The Walt Disney World Resort is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida that opened on October 1, 1971. It is currently comprised of the four theme parks Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as two water parks, several hotels, golf courses, a shopping center and more. It was Walt Disney’s final big project before his death in 1966, but his vision for what he called “the Florida Project” was a bit different from what it ultimately became.
Walt Disney searched the country for a location for what was then called Disney World and he finally landed on central Florida, in the swamplands near the highways and away from the beaches which he did not dare compete with. He first intended for the place in Florida to be completely different from the Disneyland Resort in California, envisioning a futuristic and innovative community to rival Tomorrowland. Walt called the project “EPCOT” which stood for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” and while it was his most ambitious plan, his death almost put the entire project on hold. However, Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney made a huge decision to delay his retirement and make sure Walt’s dream was realized without the guidance of his creativity. Disney’s futuristic city was a little too ambitious so instead construction on a resort similar to Disneyland would begin in 1967 and open four years later. Epcot would open in 1982, but it was reimagined as a theme park.
The theme park resort was originally going to be called Disney World but Roy changed the name to Walt Disney World to dedicate it to his brother’s name. The Walt Disney World Resort continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the world.
The Magic Kingdom was the first theme park to open in Walt Disney World and it is based largely on Disneyland in California. The six main areas of the Magic Kingdom are Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland and Liberty Square.
The attractions at this theme park are some of the resort’s biggest draws. At Main Street, U.S.A., the main hub at Magic Kingdom’s entrance which resembles early 20th century small town America, you will see City Hall, the Main Street Chamber of Commerce, the Town Square Theatre and the Harmony Barber Shop.
Fantasyland, a fairy tale-themed area, has three different sections: the Castle Courtyard, the Enchanted Forest and the Storybook Circus.
The attractions at the Courtyard include Cinderella Castle, Prince Charming Regal Carousel, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, Mickey’s Friendship Faire, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Princess Fairytale Hall and a meet-and-greet with Merida in Fairytale Garden.
As for the attractions at the Enchanted Forest, they include the Mad Tea Party, Ariel’s Grotto, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the attractions at Storybook Circus include Dumbo the Flying Circus, The Barnstormer and Pete’s Silly Sideshow. Former Fantasyland attractions at Magic Kingdom include Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage.
The attractions at Adventureland, a tropical jungle-themed area, include Jungle Cruise, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, Swiss Family Treehouse and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
The attractions at Frontierland, a woodland and Western-themed area, include Country Bear Jamboree, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain (soon to replace the Song of the South theme with a Princess and the Frog theme), Frontier Shootin’ Arcade and Tom Sawyer Island.
The attractions at Tomorrowland, a futuristic technology-themed area, include the Astro Orbiter, Tomorrowland Speedway, Carousel of Progress, Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Popular past Tomorrowland attractions at Magic Kingdom have included the Skyway, If You Had Wings, Mission to Mars, Delta Dreamflight, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and Stitch’s Great Escape! An attraction based on Tron called the Tron Lightcycle Power Run is currently in the works and scheduled to open in 2022.
Magic Kingdom didn’t have a New Orleans Square (probably because the real New Orleans was already close by) but they do have Liberty Square, which is modeled after 18th century colonial America and even features a replica of the Liberty Bell. The attractions at Liberty Square include The animatronic Hall of Presidents, The Haunted Mansion and riverboat the Liberty Belle.
The Magic Kingdom is popular but the Walt Disney World Resort has had plenty of milestone openings in its 50-year operation. To close, here is the timeline of the major openings in the resort’s history. I will be sure to cover some of these locations in future blogs.
Walt Disney World Resort and Magic Kingdom opens
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opens
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground opens
Discovery Island opens as Treasure Island (closes in 1999)
Disney Springs opens as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (renamed Downtown Disney in 1997)
Disney’s River Country opens as Walt Disney World’s first water park (closes in 2001)
Epcot opens as EPCOT Center
Mickey’s Toontown Fair opens as Mickey’s Birthdayland
Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens as Disney-MGM Studios
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon opens
Disney’s Blizzard Beach opens
Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf complex opens
Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens
DisneyQuest opens (closes in 2017)
Fantasyland begins its expansion and Mickey’s Toontown Fair is replaced by Storybook Circus
Downtown Disney is expanded and renamed Disney Springs
Happily Ever After fireworks and projection show opens (closed in 2021)
Pandora opens at Animal Kingdom
Toy Story Land opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Epcot Forever fireworks show opens (closed in 2021)