History of Walt Disney World®

After realizing much success with the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., Walt Disney wanted to expand what had become a very popular theme park business. However, several restaurants, hotels and other tourist outlets had been built on the land surrounding Disneyland, leaving Walt with no room for expansion in California. Walt dreamed of a place where the outside world would not touch or ruin the "magic" for his guests, but he also wanted a seasonal climate comparable to California so his guests could enjoy the parks all year round. Thus began a flying expedition all around the country for the site of what would one day be the Walt Disney World ® Resort. 

Walt fell in love with Orlando, Fla., in November of 1963 when he flew over the area and noticed a lot of undeveloped land near the intersection of Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike, along with the McCoy Air Force Base, which is what we now know as the Orlando International Airport. Unlike his first venture in California, Walt was smart about his approach to purchasing the land this time. He acquired land in three different counties, under alias company names in order to avoid any speculation from other real estate developers or potential competing enterprises. After people started questioning the land acquisition, Walt finally made the grand announcement that Central Florida would be home to the Walt Disney World ® Resort. The best part about the announcement was that by the time anyone found out that it was Walt Disney indeed, he had more than enough land for his vision to come to life, ensuring that every Guest that visited Walt Disney World ® could be totally detached from the outside world and check their worries at the door to this vacation destination.  

After all was said and done, Walt had purchased 27,400 acres (47 square miles) of land. Walt dubbed this the “Florida Project,” and focused almost all of his time creating the plans and blueprints for his new theme park destination prior to his involvement in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, five years before his dream and vision for Walt Disney World ® became a reality.   

Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, delayed his retirement so that he could lead the construction of the resort. Walt and Roy's vision finally paid off on October 1, 1971, with the opening of the Magic Kingdom ® Park. Along with the theme park itself, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground were all completed in time for the opening of Magic Kingdom. Roy O. Disney officially named the resort destination in dedication of Walt at the Magic Kingdom's grand opening, saying, “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." 

Not even a year later, on February 2, 1967, Roy Disney held a press conference to unveil his brother’s plan for Epcot ®, which would eventually become the second park at Walt Disney World ®. Walt’s vision was for Epcot ® (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) to be a futuristic city. While Epcot ® today is not exactly what Walt had in mind in terms of an actual city, the overall concept of Epcot ® stays true to his vision, as it’s a showcase of international culture and technological innovation. Epcot ® opened on October 1, 1982, and was originally named Epcot ® Center until the name was changed to just Epcot ®, in 1983. 

Disney's Hollywood Studios™ was the third park to open at the Walt Disney World ®, Resort, making its debut on May 1, 1989. The 135-acre park is themed as if you were stepping right onto a Hollywood set. The idea for this park began when two Imagineers (Disney’s terminology for the innovators of new project and concept design) were tasked with coming up with two new pavilions for Epcot ®. One of the new pavilions for which they developed plans was the Great Movie Ride pavilion. After seeing plans for the pavilion, Michael Eisner, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company at the time, decided that rather than building the new pavilion in Epcot ®, the Disney Company should surround this new Great Movie Ride concept with an entire theme park all about a “Hollywood that never was, but always will be.” From that moment forward, plans for the Disney's Hollywood Studios™ were developed and the project came into fruition not long after.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park is the latest park to open its gates, debuting on April 22, 1998 (Earth Day), as the largest Disney theme park on the planet, spanning more than 500 acres. Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park was never intended to become or be known as a zoo; instead, it is proclaimed by Disney to be an animal and wildlife conservation park, which is an outlook and philosophy that Walt Disney himself established many years prior to any plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park and is just another way that the Walt Disney World ® Resort is still living out Walt's dreams and visions for him more than 40 years after his passing.