The flagship destination of the massive Disney enterprise, and the world's most popular vacation resort, the Walt Disney World Resort in the Floridian cities of Bay Lake (where the theme parks and one of the water parks reside) and Lake Buena Vista (where Disney Springs and the other water park is, as well being the resort's mailing address) is just a relatively short driving distance from Orlando and Kissimmee in the central part of the state.
The year is 1959. Walt Disney Productions wanted to have a second resort to supplement Disneyland as not many Americans east of the Mississippi River, where most of the country resides, visited the Californian park. Walt Disney himself also wanted to make a project that had enough land for all his ideas; he was not pleased with all the businesses that were built all around Disneyland after it quickly became popular.
Thus began "The Florida Project". After surveying the land near Orlando by air in 1963, seeing the area's efficient networks of roads, the construction of Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike, and nearby McCoy Air Force Base (which would eventually become Orlando International Airport), Disney set up several dummy corporations and secretly purchased thousands of acres of land totaling to a size roughly twice the size of Manhattan Island. After the secret got out in October 1965 thanks to the Orlando Sentinel's Emily Bavar, Disney eventually admitted to it via Florida Governor Haydon Burns and officially announced it on November 15.
Sadly, Walt himself would not see the realization of Disney World; he died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966. His brother Roy Oliver Disney delayed his retirement to oversee the resort's construction. He got the State of Florida to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District for the resort, which established the two cities of Bay Lake and Reedy Creek (which was later renamed to Lake Buena Vista after the city boundaries were redefined away from the actual creek) and gave the Disney corporation much immunity from county and state land-use laws present and future. The resort opened on October 1, 1971, with the Magic Kingdom theme park, the Contemporary Resort Hotel, the Polynesian Village Resort, and the (actually already opened a few weeks prior) Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses as its first offerings. Roy declared the resort to be "Walt Disney World" to honor his late brother; he later died on December 20 that year.
Today, the resort has grown to cover much of its massive land, encompassing four theme parks, two (formerly three) water parks, many resort hotels, and more.
The main attractions
- Magic Kingdom:note "East Coast Disneyland". The resort's first theme park (and second park overall for the company) opened on October 1, 1971 as a larger copy of its west coast counterpart, and has since become the most popular theme park in the world for at least twelve years running. It's the only Disneyland-styled park to not use the Disneyland name. Its icon, the 189 feet (58 meters) tall Cinderella Castle,note is globally famous. It's also actually built one level above the ground due to Florida's high water table, on top of the park's well-known Utilidors. In another oddity, the entrance to the park does not directly face a plaza or a parking lot, but rather the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon; the park's parking lot is located across it, and guests need to take a monorail or a ferryboat from the Transportation and Ticket Center over there to reach it. It currently comprises of six (seven previously) lands:
- Main Street, U.S.A.: Like its Disneyland counterpart, it's based on an early 20th century American small town. However, instead of being based on one or two real-life locations, it instead encompasses a number of architectural styles from around the country, like Missouri and New England. This is most apparent at the "four corners" midway down the street. It has a fully-operational barber shop near the firehouse, and an exposition hall instead of an opera house. The upper story windows have the names of fake businesses named after real people who were affiliated to Disney, arranged like the opening credits of a movie. You can also head into the firehouse and take place in the park-wide Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom game, where you use trading cards to defeat different Disney Villains.
- Adventureland: Much bigger than the one in Disneyland, it's actually split into two sub-areas; the Arabian Village where the The Magic Carpets of Aladdin is found, and Caribbean Plaza, which has the park's version of Pirates of the Caribbean. The original version's jungle and Polynesian themes are still found around attractions such as Swiss Family Treehouse, the Jungle Cruise, and The Enchanted Tiki Room, the latter which saw a much-maligned updated version with Iago and Zazu taking over from 1998 to 2011.
- Frontierland: Identical to and, again, larger than the one in Disneyland, themed after the American Old West. However, this one feels like a mash-up of Disneyland's Frontierland and (pre-Winnie the Pooh) Critter Country, as both Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Rivers of America with Tom Sawyer Island are featured alongside Splash Mountain and the sole remaining Country Bear Jamboree in the U.S.
- Liberty Square: The park's smallest land and the only one completely unique to the Magic Kingdom, themed after colonial America rather than early 20th century New Orleans (since the real thing is not as far from Florida as it is from California). Remaining practically unchanged since the park's opening in 1971, it features replicas of the Liberty Tree and the Liberty Bell,note the park's own version of The Haunted Mansion off to a back corner, and The Hall of Presidents show in a theater presiding over the square. The dock for the Liberty Belle Riverboat is also located here.
