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The History of Disney: When Did Walt Disney World Open in Florida?

  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 14 July 2023
  • Revised 17 July 2023
The History of Disney: When Did Walt Disney World Open in Florida?
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 14 July 2023
  • Revised 17 July 2023
The History of Disney: When Did Walt Disney World Open in Florida?
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 14 July 2023
  • Revised 17 July 2023
Enticing around 58 million visitors each year, Walt Disney World ensures Orlando is renowned as the Theme Park Capital of the World.

But how much do you really know about The Most Magical Place on Earth?

The fifty-two-year history of Walt Disney World is as fascinating as a fairytale. So, when it comes to booking Florida holidays in 2024 or 2025, consider this your mini educational guide to Mickey's home in the Sunshine State, with facts and figures to impress even the biggest Disney aficionados that answer some burning questions such as: when did Walt Disney World open? And why it's still the perfect family escape. 

When did each Walt Disney World park open?

The entire Walt Disney World complex is made up of four unique parks, each based on distinctive rides and themes. Magic Kingdom, the land of glittering fairy dust and the iconic Cinderella Castle opened its doors on 1 October 1971. Exactly eleven years later, Disney World's second park opened. Established on 1 October 1982, Epcot presents the world of tomorrow, showcasing technologies, cultures, festivals, and delectable dining from around the globe.

Formerly known as MGM Studios, Disney's Hollywood Studios, inaugurated on 1 May 1989, is a haven for movie lovers, featuring classic rides like Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ and epic new attractions like Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The most recent addition is Disney's Animal Kingdom which opened on 11 April 1998. With its African theme, a plethora of incredible animals and thrilling rides to boot, it's a firm favourite with visitors of all ages.

In addition to its four distinct theme parks, Walt Disney World also provides splashes of fun with its two water parks. The family-friendly Disney's Typhoon Lagoon opened on 1 June 1989. A few years later, Disney's Blizzard Beach opened on 1 April 1995, offering thrill rides with near-vertical drops to the brave and adventurous.

How old is Walt Disney World Resort?

As of the time of writing, the iconic Magic Kingdom celebrated its momentous 50th anniversary in October 2021. So if your math is up to scratch, you'll realise Walt Disney World has been open for 52 years. Yet this wasn't the first fantasy land of Walt Disney's imagination to come to fruition. The original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, debuted 16 years before in 1955, and its immediate popularity paved the way for Walt Disney World.

Is Walt Disney still alive?

Unfortunately, the much-adored founder, Walter Elias Disney, passed away on 15 December 1966. This meant he never got to see his second venture in Lake Buena Vista come to fruition. Eager to construct another park like Disneyland, Mr Disney had the initial idea to build the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT to you and me), which would showcase clever and pioneering ideas for future cities and towns.

Walt's brother Roy O. Disney took the reins on this colossal project and, in honour of his little brother, named the park 'Walt Disney World' as opposed to the proposed 'Disney World' that had been previously planned – epitomising brotherly love.

What were the opening day ticket prices?

Park admission on opening day back in 1971 was a mere $3.50 per adult, while kids were $2.50 each and just $1 for under 12s! Today's prices are vastly different and start from $109 per person for a one-day ticket just for the Animal Kingdom. Don't forget that the Walt Disney World of today is much bigger and comprises four parks and two water parks, offering a multitude of different ticket options, including add-ons and multi-day packages such as Park-Hopper Plus and Memory Maker.

For full marks on your Disney quiz, Magic Kingdom's opening day saw around 10,000 visitors, while today's daily average visitor count sees about 160,000 people walking through those world-famous gates.

How much did it cost to build Walt Disney World?

The original park cost approximately $400 million to complete over a six-year period, but with all the enhancements and renovations over the last 50 years or more, the estimated cost has now exceeded a whopping $3.5 billion.

It's rumoured that Walt Disney was anonymously and discreetly buying pockets of land during the mid-60s, eventually paying around $5 million for 43 square miles of prime Florida real estate, offering an East Coast alternative to its immensely popular sister park in California.

How long did it take to build Walt Disney World?

The intention to build Walt Disney World was announced in November 1965, when the Disney brothers laid bare their plans for this colossal endeavour - known secretly in-house as the 'Florida Project' to avoid attention and speculation. Construction of the first theme park – Magic Kingdom – began in May 1969 and took around 18 months to complete.

Which was the first Walt Disney World Hotel to open?

Upon opening day, the only two hotels within Walt Disney World were Disney's Polynesian Village Resort and Disney's Contemporary Resort. Today, these iconic accommodations remain two of the most popular Deluxe Resorts. Since 1971 a further 23 on-site Disney hotels have been added to the resort's glittering portfolio, including the playful Disney's All-Star Value Resorts, the Hispanic-inspired Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, and Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge with its expansive savannas and menagerie of exquisite African animals.

How many Disney employees were there at the beginning?

At the original Magic Kingdom Park, there were 5,500 dedicated individuals, affectionately known as 'cast members'. These Disney employees dutifully assist visitors around the parks, attend rides and attractions, work at Disney stores and dining outlets, and play Disney characters. This number has grown enormously over the decades, and now Walt Disney World employs around 75,000 cast members, making it the largest single-site employer in Florida and the wider US.

You can spot a cast member by their vibrant themed uniforms and name tags, which feature both their name and the country or state they come from. And, if they speak more than one language, this is highlighted on their tags too!

What were Walt Disney World's first attractions?

When the gates first opened, there were 23 original rides and attractions within the Magic Kingdom Park, including Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mr Toad's Wild Ride, and It's a Small World, which is still running alive and well to this day! The three beloved mountain rides: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain weren't added to the park's repertoire until the late 70s.

It won't come as much of a surprise that 50 years ago the ride technology wasn't as advanced as it is now, and the parks have come a long way from the peaceful boat journeys and gentle car rides of yesteryear. The revolutionary 4D special effects of Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, the trackless ride systems of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway and the reverse-launch features of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, are prime examples of how twenty-first century Disney attractions remains innovative. 

Moreover, if there is one thing that hasn't changed it is Walt Disney World's promise inspire and excite each generation for years yet to come.

Are you ready to holiday where the magic happens? 
Book your Walt Disney World 2024 & 2025 holiday here.

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