|Industry||Theme parks and resorts|
|Founded||October 1, 1971|
|Founders||Walt and Roy Disney|
|Headquarters||Lake Buena Vista, Florida, U.S.|
|George Kalogridis (President)|
Number of employees
|Parent||Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products
(The Walt Disney Company)
Coordinates: Walt Disney World, officially known as the Walt Disney World Resort, is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near Orlando and Kissimmee, Florida. Opened on October 1, 1971, the resort is owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, a division of The Walt Disney Company. It was initially operated by Walt Disney World Company. The property covers 27,258 acres (43 sq mi; 110 km2), featuring four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non-Disney hotels, several golf courses, a camping resort, and other entertainment venues, including the outdoor shopping center Disney Springs.
Designed to supplement Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which had opened in 1955, the complex was developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s. "The Florida Project", as it was known, was intended to present a distinct vision with its own diverse set of attractions. Walt Disney's original plans also called for the inclusion of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" (EPCOT), a planned community intended to serve as a test bed for new city living innovations. After extensive lobbying, the Government of Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special government district that essentially gave The Walt Disney Company the standard powers and autonomy of an incorporated city. Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, during construction of the complex. Without Disney spearheading the construction, the company created a resort similar to Disneyland, abandoning experimental concepts for a planned community. Magic Kingdom was the first theme park to open in the complex, in 1971, followed by Epcot in 1982, Disney's Hollywood Studios in 1989, and the most recent, Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998.
Today, Walt Disney World is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an average annual attendance of over 52 million. The resort is the flagship destination of Disney's worldwide corporate enterprise, and has become a popular staple in American culture.
In 1959, Walt Disney Productions began looking for land to house a second resort to supplement Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which had opened in 1955. Market surveys at the time revealed that only 5% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, where 75% of the population of the United States lived. Additionally, Walt Disney disliked the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wanted more control over a larger area of land in the next project.
Walt Disney flew over a potential site in Orlando, Florida - one of many - in November 1963. After witnessing the well-developed network of roads and taking the planned construction of both Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike into account, 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, Walt Disney World Company used various dummy corporations to acquire 30,500 acres (48 sq mi; 123 km2) of land. In May 1965, some of these major land transactions were recorded a few miles southwest of Orlando in Osceola County. In addition, two large tracts totaling $1.5 million were sold, and smaller tracts of flatlands and cattle pastures were purchased by exotically-named companies such as the "Ayefour Corporation", "Latin-American Development and Management Corporation" and the "Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation". Some are now memorialized on a window above Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. The smaller parcels of land acquired were called "outs". They were 5-acre (2 ha) lots platted in 1912 by the Munger Land Company and sold to investors. Most of the owners in the 1960s were happy to get rid of the land, which was mostly swamp at the time. 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. Eventually, Disney's team negotiated a deal with Tufts to buy the mineral rights for $15,000.
Working strictly in secrecy, real estate agents unaware of their client's identity began making offers to landowners in April 1964 in parts of southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties. The agents were careful not to reveal the extent of their intentions, and they were able to negotiate numerous land contracts with some including large tracts of land for as little as $100 an acre. With the understanding that the recording of the first deeds would trigger intense public scrutiny, Disney delayed the filing of paperwork until a large portion of the land was under contract.
Early rumors and speculation about the land purchases assumed possible development by NASA in support of the nearby Kennedy Space Center, as well as references to other famous investors such as Ford, the Rockefellers, and Howard Hughes. An Orlando Sentinel news article published weeks later on May 20, 1965, acknowledged a popular rumor that Disney was building an "East Coast" version of Disneyland. However, the publication denied its accuracy based on an earlier interview with Disney at Kennedy Space Center, in which he claimed a $50 million investment was in the works for Disneyland, and that he had no interest in building a new park. In October 1965, editor Emily Bavar from the Sentinel visited Disneyland during the park's 10th-anniversary celebration. In an interview with Disney, she asked him if he was behind recent land purchases in Central Florida; Bavar later described that Disney "looked like I had thrown a bucket of water in his face" before denying the story. His reaction, combined with other research obtained during her Anaheim visit, led Bavar to author a story on October 21, 1965, where she predicted that Disney was building a second theme park in Florida. Three days later after gathering more information from various sources, the Sentinel published another article headlined, "We Say: 'Mystery Industry' Is Disney".