- Fantasyland: This park's Fantasyland has grown to become so big (thanks to the "New Fantasyland" expansion in the early to mid-2010s) that it's divided up into three sections:
- The Castle Courtyard is the classic portion of the land, with medieval and Bavarian village themes. Besides Cinderella Castle at the entrance, it features Prince Charming Regal Carrousel,note Mickey's Philharmagic, ports of Peter Pan's Flight and It's a Small World, and a Tangled-themed rest area.
- Enchanted Forest was built over the former area used for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage (which ran from opening day to 1994) and takes inspiration from many of Disney's animated films. Along with the pre-expansion rides Mad Tea Party and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, it also features Seven Dwarfs Mine Train,note Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and a small Beauty and the Beast-themed area with a quick service and table service restaurant called Be Our Guest Restaurant.
- Storybook Circus replaced Mickey's Toontown Fairnote and is themed after Dumbo and certain aspects of the Classic Disney Shorts. It features The Barnstormer featuring the Great Goofini and the park's version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which was moved over here after the renovation and now includes a second version going in the opposite direction and an indoor interactive queue area.
- Tomorrowland: After the "New Tomorrowland" renovation in The '90s, the park's version of Tomorrowland carries a retro-futurist sci-fi feel, although several attractions such as Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin,note Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and the infamous Stitch's Great Escape!note are based on recent, modern-day-based Disney properties. That said, it's also home to some all-time classics including Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, the original Space Mountain, the high-in-the-air Astro Orbiter (formerly Star Jets), the still-operating Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and the ever-shortening Tomorrowland Speedway. A roller coaster called TRON Lightcycle Power Run is also under construction here.
- Epcot:note A "permanent World's Fair" that's twice the size of the Magic Kingdom, this park is based on Walt Disney's idea of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tommorow", a city that would have constantly changed with new ideas and technologies. His death led to the company putting the kibosh on his fanciful concept, but they still decided to honor the idea with this park based on technological innovation and global culture. Opened on the resort's eleventh anniversary on October 1, 1982, it was the largest and most expensive construction project on Earth at the time it opened, taking three years and costing an estimated $800 million to $1.4 billion dollars to build. Its geodesic sphere icon at the front of the park, that 180-foot high, 165-feet in diameter, giant golf ball called Spaceship Earth, is also globally famous. It's also literally the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of theme parks; story goes that the Imagineers couldn't decide whether to build a futuristic park or a park with an international World's Fair theme, so two models featuring those concepts were pushed together and the rest is history.
- Future World, divided between "East" and "West", is the futuristic northern half of the park focusing on the advancements and innovations of science and technology.
- East has the thrill ride pavilions of Mission: Space (an advanced, "space-faring" motion simulator that replaced fan-favorite dark ride Horizons) and Test Track (a giant slot car ride focused on transportation in the old World of Motion building and the resort's fastest attraction). Spaceship Earth's communication-focused dark ride within its building is also zoned to this area despite being the northernmost attraction of the park. Unfortunately, this side has become rather light on pavilions, since the other two pavilions over here, Universe of Energy (which featured Ellen's Energy Adventure during its later years) and Wonders of Life (which featured Cranium Command, Body Wars, and The Making of Me) have both since closed. While Energy will be replaced by a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed indoor roller coaster, Wonders of Life is now only used as a festival center for Epcot's annual seasonal festivals, and the rides within have been slowly dismantled over the years. The pavilion will be converted into the Play Pavilion to be open by the resort's 50th anniversary in 2021, with the theme being an interactive city filled with Disney characters.
- West makes up for its lack of thrill rides with more substantially filled pavilions. The Seas with Nemo and Friends (formerly The Living Seas) features one of the largest saltwater aquariums in the world, a dark ride based on the Pixar film Finding Nemo, and an interactive show called Turtle Talk with Crush where you can totally talk with the Surfer Dude turtle from the movies. The Land has the sole thrill ride of Future World West, Soarin' Around the World (a high-flying 4D film where The World Is Just Awesome),note along with Living with the Land (a dark ride and greenhouse tour about agriculture), a nice food court, and a restaurant featuring some of the foods grown at the pavilion. The Imagination! pavilion features Journey into Imagination with Figment, a dark ride featuring a small purple dragon who serves as Epcot's unofficial mascot.
- Between the two is Innoventions Plaza, featuring Innoventions (previously CommuniCore), where companies showcase innovative new products (although there are much less companies doing so nowadays). It also has the Fountain of Nations, a couple quick service restaurants, the big MouseGear store, and Coca-Cola's Club Cool. (Psst! Try Beverly!) Enjoy it while you can, though, because Disney plans to tear down the (admittedly dated and poorly laid-out for casual parkgoers) area to replace it with green spaces, new paths, and a few new smaller buildings as part of a major multi-year renovation planned for the park.
