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.


Walt Disney signature acquired by his NASA tour guide during his visit to Kennedy Space Center

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.img456

Personal note accompanying gift of company stock from the office of Roy Disney during the heart of the planning stages of Walt Disney World

January 10, 1970: The Walt Disney World Preview Center becomes the first structure to open on resort property.


1970 booklet previewing the new Central Florida wonderland


The inaugural cast-member handbook


Special supplement to the Eyes & Ears cast-member publication on the eve of the resort’s opening

April 6, 1971: LOOK magazine offers America a sneak peek of the highly-anticipated Magic Kingdom and surrounding resort.


Disney readies for its East-Coast premiere


The premiere issue of Vacationland magazine offers readers a glimpse of both the present and future plans of Walt Disney World

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.”


Original press photo documenting Walt Disney World’s first guests, signed by Marty (mother) and William J. Windsor III (son)

Opening Day Ticket

Opening-day ticket book


LIFE’s cover story ran a week-and-a-half before the resort’s grand opening ceremonies

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.


Grand opening coverage from the Orlando Sentinel (formerly The Star Sentinel), the newspaper which first exposed Walt’s Florida Project six years earlier


The resort’s first souvenir guidebook

November 19, 1971: Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground joins the Contemporary and Polynesian Village to round out the trio of opening-year resorts.

Pioneer Hall

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.

Treasure Island 1

Original Treasure Island guide map

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.img455

Early-80s press photo and tickets

October 1, 1979: Ground is broken for the construction of EPCOT Center.

Epcot Announcement

Eyes & Ears (cast-member publication) coverage of the initial EPCOT Center announcement a year prior to construction

Epcot Construction News

Premiere issue of newsletter chronicling the park’s construction

Informational brochure distributed at the EPCOT Center Preview Center, located in the Magic Kingdom


Promotional poster distributed in the lead-up to the park’s opening

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.

Opening-day main-gate map (“dial-guide”) 

Commemorative ticket


Press photo covering opening-day festivities

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.

Tony Baxter Figment

Original Figment sketch, by the character and attraction’s creator, Imagineering legend Tony Baxter

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.

DisneyMGM Studios Preview.jpg

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.img403

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.

DisneyMGM Cast Preview

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.

Typhoon Lagoon

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.

Walt Disney World News cover story and official press release commemorating the arrival of Indiana Jones to the Studios

October 30, 1989: Wonders of Life opens as EPCOT Center’s third new Future World pavilion. It operates until January 1, 2007.

Epcot Wonders of Life

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.WDW News Star ToursWalt 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.Yacht & Beach

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.

img633Port Orleans RiversideResort 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.

Informational brochure and pro-Disney bumper stickers issued amidst the controversial announcement

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.

Informational brochure published in the first phase of resident move-ins (1996)

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.


Commemorative ticket marking the opening of one of the park’s signature attractions

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.Eyes1Eyes & Ears (cast-member publication) coverage of the June 20th announcement of Walt Disney World’s fourth park

Cast Fast Facts card supplied to cast members to aid in addressing guest questions about the newly-announced “Wild Animal Kingdom” theme park

Animal Kingdom Sneak Preview Book

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.

img613 (2)

Information brochure from 1998

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.


The official celebration ran from October 1, 1996, through January 31, 1998

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.

Coronado Springs

Resort post card


Sneak Preview coupon made available to resort guests in the month leading up to the park’s opening

DAK Guide_1

Advertising supplement appearing in The Orlando Sentinel prior to the park’s opening

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.


VIP Badge for the park’s grand-opening festivities

Opening-day guide map


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.


Invitation to DisneyQuest’s cast preview, a day before the attraction’s public unveiling

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


Eyes & Ears (cast member publication) feature story on the opening of Expedition Everest

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.911Disney 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.

Walt's 100

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.

Haunted Mansion memorabilia: Attraction poster and print signed by “Grim, Grinning Ghosts” lyricist X. Atencio; attraction maintenance parts label and order form

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.

Opening guidemap

July 3, 2009: After an eight-month refurbishment and show rewrite, Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents welcomes President Barack Obama to the stage.Obama Eyes & Ears

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.

Guide to the original 1986 premiere of the much-anticipated attraction

May 31, 2012: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opens.Art of AnimationResort 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

Wet Paint

Walt Disney’s promise that his parks would “never be completed,” perhaps rings truest about his ever-changing and expanding “Florida Project”

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