Walt Disney had originally planned to publicly reveal Disney World on November 15, 1965, but in light of the Sentinel story, Disney asked Florida Governor Haydon Burns to confirm the story on October 25. His announcement called the new theme park "the greatest attraction in the history of Florida". The official reveal was kept on the previously-planned November 15 date, and Disney joined Burns in Orlando for the event.
Walt Disney died from circulatory collapse caused by 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. 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, Bay Lake and Reedy Creek, now 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 Supreme Court of Florida 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. The Contemporary Resort Hotel and Polynesian Village were also completed in time for the park's opening on October 1, 1971. The Palm and Magnolia golf courses near Magic Kingdom had opened a few weeks before, while Fort Wilderness opened a month later. 24 days after the park opened, 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 Disney died at age 78 on December 20, 1971, less than three months after the property opened.
Admission prices in 1971 were $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for juniors under age 18, and one dollar for children under twelve.
Much of Walt Disney's plans for his Progress City were abandoned after his death after the company board decided that it did not want to be in the business of running a city. The concept evolved into the resort's second theme park, EPCOT Center,which opened in 1982 (renamed EPCOT in 1996). While still emulating Walt Disney's original idea of showcasing new technology, the park is closer to a world's fair than a "community of tomorrow". One of EPCOT's main attractions is their world's showcase which highlights 11 countries across the globe. Some of the urban planning concepts from the original idea of EPCOT would instead be integrated into the community of Celebration much later. The resort's third theme park, Disney-MGM Studios (renamed Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2008), opened in 1989 and is inspired by show business. The resort's fourth theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998.
On January 21, 2016, the resort's management structure was changed, with general managers within a theme park being in charge of an area or land, instead of on a functional basis as previously. Theme parks have already had a vice-president overseeing them. Disney Springs and Disney Sports were also affected. Now hotel general managers manage a single hotel instead of some managing multiple hotels.
On October 18, 2017, it was announced that resort visitors could bring dogs to Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney Port Orleans Resort - Riverside, Disney's Art of Animation Resort and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
|1965||Walt Disney announces Florida Project|
|1966||Walt Disney dies of lung cancer at age 65|
|1967||Construction of Walt Disney World Resort begins|
|1971||Magic Kingdom Opened
Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses Opened
Disney's Contemporary Resort Opened
Disney's Polynesian Resort Opened
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground Opened
Roy O. Disney dies at age 78
|1972||Disney's Village Resort opens|
|1973||The Golf Resort opens|
|1974||Discovery Island opens|
|1975||Walt Disney Village Marketplace opens|
|1976||Disney's River Country opens|
|1980||Walt Disney World Conference Center opens|
|1982||EPCOT Center opens|
|1986||The Golf Resort is expanded and renamed The Disney Inn|
|1988||Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opens
Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort opens
|1989||Disney-MGM Studios opens
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon opens
Pleasure Island opens
|1990||Disney's Yacht and Beach Club resorts open
Walt Disney World Swan opens
Walt Disney World Dolphin opens
|1991||Disney's Port Orleans Resort French Quarter opens
Disney Vacation Club is launched
Disney's Old Key West Resort opens
|1992||Disney's Port Orleans Resort Riverside (Dixie Landings) opens
Bonnet Creek Golf Club opens
|1994||Disney's All-Star Sports Resort and Disney's All Star Music Resort opens
Disney's Wilderness Lodge opens
The Disney Inn is Shades of Green
|1995||Disney's Blizzard Beach opens
Disney's Wedding Pavilion opens
Walt Disney World Speedway opens
|1996||EPCOT Center is renamed Epcot
Disney Institute opens
Disney's BoardWalk Inn and BoardWalk Villas open
|1997||Disney's Coronado Springs Resort opens
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex opens
Downtown Disney West Side opens
|1998||Disney's Animal Kingdom opens
|1999||Disney's All-Star Movies Resort opens
Discovery Island closes
Hurricane Floyd closes the resort for September 15.