- World Showcase: Circling around the man-made World Showcase Lagoon, Epcot's southern half features eleven nations condensed into literal theme park versions as pavilions. Going clockwise from Future World, guests can walk between Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, host pavilion The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada, within the span of a half-hour. Some of these pavilions have been hijacked by Disney films in the years since—The Three Caballeros are performing in Mexico, Remy's going to infest France, and Norway is practically Arendelle now—but at least the cast members working in this land are represented by actual native citizens of the countries they represent. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth plays every night all around the lagoon, although a new nighttime show will replace it in the second half of 2019 as part of Epcot's renovation, so enjoy it while you can. World Showcase also has two sub-pavilions; the Outpost, an African-inspired refreshment stand and shop between Germany and the footbridge next to China, and the International Gateway, a second entrance to the park between the United Kingdom and France that leads to most of the resorts of the Epcot Resort Area. It appears you can also become a recruit for the Organization Without A Cool Acronym here as well.
- Future World, divided between "East" and "West", is the futuristic northern half of the park focusing on the advancements and innovations of science and technology.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios:note As the name implies, it's a park inspired by The Golden Age of Hollywood. It opened on May 1, 1989 as both a theme park and a working production studio, including backlots, soundstages, and even a satellite animation studio for Walt Disney Feature Animation; Mulan (1998), Lilo & Stitch (2002), and Brother Bear (2003) were all produced here.
This park has gone through so many changes over the years that it's the only Disney park were none of the original attractions from opening day still exist; the last one—The Great Movie Ride—closed in 2017. It has even gone through a few icons over the years. The first was the "Earffel Tower", a faux water tower with giant Mickey Mouse ears that was located outside of the normal guest area of the park. It was replaced in 2001 by the Sorcerer's Hat, a giant hat structure and pin trading store based on Yen Sid's hat in Fantasia. It was initially built in front of The Great Movie Ride for the 100 Years of Magic celebration at the resort (celebrating what would have been Walt Disney's one-hundredth birthday), but Disney kept it around until January 2015 when they took it apart. The Earffel Tower still existed during the Hat's existence, but it wasn't reinstated as the park icon; in fact, it was removed in 2016 to make way for Toy Story Land. Today, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard serves as the park's de facto icon in Disney's marketing, since it always has been one of the most popular and famous attractions (and easily the biggest one) at the park.note
- Hollywood Boulevard: Inspired by the Real Life street of the same name, it serves as the park's "Main Street" (à la Main Street, U.S.A.), lined with streetscape facades filled with stores. The entrance gates are styled after the late Pan-Pacific Auditorium, there is a recreation of the Crossroads of the World with a Mickey Mouse statue on top just after the gate, and at the end of the boulevard is an exact replica of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which used to house The Great Movie Ride and will soon be home to Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.
- Echo Lake: Based on Echo Park in Los Angeles, it has building and facades styled after the Art Deco-inspired "California Crazy" architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age. It primarily surrounds the small namesake lake and features Star Tours, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!, and For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, plus the ABC Commissary and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, the latter which is inspired by old drive-in theaters of the 1950s with classic convertible tables and a screen showing clips of old sci-fi B-movies.
- Grand Avenue: Named after the L.A. street, it's currently styled after a gentrified historic district. This used to be a much larger section called the Streets of America, which had working backlots based on the streets of New York City and San Francisco. The only attraction here is Muppet*Vision 3D, a 4D film which was going to be the main attraction of a whole land themed after The Muppets, but Jim Henson's death prevented that. After most of the Streets of America closed in April 2016 to make way for the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the area was renamed Muppets Courtyard, but this was only a placeholder name until the renovations of the remaining area were completed in September 2017, when it took on its current name.
- Toy Story Land: The park's newest land since 2018, themed after the famous Pixar franchise. A port of similarly-named lands in other Disney Parks outside the U.S., it's made to look like Andy's backyard from the perspective of a toy. Its main attraction is Toy Story Mania!, an interactive 4D shooting gallery dark ride that opened in 2008 as part of a land called Pixar Place. The ride was expanded and the entrance moved upon Toy Story Land's opening, which also led to Pixar Place's closing. The other two attractions here are Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers.
- Animation Courtyard: Marked by a square arch, this section used to be the starting point of the Studio Backlot Tour tram ride that ran through the park. It has a building that used to be home of The Magic of Disney Animation, a walking tour that included a walk past an actual Disney animation studio. Today, it's used for a Star Wars meet-and-greet. Two shows, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Disney Junior Dance Party, and a walk-through gallery about the life and legacy of Walt Disney are located here.
