April 15, 1964: The Walt Disney Company begins the process of anonymously buying up large tracts of Florida swampland for a top-secret construction project.
Mid-April 1965: Walt and a few close associates visit Florida, where he reveals in confidence to high-level officials at NASA his plans for a large-scale resort in the Orlando area, while denying all such plans to the press.
October 21, 1965: Reporter Emily Bavar’s article, “Is Our ‘Mystery’ Industry Disney?” runs in Orlando’s Sentinel Star newspaper.
October 24, 1965: The Sentinel Star runs a more extensive follow-up to Bavar’s piece, entitled “We Say ‘Mystery’ Industry Is Disney,” forcing Walt to divulge his plans.
October 25, 1965: With Walt’s permission, Florida Governor Haydon Burns confirms at a press conference in Miami that Disney is indeed planning “the greatest attraction yet known in the history of Florida.”
November 15, 1965: Walt and Roy Disney, along with Gov. Burns, meet with the press in Orlando to discuss details of the Florida Project.
December 17, 1966: Two days after his brother’s death, Roy renames the Disney World project Walt Disney World.
May 30, 1967: Ground is broken for the construction of the Walt Disney World Resort.
April 30, 1969: The Walt Disney World Resort’s first press event is held, offering those in attendance a first look at various elements of the project. Roy O. Disney also reveals the opening date as October 1, 1971.
January 10, 1970: The Walt Disney World Preview Center becomes the first structure to open on resort property.
April 6, 1971: LOOK magazine offers America a sneak peek of the highly-anticipated Magic Kingdom and surrounding resort.
October 1, 1971: The 27,000-acre Walt Disney World Resort opens, boasting the Magic Kingdom theme park and two resort hotels (Contemporary Resort-Hotel and Polynesian Village). The Windsors from nearby Lakeland are named First Family, as the inaugural guests of the “Most Magical Place on Earth.”
October 25, 1971: Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom are officially dedicated in a grand-opening ceremony officiated by Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney…
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.
November 19, 1971: Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground joins the Contemporary and Polynesian Village to round out the trio of opening-year resorts.
Mid-80s flyer advertising Fort Wilderness’s famed dinner show, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue
In-room informational materials provided to guests throughout the 1970s
December 15, 1973: The Golf Resort opens. In February 1986, it is remodeled and re-branded as The Disney Inn. The US Department of Defense acquired the resort from Disney in 1996, when it became known as Shades of Green.
Eastern Airlines established itself as major sponsor in the resort’s early years with an aggressive marketing campaign that included television spots (production artwork), print ads (bicentennial ad), and co-branding on much of the company’s product (informational brochure and ticket sleeve)
April 7, 1974: Treasure Island, a living, breathing attraction in the middle of Bay Lake, opens to guests. Two years later, the island’s purpose and theme is re-focused to that of a zoological preserve, bringing with it a name change: Discovery Island. The attraction permanently closes in the spring of 1999, with many of the animal residents being relocated to Disney’s newly-opened Animal Kingdom theme park.
March 22, 1975: The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village opens to resort guests. Two years later, it is re-branded as the Walt Disney World Village. Shortly after the Pleasure Island district opens on May 1, 1989 (eventually closing in September 2008), the area is again re-named, this time to Downtown Village Marketplace. In 1997, it expands and becomes simply Downtown Disney, and finally in 2015, is re-themed to Disney Springs.
The ever-changing face of Disney’s entertainment district
June 20, 1976: River Country opens as Disney’s first-ever water park, treating guests to for the next twenty-five years. It closes permanently on November 2, 2001.
Early-80s press photo and tickets
October 1, 1979: Ground is broken for the construction of EPCOT Center.
Premiere issue of newsletter chronicling the park’s construction
October 1, 1981: EPCOT Center becomes Walt Disney’s World’s second theme park. Divided into two sections, Future World and World Showcase, the park is described as a permanent World’s Fair, a far cry from Walt’s original intentions for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
October 24, 1982: EPCOT Center is officially dedicated in a grand-opening ceremony officiated by Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, E. Cardon Walker…
To all who come to this Place of Joy, Hope and Friendship
Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.
March 5, 1983: Journey into Imagination debuts in Future World. The attraction introduces Figment, who acts as EPCOT Center’s unofficial mascot for several years after.
October 1, 1983: Horizons opens as EPCOT Center’s first new Future World pavilion. It will operate through January 9, 1999, closing to make way for the Mission: SPACE attraction which debuts August 15, 2003.
Horizons and Mission: SPACE opening guidemaps
September 7, 1984: Morocco opens as World Showcase’s first expansion pavilion in EPCOT Center.
