The Start of Something Big
Walt Disney World first opened to the public in 1971, after Walt Disney Productions began looking for a place large enough to put a second park in 1959. Since Disney knew that announcing another vast theme park would create an artificial influx of interest in the surrounding land, Disney used many dummy corporations to acquire the full amount of land they’d need. This included real estate agents approaching landowners in secret and offering to purchase their land without revealing the true reasons behind the transaction. In fact, the agents themselves often didn’t even know who their client was. As a result, some pieces were acquired for as low as $100 per acre.
Everything the Light Touches
Walt Disney World isn’t just a big park; it’s monstrously huge. In fact, it encompasses an astounding 30,500 acres of land – which equals out to about 48 square miles. To put that in perspective, the entire city of San Francisco only works out to about 47 square miles. This makes Walt Disney World the largest theme park complex in North America by far, and among the largest in the world as a whole. It’s actually difficult to categorize Disney World, since it’s a complex of theme parks and not just one individual park.
With such a large area covered, it’s not hard to imagine that Disney World’s annual attendance numbers are staggering. Magic Kingdom takes in 17.5 million people every year on average, followed by Epcot which takes in another 11 million. Hollywood Studios gets almost to 10 million, and Animal Kingdom comes in just short of that. All in all, more than 52 million people make the journey to Disney World each and every year. Considering that on opening day Disney World took in just 10,000 guests, this is quite an improvement! While tickets today start at around $100, they were only $3.50 when the park first opened
The iconic Spaceship Earth structure at the Epcot Center in Disney World is a sight that even people who have never been there would recognize. It doesn’t just look pretty, though. Spaceship Earth is a feat of engineering by nearly any standard. The structure weighs a staggering 15,520,000 lbs (7,040,000 kg), and has 11,324 tiles making up its outer geodesic surface. It also stands an incredible 180 feet tall. Construction of the gigantic ball took more than 2 years, and the total cost to complete the construction is not known. What is known, however, is that Epcot as a whole had a budget of only $600 million, and the final cost was closer to $1.4 billion.
In The Kingdom
Another iconic Disney World mega-build is the Tree of Life. At home in the Animal Kingdom theme park, the Tree of Life stands more than 14 stories tall, and has more than 300 animal carvings on its surface. It’s also more than 50 feet wide, and sits on its own island at the center of the park. Most shocking of all, though, are the origins of the Tree of Life. It’s actually constructed from the remnants of a retired oil platform, the kind which is used to drill for oil at sea. This gives new meaning to the circle of life!
A popular attraction at Disney World is the Walt Disney World Railroad. One of the things that makes people love it so much is the authentic feeling they get from it; something about the train just takes them into the past. Part of this might be because of the fact that the Disney Railroad is an authentic steam train. It comprises four locomotives, which were originally built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928 and are considered to be pieces of history. Each locomotive pulls five passenger cars, which each hold 75 passengers. All said and done, the railroad hauls more than 1.5 million passengers each year.
Salute To The Flag
The Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat is a favorite attraction for military members, both active and retired. It shows Disney’s deep patriotic roots and ties to true American culture, and it also pays respect to the men and women who serve our country. One of the coolest things about the attraction, however, is that veterans can participate in the Flag Lowering ceremony. All they have to do is identify themselves as a veteran, and Disney staff will make a random selection. The ceremony takes place each day at 5pm on Main Street, USA.
Coining The Phrase
It’s no secret that guests love to throw coins into any body of water they can. Fountains, lakes, rivers, pools, what have you – Disney World guests simply love to throw their spare change into water while making a wish. Disney doesn’t let that money go to waste – so much of it is gathered up each year that Disney is able to make a sizeable donation to a charity called Give Kids The World. This charity is similar to the Make a Wish foundation, and aims to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
Open For Business
Over the long course of its history, Disney World has actually only had to close on four occasions. The first time was in 1999, when Hurricane Floyd loomed and threatened to do damage to the park and potentially cause injuries. The next time the park closed was in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. The third closure was in 2002 due to a massive power failure, and the most recent closure was October 6th of 2016, this time due to Hurricane Matthew. The 9/11 closure was the result of concern that Disney World could be a potential target, and it only took staff 30 minutes to evacuate the entire complex.
