Walt Disney World Resort

Coordinates: 28°25′7″N 81°34′52″W / 28.41861°N 81.58111°W / 28.41861; -81.58111

Walt Disney World Resort (also known colloquially as Disney World), is the world's largest and most-visited recreational resort. Located approximately 21 miles (34 km) southwest of Orlando, Florida, United States, the resort covers an area of 30,080-acre (47.00 sq mi; 121.7 km2) and includes four theme parks, two water parks, 23 on-site themed resort hotels (excluding eight that are on-site, but not owned by the Walt Disney Company), including a campground, two health spas and physical fitness centers, 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 inspired by the dreams of Walt Disney. Its original park, the Magic Kingdom, was designed similarly to Disneyland, which also served as inspiration for the project. Walt envisioned Disney World as a vacation resort much different from Disneyland's one day visit. This included entertainment, uniquely-themed resort hotels, and a much wider variety of sports and recreational opportunities.

History and development

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 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 more closer to that of 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.


Despite marketing claims and popular misconceptions, the Florida resort is not located within Orlando city limits and is actually located about 21 miles (34 km) southwest of Orlando within southwestern Orange County, with the remainder in adjacent Osceola County. The property include the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake which are governed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The 25,000 acres (101 km2; 39 sq mi) site is accessible from Central Florida's Interstate 4 via Exits 62B (World Drive), 64B (US 192 West), 65B (Osceola Parkway West), 67B (SR 536 West), and 68 (SR 535 North), and Exit 8 on State Road 429 (Florida), the Western Expressway. At its peak, the resort occupied approximately 30,000 acres (120 km2) or 47 square miles (120 km²), about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan. Portions of the property since have been sold or de-annexed, including land now occupied by the Disney-built community of Celebration.

Theme parks

Walt Disney World Resort features four theme parks. Each park is represented by an iconic structure.

  • Magic Kingdom – Cinderella Castle
  • Epcot – Spaceship Earth
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios – The Sorcerer's Hat (Formerly the Earful Tower)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom – The Tree of Life
Water parks
  • Typhoon Lagoon
  • Blizzard Beach
Other attractions
  • Downtown Disney
  • Disney's BoardWalk
  • Disney's Wedding Pavilion
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
  • Walt Disney World Speedway (Home of the Richard Petty Driving Experience)
Golf and recreation

Disney's property includes five golf courses. The four 18-hole golf courses are the Palm (4½ Stars), the Magnolia (4 Stars), Lake Buena Vista (4 Stars) and Osprey Ridge (4½ Stars). There is also a nine-hole walking course called Oak Trail, designed for young golfers. The Magnolia and Palm courses play home to the PGA Tour's Children's Miracle Network Classic. Additionally, there are two themed miniature golf complexes, each with two courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland.

Catch-and-release fishing excursions are offered daily on the resort's lakes. A Florida fishing license is not required because it occurs on private property. Cane-pole fishing is offered from the docks at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Disney's Port Orleans Resort.

Additional recreational activities include watercraft rentals, surrey bike rentals, and firework cruises that launch from several resort marinas.

Former parks and attractions
  • Disney's River Country: The first water park at the Walt Disney World Resort. It opened on June 20, 1976 and closed on November 1, 2001.
  • Discovery Island: An island in Bay Lake which was home to many species of animals and birds. It opened on April 8, 1974 and closed on April 8, 1999.
On-site Disney Resorts & Accommodations

There are 33 resorts and hotels located on the Walt Disney World property. Of those, 24 are owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company. The Disney resorts are classified into five categories: Deluxe, Moderate, Value, Disney Vacation Club Villas, and Campground. Additionally, they are located in four resort areas: Magic Kingdom Resort Area, Epcot Resort Area, Downtown Disney Resort Area and Animal Kingdom Resort Area. A new concept, the Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort luxury residential community, was announced in June 2010 and will feature homes designed by the Walt Disney Company. The campground, Fort Wilderness also provides guests with the opportunity to stay in cabins as well as camping in tents or campers.

Disney often advertises its two off-site beach resorts as destinations to complement a Disney World vacation.