|2000||The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge opens|
|2001||Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge opens
Disney's River Country closes
September 11 attack causes all parks on property to evacuate early due to national safety concerns.
|2002||Disney's Beach Club Villas opens|
|2003||Disney's Pop Century Resort opens|
|2004||Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa opens
Hurricane Frances causes the second closure on both Sept. 4 and 5.
Hurricane Jeanne closes the resort for its third time on September 26.
|2007||Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas opens|
|2008||Disney-MGM Studios is renamed Disney's Hollywood Studios|
|2009||Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort opens
Treehouse Villas opens
|2011||Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort opens|
|2012||Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Phase 1 of Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion opens
|2013||The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opens|
|2014||Phase 2 of Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion opens|
|2015||Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows open
Downtown Disney is expanded and renamed Disney Springs
|2016||Disney Springs finishes construction
Hurricane Matthew forced the resort to close for its fourth time on October 7.
|2017||Pandora - The World of Avatar opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Hurricane Irma forced the resort to close for its fifth time on September 10 and 11.
DisneyQuest closes permanently for the NBA experience
The resort has a number of expansion projects planned or ongoing, including:
The Florida resort is not within Orlando city limits but is southwest of Downtown Orlando. Much of the resort is in southwestern Orange County, with the remainder in adjacent Osceola County. The property includes the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake which are governed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The 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 SR 429, the Western Expressway. At its founding, the park occupied approximately 30,500 acres (48 sq mi; 123 km2). Portions of the property have since been sold or de-annexed, including land now occupied by the Disney-built community of Celebration. Now the resort occupies 27,258 acres (43 sq mi; 110 km2), about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan.
Disney's property includes four golf courses. The three 18-hole golf courses are Disney's Palm (4.5 stars), Disney's Magnolia (4 stars), and Disney's Lake Buena Vista (4 stars). There is also a nine-hole walking course (no electric carts allowed) called Oak Trail, designed for young golfers. The Magnolia and Palm courses played home to the PGA Tour's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Arnold Palmer Golf Management manages the Disney golf courses.
Additionally, there are two themed miniature golf complexes, each with two courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. The two courses at Fantasia Gardens are Fantasia Garden and Fantasia Fairways. The Garden course is a traditional miniature-style course based on the "Fantasia" movies with musical holes, water fountains and characters. Fantasia Fairways is a traditional golf course on miniature scale having water hazards and sand traps.
The two courses at Winter Summerland are Summer and Winter, both themed around Santa. Summer is the more challenging of the two 18-hole courses.
Of the thirty-four resorts and hotels on the Walt Disney World property, twenty-eight are owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products. These are classified into four categories -- Deluxe, Moderate, Value, and Disney Vacation Club Villas -- and are located in one of five resort areas: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Wide World of Sports, Animal Kingdom, or Disney Springs resort areas.
While all of the Deluxe resort hotels have achieved an AAA Four Diamond rating, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is considered the highest tier flagship luxury resort on the Walt Disney World Resort complex.