- Sunset Boulevard: Opened in 1994 as the park's first expansion section and inspired by the famous street in L.A., it's home to the famed drop tower ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Another thrill ride, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, is located right next to it. Another two shows also run here: Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage! and the nighttime spectacle Fantasmic!.
- Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: Opening on August 29, 2019, after its Disneyland counterpart, this land will be based on the famous Space Opera franchise, taking place on the planet Batuu. It will feature two attractions; Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, where guest can "pilot" the Millennium Falcon itself, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, where guests can fight the First Order. A Star Wars-themed resort hotel coming much later will also be built next to this land exclusively for Walt Disney World.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom: The newest of the four theme parks, which opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998. A zoological theme park based on Walt Disney's beliefs in animal conservation and the natural environment, it features a giant artificial baobab tree called the Tree of Life, which has 325 carvings of animals living and extinct all around its trunk and roots.
- The Oasis: This park's equivalent of Main Street, U.S.A. is filled with animal exhibits and dense vegetation. It's meant to be a transitional buffer between the natural world of the park and the outside world of man. A Rainforest Cafe is located just outside the park gates near here.
- Discovery Island: The central hub of the park was formerly named Safari Village until after the closure of a small zoological park on Bay Lake called Discovery Island in 1999. Surrounded by the Discovery River and connecting to most of the other lands via bridges, it features the Tree of Life, gift shops, and a couple major restaurants. A 3D film called It's Tough to Be a Bug!, based on the Pixar film A Bug's Life, is featured inside the Tree of Life itself.
- Pandora The World of Avatar: The newest land of the park, themed after James Cameron's Avatar, opened in May 2017, replacing the American wilderness camp-themed Camp Minnie-Mickey. Read the Ride page for more information.
- Africa: Taking place in a fictitious East African port village called Harambe,note it features Kilimanjaro Safaris, which takes guests on a safari expedition through the fictional Harambe Wildlife Preserve, where guests can look at real African animals and save a baby elephant from poachers. It also features the Festival of the Lion King, which was previously located in the former Camp Minnie-Mickey area for some reason.
- Rafiki's Planet Watch: The only land can cannot be accessed by foot, guests have to ride the Wildlife Express Train to reach this area. This is most traditionally zoo-like of all the lands at the park. It features exhibits based on conservation, animal care, and the protection of endangered species. It also has a petting zoo.
- Asia: The first expansion area of the park, it takes place in a fictional kingdom called Anandapur (Sanskrit for "place of many delights"). It first opened in 1999 with Kali River Rapids, a river rapids ride touching upon illegal logging and habitat destruction, and Maharajah Jungle Trek, a walking trail featuring several Asian animals. The land was later expanded in 2006 with Expedition Everest Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a roller coaster where guests come face-to-face with a yeti in the tallest artificial mountain in all the Disney Parks. In addition, a nighttime show called Rivers of Light opened in February 2017 in the lagoon near the land.
- DinoLand U.S.A.: Themed around dinosaurs and prehistoric life, this land is primarily split into two areas. A fictitious paleontological facility called the Dino Institute is home to Dinosaur,note a dark ride where guests time travel to the Late Cretaceous period just before the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. The Boneyard playground is just nearby. The other area, Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama, has the Primeval Whirl roller coaster, TriceraTop Spin, and carnival games. The Theater in the Wild hosts a decidedly non-prehistoric themed show, Finding Nemo The Musical.
- Disney's River Country was the company's first water park, located along the shores of Bay Lake next to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. It lasted from June 20, 1976 to November 2, 2001. It was themed after an old-fashioned swimming hole and used the actual waters of the adjacent lake—albeit heavily filtered to get rid of the harmful bacteria and water moccasins that plague Florida's inland waters—for its pools, one of which had a sandy bottom. Probably one of the defining features of the park was Slippery Slide Falls, a pair of water slides that emptied into the Upstream Plunge pool. As the years went on, River Country later became outdated by the two bigger water parks mentioned below. After its closure, Disney left the park to deteriorate until 2018, when they announced that a new deluxe resort would be built over the park's former grounds.
- Disney's Typhoon Lagoon is the second water park, opened on June 1, 1989, and it currently stands as the oldest operating Disney water park after River Country's closure. It's also the only park actually located within Lake Buena Vista city limits. It's themed after a tropical bay paradise that was ravaged by a powerful typhoon. The shipwreck icon of the park, "Miss Tilly", stands at the center impaled by Mount Mayday, spewing a 50-foot (15 m) water geyser every half hour. The park's two biggest attractions includes a water coaster called Crush 'n' Gusher and one of the world's largest outdoor wave pools. There was also Shark Reef, a salt water reef where guests could snorkel above sharks, stingrays, and tropical fish, but Disney closed it in 2016 to build Miss Adventure Falls, a raft ride through a salvage operation of a shipwrecked treasure hunting ship owned by Society of Explorers and Adventurers member Mary Oceaneer and her parrot Duncan.
