The Walt Disney World Resort
There were parks in Central Florida before The Walt Disney Co. chose the Orlando area as home to its new Florida Project, but there have been none like it since Mickey Mouse came to town.
It began on a park bench
The story goes, that Walt was sitting on a park bench, eating peanuts, waiting while his daughters rode the carousel horses at some second-rate carnival. He began to notice the decrepit attractions, the poor food, the workers, etc. When he got home he spoke with Lillian about his observations and the rest, as they say, is history.
With the great success of Disneyland soon all the vacant land around the park was filled with stores, motels and other businesses looking to capitalize on the all the visitor’s to the park. This annoyed Walt to no and end and helped spur the idea to build another park somewhere else in the country that would have ample room to grow to meet Walt’s imagination while keeping encroachment to a minimum.
The Search Begins
Walt and his team spent a considerable amount of time looking over different parts of the United States to find the perfect location for this new community. There were a litany of requirements and all of the fact-finding had to be done under cover, so as not to alert the media. When Walt finally settled on Florida, he went to great lengths to acquire this new land through a series of deals with all of the different landholders and a set of companies established for the sole purpose to acquire this land.
He set out to purchase enough land, somewhere in America, to develop a larger more complete version of the Magic Kingdom, as well as his future utopian society; EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow). After much research and a false start or two, the decision was settled; Disney was going to build in Florida.
The actual story broke in the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, November 16, 1965 as a cover story with full headline touting “Disney Tells of $100 Million Project”. From that moment on, Central Florida, and destination travel changed…for the better.
The Florida Project
The Magic Kingdom is an extension of Walt’s vision, created with Disneyland in 1955. Although it was in the middle of nowhere when Disneyland opened, quick-thinking businessmen moved into Anaheim to profit off of the success of the park and the millions of visitors. When Walt decided to build his next park, he was determined to not let that encroachment occur.
The Magic Kingdom is is an extension of Walt’s vision and is the park that started it all here in Central Florida. Originally conceived by Walt Disney to be the prototypical community of tomorrow, those plans changed after his untimely death on December 15, 1966 from cancer. Despite having sold the concept to the Florida State officials, for which the Walt Disney Co. received unprecedented authority over their new land, the company changed the concept to an expanded version of Walt’s Original park, Disneyland.
The Largest Construction Project Ever
With over 9,000 workers and a budget that hovered around $400 million it became the largest privately funded construction project in the world, up ’til then. The park opened on Friday October 1, 1971 with a stirring dedication delivered by Walt’s brother Roy. Throughout their life building their company together, Roy was steadfast in his support of Walt and his dreams.
Even though Walt died well before the park opened (December 15, 1966) his brother Roy insured that the park met the stringent vision of his beloved brother, even changing the name from Disney World, to Walt Disney World as a tribute to his brother. From it’s opening, Walt Disney World fast became the destination for the world. Building upon the great success and learnings of Disneyland, Walt was able to design and build a wonderful haven for those of us who remain a kid at heart. Once he was able to fulfill that vision and promise here in Florida, Roy himself passed on just shy of two months after the dedication of the park.
On opening day, there were about 10,000 visitors who paid $4.95 to see the 6 lands (Adventureland, Bear Country, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Tomorrowland). The park had what has since been considered a soft opening on October 1, 1971 so they could work out any hitches without the glare of the spotlight akin to the opening day of Disneyland. The official dedication of the park was October 25, 1971 and lead by Roy O. Disney:
Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney… and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place… a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn — together.