Morocco makes its World Showcase debut in this 1984 guidemap
January 15, 1986: The Living Seas opens as EPCOT Center’s second expansion pavilion in Future World. In 2007, it will be re-furbished and renamed The Seas with Nemo & Friends.
First guidemaps to feature The Livings Seas and The Seas with Nemo & Friends, respectively
March 27, 1986: Ground is broken for the construction of Disney-MGM Studios.
Preview guide distributed throughout 1988-89 in anticipation of the park’s opening
June 3, 1988: The Norway pavilion opens in EPCOT Center, bringing the number of nations represented up to eleven. With the expansion comes the guest-favorite Maelstrom attraction (opening a month later on July 5, 1988), which will operate through October 5, 2014, before closing to make way for Frozen Ever After.
Souvenir coin collection featuring all eleven represented nations in World Showcase, including recently-opened Norway
June 18, 1988: Magic Kingdom’s first new land debuts with Mickey’s Birthdayland. The area is meant to be a temporary addition in honor of Mickey Mouse’s sixtieth birthday; however, its popularity prompts a long-term residence. After birthday celebrations cease, the land is renamed Mickey’s Starland, and is then re-furbished and re-themed to Mickey’s Toontown Fair, which debuts October 1, 1996. The land closes for good on February 11, 2011, to make way for the Storybook Circus area of the New Fantasyland expansion.
From Birthdayland to Starland to New Fantasyland
June 28, 1988: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opens.
October 1, 1988: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort opens.
Park map issued for the cast preview
May 1, 1989: Disney-MGM Studios opens as Walt Disney World’s third theme park. The new addition is dedicated by Walt Disney Company Chairman Michael Eisner…
The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood – not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was – and always will be.
Opening-day guide map
June 1, 1989: Typhoon Lagoon, Disney’s second water park, opens its gates to the public.
Park guide map (2001) and ticket stubs (1992)
August 25, 1989: Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular opens at Disney-MGM Studios in what will eventually become the longest-running attraction in the park’s history.
October 30, 1989: Wonders of Life opens as EPCOT Center’s third new Future World pavilion. It operates until January 1, 2007.
Main-gate map debuting Future World’s latest pavilion
December 15, 1989: George Lucas’ third (after Captain EO and Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular) and most popular attraction collaboration arrives at Disney-MGM Studios in Star Tours.Walt Disney News heralding the arrival of Disney-MGM Studios’ first “thrill” attraction
January 13, 1990: The Disney-co-owned Walt Disney World Swan resort hotel opens.
June 1, 1990: The Disney-co-owned Walt Disney World Dolphin resort hotel opens.
November 5, 1990: Disney’s Yacht Club Resort opens.
November 19, 1990: Disney’s Beach Club Resort opens.
Resort informational brochure
April 20, 1991: The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater opens in Disney-MGM studios as part of a twenty-attraction initiative for the resort’s twentieth anniversary. As one of the highest-themed restaurants anywhere in the world, it quickly becomes the most popular restaurant on Disney property.
Souvenir driver’s license from the late 90s
May 17, 1991: Disney’s Port Orleans Resort opens. In early 2001, it is re-branded as Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter.
December 20, 1991: Disney’s Vacation Club Resort opens. In January 1996, it is re-branded as Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
February 2, 1992: Disney’s Dixie Landings Resort opens. In early 2001, it is re-branded as Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.
Resort postcards, pre- and post-name-change
November 11, 1993: Company Chairman Michael Eisner announces plans for Disney’s America, a history-based theme park that will join Walt Disney World as the second East Coast resort. Opposition from historians and locals in the proposed Haymarket, Virginia location, however, stall construction and ultimately lead to the project being abandoned altogether.
January 1, 1994: With the dawn of the new year, the announced name change to EPCOT Center officially takes effect. The park will be known as Epcot ’94 for the next year, Epcot ’95 for the following, and simply Epcot thereafter.
Guidemaps displaying the park’s name-change from the park-year format to just plain-old Epcot
March 29, 1994: Ground is broken for the construction of the town of Celebration, a master-planned new-urban community developed by the Walt Disney Company.
April 29, 1994: Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort opens.
May 28, 1994: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort hotel opens.
June 12, 1994: Disney-MGM Studio’s first major expansion, the Sunset-Boulevard-themed section of the park opens to the public. Though, the real highlight of the area, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, won’t begin operation until July 22, 1994.
September 29, 1994: Innoventions opens in Epcot’s Future World, replacing opening-day pavilion Communicore. Innoventions West continues operations through May 19, 2015, with Innoventions East remaining until September 8, 2019.