- Disney's Blizzard Beach is the third and most recent Disney water park, having opened on April 1, 1995. The theme is (according to the park's "legend") that of a ski resort that was built after a freak snowstorm occurred in Florida, only for snow to naturally melt away. After its operators saw a blue alligator called "Ice Gator" careening down Mount Gushmore in the snowmelt, they turned the ski resort into a water park. The flagship attraction of the park is the 120-foot (36.6 m) tall Summit Plummet, where guest can ride down Mount Gushmore at speeds up to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). Other attractions include Teamboat Springs and Slush Gusher on the Green Slope (which also has Summit Plummet and can be accessed by either chairlift or climbing stairs); Downhill Double Dipper, Snow Stormers, and Toboggan Racers on the racing-focused Purple Slope; and the Red Slope's only attraction Runoff Rapids, among several other attractions on ground level.
- Disney Springsnote is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment district. The current theming is that of a fictional Floridian coastal town. It's currently divided into four districts:
- The Marketplace is the oldest district and features the World of Disney store, a LEGO Store, and a Rainforest Cafe, among other stores and restaurants. It currently carries an 1930s American Craftsman style.
- The Landing used to be Pleasure Island, a nighttime entertainment district with dance clubs and comedy clubs themed as a reclaimed sailmaking factory complex owned by lost adventurer and industrialist Merriweather Adam Pleasure that lasted from May 1, 1989 (the same day Disney's Hollywood Studios opened) to September 27, 2008. It wasn't until 2015 that it eventually became The Landing, which depicts Disney Springs's fictional transportation hub and marina. It features a full-size replica (but stationary) paddle steamer riverboat named the Empress Lilly, which currently features the Paddlefish restaurant.
- The West Side used to be just an AMC movie theater and a Planet Hollywood, but the general area was expanded to become Downtown Disney West Side in 1997, which held an eclectic feel. The "indoor interactive theme park" DisneyQuest and the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba used to operate in this area; DisneyQuest was closed in 2017 to make way for an NBA attraction, and La Nouba played its final show at the end of the same year to make way for a new Cirque show. Today, the West Side depicts Disney Springs's exposition center, which was "built" in The '50s.
- The Town Center opened in 2016 as the newest district. With 1920s-based Spanish Revival architecture, it's the "central business district" of the "town" and has the namesake artificial "springs". It has a bunch of well-known high-end retailers over there.
- The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complexnote is an athletic complex featuring several sports venues including baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, a track and field complex, and multi-purpose arenas.
- Walt Disney World Golf is the name given to several golf courses located on Walt Disney World property.
- Disney's Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses are two 18-hole courses located next to the Polynesian Village resort, and have been in operation since the opening of Disney World in 1971. Until 2012 they hosted the Walt Disney World Golf Classic, an annual golf tournament formerly on the PGA Tour. The Palm is considered to be the more scenic of the two, while the Magnolia is the more challenging course.
- Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course is a nine-hole walking course located at the Palm and Magnolia. While not as challenging as its sister courses, it does offer a more relaxing, family-friendly experience, as well as programs such as FootGolf. It's also certified by Audubon International as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Disney's Lake Buena Vista Golf Course is an 18-hole course which opened in 1972 and is currently located at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort, though half of it is located in Disney's Old Key West Resort next door. The most "open" of the courses, it meanders through the two aforementioned resorts as well as near Disney Springs. It is also certified as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary by Audubon International.
- Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando is an 18-hole course that is, as the name suggests, not operated by Disney. It was formerly known as Disney's Osprey Ridge Golf Course and was reworked to include the surviving greens from its sister course, Disney's Eagle Pines Golf Course, which was removed in the early 2010s to make room for Disney's Golden Oak residential community. While no longer an official Disney course, it is located on Disney property and leased to Four Seasons by Disney.
- Disney's Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf are two 18-hole miniature golf courses located next to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts. The Gardens feature eighteen scenes from five segments of Fantasia (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Nutcracker Suite, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice), while the Fairways are a more traditional, challenging course.
- Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf are two 18-hole miniature golf courses located at Disney's Blizzard Beach water park, just outside the park gates. While themed differently, both the Summer and Winter courses are similar to each other in terms of difficulty.