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Walt Disney World > Overview
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The Walt Disney World Resort:
An Overview

Since Walt Disney first announced his "Florida Project" in the 1960's, this tract of swampland in the middle of nowhere has blossomed into an entertainment and resort destination unlike anything else in the world.

There's so much to do here that entire books have been written about this one place (see our bibliography for some of them) so this feature will have to be a quick overview, blocking out the high spots and trying to make sense of it all. Features that look at different aspects of the resort in detail can be found in our Orlando Theme Park Guide's Walt Disney World Resort section, or use the links within this feature for more detailed information.

The Theme Parks

The Magic Kingdom was the first of the four Theme Parks to open here, and to many people it is still synonymous with Walt Disney World. It's the park most like the older Disneyland in California -- not a copy, but a second generation, larger and built with bigger crowds in mind. Here's where most of the Disney "signature" attractions are found: The Jungle Cruse, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, It's A Small World, Dumbo, and the three mountains -- Space, Splash, and Big Thunder. It's also where you'll find Cinderella Castle and the country home of a certain M. Mouse.

EPCOT, which opened in 1982, started as Walt Disney's dream of a managed city of the future, but ended as a sort of permanent world's fair and industrial exhibition. Its hourglass design separates its two sections: Future World and World Showcase.

Future World is the home of massive, corporate sponsored pavilions with an educational mission mixed into the advertising. They include The Land (sponsored by Nestle), an exhibit of futuristic farming; Mission: Space (sponsored by HP), a simulated mission to Mars, and the GM Test Track (sponsored by General Motors).

World Showcase plays host to pavilions recreating a sort of archetypical tourist image of various nations. This is where some of the best shopping and dining is to be had in Walt Disney World, with shops stocked with unusual merchandise from each country, and restaurants offering French pastries, British Ale, and Octoberfest all year long. Other attractions include several films, boat rides in Mexico (tame) and Norway (wilder), and, representing the United States, one of the best and most complex shows Disney has ever attempted: The American Adventure, an audioanamatronic tribute to American history.

Disney 's Hollywood Studios Theme Park (Formerly Disney/MGM Studios) is smaller than the other parks, but still packs a full day of fun. Highlights here include the tour of the working Studios, The Great Movie Ride, Muppet Vision 4D, The Animation Studios, the Star Tours simulator ride, and the incredible Twilight Zone Tower of Terror drop ride. Numerous live shows, generally based on Disney movies, also round out the offerings.

Disney's Animal Kingdom is the newest theme park here and an unusual mix of live animal attraction and Disney theming. Top attractions in this kingdom include Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids, It's Tough To Be A Bug, and the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Water Parks

Typhoon Lagoon is a water park with slides, pools and such, but with the twist of inventive and playful Disney theming.

Blizzard Beach not only has some of the longest, steepest waterslides in the world, but one of the most imaginative themes -- it's a Florida ski lodge turned water park when the snow started to melt.

More Entertainment

Downtown Disney is the entertainment district on the Lake Buena Vista side of the park, bringing together: The Downtown Disney Marketplace collection of shops and restaurants, Pleasure Island and its nightclubs, shops, and multiplex cinema, and Disney's West Side area with even more theme restaurants, shopping, and the DisneyQuest high-tech arcade.

Disney's Boardwalk is a more laid-back nightspot, with shops and nightclubs like the ESPN Club.

The Disney Fairy Tale Weddings Pavilion offers custom (and expensive) packages for weddings, complete with reception and honeymoon. Glass slippers extra.


Walt Disney World offers a range of Resorts, from world class resort hotels like the Grand Floridian down to the cheaper and more motel like All Star Resorts. There's also the Fort Wilderness campground for both tents and RV's, and the timeshare Disney Vacation Club. You could have a pretty good vacation here without ever visiting the parks, with tennis, horseback riding, golf, water sports, spas, and other resort amenities available to guests. Convention facilities are also available.

The Swan and Dolphin Hotels, on Disney property near Epcot but not actually managed by Disney, offer their own convention center and resort lifestyle.

Also on the edge of Disney property are the Official Hotels of Walt Disney World in Disney Village, offering some of the perks of staying in the World along with a great location not too far from Pleasure Island.

Sports Complexes

Walt Disney World has four 18-hole championship Golf Courses plus a nine-hole family-play course, and plays host to the PGA tour. And if you don't like the big links, there's always Miniature Golf.

Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, offers spring training baseball and a complete track and field complex, as well as tennis, volleyball, and other sports. They host a wide range of sporting events throughout the year with the NCAA, AAU, and other organizations participating.

The Walt Disney World Speedway (known to the irreverent as "the Mickyard") is a full scale indy class professional track built in what used to be part of the main parking lot. The Richard Petty Driving Experience offers guests a chance to ride in or drive a real NASCAR style racing car.


Walt's city of the future is finally being built -- sort of. Celebration is a planned community being built by Disney in Osceola County. The intent is to build a pedestrian friendly, neighborly community with a mixture of Victorian and ultra-modern architecture. The result is heavy deed restrictions, high prices, and, so say the critics, an eerie, "Stepford Town" quality. It's a nice place to visit ...

For More Information

See our Orlando Theme Parks Guide coverage of the Walt Disney World Resort for more Walt Disney World information and resources.

Copyright (c) 2002-2011 by Robert H. Brown
All Rights Reserved.
Theme Park City's Orlando Theme Park Guide is an independent information source
not affiliated with the Walt Disney World Resort or any other theme park operator.