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Walt Disney World Resort is the most visited and largest recreational resort in the world, containing four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-three themed hotels, and numerous shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation venues. Owned and operated by the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products segment of The Walt Disney Company, it is located southwest of Orlando, Florida, USA. The property often is abbreviated Walt Disney World, Disney World or WDW.

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

Cinderella Castle is the icon of the Magic Kingdom.

Spaceship Earth is the icon of Epcot.

Tree of Life is the icon of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

History and development

In 1959, the Walt Disney Company, under the leadership of Walt Disney, began looking for land for a second resort to supplementing Disneyland, which had 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% 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.

Walt Disney first flew over the Orlando site (one of many) on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He first flew over and appealed to the Sanford, Florida city council to allow him to build Disney World in Sanford, but his appeal was declined. The citizens of Sanford did not want the crime that was sure to come with tourism. He saw the well-developed network of roads, including Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike, with McCoy Air Force Base (later Orlando International Airport) to the east, and immediately fell in love with the site. When later asked why he chose it, he said, "the freeway routes, they bisect here." Walt Disney focused most of his attention on the "Florida Project", both before and after his participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, but he died on December 15, 1966, five years before his vision was realized.

To avoid a burst of land speculation, Disney used various dummy corporations and cooperative individuals to acquire 27,400 acres (110 km², 43 mi²) of land. The first five-acre (20,000 m², 217400 ft²) lot was bought on October 23, 1964, by the Ayefour Corporation (a pun on Interstate 4). Another dummy corporation name which land was bought under was RETLAW which spelled backward is WALTER. Others were also used with a second or secret meanings which add to the lore of the Florida Project, including M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments (pronounced empty lot).

In May 1965, major land transactions were recorded a few miles southwest of Orlando in Osceola County. 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. In addition to three huge parcels of land were many smaller parcels, referred to as "outs."

Much of the land had been platted into five-acre (20,000 m², 217400 ft²) 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 swampland. Yet another problem was the mineral rights to the land, 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.

After most of the land had been bought, the truth of the property's owner was leaked to the Orlando Sentinel 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 city (and which was also known as Progress City). Plans for EPCOT would drastically change after Disney's death. EPCOT became EPCOT Center, the resort's second theme park, which opened in 1982. Concepts from the original idea of EPCOT would be integrated into the community of Celebration much later.

The Reedy Creek Drainage District was incorporated on May 13, 1966 under Florida State Statutes Chapter 298, which gives powers including eminent domain to special Drainage Districts. To create the District, only the support of the landowners within was required.

Walt Disney died 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.

Statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse

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 Walt Disney World 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 on May 12, 1967. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that the district was allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds for public projects within the district despite the sole beneficiary being The Walt Disney Company.

Construction of drainage canals was soon begun by the district, 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.

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 replied, "I think Walt would have approved."

Roy O. Disney died on December 20, 1971, barely three months after the property opened.

Disney subsequently opened EPCOT Center in 1982, a theme park adapted from Walt Disney's vision for a "community of tomorrow". The park permanently adopted the name Epcot in 1996. 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 a 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 in Orlando. The entire property is outside Orlando's city limits; the majority sits within southwestern Orange County with the remainder in adjacent Osceola County to the south. Most of the resort's land and all of the public areas are located in the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, about 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Orlando.

The 25,000 acre (101 km²) 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 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:

Other attractions

Disney Springs underwent a significant refurbishment and now consists of four major sections, Marketplace, The Landing, Town Centre and West Side, that contain many shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. They include the DisneyQuest indoor arcade, a House of Blues restaurant and nightclub, a Planet Hollywood restaurant and a Cirque du Soleil theater and original production, La Nouba.

The resort has a small aircraft runway located east of the Magic Kingdom parking lot. When the resort opened in 1971, Shawnee Airlines began regular passenger service from Orlando's McCoy Air Force Base (now Orlando International Airport) directly to Disney World's STOLport (Short Take Off and Landing) on a daily basis, with flights lasting only a few minutes. Today, the runway mostly is used as a staging area for buses and no longer is in service for aircraft.

Golf and recreation

Disney's property includes five golf courses. The four 18-hole golf courses are the Magnolia, the Palm, Lake Buena Vista and Osprey Ridge. There is also a nine-hole walking course called Oak Trail, designed for young golfers. 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.

