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Mapped: The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World

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Mapped: The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World
By: Visual Capitalist | October 1, 2021



Walt Disney World Master Plan (circa 1982) with the Magic Kingdom in the top–left and Epcot under construction in the center.

The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World in Maps

In the early 1960s, Walt Disney was riding high on the success of Disneyland in California.

Disneyland had a problem though. Only a small fraction of its guests were from the East Coast of the U.S., which meant Disney was missing out on a huge potential audience for his theme park. To expand the company’s reach and scope, he began looking for a location that would match his grand ambitions, and Florida, with its abundance of cheap land and warm climate was a natural choice.

On November 22, 1963—coincidentally the day JFK was assassinated—Walt flew over to the Orlando to do some location scouting. At the time, most of the area was swampland, though there was one area adjacent to an under-construction highway that caught his attention.

Using shell companies to preserve his anonymity (and to keep the price down), Disney began acquiring the sprawling properties that would become today’s Walt Disney World (WDW).

Walt Disney World: The First Iteration

When Walt Disney World finally opened in 1971, it included the main Magic Kingdom site, as well as two golf courses and two hotels—Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort. These areas were all connected by a monorail system.



As these maps depict, there was a plan to develop three unique themed zones around the Seven Seas Lagoon: Persian, Asian, and Venetian.

However, these projects were scrapped after the 1973 oil crisis as tourism declined.



The original master plan for Walt Disney World did not include plans for the Seven Seas Lagoon, and it was likely added so that the displaced earth could be used to fortify swampy sections of the property to make them suitable for building.

Epcot Expansion

The first major Disney World expansion was Epcot Center, which opened in 1982. The site, which was twice as big as the Magic Kingdom, is best described as a permanent world’s fair.

The park was anchored by Future World and “Spaceship Earth”, the iconic geodesic sphere structure that sat at the entrance of the park.



Surrounding the nearby lake were pavilions themed after various locations in the world.

Though the scope of Epcot was impressive at the time, it was still vastly scaled down from Walt Disney’s original vision for a fully functioning “city of the future”. Ultimately, the company was uncertain about the feasibility of operating a functional city, so the idea was scrapped in favor of the current iteration.

Hollywood Comes to Florida

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, in a location just south of Epcot. The park featured “imagined worlds from film, television, music, and theater, drawing inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood”.

To make this happen, Disney entered into a licensing agreement with MGM to help increase the variety of film representation within the park.



Approximately 11 million visitors pass through Hollywood Studios every year.

Animal Kingdom and Rapid Expansion

In 1998, WDW added a fourth theme park called Animal Kingdom. It’s the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and combines elements of both a zoo and theme park...



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