Or Disney World, or WDW. The complex of Disney theme parks and other attractions near Orlando, Florida, as opposed to Disneyland near Anaheim, California. The whole area includes the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom, nearly two dozen different resort hotels, shopping and clubs at Downtown Disney and Disney's Boardwalk, and water parks Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and River Country. The dominating tourist trap of central Florida, where there is even a Mickey Mouse-head-shaped top on at least one pole holding up power lines near Interstate 4.

Sources: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/waltdisneyworld/ and fairly frequent visits to parts of the complex for the past decade.

I guess Walt Disney World has become the whipping boy of the true believers, just like McDonalds. I think the people that seem to hate institutions such as this must not have kids.

When you've got a kid that's cranky and needs a quick meal that the kid will eat without bitching about it, you need a McDonalds and you need it right goddamn now.

When you want to go somewhere for vacation and take the kids, you would be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world that they will have more fun than Walt Disney World. Sure, it's commercialized to the hilt. Sure, it costs a fortune. But what are you gonna do? Sit the kids out in the yard all summer and let 'em ferment? Let 'em have some fun, for God's sake. Forget about your goddamned hatred for America and take 'em to see Mickey and Goofy. Feed 'em a fucking Quarter Pounder with cheese while you're at it.

Jesus, I don't know why the left picks these targets. Oh, I remember: They don't have kids . . .

And I hope mine doesn't hear me talking like this . . .

On 17 July 1955, Walt Disney opened Disneyland, "The Happiest Place on Earth." It was Walt's dream come true -- a place where families could go together and be immersed in a realm of fantasy.

Disneyland was constructed near Anaheim, California, within easy driving distance from the Disney Studios in Burbank. But the parcel of land that the Company could purchase was just barely large enough for the park, a hotel, and parking lots. It wasn't long before Walt realized that his many ideas and plans would quickly fill the limited available space, and there was no room for expansion.

Although Disneyland was a huge success, Walt resolved to open another park, and to do it right this time. In the mid-sixties, the Company secretly purchased huge tracts of land in central Florida, south of Orlando. Soon, DisneyWorld was announced to the public, and work began in earnest on this bigger, better theme park.

Unfortunately, Walt died in 1966. His brother, Roy O. Disney, who inherited the company leadership, insisted that the project continue. In honor of his brother, he renamed the park Walt Disney World. And on 25 October 1971, Roy Disney welcomed the public to the official dedication of what was to become the world's most popular vacation destination.

When it opened (its first day was actually 1 October), the developed area of Walt Disney World was not much bigger than Disneyland. The resort consisted of a single park, a lagoon, a lake, and two hotels. The park was, of course, the Magic Kingdom, modeled closely on the original Disneyland Park. The original hotels were the tropical-themed Polynesian Resort and the 15-floor, A-frame Contemporary Resort. A monorail track -- based on the one installed at Disneyland -- circled the Seven Seas Lagoon, stopping inside the Contemporary, at the parking lots, at the Polynesian, and at the Magic Kingdom. Bay Lake, like the Lagoon an artificial body of water, lay to the other side of the Contemporary. Within a year, a third resort -- the Fort Wilderness campgrounds -- opened up on the shores of Bay Lake.

In 1982, Disney opened EPCOT Center some distance southeast of the Magic Kingdom. A brand new monorail track was built to connect EPCOT with the old route. EPCOT's name -- an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow -- was borrowed from one of Walt's never-realized projects. EPCOT Center bore little resemblence to Walt's vision of an artificial community of the future where real people would live and work. Instead, it consisted of two distinct areas -- Future World, where corporation-sponsored pavilions introduced guests to the history and future of technology -- and World Showcase, where 9 (now 11) nations were represented via authentic architecture, people, and food, with related attractions. In 1994, EPCOT Center was renamed Epcot '94, with the year incrementing until, in 1996, the park became just Epcot.