  • The Golf Resort — Became The Disney Inn, and later became Shades of Green.
  • Disney's Village Resort — Became the Villas at Disney Institute and then Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. The "Tree House" Villas were permanently decommissioned because they were not accessible to disabled guests. Until early 2008, they were used for International Program Cast Member housing. In February 2008, Disney submitted plans to the South Florida Water Management District to replace the 60 existing villas with 60 new villas. The Treehouse Villas opened during the summer of 2009.
  • Disney's Asian Resort
  • Disney's Persian Resort
  • Disney's Venetian Resort
  • Disney's Mediterranean Resort
  • Fort Wilderness Junction
  • Celebration (A town designed and built by Disney, but no longer owned by Disney.)
  • Lake Buena Vista (Disney originally intended this area to become a complete community with multiple residences, shopping, and offices, but transformed the original homes into hotel lodging in the 1970s, which were demolished in the early 2000s to build Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa)
Disney's Magical Express

Guests with a Disney Resort reservation arriving at Orlando International Airport can be transported to their Disney resort from the airport using the complimentary Disney Magical Express service, and have their bags picked up and transported for them through a contract with BAGS Incorporate. Guests board custom motor coaches, watch a video about the Walt Disney World Resort, and their luggage is later delivered directly to their rooms.

Executive Management
  • President, Walt Disney World Resort – Meg Crofton
    • Senior Vice President of Operations and Next Generation Experiences, Walt Disney World Resort – Jim MacPhee
    • Senior Vice President of Operations, Sales, and Alliance Development, Walt Disney World Resort — George Aguel
      • Vice President, Magic Kingdom — Phil Holmes
      • Vice President, Epcot — Dan Cockerell
      • Vice President, Disney's Hollywood Studios – Rilous Carter
      • Vice President, Disney's Animal Kingdom — Michael Colglazier
      • Vice President, Downtown Disney — Keith Bradford
      • Vice President, Resort Operations — Kevin Myers
      • Vice President, Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex and Disney Water Parks —Ken Potrock
      • Vice President, Transportation, Sports, and Golf — Jim Vendur
      • Vice President, Global Relationship Marketing, Disney Destinations LLC. – Greg Albrecht
      • Vice President Engineering, Walt Disney World Resort — Trevor Larsen
      • Vice President, Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives — Dr. Jackie Ogden
    • Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Walt Disney World Resort — Brian Besanceney
      • Vice President, Community Relations and Minority Business Development, Walt Disney World Resort — Eugene Campbell
      • Vice President Government Relations, Walt Disney World Resort — Bill Warren
Former Executive Management
  • Former President, Walt Disney World Resort 1994–2006 — Al Weiss
  • Former Executive Vice President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort  1994-2006 — Lee Cockerell
  • Former Senior Vice President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort  2006-2009 — Erin Wallace
  • Former Senior Vice President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort — Karl Holz
    • Former Vice President, Magic Kingdom 2000-2001 — Erin Wallace
    • Former Vice President, Magic Kingdom 1987-1994 — Bill Sullivan
    • Former Vice President, Epcot 2007-2009 — Jim MacPhee
    • Former Vice President, Epcot 2001-2007 — Brad Rex
    • Former Vice President, Epcot 1994-1996 — Linda Warren
    • Former Vice President, Epcot 1987-1990 — Norm Doerges
    • Former Vice President, Disney's Hollywood Studios — Michael O'Grattan
    • Former Vice President, Disney-MGM-Studios — Bruce Laval
    • Former Vice President, Disney's Animal Kingdom — Val Bunting
    • Former Vice President, Disney's Animal Kingdom — Kevin Lasnsberry
    • Former Vice President, Downtown Disney — Kevin Lasnsberry
    • Former Vice President, Downtown Disney — Djuan Rivers
    • Former Vice President, Downtown Disney — Karl Holz

The May 2008 issue of trade magazine Park World reported the following attendance estimates for 2007 compiled by Economic Research Associates in partnership with TEA (formerly the Themed Entertainment Association):

  • Magic Kingdom, 17 million visits (No. 1 worldwide)
  • Epcot, 10.9 million visits (No. 6)
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios, 9.51 million visits (No. 7)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom, 9.49 million visits (No. 8)

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.


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.

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.

Name and logo

During the resort's early planning stages, Walt Disney referred to the project as Project X, The Florida Project, Disney World, and The Disney World. Early visual references used the same medieval font as Disneyland. Walt Disney was very involved in the site selection and project planning in the years before his death. The secretive names were chosen because of the high confidentiality of the project during the initial planning. After Walt Disney's death, Roy O. Disney added the name Walt to Disney World as a permanent tribute to his brother.

The resort's original logo had an oversized "D" with a Mickey Mouse-shaped globe containing latitude and longitude lines, with the property's name presented in a modern, sans-serif font. Walt Disney World Resort retired its original font and symbol during its 25th anniversary celebration in 1996–97. The old "D" symbol still can be found in many places, however, including the SpectroMagic title float, the front car of each monorail, manhole covers, survey markers, select merchandise items and flags flown at several sites across the property.

Twin town

As part of a competition run by Disney for 2010, Walt Disney World Resort has an unofficial twinning (sister city) with Swindon, England, since 2009.

Development timeline

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com