When Walt Disney began working on “The Florida Project” in the very early 1960’s, he wanted to design a park that would be uniquely different from its cousin in California. In 1971 the project met its fruition with the opening of The Magic Kingdom, but Disney passed in December 1965 and never saw his vision brought to life.
Long before the project began, Disney realized 75% of the American population, at the time, lived east of the Mississippi and he wanted to bring his magic to everyone. In 1958 he began scouting for land, but he didn’t want to face the same issues he was facing at Disneyland. Because he didn’t own enough of the surrounding land at his park in Anaheim, some undesirable businesses had moved in and he had no control. An expansion was out of the question.
When he flew over where his empire now stands in Florida, Disney was certain he had found what he was looking for. So as not to alarm the locals, or more so other businesses that could move in on his turf, Disney bought 30,500 acres of barren property, all under various dummy corporate names. No one was ever the wiser.
At the same time Disney had been steadily working on his new project, other plans included constructing an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” or as it became later known, EPCOT. It was supposed to serve as a testing grounds for the development of new living technologies. Changes were made and the final construction was not completed until 1982.
The “Decade of Disney” was declared in January 1990 when Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner lit the fuse on what was to become 10 years of explosive growth. All the stops were pulled and heavy investments were made. In the end, they were generously rewarded.
Attractions and rides added in the 90’s included, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” Journey Into Your Imagination, Splash Mountain, “Legend of the Lion King,” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, New Tomorrowland, “Voyage of the Little Mermaid,” and many more which are still popular today. In 1998, the Animal Kingdom roared to life, and the Asian area was expanded into almost an attraction of its own.
Also in the 90’s, they broke champagne on Disney Cruise Lines, built miniature and 18-hole golf courses, and added new restaurants, shops, festivals, events, and parades. In short, they took the coolest place on earth and turned into a vacationer’s utopia.
Nowadays, Disney property covers 43 sq. mi. of Central Florida soil. There are four theme parks, two water theme parks, nine hotels no one is supposed to know Disney owns, 37 resort hotels which proudly display their own name, a campground, golf courses, entertainment venues, and complexes. Disney still owns 22,000 acres of undeveloped Florida land so it’s anyone’s guess what will come next.
In Florida alone, Disney employs over 60,000 people. Countless small time local vendors and contractors found fame and fortune by landing one of Disney’s precious golden tickets. Where two people were once hand-stuffing pillows in a tiny Orlando workshop, they now employ 150 workers and purchased modern state-of-the-art equipment. Construction companies, food vendors, industrial suppliers, private hoteliers, restaurant owners, and many other companies have benefited from Disney’s presence. Had it not been and for Mr. Walt Disney’s keen foresight, the Orlando area would still be sleeping.
Annually, an estimated 60 million visitors frequent Disney World in some form or fashion, even if simply to play a round of golf at a corporate outing. They come from all corners of the globe. Ironically, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, which is Disney’s official mailing address, has a population of 10 per the last consensus.
Disney is ever-growing and ever-changing. Unless you are a huge buff who owns every Disney character T-shirt ever printed, there are some cool and interesting facts about Mr. W.D. and his empire you may find interesting.
- The names, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful and Grumpy, need no further introduction. Blabby, Shifty, Droopy, Slappy, Daffy, and Fuzzy were given careful consideration and Mr. Disney still caught immense static over insisting on the name, Dopey.
- When Walt Disney first introduced the concept of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” his family and the studio thought he had lost his marbles. Of course, he was Walt Disney. Of course, he proved them wrong.
- “Bambi” was a huge flop when it was first released during World War II. To re-coop its losses the studio went back to business as usual by releasing more Mickey, Donald, and Goofy cartoons.
- Walt Disney himself was the original voice of Mickey Mouse.
- Disney felt like he let his audience down with the release of “Alice in Wonderland” in 1951. It holds the record for the most amount of songs in any one Disney movie, and Walt felt the movie had no heart.
- A woman went into labor in a restroom at Walt Disney World and would not leave, even at the insistence of security. There has been a rumor going around for years that any child born inside a Disney park receives a free lifetime pass. Once they convinced the woman this was not true, she jumped in an ambulance and away she went. This all started when Disneyland awarded some type of prize to a baby born on the property in 1979.
- Disney’s 1966 comedy “Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN,” starring Dick Van Dyke, was written by a new mystery writer named Retlaw Yensid. How could some never before heard of writer suddenly become so successful? Spell the authors’ name backward. Case solved.
- Heartthrob Robby Benson was the voice of the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast,” but in the Chinese version, Jackie Chan was the voice plus he sang all of the songs in Chinese.
So. Now you know more about Disney than the average bear. Disney has an interesting history and we can only look forward to what the future holds. Whatever it will be, it’s bound to be nothing short of great.