|Name||Opening date||Theme||Number of rooms||Resort Area|
|Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge||April 16, 2001||African Wildlife preserve||1,307||Animal Kingdom|
|Disney's Beach Club Resort||November 19, 1990||Newport Beach cottage||576||Epcot|
|Disney's BoardWalk Inn||July 1, 1996||Early 20th Century Atlantic and Ocean City||378|
|Disney's Contemporary Resort||October 1, 1971||Modern||655||Magic Kingdom|
|Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa||July 1, 1988||Early 20th Century Florida||867|
|Disney's Polynesian Village Resort||October 1, 1971||South Seas||492|
|Disney's Wilderness Lodge||May 28, 1994||Pacific Northwest, National Park Service rustic||729|
|Disney's Yacht Club Resort||November 5, 1990||Martha's Vineyard Resort||621||Epcot|
|Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort||October 1, 1988||Caribbean Islands||2,112||Epcot|
|Disney's Coronado Springs Resort||August 1, 1997||Mexico, American Southwest||1,915||Animal Kingdom|
|Disney's Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter||May 17, 1991||New Orleans French Quarter||1,008||Disney Springs|
|Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside||February 2, 1992||Antebellum South||2,048|
|Disney's All-Star Movies Resort||January 15, 1999||Disney films||1,920||Animal Kingdom|
|Disney's All-Star Music Resort||November 22, 1994||Music||1,604|
|Disney's All-Star Sports Resort||April 24, 1994||Sports||1,920|
|Disney's Art of Animation Resort||May 31, 2012||Disney and Pixar animated films||1,984||Wide World of Sports|
|Disney's Pop Century Resort||December 14, 2003||20th Century American pop culture||2,880|
|Disney Vacation Club|
|Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort||August 4, 2009||Modern||428||Magic Kingdom|
|Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas||August 15, 2007||African safari lodge||708||Animal Kingdom|
|Disney's Beach Club Villas||July 1, 2002||Newport resort||282||Epcot|
|Disney's BoardWalk Villas||July 1, 1996||Early 20th Century Atlantic City||530|
|Disney's Old Key West Resort||December 20, 1991||Early 20th Century Key West||761||Disney Springs|
|Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows||April 1, 2015||South Seas||380||Magic Kingdom|
|Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa||May 17, 2004||1880s Upstate New York resort||1,320||Disney Springs|
|The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa||October 23, 2013||Early 20th Century Florida||147||Magic Kingdom|
|Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge||November 15, 2000||Pacific Northwest||181|
|Copper Creek Villas and Cabins at Disney's Wilderness Lodge||July 17, 2017||Pacific Northwest||184|
|Disney Riviera Resort||Fall 2019||Riviera||300||Epcot|
|Cabins and campgrounds|
|Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground||November 19, 1971||Rustic Woods Camping||800 campsites
|Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort||Fall 2011||Varies||450 homes||Magic Kingdom|
|Hotel name||Opening date||Theme||Number of rooms||Owner||Area|
|Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel||November 21, 1972||None||325||Drury Hotels||Hotel Plaza Boulevard, close to Disney Springs|
|Doubletree Guest Suite Resort||March 15, 1987||229||Hilton Hotels Corporation|
|Wyndham Lake Buena Vista||October 15, 1972||626||Wyndham Hotels & Resorts|
|Hilton Walt Disney World||November 23, 1983||787||Hilton Hotels Corporation|
|Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort||February 8, 1973||323||InterContinental Hotels Group|
|B Resort||October 1, 1972||394||B Hotels & Resorts|
|Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa||March 10, 1983||1,014||Hilton Hotels Corporation|
|Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort||August 3, 2014||450||Four Seasons||Magic Kingdom|
|Bonnet Creek Resort||Various||Various, 3,000 total||Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide||Epcot|
|Walt Disney World Dolphin||June 1, 1990||Seaside Floridian Resort & Under the Sea||1509||Sheraton|
|Walt Disney World Swan||January 13, 1990||Seaside Floridian Resort & Under the Sea||756||Westin|
|Shades of Green||February 1, 1994||Upscale Country Club||586||United States Department of Defense||Magic Kingdom|
Guests with a Disney Resort reservation (excluding the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin) that arrive at Orlando International Airport can be transported to their resort from the airport using the complimentary Disney Magical Express service, which is operated by Mears Destination Services. Guests can also have their bags picked up and transported to their resort for them through a contract with BAGS Incorporated on participating airlines. Many resorts feature Airline Check-in counters for guests returning to the airport. Here their bags will be checked all the way through to their final destination and they can also have boarding passes printed for them. Some participating airlines are Delta, United, American, Jet Blue, and Alaska Airlines.
