Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL | CruiseBe
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Walt Disney World

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theme park, resort, attraction

The Walt Disney World Resort, known as Walt Disney World or Disney World, is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake, Florida (mailing address is Lake Buena Vista, Florida), near Kissimmee and Orlando, and is the flagship resort of Disney's worldwide corporate enterprise. The resort opened on October 1, 1971, and is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an attendance of over 52 million annually.

Walt Disney World is owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The property covers 27,258 acres (11,031 ha; 43 sq mi), housing twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non–Disney hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, one nine-hole walking golf course for young golfers (no electric carts allowed), two themed miniature golf courses, one camping resort, a downtown-like shopping district, and other entertainment venues. Magic Kingdom was the first and original theme park to open in the complex followed by Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opened later throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

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 he called it, was intended to present a distinct vision, with its own diverse set of rides. Walt Disney's original plans also called for the inclusion of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow", a planned community 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 Walt Disney Company the standard powers and autonomy of an incorporated city. Disney died on December 15, 1966, before construction began. Without the creative mind of Disney spearheading the construction of Walt Disney World, the company instead created a resort very similar to Disneyland, albeit on a much larger scale, abandoning Walt's concept of an experimental planned community.



Planning and construction


In 1959, Walt Disney Productions began looking for land for a second theme park/resort to supplement the Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which had opened in 1955. Market surveys 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 control of a much larger area of land for the new project.

Walt Disney flew over the Orlando-area 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, Walt Disney World Company used various dummy corporations to acquire 30,500 acres (12,343 ha; 48 sq mi) 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 "Ayefour Corporation", "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, called "outs". Much of the land acquired had been platted into 5 acres (2 ha) lots in 1912 by the Munger Land Company and sold to investors. Most 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. Eventually, Disney's team negotiated a deal with Tufts to buy the mineral rights for $15,000.

Working under a strict cloak of secrecy, real estate agents who did not know the identity of their client began making offers to landowners in southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties in April 1964, shortly after Walt Disney chose the site for his new theme park. Careful not to let property owners know the extent of their land-buying appetites, the agents quietly negotiated one deal after another, sometimes lining up contracts to buy huge tracts for little more than $100 an acre. Because they knew that recording the first deeds would trigger intense public questioning about what was going on, Disney's representatives waited until they had a large number of parcels locked up through options before filing their paperwork.

Rumors as to the purpose of the land purchases at first pointed towards development in support of the nearby Kennedy Space Center as well as a second Disney amusement park. An Orlando Sentinel news article in May 1965 believed Disney was behind the land purchases, but added that Walt Disney himself, when interviewed during a Kennedy Space Center visit, denied any connection, saying he was more concerned with expanding Disneyland than with building a second park. In October 1965, Emily Bavar, an editor from the Sentinel, visited Disneyland as the park was celebrating its 10th anniversary and asked Disney again if he was buying up the land for a second Disneyland park; Bavar later described that Disney "looked like I had thrown a bucket of water in his face" before denying the story. Disney's evasiveness, combined with other research during her California visit, prompted Bavar to author a story that the Sentinel ran in its October 21, 1965 edition where she predicted that Disney was purchasing the land in preparation for a second theme park. Three days later, the Sunday edition of the Sentinel proclaimed that Disney was indeed the mystery buyer.

Walt Disney had planned on revealing the Disney World project on November 15, 1965, but in light of the Sentinel story, Disney asked Florida Governor Haydon Burns to confirm to the press the following Monday that he planned to build "the greatest attraction in the history of Florida". Disney joined Burns in Orlando for the official reveal of Disney World on the previously-planned November 15 date.

Roy Disney's oversight of construction

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. 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, the Polynesian Village, and Fort Wilderness 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. 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.

Recent history

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 (renamed Epcot in 1996), 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". 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.

George Kalogridis was named president of the resort in December 2012, replacing Meg Crofton, who had overseen the site since 2006.



The Florida resort is not within Orlando city limits, but is about 21 miles (34 km) 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 27,258 acres (11,031 ha; 43 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 SR 429, the Western Expressway. At its founding the park occupied approximately 30,500 acres (12,343 ha; 48 sq mi). Portions of the property have since been sold or de-annexed, including land now occupied by the Disney-built community of Celebration. Now the park occupies 27,258 acres (11,031 ha; 43 sq mi), about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan.


Theme parks

  • Magic Kingdom, opened October 1, 1971
  • Epcot, opened October 1, 1982
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios, opened May 1, 1989
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom, opened April 22, 1998

Water parks

  • Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, opened June 1, 1989
  • Disney's Blizzard Beach, opened April 1, 1995

Other attractions

  • Disney Springs, opened March 22, 1975 (This was originally Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and also, before September 23, 2015 it was called Downtown Disney.)
  • Disney's Wedding Pavilion, opened July 15, 1995
  • Disney's BoardWalk, opened July 1, 1996
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, opened March 28, 1997
  • DisneyQuest, opened June 19, 1998, and closing in 2016. Being replaced by NBA Experience.
  • La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil, opened December 23, 1998

Golf and recreation

Disney's property includes five golf courses. The four 18-hole golf courses are the Palm (4.5 Stars), the Magnolia (4 Stars), Lake Buena Vista (4 Stars) and Osprey Ridge (4.5 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.

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 and Campground and Disney's Port Orleans Resort.

