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A Short History of Walt Disney World

Updated on December 7, 2014

May 4th 1964

  • A series of real estate sales are reported in the Orlando Sentinel, a local journal of a small Florida farming community
  • Totaling nearly $1.5 million
  • Over 9,000 acres
  • Rumors spread that Walt Disney was buying land for an “East Coast Disneyland”

October 1965

  • Initial work begins in Florida
  • 300 acres in northwest corner of property cleared
  • Engineers conducted water control and drainage studies on the site

December 16th, 1966

  • Walt Disney dies
  • Brother and business partner Roy Oliver Disney sees project through and dies in 1971, shortly after the 1970 opening of Walt Disney World in Florida

Opening Day

  • October 1, 1970
  • Media estimates 100,000 people to attend
  • Only 10,000 visitors come through gates

Magic Kingdom

  • Centerpiece of Phase I development of Walt Disney World
  • Consists of Main Street, USA, Liberty Square, Mickey’s Starland, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland

Main Street Electric Parade

  • Premiered in 1977
  • Historically one of Disney’s most popular parades of all time
  • Replaced by SpectroMagic in 1991 as part of the Walt Disney World 20th Anniversary Celebration
  • Spectromagic ran 1991-1999
  • Main Street Electrical Parade ran its second run from 1999-2001
  • Spectomagic 2001-June 5th 2010 2nd run
  • Main Street Electrical June 6, 2010-present 3rd run

South End of Main Street

  • Town Square
  • The Civic Center
  • Main Street Railroad Station
  • City Hall Municipal Park

Liberty Square

The Hall of Presidents (presents story of American Revolution)

The Haunted Mansion (reminiscent of great mansions of Hudson River Valley)

Liberty Tree

Liberty Bell

Mickey's Birthdayland, Mickey's Starland, Mickey's Toontown Fair

  • Originally Mickey’s Birthdayland which opened in June 1988 in celebration of Mickey’s 60th birthday
  • Renamed Mickey’s Starland in 1996
  • Features homes of Mickey and his friends that visitors can tour
  • Renamed Mickey's Toontown Fair in 1996
  • Closed February 2011 to make room for Fantasyland extension

Expansion of Walt Disney World

  • Epcot Center opens in 1982 (focuses on Disney’s vision of imagination, communication, invention and world unity)
  • MGM Studios opens in May 1989 (features an “Old Hollywood” feel where guests enjoy shows and attractions about what goes on behind the scenes of movies), Renamed and is now Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens 1998 (features animal themed exhibits and attractions from each of the Worlds continents)


Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland


  • Combines many foreign destinations such as Polynesia, Africa, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia
  • Features exotic plants: cape honeysuckle, Chinese hibiscus, Mexican flame vines, Brazilian bougainvillea, sword ferns, spider plants and Australian tree ferns
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (1973), Caribbean Plaza (1973), Jungle Cruise Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Enchanted Tiki Room, among other attractions


  • Tribute to pioneer spirit that moved Americans westward from the 1770s to the 1880s
  • Pays homage to many American frontiers
  • Big Thunder Mountain (1980), Splash Mountain (1992), Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, Country Bear Jamboree, Richard F Irvine Steamboat (1973), Tom Sawyer Island (1973), among other attractions


  • Located at central plaza entrance
  • Disney characters from motion pictures find a home here Fairytale motif
  • Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel (originally built in 1917 was bought and renovated by Disney), It’s a Small World (originally developed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair), Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Adventure (1971-1994 then became Snow White;s Scary Adventure 1994-2012 when it closed as part of remodeling for "New Fantasyland"), The Mad Tea Party, Philar Magic (2002), The Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh, among other attractions
  • New Fantasyland opened December 6, 2012 with some new attraction available and has since opened more attractions in phases. New attractions now included: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid, among other attractions


  • Most frequently altered realm of Walt Disney World
  • Becomes outdated quickly Based on future and technology
  • Space Mountain, Astro Orbiter (replaced 1974 Starjets in 1994), Grand Prix Raceway, Stitch’s Adventure (2004), Carrousel of Progress (came to Disney World in 1975, originally created for General Electric pavilion at 1964-65 New York World’s Fair), among other attractions

Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland

  • Common misconception exists that Walt Disney World was meant to be “another Disneyland”
  • Walt Disney World is a resort complete with hotels, recreation and amenities
  • Magic Kingdom expands on operational and aesthetic knowledge gained from Disneyland
  • Disneyland features Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Walt Disney World features Cinderella’s Castle

Walt Disney World was created and named to celebrate the life and legacy of a man whose vision and creative genius will continue to inspire mankind for generations to come.

Have you ever visited Walt Disney World in Orlando?

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