10 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Walt Disney World’s History
Since 1971, children everywhere have asked for one thing over (and over and over) again for every holiday and birthday: “A trip to Disney World!” As iconic as American football, the best-known (and arguably, most beloved) theme park in the world has a past as interesting – and magical! – as it’s properties. From why Walt Disney decided to create this multi-acre destination in Florida to how his memory lived on through his brother Roy, these need-to-know facts about Disney World will get you amped up for your upcoming trip. Don’t have one planned? No biggie – we bet you’ll be so dazzled by it’s rich history that you’ll book a getaway, ASAP.
Here are 10 fun facts you didn’t know about Walt Disney World’s history:
1- Walt Disney Built All of the Land, Secretly
If you’re a fan of inspirational quotes (especially when you need that #MondayMotivation), then you’ve probably bookmarked a goodie from the founder and creator of Disney, Walt Disney. From the time he first penned Mickey & Minnie, he had a vision for what his brand would be and worked tirelessly up until his death to make it a reality for millions across the globe. Though Disneyland was the first park to open in 1955, less than a decade later, Walt started investing in a secret project in Central Florida. Quietly, he bought millions of dollars-worth of farmland. No one knew who was buying up these acres throughout most of 1964 and 1965, up until Walt went public on November 15. He announced that he was creating the ‘world’s most spectacular theme park’ – and well? The world better get ready – no pun intended.
2- The Total Cost Was $400 Million
While the splendor of Disney World has grown for decades (and continues to), it wasn’t created for chump change. Estimates put the total cost of the construction, up until the opening in October 1971 at $400 million. And get this: that didn’t even include the perks and additions that so many associate with Disney today, like Epcot. The silver lining was in job opportunity, though, considering that 9,000 people were employed to make Walt Disney World a reality. These days? Disney World itself – not including any other branch of Disney – gives 62,000 people a paycheck.
In a 2-year construction effort, Disney employed 9,000 people. Land speculation reached unprecedented heights, as hotel chains and restaurateurs grabbed up property near the proposed park. Mere swampland sold for millions. The total cost of the project by its October 1971 opening was $400 million.
3- Admission was $3.50 on Opening Day
Those these days you’re looking at an admission price tag around $90 per person, if you had the chance to walk through the gates in Disney World’s inaugural days, you didn’t have to fork over quite as much. These days, that $3.50 would translate to $20.86, when you calculate inflation.
4- Julie Andrews, Bob Hope and More Celebrities Walked in With Mickey Mouse
October 23, 1971 was a big ‘ole day in Disney’s history, with Disney World officially open for visitors. The official celebration hosted Julie Andrews, Bob hope, Jonathan Winters, Annette Funicello and Fred MacMurray, along with the greatest star of all – Mickey Mouse! A day later, influencers and celebrities celebrated the historical moment at Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Village Resorts, and October 25 was deemed the ‘Dedication Day’ for the park. As guests started to arrive that day, broadcasters streamed coverage for the networks to see for three days.
5- In the First Two Years, 20 Million Visitors Came
Though it’s estimated that nearly 20 million people come to Disney World each year, with an average of 52,000 guests a day, attracting a big crowd in the first two years of it’s opening was a big day back in the 1970s. People drove and flew from all over the world to witness the animated genius firsthand and of course, to catch a ride on the attractions and meet their favorite characters for an autograph they could definitely write home to grandma about.
6- It Changed Orlando Forever
Though these days, Orlando is on the bucket list of every kid (and okay, adults too), before Walt Disney World built his kingdom, this small Florida town wasn’t known for much other than growing oranges. But once Disney cast a spell on the country, tourism boomed and other attractions and businesses started to arrive, with SeaWorld as an example, in 1973. Of course, the executives at Disney knew he had to keep growing with the boom, adding Epcot in 1983. Over the course of decades (and even still happening today), resorts, shopping, dining, campgrounds and recreational facilities are all populating, too. The latest big addition, of course, was Animal Kingdom in 1998.
7- Walt’s Idea Was That Disney World Would be a True Escape
When Walt Disney had the idea for this theme park, he wanted to create an alternative reality, one where folks of any age could truly escape and feel like they were part of wonderland. Tragically, Walt Disney passed away in 1966, so we will never know what his true vision was for the park, but his brother Roy O. did his best to continue his legacy and ideas, up until his also unfortunate passing, in 1971. Roy O’s son, Roy E’, kept the family tradition going, creating much of what Disney World is known for today. One of his biggest contributions is keeping Disney secluded – instead of making it part of downtown or situated between highways – so that magic could be preserved for generations to come.
8- Walt Disney’s Brother Changed the Name of the Park
Before the park opened, it was going to be simply Disney World, but because of his brother’s passing, Roy O pushed to have ‘Walt’ added. This serves as a forever-memory and legacy of his brother, who wanted all visitor’s experiences to exceed expectations, time and time again.
9- There’s Secret Pathways Underneath the Grounds
When you’re walking along Main Street or checking out Cinderella’s castle, take a moment to pause and look down at your feet. Why? Believe it or not, when Disney World was created, they purposefully build underground pathways below ground level, to make getting from one side of the park fast and undisruptive to guests. So if you ever wonder why the only chaos you witness is a toddler meltdown, that’s why!
10- Today, it’s the size of two Manhattans
It might seem kind of insane to think about how massive Disney World is (and um, how in the world you’d ever get around to see it all!) – but stick with us. From the parks to the resorts and legit everything in between, WDW is a whopping 40 square miles. Not sure how to put that into perspective? That’s about the size of San Francisco, or two of New York City’s main island, Manhattan. Wowzer.
A travel agent knows all the secrets
While these are some interesting, unique facts, you know who will really have the scoop? A trained and trusted travel agent who specializes in Disney World travel. To get the most out of your family vacation, book a meeting today to plan a serendipitous getaway, rich in history, laughter and mouse ears.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and have fun on your own Disney vacation!