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

Former attractions

  • Discovery Island — an island in Bay Lake that was home to many species of animals and birds. It opened on April 8, 1974 and closed on April 8, 1999.
  • Disney's River Country — the first water park at the Walt Disney World Resort. It opened on June 20, 1976 and closed on November 2, 2001.
  • Walt Disney World Speedway — a racetrack at Walt Disney World and included the Richard Petty Driving Experience. It opened November 28, 1995 and closed on August 9, 2015.


Of the thirty-four resorts and hotels on the Walt Disney World property, twenty-eight are owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. 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 a 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.

Former resorts

  • 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 decommissioned for a time 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.
  • Celebration (A town designed and built by Disney, now managed by a resident-run association.)
  • 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 & Spa)

Proposed resorts

  • Disney's Asian Resort
  • Disney's Persian Resort
  • Disney's Venetian Resort
  • Disney's Mediterranean Resort
  • Fort Wilderness Junction

Disney's Magical Express

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, as Disney Transport is not allowed to transport guests off resort property. Guests can also have their bags picked up and transported to their resort for them through a contract with BAGS Incorporated on participating airlines.

Executive management

  • President, Walt Disney World Resort (2013) — George Kalogridis
    • Senior Vice President, Walt Disney World Parks (2009) — Jim MacPhee
      • Vice President, Magic Kingdom (2015) — Dan Cockerell
      • Vice President, Epcot (2015) — Melissa Valiquette
      • Vice President, Disney's Hollywood Studios (2015) — Phil Holmes
      • Vice President, Disney's Animal Kingdom (2014) — Djuan L. River
    • Senior Vice President, Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Downtown Disney (2014) — Maribeth Bisienere
      • Vice President, Downtown Disney (2009) — Keith Bradford
    • Senior Vice President, Resort Hotel & Transportation Operations (2014) — Josh D'Amaro

Former executive management

  • Former President, Walt Disney World Resort
    • 1994–2006 — Al Weiss
    • 2006–2013 — Meg Crofton
  • Former Executive Vice President, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort
    • 1971–1980  — Richard A. "Dick" Nunis
    • 2000–2001 — Erin Wallace
  • Former Vice Presidents of Disney's Magic Kingdom:
    • 1987–1994 — Bill Sullivan
    • 1993-2000 — Greg Emmer
    • 2000–2001 — Erin Wallace
    • 2001–2015 — Phil Holmes
  • Former Vice Presidents of Disney's Epcot:
    • 1984–1990 — Norm Doerges
    • 1993–1995 — Linda Warren
    • 1995-2000 — George Kalogridis
    • 2000-2001 — Karl Holz
    • 2001–2007 — Brad Rex
    • 2007–2009 — Jim MacPhee
    • 2009–2011 — Dan Cockerell
    • 2011 - Rilous Carter
    • 2011-2014 — Erin Youngs
    • 2014-2015 — Samuel Lau
  • Former Vice Presidents of Disney's Hollywood Studios (previously Disney-MGM Studios):
    • 1989-1994 — Bruce Laval
    • 1995-2001 — Malcolm Ross
    • 2000-2004 — Tom Wolber
    • -2008 — Michael O'Grattan
    • 2008-2011 — Rilous Carter
    • 2011-2015 — Dan Cockerell
  • Former Vice Presidents of Disney's Animal Kingdom:
    • 1999-2001 — Phil Holmes
    • 2001-2007 — Dr. Beth Stevens
    • 2007-2009 — Val Bunting
    • 2009-2010 — Kevin Lansberry
    • 2010-2013 — Michael Colglazier
    • 2013-2014 — Josh D'Amaro
  • Former Vice Presidents of Downtown Disney (now known as Disney Springs):
    • 1996-2000 — Karl Holz
    • 2000-2003 — Mark Mrozinski
    • 2002-2005 — Ed Baklor
    • 2005-2007 — Djuan Rivers
    • 2007-2009 — Kevin Lansberry


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.



When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the site employed about 5,500 "cast members". Today, Walt Disney World employs more than 70,000 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.

Corporate culture

Walt Disney World's corporate culture is based in some respects on that of its older sibling Disneyland, of which the most interesting is the use of a unique jargon based on theatrical terminology. This phenomenon is so well known that travel guidebooks have to include lists of common terms and abbreviations. For example, park visitors are always "guests", employees are "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".


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 complimentary for guests. 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. The Walt Disney World Monorail System, also provides transportation at Walt Disney World. 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. 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. Additionally, 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.

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 Disney Springs.

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 original Walt Disney World logo featured an over-sized "D" with a Mickey Mouse-shaped globe containing latitude and longitude lines, with the property's name presented in a blocky, modern, sans-serif font. The original logo was retired during the resort's 25th anniversary celebration in 1996 and was replaced with the current logo, which features the "Walt Disney" portion of the logo in the typical Disney corporate signature font and "World" in a serif font. Remnants of the original logo can still be found in many places throughout the resort, including the SpectroMagic title float, on the front car of each monorail, manhole covers, survey markers, and flags flown at several sites across the property. During the resort's 40th anniversary celebration in 2011, the original logo began to reappear on merchandise sold at the resort and can still be found on select items sold at various gift shops and stores at Walt Disney World.

Twin town

As part of a competition run by Disney for 2010, Walt Disney World has an unofficial twinning (sister city) with Swindon, England, since 2009. Rebecca Warren's submission to the competition granted Swindon to be the twin town of Walt Disney World, which is famous for its intersection with six roundabouts. Warren and the mayor of Swindon were invited to a "twinning" ceremony, where a plaque revealing the connection will be placed.

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