Disney World

The Walt Disney World Resort, informally known as Walt Disney World or simply Disney World, is an entertainment complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The resort opened on October 1, 1971 and is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an attendance of 52.5 million annually. It is owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The property covers 42,000 acres (16,997 ha; 66 sq mi), in which it houses 24 themed resort hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, and numerous additional recreational and 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, though he died in 1966 before construction on “The Florida Project” began. 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. Original plans called for the inclusion of an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”, a planned city that would serve as a test bed for new innovations for city living.

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 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.[1]

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, Disney used various dummy corporations to acquire 27,443 acres (11,106 ha) of land.[2] 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 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 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 themineral 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.

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 was organized for November 15, when 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 working city with commercial and residential areas 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, 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 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 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.

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.

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