Resorts and hotels

On-site Disney resorts

There are 32 resorts and hotels located on the Walt Disney World property. Of the 32, 22 are Disney owned and operated resorts. The Disney resorts are classified into five categories: Deluxe (priced from $205-$805), Moderate (priced from $139-$199), Value (priced from $79-$127), Disney Vacation Club (priced from $269-$1,790), and Campground (priced from $39-$319). Another notable aspect is a large number of hotel resort complexes on the Walt Disney World property. The non-themed hotels are owned by private, non-Disney hospitality companies such as Starwood (Westin and Sheraton), Holiday Inn, Best Western, and Hilton.

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

Value Resorts

Moderate Resorts

Deluxe Resorts

Cabins and Campgrounds

Deluxe Villas

  • Disney's Old Key West Resort (1992)
  • Disney's BoardWalk Villas (1996)
  • The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge (2000)
  • Disney's Beach Club Villas (2002)
  • Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort (2004)
  • Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (2005)
  • Disney's & Spa (2007)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas (2008)

Future resorts on Disney property

  • Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser: There is rumors surrounding the creation of a Star Wars themed resort, with a full immersive experience involved

Never-built Disney resorts

  • Disney's Asian Resort
  • Disney's Persian Resort
  • Disney's Venetian Resort
  • Disney's Mediterranean Resort

Former Disney resorts

  • 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. They are now used for College Program and International Program cast member housing.

On-site non-Disney hotels

  • Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel
  • Doubletree Guest Suite Resort
  • Regal Sun Resort
  • Hilton, located in the Walt Disney World Resort
  • Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort
  • Royal Plaza
  • Shades of Green (owned and operated by the United States Department of Defense and used for vacationing active and retired military personnel, their families, and DOD civilians only)
  • Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa
  • Walt Disney World Dolphin (1990; operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide)
  • Walt Disney World Swan (1990; operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide)



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):


When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the site employed about 5,500 "cast members". Today it employs more than 61,000, spending more than $1.1 billion on payroll and $478 million on benefits each year. The largest single-site employer in the United States , Walt Disney World Resort has more than 3,000 job classifications.

The resort also sponsors and operates the Walt Disney World College Program, an internship program that has American college students live on site and work for 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% 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 the genuine gold leaf.
  • There is a tree farm on a site so that when a mature tree needs to be replaced, a thirty-year-old tree will be available to replace it.


There is a fleet of Disney-operated buses on property, branded Disney Transport, that is available for guests at no charge. In 2007, Disney Transport started the guest services upgrade to the buses. SatellGPS systems controlling new public addresses 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. A fleet of 12 monorail trains operates on three routes which all 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, whilst 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.

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 Disney to Disney World as a permanent tribute to his brother. The resort's original logo was 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 front car of each monorail, manhole covers, select merchandise items and flags flown at several sites across the property.

Development timeline

1965 Walt Disney announces Florida Project
1967 Construction begins
1971 Magic Kingdom
Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses
Disney's Contemporary Resort
Disney's Polynesian Resort
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
1972 Disney's Village Resort
1973 Disney's Golf Resort
1974 Discovery Island
1975 Disney's Village Resort
Walt Disney Village Marketplace
1976 Disney's River Country
1980 Walt Disney World Conference Center
Disney's Village Resort - Club Lake Villas
1982 Epcot
1988 Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
1989 Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios)
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon
Pleasure Disney
1990 Disney's Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts
Walt Disney World Swan
Walt Disney World Dolphin
1991 Disney's Port Orleans Resort
Disney Vacation Club
1992 Disney's Dixie Landings Resort
Bonnet Creek Golf Club
1994 Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Disney's Wilderness Lodge
1995 Disney's All-Star Music Resort
Disney's Blizzard Beach
Disney's Fairy Tale Wedding Pavilion
Walt Disney World Speedway
1996 Disney Institute
Disney's BoardWalk Inn and BoardWalk Villas
1997 Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex
Downtown Disney West Side
1998 Disney's Animal Kingdom
1999 Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
2001 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
2002 Disney's Beach Club Villas
2003 Disney's Pop Century Resort
2004 Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
2007 Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas
2012 Disney's Art of Animation Resort
2019 Disney's Riviera Resort
2021 Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser
The Walt Disney World Swan Reserve

See also



External links