No Muss, No Fuss
When you look into the facts about Disney World, it sometimes can really seem like they thought of everything. For instance, guests at Disney World are never more than 30 feet from a trash can. Guests in Walt Disney World are never more than 30 steps away from a trash can. This is mentioned to guests during the Keys to the Kingdom tour, and it holds up. Apparently Walt Disney himself tested how long a person would hold onto a piece of trash before discarding it, and decided there needed to be receptacles every 30 or so feet in his park.
Tunnel Of Love
One of the most important things for Walt Disney during the creation of his parks was the idea that the illusion should never be broken. To this end, he didn’t want guests to see staff moving around in order to restock, fix things, clean messes, or even just take a break. This is why he had a massive tunnel system built underneath Disney World. This system, which has miles of tunnels, allows staff to quickly move throughout the park both without being seen by guests or obstructed by them. Interestingly, these tunnels aren’t actually underground – they’re technically at ground level, and the park itself is technically on the “second story”.
Lost and Found
With so many people traversing Disney World every day, it’s no secret that things get lost. People can be careless, and when they’re distracted that’s even more true. The most commonly lost items are sunglasses and cell phones, with upwards of 200 each being lost each and every day. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s impossible to recover these items. That said, Disney Cast Members go to great lengths to help, and the Disney World Lost and Found takes in thousands of items daily.
Not A Drop To Drink
The Seas with Nemo & Friends, formerly called the Living Seas, is truly a sight to behold. Located within the Epcot park, the aquarium is the second-largest in the United States. It holds nearly 6 million gallons of water, and has been open since 1986. The aquarium went through a major overhaul in 2003, in response to the recently released Finding Nemo Pixar film. The remodeling efforts took about 3 years to complete; finally finishing up in 2006.
Building An Army
The Disney World cast is a force to be reckoned with. Each and every day, they tirelessly assemble to bring the park and its characters to life. They greet millions of fans and guests, clean up messes, turn frowns upside down, and just generally exude magic. This doesn’t happen by accident, though. Disney World itself employs more than 60,000 cast members, and is one of the largest single-site employers in the United States.
Keep It Moving
Disney has had to come up with quite a lot of original innovations to keep their attractions magical over the years. One of the most complex and interesting of these is their Omnimover system, which is responsible for the magic behind many of their most alluring attractions. The system was first designed in 1967, and has evolved quite a bit since then. Nowadays, the concept is used with the help of lighting systems and projectors to draw the line of sight of visitors and focus them on the elements Disney wants. The seats move at a constant speed of about 2 feet per second, even when passengers are loading and unloading. To help passengers get on, a conveyor belt runs alongside the track in the loading zone, and moves at the same speed. Passengers simply step off the belt and into their seats.
Let Freedom Ring
At Liberty Square in Disney World, replicas of both the Liberty Bell and the Liberty Tree can be found. Something interesting to know about this is that Disney’s Liberty Bell replica was actually cast from the same mould which was used for the actual Liberty Bell. As of 2007, Liberty Square is the only land within Disney World which has not undergone significant refurbishment and is still in its mostly original state.
Give You The Moon
Since opening in 1971, the Disney World monorail system has rapidly transported visitors all around the parks and attractions, and is one of the only ways it’s possible to take in even a significant portion of the complex in a single visit. The monorails have run nonstop during that time, and have covered so much distance it’s estimated that they could have made more than 30 trips to the Moon and back.
Disney Or Bussed
Besides the monorail system, Disney also has an extensive network of buses to transport guests around the complex. This bus system contains 290 individual buses, all of which are operated by Disney staff and none of which charge a fare. The buses don’t just transport visitors around the park, however; they will also pick you up from Disney resort hotels, and run to Disney Springs until 2am. The Disney World bus system is so vast and thorough that it’s actually the third largest public transportation system in Florida.
Feeding The Hungry
With hundreds of thousands of visitors churning through the parks each and every day, Disney World has to have a serious food system in place to keep everyone fed. And they do indeed – Disney World has more than 300 places to grab a bite over its sprawling real estate. On the menu are more than 6,000 different items, so selection is no problem. All in all, more than 10 million hamburgers, 7 million hot dogs, and 9 million pounds of French fries are consumed by Disney World guests each and every year.