November 22, 1994: Disney’s All-Star Music Resort opens.
April 1, 1995: Disney’s third water park, Blizzard Beach, begins operation.
Opening guidemap featuring the park’s mascot, Ice Gator
August 4, 1995: Ground is broken for the construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.Eyes & Ears (cast-member publication) coverage of the June 20th announcement of Walt Disney World’s fourth park
Preview book published to tide over an eager public during park construction
January 2, 1996: Epcot’s World of Motion becomes the first of the original Future World pavilions to close. The silver lining comes three years later (March 17, 1999) with the addition of Test Track, now considered one of the park’s signature attractions.
World of Motion souvenir brochure (1993); “Buckle-Up” Pledge from the newly-opened Test Track
February 1996: The Disney Institute begins operation.
July 1, 1996: Disney’s BoardWalk Resort opens.
Pre-opening informational brochure
October 1, 1996: The Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in grand fashion, transforming Cinderella’s Castle into a giant, pink birthday cake.
March 28, 1997: Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex opens. In early 2010, it is re-branded as ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
The complex hosts a variety of amateur and professional sporting events
August 1, 1997: Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort opens.
Resort post card
April 22, 1998: Disney’s Animal Kingdom debuts on Earth Day as the resort’s fourth theme park. Chairman Michael Eisner oversees the opening ceremonies and dedicates the park with the following words…
Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.
Hand-signed Tree of Life print from renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who was on hand for the park’s dedication
June 19, 1998: DisneyQuest, an indoor, interactive theme park, opens in the resort’s Downtown Disney area. It will operate until July 2, 2017.
January 15, 1999: Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort opens.
February 15, 1999: The first expansion of Disney’s Animal Kingdom begins opening in phases in the Asia-themed section of the park. Though, it will be another seven years before the park’s signature attraction is introduced in the high-speed coaster Expedition Everest-Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.
Guidemap cover and interior both reflecting the Asia expansion
April 16, 2001: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge opens.
Pre-opening resort informational booklet
September 11, 2011: Walt Disney World closes its parks in the wake of that morning’s terrorist attacks. It is the only time in the resort’s history that closures have been prompted by a non-weather-related issue.Disney leadership addresses cast members after the events of 9/11
December 4, 2001: The resort celebrates Walt’s 100th birthday with festivities around the Magic Kingdom.
Special-issue Main Street Gazette in honor of Walt’s centennial
December 14, 2003: Disney’s Pop Century Resort opens.
Pre-opening resort informational brochure
September 12, 2007: Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion attraction re-opens after a three-month-plus refurbishment that sees updates to various show elements, technological improvements, and the addition of an elaborate interactive queue.
January 7, 2008: Disney-MGM Studios officially becomes Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The final Disney-MGM Studios and inaugural Disney’s Hollywood Studios main-gate maps
May 31, 2008: Toy Story Mania opens in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and with it the Pixar Place expansion area.
July 3, 2009: After an eight-month refurbishment and show rewrite, Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents welcomes President Barack Obama to the stage.
July 2009 Eyes & Ears (cast member publication) commemorating the historic addition of the nation’s first African American president
July 2, 2010: Epcot’s Captain EO re-opens thirteen years after its initial closure, becoming the first re-incarnated attraction in the resort’s history.
May 31, 2012: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opens.Resort post card
June 21, 2016: Frozen Ever After debuts, marking the first new World Showcase attraction since its predecessor Maelstrom twenty-eight years earlier.
The brand-new Norway pavilion receives its own guidemap cover in 1988, while the refurbished version is featured the year after its opening on this 2017 guidemap
May 27, 2017: The Animal Kingdom’s first entirely new land is introduced more than nineteen years after the park’s opening (parts of Asia, the park’s first major expansion, were present on opening day) in Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Opening-day commemorative guidemap
June 30, 2018: The opening of Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios raises the count to six themed areas inside the nearly thirty-year-old park.
Opening-day guidemap and times guide
May 1, 2019: The Walt Disney World theme parks go smoke-free.
To the delight of most guests, the parks implement a smoking/double-wide stroller ban
August 29, 2019: Disney’s Hollywood Studios debuts its much-anticipated new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Opening-day commemorative guidemap and brochure
September 29, 2019: The Disney Skyliner gondola-transit system opens, connecting Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot to multiple resort locations.
Informational flyer issued following the announcement of the new resort transit system
December 16, 2019: Disney’s Riviera Resort opens.
March 4, 2020: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Opening-day guidemap celebrating the Chinese Theatre’s new occupants
Walt Disney’s promise that his parks would “never be completed,” perhaps rings truest about his ever-changing and expanding “Florida Project”