With the evident success of Disneyland, Walt Disney quickly began looking for new sites for the second phase of his theme park. The hunt for new ground started as early as 1958, with a focus on places east of the Mississippi where most of his Disneyland guests were coming from (according to market surveys). It wasn’t until November 1963 that Disney picked the location of what would later become Walt Disney World.
With many of locations in mind, Disney settled for a central location in Bay Lake, Florida near Orlando because he was impressed with the innovation of highway structures such as I-4 and the Florida Turnpike. To avoid speculation on a new park, the Walt Disney World purchased the land using pseudonyms for their project such as “Latin-American Development and Management Corporation” and the “Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation.” These names, funnily enough, can be seen above one of the window’s in Main Street today as a nod the initial project’s secrecy. However, once a story in the Orlando Sentinel started rumors that Disney was building a new park in Florida, Disney let the governor give the official announcement on October 25, 1965.
Walt Disney passed away from lung cancer on December 15, 1966. He never got to see Disney World materialize, but his brother, Roy Disney, saw to it that his brother’s dream became a reality. The initial days of Walt Disney World’s success have continued throughout the years.
To give you some insight, take a look inside the first ten years of Disney World (1971-1981):
1. Walt Disney World Grand Opening – Oct 1st, 1971
Just five years after the tragic death of Walt Disney, Walt Disney World opened its gates. One hundred and seven acres of Florida soil now display prominent Disney characters along with thrill rides and attractions parallel to its California location. Over five hundred cast members welcomed 10,000 guests that day. The first of which included William Windsor, Jr. William and his family traveled from Lakeland, Florida and slept overnight in their cars so that they could be one of the first to enter Disney World’s gates.
This second phase of the Disney theme park project included the Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Opening day attractions ranged from the Walt Disney World Railroad, Country Bear Jamboree attraction, Jungle Cruise, the Mad Tea Party ride, the Grand Prix Raceway, and the Skyway.