Walt Disney’s vision 50 years ago is our dream destination today

As the Orlando resort celebrates a half century of Magic, we look back to its growth and highlight new attractions, experiences and treats.

In the words of an official Walt Disney World press release this isa world of fun and fantasy, where teacups spin, elephants fly and life’s cares melt away at the gates”. This not only perfectly encapsulates the vision, but explains why countless millions of visitors flock to Florida to enjoy this unique experience. 

Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th Anniversary began on October 1, 2021, but ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration’ continues on into 2023 with many new attractions and special experiences.

Listed below are some of these highlights. But first let’s look at the remarkable story of how it all began and has continued to grow.

“WALT DISNEY WORLD is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney and to the talents, the dedication and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place…a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn — together.”

These are the words on a plaque dedicated on October 25, 1971, by Roy O. Disney, Walt’s older brother.

Very sadly, Walt did not live to see that day, but after years of planning and construction, his much-anticipated “Florida Project” was open and ready to welcome the world. The cost of the project was $400 million. Nearly 28,000 acres had been purchased from more than 100 property owners at a total cost of nearly $5.5 million. 

From one theme park, two resort hotels and two golf courses, Walt’s dream expanded to four theme parks, two water parks, more than two dozen resort hotels, Disney Vacation Club properties, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, 63 holes of championship golf, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney’s BoardWalk entertainment enclave and Disney Springs, a waterfront entertainment, dining and shopping district.

The vision was constantly expanding from ‘complete destination-vacation resort’ to the concept of EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt believed he could apply the unique Disney approach to planning for all areas of family life.

By 1982 attendance had passed 100 million visitors.

Disney growth, however, really took off in the 1990s. The Disney Decade was a vision put forward by Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner.

The Disney Decade saw the creation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998 with 13 animal-themed adventures. It was also in the 1990s that Disney Vacation Club gave fans the chance to own a piece of magic. In the new Downtown Disney DisneyQuest and Cirque du Soleil® came to town.

The City of Celebration was built – with the vision as a ‘perfect’ place to live. Now no longer owned by Disney it’s a gorgeous place to visit with its streets of New England-style homes and individual shops and restaurants.

Disney Cruise Line, with two ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida added to the immense offering from the company.

Some significant dates…


October 1 – Walt Disney World officially opens to the public. Phase one includes Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. There are monorails, watercraft, trams and motor coaches to transport guests from park to park and back to hotels.


EPCOT opens with five Future World pavilions – Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination and The Land – and nine World Showcase pavilions representing Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, France, United Kingdom and Canada.


Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opens as the flagship of Walt Disney World Resort hotels. It’s followed on October 1 by Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.


Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens with Tinseltown glamour, major entertainment attractions and behind-the-scenes looks at movie-making.

The nighttime entertainment complex Pleasure Island opens with a glittering array of restaurants and themed nightclubs. In 2008 it makes way for the updated Disney Springs.

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park opens, featuring a 95-foot-high mountain, eight water slides and a 2.5-acre wave pool.


The first phase of the EPCOT Resort Area opens with the debut of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Beach Club Resort. The following year brings Walt Disney World Swan Hotel and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel.


The Walt Disney Company dedicates 8,500 acres of land purchased at the Osceola-Polk County line to The Nature Conservancy to preserve for future generations as the Disney Wilderness Preserve.


Disney’s Hollywood Studios expands with a new themed area, Sunset Boulevard and thrill ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Walt Disney World Resort continues to expand accommodation with the openings of: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort.


Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park debuts.


Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 25th anniversary with a year-long celebration.


Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort opens.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park opens on Earth Day. At 500 acres, it is Disney’s largest park and home to approximately 1,800 animals representing 200 species.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge opens.

100 Years of Magic Celebration commences, honoring the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth. A 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey hat becomes an icon for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream also opens to take guests on a journey through the life of Walt Disney.


Walt Disney World joins in the “Happiest Celebration on Earth,” saluting the 50th anniversary of Disneyland Resort in California.


My Disney Experience mobile app launch to help guests plan and experience Walt Disney World Resort.


Disney Springs – an upgraded retail, dining and entertainment district opens.


Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – a 14-acre land to experience Star Wars stories. 

Disney Skyliner takes flight. This grand, state-of-the-art gondola system connects EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to four Disney Resort hotels.


“The World’s Most Magical Celebration” began.

What’s new?

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, is Epcot’s first “other-world” showcase pavilion – a family-friendly adventure featuring a new storytelling coaster that rotates 360 degrees to focus on the action, including the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot, is where guests shrink to the size of Chef Remy and race through Gusteau’s restaurant on a wild adventure.

HarmonioUS, at Epcot is the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park, featuring massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, lasers and more.

‘Disney Enchantment’ at Magic Kingdom Park is a breathtaking spectacle featuring Disney music, stunning fireworks, enhanced lighting and immersive projection effects that extend for the first time from Cinderella Castle down Main Street, U.S.A.

Space 220 Restaurant – has virtual daytime and nighttime views of Earth from 220 miles above the planet’s surface. Guests board a space elevator for a simulated journey to the Centauri Space Station, where they experience the “height of dining.”

‘Disney KiteTails’ at Animal Kingdom Theme Park is a new daytime entertainment.

50th Anniversary Celebration Sips and Bites – more than 150 new food and drink offerings with a touch of EARidescent shimmer. 

Next steps:

Find all the information you need at disneyworld.co.uk and www.visitorlando.com.

Call our Silver Travel Advisors to get further information, receive a quote and book a trip: call 0800 412 5678.


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Ruth Brindle

Travel journalist

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