1989 saw the opening of Disney-MGM Studios. On the surface, it's a film- and television-oriented theme park, but contained within is a working animation studio, along with several operating sound stages and other production facilities. 1998's Mulan, for example, was completed primarily at Disney-MGM Studios. Visitors can take a "backstage" tour of the production areas and backlot, made more exciting with some extra Disney magic. The park as a whole showcases primarily Disney characters and productions, but Lucasfilm has an important presence, as do the Muppets and of course, MGM.

Most recently, in 1998, Disney opened Disney's Animal Kingdom. A somewhat unusual amalgamation of Disney attractions with live animals, the Animal Kingdom is divided into several sections. The entrance area contains shops and restaurants, along with the gigantic artificial Tree of Life. Dinoland USA is home to all manner of ancient, extinct creatures. Asia (opened in 1999) and Africa are themed around those continents, with nature preserve-like exhibits featuring live animals. Africa has the centerpiece wildlife attraction, a Disney-style safari through simulated African terrain, with no walls between the vehicles and the animals. Conservation Station is a long train ride away from the main park, and has indoor exhibits, extensive information and presentations, and all of the backstage animal-handling facilities. Finally, there's Camp Minnie-Mickey, with lots of kid-oriented shows and attractions.

In addition to the four main parks are three water parks, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country (at Fort Wilderness), and Blizzard Beach.

South of Epcot is Lake Buena Vista, where the Lake Buena Vista Village (later known as the Disney Village Marketplace) operated for many years, with shops, restaurants, and boating. In 1989, Disney added Pleasure Island (named after the isle in Pinocchio), where every night is New Year's Eve; it featured several nightclubs, a movie theater, and more shops. When more shops and restaurants, (which later included DisneyQuest, a Planet Hollywood, and Cirque du Soleil) were added on the other side of Pleasure Island in 1997, Disney renamed the whole shebang Downtown Disney.

Of course, Walt Disney World has added many more resort hotels since it opened. Joining the original three are Disney's Grand Floridian, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's Boardwalk Inn, Disney's Boardwalk Villas, Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort, Disney's Port Orleans Resort, Disney's Old Key West Resort, the Walt Disney World Dolphin, the Walt Disney World Swan, Disney's Coronado Springs, the Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney's All-Star Resorts (Sports, Music, and Film), and the new Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Pop Century Resort. Coming soon are the Yacht Club Villas.

Other things to do at Walt Disney World include golfing (both normal and miniature), boating, going to a spa, participating in programs at the Disney Institute, visiting Discovery Island, and watching athletic events at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

Walt Disney World helped open up Central Florida to development and made it one of the busiest vacation areas in the country. The most popular nearby attractions are Sea World Orlando and Universal Studios Florida (with Universal Studios Islands of Adventure). Also not too far away is the Kennedy Space Center, from where the space shuttles are launched.

The Walt Disney World resort lies just off of Interstate 4, which runs from Interstate 75 in the west to Interstate 95 in the east; take whichever one is closer to you, then get on I-4 and follow the signs. The resort is open year-round; prices are cheaper at off-peak times (January through April, September, and November until Thanksgiving).

I used Disney: The First 100 Years by Dave Smith and Steven Clark as a reference, mostly to confirm dates.

Last updated 21-Aug-2002 (added reference to the Yacht Club Villas).

As long as he could remember, his father had talked to him about Disney World. 

It was the inevitable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the reward for all they'd done, where they'd finally relax and have a great time. 

Quite naturally, Mike watched every new Disney movie that came out. His bedroom had Mickey Mouse sheets and pillowcases, and many Disney-themed toys. He watched the Disney Channel. He pored over books about the various attractions, and he and his father spent many happy hours planning where they'd stay, where they'd go and what they'd do. Should they take a room in one of the Value Resorts, or rent a cabin with a kitchenette? Would they spend the first day at Epcot or Blizzard Beach, or go into the Magic Kingdom straightaway? Together they looked at each and every possibility, down to the very most obscure offerings: looking over the brochures, they learned of the working barber shop on Main Street and the Armed Forces resort, Shades of Green, closed to all but servicemen by night but welcoming to golfers on the links nearby during the day. They discussed pin trading, hidden Mickeys, and changes in the parks like frequent visitors.

