Walt Disney World Resort Opened near Orlando, Florida, on October 1, 1971 with the Magic Kingdom and two hotels. After the success of Disneyland in California, Walt Disney was besieged by suggestions for a second park. Everyone wanted this new park to be built in their hometown—especially when observing the growth of the eonomy of Anaheim after Disneyland opened there in 1955. Disney bided his time, however. First of all, he wanted Disneyland to be running smoothly before he considered another site, and second, he wanted to be sure that he selected the right place. Starting in the early 1960s, Walt and Roy Disney began searching for an area on the East Coast where they could build a new Disney park. They knew their second park should be east of the Mississippi, where it could draw from a different segment of the population than did Disneyland. Walt Disney also knew he needed a site with a pleasant climate. Many other factors were considered, such as land cost, population density, and accessibility. In Florida, the climate seemed the best for year-round operation, and there was land available, so they secretly began buying up land. Learning their lesson from the urban clutter that had been built up around Disneyland park in California, the Disneys wanted enough land to insulate their development. After coming up with roughly 17,000 acres, they were offered a huge 10,000-acre parcel. Roy balked at first, but when Walt asked him what he would do if he had an extra 10,000 acres around Disneyland, he realized that they should go ahead. They ended up with 27,500 acres, a parcel twice the size of Manhattan Island. While they were able to buy most of the land they needed before the word leaked out who the mysterious buyer was, eventually a newspaper reporter dug out the story. Hurriedly, a press conference was put together at the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando, and Walt and Roy announced their plans publicly on November 15, 1965. It was a major shock for the Disney company when Walt Disney died suddenly a year later, in December, 1966. Roy, who was 73 years old, was ready to retire, but decided to stay on the job long enough to see that Walt’s final project was built. Construction progressed, and the costs eventually rose to $400 million, but due to Roy’s business acumen, the park was able to open in 1971 with the company having no outstanding debt. Roy presided at the grand opening in October and he passed away in December. In size, the Magic Kingdom park was similar to Disneyland, but there was more—two luxury hotels, golf courses, lakes and lagoons offering fishing and water sports, and a campground. The Magic Kingdom opened with some attractions similar to those at Disneyland, but also with its own unique attractions. The Country Bear Jamboree first made its appearance there, as did The Hall of Presidents and the Mickey Mouse Revue. Since 1971, the Walt Disney World Resort has had a steady growth, highlighted by the opening of Epcot in 1982, of Disney-MGM Studio in 1989, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park in 1998. Over the years, additional hotels, sports and entertainment facilities, and shopping areas have made Walt Disney World the premier destination resort in the world.
The special record-breaking guests at Walt Disney World have been:
1st guest – October 1, 1971 – William Windsor, Jr.
50,000,000th guest – March 2, 1976 – Susan Brummer
100,000,000th guest – October 22, 1979 – Kurt Miller
150,000,000th guest – April 7, 1983 – Carrie Stahl
200,000,000th guest – July 20, 1985 – Virgil Waytes, Jr.
300,000,000th guest – June 21, 1989 – Matt Gleason
400,000,000th guest – August 5, 1992 – Brandon Adams
500,000,000th guest – October 13, 1995 – Michelle Davi
600,000,000th guest – June 24, 1998 – Jacqueline D’Ambrosi
In 1994 Walt Disney World welcomed the one billionth guest worldwide to enter a Disney park (Mary Pat Smith of Decatur, Illinois); the 500,000,000th guest had been welcomed only nine years earlier, on March 25, 1986 (Don McGrath of Millis, Massachusetts).