In the early 1960s, Walt Disney was capitalizing on the success of Disneyland in California.

Disneyland had a problem though. Only a small fraction of its guests came from the east coast of the United States, which meant that Disney was missing out on a huge potential audience for its theme park. To expand the reach and reach of the business, he began looking for a location that would match his grand ambitions, and Florida, with its abundance of cheap land and warm climate, was a natural fit.

November 22, 1963 — coincidentally the day JFK was assassinated — Walt flew to Orlando to do some scouting. At the time, most of the area was made up of swamps, although there was an area adjacent to a highway under construction that caught his attention.

Using shell companies to preserve its anonymity (and to keep the price down), Disney began to acquire the sprawling properties that would become today’s Walt Disney World (WDW).

Walt Disney World: the first iteration

When Walt Disney World finally opened in 1971, it included the main site of Magic Kingdom, as well as two golf courses and two hotels, the Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort. These areas were all linked by a monorail system.

As these maps show, there was a plan to develop three unique thematic areas around the Seven Seas Lagoon: Persian, Asian, and Venetian.

However, these projects were abandoned after the 1973 oil crisis due to the decline in tourism.

1971 disney world seven seas lagoon plan map

Walt Disney World’s original master plan did not include plans for the Seven Seas Lagoon, and it was likely added so that the displaced land could be used to fortify the swampy sections of the property to make them suitable for construction. .

Expansion of Epcot

Disney World’s first big expansion was Epcot Center, which opened in 1982. The site, which was twice the size of the Magic Kingdom, is best described as a permanent World’s Fair.

The park was anchored by Future World and “Spaceship Earth”, the iconic structure of the geodesic sphere that stood at the entrance to the park.

1982 disney world epcot map

Around the nearby lake were themed pavilions from various places in the world.

While Epcot’s reach was impressive at the time, it was still significantly reduced from Walt Disney’s original vision for a fully functioning “city of the future”. Ultimately, the company was unsure of the feasibility of operating a functional city, so the idea was dropped in favor of the current iteration.

Hollywood lands in Florida

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, in a location just south of Epcot. The park presented “imagined worlds of film, television, music and theater, inspired by the golden age of Hollywood”.

To do this, Disney entered into a licensing agreement with MGM to help increase the variety of cinematic performances in the park.

Walt disney world hollywood studios map 1990

About 11 million visitors pass through Hollywood studios each year.

Animal kingdom and rapid expansion

In 1998, WDW added a fourth theme park called Animal Kingdom. It is the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and combines elements of both a zoo and a theme park.

A central feature of Animal Kingdom is the huge Tree of Life. The 145-foot-tall work of art contains 325 unique animal sculptures and over 100,000 artificial leaves. The park itself has around 2,000 animals representing 300 species.

About 13 million people visit the theme park each year.

Walt Disney World today

So how big is Walt Disney World today? 43 square miles, which is roughly the same area as San Francisco and twice the size of Manhattan.

The scale of today’s WDW has completely eclipsed the original version of the site. The resort, which had two hotels in 1971, now has more than 20, with 30,000 hotel rooms. WDW is also the largest single-site employer in the United States.

Looking at the map above, one wonders if this sprawling entertainment empire is overflowing. Will WDW end up building on its entire property? The answer is a bit complicated.

What are Walt Disney World Maps missing?

While the stylized maps above do a great job of highlighting WDW’s many attractions, they generally downplay one important fact. Much of the land owned by Disney is still undeveloped and there is a lot of space between the different parks. Much of this space is set aside for conservation areas, and only part of the remaining land is really suitable for development. Despite the size of the property occupied by WDW, space for expansion is becoming increasingly scarce with each new development.

Stylized maps also minimize the size of WDW’s parking lots, which are large. The Magic Kingdom parking lot, for example, is actually bigger than the theme park itself.

This huge plot of land is also unique in that it is a sort of autonomous municipality, with its own fire and emergency service. The district, officially known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is governed by a five-person supervisory board elected by the district’s landowners. As a result, senior Disney employees essentially manage the entire region encompassing WDW.

In the 50 years since the Magic Kingdom opened its turnstiles, Disney’s own kingdom in Central Florida has changed dramatically. With Disney’s continued financial success and the freedom to make large-scale moves within their property, the next 50 years will undoubtedly bring more dramatic changes to the world’s largest theme park.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.