Only, they never went there. His father worked really hard on his job, and so he had very little time off. Mike's mom worked too, and every year, something came up. 

There was the year they were going to go in the fall, but that was the year there were all the hurricanes. There was the year he got a new baby sister, Willow, which meant that they couldn't go for at least a year or so.  There was the spring their car broke down, so they had to go to Gran'ma's instead. It was too hot in the summer in Florida. But his Dad was still the best! He was going to take them to Disney World! 

Only once, his faith in his dad was shaken. Charlie, the rich kid in class, went to Orlando, and he said he wasn't impressed. "It's just another amusement park." he said. "And it's full of crazy people." His parents had taken him everywhere. Why shouldn't Disney World be the best of the best? Why wasn't he happy? 
     Charlie said he liked going to his uncle's in Cape Cod, where he had a boat. 
     "But, they've got boats in Disney World. Lots of them.You could be on a pirate ship!" 
     "It's just not the same." 

Willow, too, was not as Disney-centric as Mike was. Although she'd gone through the Princess stage, she was uninterested in Miley Ray Cyrus, Raven, or Lizzie McGuire. She watched the Travel Channel, and National Geographic, and sometimes the Style Network. 
     "You could go to Epcot." he'd said, when he was thirteen. "They have French restaurants."
     "Big deal." she said, a smart nine-year-old. "I'd rather go to the real Paris." 
     "Paris has Disneyland Europe."
     "It also has real live castles that had real live kings living there. It's not some fake junk you can't walk around in."
     "You can walk around in Cinderella's castle. They have a restaurant and a gift shop. If you're lucky you get to stay in the Dream Suite."
     "Again big deal. It's fake."     
     "A real castle probably has real rats and roaches."
     "You're impossible!" she said, walking out.
I'd like to say he grew out of it, but he was still hopeful when he went away to college. Naturally, his dreams weren't of meeting Mickey, but of male bonding: they'd stay at the Wilderness Resort, or on the Bayou, catching fish and talking man-to-man. His father would be retiring soon, and he'd have plenty of time for such things. He saw the two of them walking through Frontierland, lost in a fantasy of life as it was, or playing golf on the links that surrounded the parks. He'd long since quit sleeping on mouse-printed sheets, but kept his father's picture in a Michael Graves Mouse Ears frame. Now and again he toyed with the idea of simply going down to Florida on his own, but he reasoned that it just wasn't the same. 

"His heart was never all that strong." his mother explained. "And he never really was as successful as he wanted to be." 
     "So, he was lying to us?"
     "I wouldn't call it lying. He just loved the way your face always lit up when he mentioned Disney World. He could always get you out of a bad mood, make you do your homework…as long as he could tell you about Disney World, or get you something Disney. He even made me name your sister Minnie, to get you to like her."
     "But she's…."
     "Not Willow?"
     "No. Wilhelmina. Minnie. You're Mickey and Minnie."

     He sat in front of his laptop. The Goodnight Kiss, the light show and speech that ends every day at every Disney Resort, was playing, with "When You Wish Upon a Star" swelling in the background. 

     Goodnight Dad. Goodnight Walt. Goodnight Roy. Bon soir, Epcot. Goodnight, Celebration.  Goodnight Snow White, asleep in the forest. Goodnight Cinderella, hope your dreams all come true. Pinocchio, glad to have known you, and old J.C. and the Blue Fairy. Someday, you'll have a drink and not be an ass about it.  Goodnight, Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Nemo and Captain Hook. Goodnight Tinkerbell. Sorry I couldn't stay for the concert, folks, I heard the Salvator Dali ballet was amazing. Goodnight, Dumbo. Goodnight Alice. Goodnight Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger. Goodnight bitch Lady and all your mutts. Sleep on Beauties, snug in your dreams. Good night Pluto, and Goofy and Unca Scrooge. Goodnight Donald. Goodnight Minnie, and goodnight Mickey. Sleep in the place of a million dreams, because dreams only come to those who sleep. 

     He smiled. He was wide awake, now.

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