In 2014, the resort's four theme parks all ranked in the top 8 on the list of the 25 most visited theme parks in the world; (1st) Magic Kingdom - 19,332,000 visitors, (6th) Epcot - 11,454,000 visitors, (7th) Disney's Animal Kingdom - 10,402,000 visitors, and (8th) Disney's Hollywood Studios - 10,312,000 visitors.
|Year||Magic Kingdom||Epcot||Disney's Hollywood Studios||Disney's Animal Kingdom||Overall||Ref.|
The Walt Disney World Resort is serviced by Disney Transport, a complimentary mass transportation system allowing guest access across the property. The Walt Disney World Monorail System provides free transportation at Walt Disney World. Guests can aboard the monorail from select on property resorts including The Grand Floridian and The Polynesian. The system operates on three routes that interconnect at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), adjacent to the Magic Kingdom's parking lot. A fleet of Disney-operated buses on property, branded Disney Transport, is also complimentary for guests.
Disney Transport also operates a fleet of watercraft, ranging in size from water taxis, up to the ferries that connect the Magic Kingdom to the Transportation and Ticket Center. Disney Transport is also responsible for maintaining the fleet of parking lot trams that are used for shuttling visitors between the various theme park parking lots and their respective main entrances.
Walt Disney World previously had its own small airport: the Walt Disney World Airport which was also known as the Lake Buena Vista STOLport. During the early 1970s, scheduled passenger service was operated by Shawnee Airlines with small de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter commuter turboprops which had STOL (short take off and landing) capabilities on flights to Tampa and Orlando. The airport is no longer in operation.
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the site employed about 5,500 "cast members". Today, Walt Disney World employs more than 74,000 cast members, 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 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 college students (CP's) the opportunity to live about 15 miles (24 km) off-site in four Disney-owned apartment complexes and work at the resort, and thereby provides 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 offers international college students (ICP's) from all over the world the same opportunity.
Walt Disney World's corporate culture uses jargon based on theatrical terminology. For example, park visitors are always "guests", employees are called "cast members", rides are "attractions" or "adventures", cast members costumed as famous Disney characters in a way that does not cover their faces are known as "face characters", jobs are "roles", and public and nonpublic areas are respectively labeled "onstage" and "backstage".
Disney's security personnel are generally dressed in typical security guard uniforms, though some of the personnel are dressed as tourists in plain clothes. Since September 11, 2001, uniformed security has been stationed just outside each Disney park in Florida to search guests' bags as they enter the parks.
The land where Walt Disney World resides is part of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), a governing jurisdiction created in 1967 by the State of Florida at the request of Disney. RCID provides 911 services, fire, environmental protection, building code enforcement, utilities and road maintenance but does not provide law enforcement services. The approximately 800 security staff are instead considered employees of the Walt Disney Company. Arrests and citations are issued by the Florida Highway Patrol along with the Orange County and Osceola County sheriffs deputies who patrol the roads. Disney security does maintain a fleet of security vans equipped with flares, traffic cones, and chalk commonly used by police officers. These security personnel are charged with traffic control by the RCID and may only issue personnel violation notices to Disney and RCID employees, not the general public.
Despite the appearance of the uniformed security personnel, they are not considered a legal law enforcement agency. Disney and The Reedy Creek Improvement District were sued for access to Disney Security records by Bob and Kathy Sipkema following the death of their son at the resort in 1994. The court characterized Disney security as a "night watchman" service not a law enforcement agency and was not subject to Florida's open records laws. An appeals court later upheld the lower court's ruling.
In late 2015, Disney confirmed the addition of randomized secondary screenings and dogs trained to detect body-worn explosives within parks, in addition to metal detectors at entrances. It has also increased the number of uniformed security personnel at Walt Disney World and Disneyland properties.
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