The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World in Maps
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Mapped: The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World

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walt disney world master plan 1982

Walt Disney World Master Plan (circa 1982) with the Magic Kingdom in the top–left and Epcot under construction in the center.

The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World in Maps

In the early 1960s, Walt Disney was riding high on the success of Disneyland in California.

Disneyland had a problem though. Only a small fraction of its guests were from the East Coast of the U.S., which meant Disney was missing out on a huge potential audience for his theme park. To expand the company’s reach and scope, he began looking for a location that would match his grand ambitions, and Florida, with its abundance of cheap land and warm climate was a natural choice.

On November 22, 1963—coincidentally the day JFK was assassinated—Walt flew over to the Orlando to do some location scouting. At the time, most of the area was swampland, though there was one area adjacent to an under-construction highway that caught his attention.

Using shell companies to preserve his anonymity (and to keep the price down), Disney began acquiring the sprawling properties that would become today’s Walt Disney World (WDW).

Walt Disney World: The First Iteration

When Walt Disney World finally opened in 1971, it included the main Magic Kingdom site, as well as two golf courses and two hotels—Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort. These areas were all connected by a monorail system.

disney world map 1971

As these maps depict, there was a plan to develop three unique themed zones around the Seven Seas Lagoon: Persian, Asian, and Venetian.

However, these projects were scrapped after the 1973 oil crisis as tourism declined.

seven seas lagoon disney world 1971 plan map

The original master plan for Walt Disney World did not include plans for the Seven Seas Lagoon, and it was likely added so that the displaced earth could be used to fortify swampy sections of the property to make them suitable for building.

Epcot Expansion

The first major Disney World expansion was Epcot Center, which opened in 1982. The site, which was twice as big as the Magic Kingdom, is best described as a permanent world’s fair.

The park was anchored by Future World and “Spaceship Earth”, the iconic geodesic sphere structure that sat at the entrance of the park.

disney world epcot map 1982

Surrounding the nearby lake were pavilions themed after various locations in the world.

Though the scope of Epcot was impressive at the time, it was still vastly scaled down from Walt Disney’s original vision for a fully functioning “city of the future”. Ultimately, the company was uncertain about the feasibility of operating a functional city, so the idea was scrapped in favor of the current iteration.

Hollywood Comes to Florida

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, in a location just south of Epcot. The park featured “imagined worlds from film, television, music, and theater, drawing inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood”.

To make this happen, Disney entered into a licensing agreement with MGM to help increase the variety of film representation within the park.

walt disney world hollywood studios map 1990

Approximately 11 million visitors pass through Hollywood Studios every year.

Animal Kingdom and Rapid Expansion

In 1998, WDW added a fourth theme park called Animal Kingdom. It’s the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and combines elements of both a zoo and theme park.

A central feature of Animal Kingdom is the massive Tree of Life. The 145 foot tall work of art contains 325 unique animal carvings and over 100,000 artificial leaves. The park itself features about 2,000 animals representing 300 species.

Around 13 million people visit the theme park each year.

Walt Disney World Today

So, how big is Walt Disney World today? 43 square miles, which is about the same area as San Francisco and and twice the size of Manhattan.

The scale of today’s WDW has fully eclipsed the original version of the site. The resort, which featured two hotels in 1971, now has more than 20, with 30,000 hotel rooms. WDW is also the largest single site employer in the United States.

Looking at the map above, one might wonder whether this sprawling entertainment empire is bursting at the seams. Will WDW eventually build over its entire property? The answer is somewhat complicated.

What’s Missing from Walt Disney World Maps?

While the stylized maps above do a great job of highlighting WDW’s many attractions, they generally downplay an important fact. Much of the land owned by Disney is still undeveloped, and there is a lot of space between the various parks. Much of this space is earmarked as conservation areas, and only some of the remaining land is actually suitable for development. Despite the sheer size of the property occupied by WDW, space for expansion grows increasingly scarce with each new development.

The stylized maps also downplay the size of WDW’s parking lots, which are extensive. The Magic Kingdom parking lot, for example, is actually larger than the theme park itself.

The giant map below is an accurate representation of the park’s layout, and includes facts on some of the attributes of the park.

This enormous land parcel is also unique in that it’s a kind of self-governing municipality, with its own fire department and emergency services. The district—officially known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District—is governed by a five-person Board of Supervisors elected by the landowners in the district. As a result, high-level Disney employees essentially run the entire region encompassing WDW.

In the 50 years since the Magic Kingdom first opened its turnstiles, Disney’s own kingdom in Central Florida has transformed dramatically. With Disney’s continued financial success and the freedom to make large-scale moves within their property, the next 50 years will no doubt bring more dramatic changes to the world’s biggest theme park.

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Visualizing the Odds of Dying from Various Accidents

This infographic shows you the odds of dying from a variety of accidents, including car crashes, bee stings, and more.

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Infographic: The Odds of Dying from Various Accidents

Fatal accidents account for a significant number of deaths in the U.S. every year. For example, nearly 43,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2021.

Without the right context, however, it can be difficult to properly interpret these figures.

To help you understand your chances, we’ve compiled data from the National Safety Council, and visualized the lifetime odds of dying from various accidents.

Data and Methodology

The lifetime odds presented in this graphic were estimated by dividing the one-year odds of dying by the life expectancy of a person born in 2020 (77 years).

Additionally, these numbers are based on data from the U.S., and likely differ in other countries.

Type of AccidentLifetime odds of dying (1 in #)
Motor vehicle accident101
Complications of medical and surgical care798
Alcohol poisoning1,606
Accidental building fire1,825
Choking on food2,745
Drowning in swimming pool5,782
Sunstroke6,368
Accidental firearm discharge7,998
Drowning10,386
Airplane accident11,756
Bee or wasp sting57,825
Dog attack69,016
Lightning strike138,849

For comparison’s sake, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,000,000. In other words, you are 4000x more likely to die by a lightning strike over your lifetime than to win the Powerball lottery.

Continue reading below for further context on some of these accidents.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., with a 1 in 101 chance of dying. This is quite a common way of dying, especially when compared to something like bee stings (1 in 57,825).

Unfortunately, a major cause of vehicle deaths is impaired driving. The CDC reports that 32 Americans are killed every day in crashes involving alcohol, which equates to one death every 45 minutes.

For further context, consider this: 30% of all traffic-related deaths in 2020 involved alcohol-impaired drivers.

Drowning

The odds of drowning in a swimming pool (1 in 5,782) are significantly higher than those of drowning in general (1 in 10,386). According to the CDC, there are 4,000 fatal drownings every year, which works out to 11 deaths per day.

Drowning also happens to be a leading cause of death for children. It is the leading cause for kids aged 1-4, and second highest cause for kids aged 5-14.

A rather surprising fact about drowning is that 80% of fatalities are male. This has been attributed to higher rates of alcohol use and risk-taking behaviors.

Accidental Firearm Discharge

Lastly, let’s look at accidental firearm deaths, which have lifetime odds of 1 in 7,998. That’s higher than the odds of drowning (general), as well as dying in an airplane accident.

This shouldn’t come as a major surprise, since the U.S. has the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. More importantly, these odds highlight the importance of properly securing one’s firearms, as well as learning safe handling practices.

As a percentage of total gun-related deaths (45,222 in 2020), accidental shootings represent a tiny 1%. The two leading causes are suicide (54%) and homicide (43%).

Interested in learning more about death? Revisit one of our most popular posts of all time: Visualizing the History of Pandemics.

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