and the two cities was signed into law by Florida Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. on May 12, 1967. The Florida Supreme Court then ruled in 1968 that the district was allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds for public projects within the district despite the sole beneficiary being Walt Disney Productions.

The district soon began construction of drainage canals, and Disney built the first roads and the Magic Kingdom. Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort, and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground were also completed in time for the park's opening on October 1, 1971. The Palm and Magnolia golf courses near the Magic Kingdom had opened a few weeks before. At the park's opening, Roy O. Disney dedicated the property and declared that it would be known as "Walt Disney World" in his brother's honor. In his own words: "Everyone has heard of Ford cars. But have they all heard of Henry Ford, who started it all? Walt Disney World is in memory of the man who started it all, so people will know his name as long as Walt Disney World is here." After the dedication, Roy Disney asked Walt's widow, Lillian, what she thought of Walt Disney World. According to biographer Bob Thomas, she responded, "I think Walt would have approved." Roy O. Disney died on December 20, 1971, less than three months after the property opened.

However, much of Walt Disney's plans for his Progress City were abandoned after his death. The Disney Company board decided that it did not want to be in the business of running a city. The EPCOT concept evolved into EPCOT Center, the resort's second theme park, which opened in 1982. While still emulating Walt Disney's original idea of showcasing new technology, it is closer to a world's fair than a "community of tomorrow". The park would later permanently adopt the name Epcot in 1996. Some of the urban planning concepts from the original idea of EPCOT would instead be integrated into the community of Celebration much later.

In 1989, the resort added Disney-MGM Studios, a theme park inspired by show business, whose name was changed to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2008. The resort's fourth theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998.

Meg Crofton was named president of the resort in August 2006, replacing Al Weiss, who had overseen the site since 1994.

Attractions

Theme Parks

Water Parks

Other Attractions

Former Attractions

Resorts

Deluxe Resorts

Moderate Resorts

Value Resorts

Campgrounds

Disney Vacation Club Resorts

Future Resorts

On-Site Non-Disney Hotels

Never-Built Resorts

Attendance

The June 2011 AECOM Theme Park Attendance report, included the following information:

  • Magic Kingdom, 16.97 million visits (No. 1 worldwide)
  • Epcot, 10.83 million visits (No. 5)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom, 9.87 million visits (No. 7)
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios, 9.60 million visits (No. 8)

Employment

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the site employed about 5,500 "Cast Members". Today it employs more than 66,000, spending more than $1.2 billion on payroll and $474 million on benefits each year. The largest single-site employer in the United States, Walt Disney World Resort has more than 3,700 job classifications. The resort also sponsors and operates the Walt Disney World College Program, an internship program that offers American and international college students (ICP's) the opportunity to live about 15 miles (24 km) off site in 4 Disney-owned apartment complexes and work at the resort, providing much of the theme park and resort "front line" Cast Members. There is also the Walt Disney World International College Program, an internship program that has college students from all over the world.

Maintenance

In a March 30, 2004 article in The Orlando Sentinel, then-Walt Disney World president Al Weiss gave some insight into how the parks are maintained:

  • More than 5,000 Cast Members are dedicated to maintenance and engineering, including 750 horticulturists and 600 painters.
  • Disney spends more than $100 million every year on maintenance at the Magic Kingdom. In 2003, $6 million was spent on renovating its Crystal Palace restaurant. 90 percent of guests say that the upkeep and cleanliness of the Magic Kingdom are excellent or very good.
  • The streets in the parks are steam cleaned every night.
  • There are Cast Members permanently assigned to painting the antique carousel horses; they use genuine gold leaf.
  • There is a tree farm on site so that when a mature tree needs to be replaced, a thirty-year-old tree will be available to replace it.

Transportation

A fleet of Disney-operated buses on property, branded Disney Transport, is available for guests at no charge. In 2007, Disney Transport started a guest services upgrade to the buses. SatellGPS systems controlling new public address systems on the buses give safety information, park tips and other general announcements, with music. They are not to be confused with the Disney Cruise Line and Disney's Magical Express buses, which are operated by Mears Transportation. Taxi boats link some locations. The Walt Disney World Monorail System also provides transportation at Walt Disney World.

Previously there were 12 operational monorails, although a crash occurring in July 2009 meant that the Pink and Purple monorails were taken out of service. Parts of the Pink and Purple monorails were used to create a new monorail with the colour Teal, which was put into operation in November 2009, taking the total number of monorails to 11. They operate on three routes that interconnect at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), adjacent to the Magic Kingdom's parking lot. One line provides an express non-stop link from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, while a second line provides a link from the TTC to Epcot. The third line links the TTC and the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian resorts.

The major roads within the resort, World Drive, Osceola Parkway and Epcot Center Drive, have segments that are built as freeways with full grade-separated interchanges. World Drive enters Walt Disney World from U.S. Route 192 and heads north to the Magic Kingdom Resort Area. Osceola Parkway heads east from the Animal Kingdom Resort Area to Interstate 4. Epcot Center Drive is a freeway for most of its route, running east from World Drive, past the Epcot parking lot to Interstate 4. Buena Vista Drive is a major surface street, running east from the Animal Kingdom Resort Area to Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Epcot Resort Area, and Downtown Disney.

Sources & External Links

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