The Walt Disney World Resort, informally known as Walt Disney World or simply Disney World, is an entertainment complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The resort opened on October 1, 1971 and is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an attendance of 52.5 million annually. It is owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The property covers 42,000 acres (16,997 ha; 66 sq mi), in which it houses 24 themed resort hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, and numerous additional recreational and entertainment venues. Magic Kingdom was the first and original theme park to open in the complex followed by Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom which opened later throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Designed to supplement Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which had opened in 1955, the complex was developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s, though he died in 1966 before construction on “The Florida Project” began. After extensive lobbying, the Government of Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special government district that essentially gave The Walt Disney Company the standard powers and autonomy of an incorporated city. Original plans called for the inclusion of an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”, a planned city that would serve as a test bed for new innovations for city living.
Despite marketing claims and popular misconceptions, the Florida resort is not within Orlando city limits, but is actually about 21 miles (34 km) southwest of downtown Orlando, much of it in southwestern Orange County, with the remainder in adjacent Osceola County. The property includes the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake which are governed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The 25,000 acres (10,117 ha; 39 sq mi) site is accessible from Central Florida’s Interstate 4 via Exits 62B (World Drive), 64B (US 192 West), 65B (Osceola Parkway West), 67B (SR 536 West), and 68 (SR 535 North), and Exit 8 on State Road 429 (Florida), the Western Expressway. At its peak, the resort occupied approximately 30,000 acres (12,141 ha; 47 sq mi), about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan. Portions of the property since have been sold or de-annexed, including land now occupied by the Disney-built community of Celebration.
Of the thirty-four resorts and hotels on the Walt Disney World property, twenty-eight are owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. These are classified into four categories: Deluxe, Moderate, Value, and Disney Vacation Club Villas, and are located in one of five resort areas: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or Downtown Disney resort areas.
While most of the Deluxe resort hotels have achieved a AAA Four Diamond rating, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is considered the highest tier flagship luxury resort on the Walt Disney World Resort complex.