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Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is best known for its theme parks, but it's really a resort that stretches over 40 square miles. It has theme parks, water parks, camping, hotels, shopping, dining, and recreation. It even provides free transportation to Orlando International Airport for guests at its hotels.
Most people think of the Disney theme parks when they think about Walt Disney World, but Disney is actually an area that encompasses over 40 square miles. It's made up of four theme parks: the world famous Magic Kingdom, historical throwback Epcot, and slice of the silver screen, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. It also has two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and the iconic, chilly Blizzard Beach. But those are only one small part of the Disney Empire, which includes hotels, golf courses, a campground, a horseback riding stable, the Downtown Disney shopping area, restaurants, and wilderness areas.
The property acquisition for Walt Disney World started in the 1960s, using dummy corporations to disguise the fact that Walt was buying the land for future theme parks. Initially he planned for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. He hoped the latter would be a true residential town, and its name was originally an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Unfortunately he didn't live to see the opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Unlike Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World was a true resort. It started off with two hotels by the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. This has exploded into more than 20 Disney-owned hotels and Disney Vacation Club properties.
Although Walt passed away before Epcot was built, a town did eventually spring up on a chunk of Disney World property. That town, Celebration, bears no resemblance to the original Epcot design. Instead, it's modeled after an old-fashioned town from the 1940s. Disney no longer owns the land, and Celebration is mainly a residential community with a tourist-oriented downtown. Shopping in Celebration is popular, and there are also many restaurants in Celebration.
Walt Disney World is developing another residential community on its property, called Golden Oaks. This area targets wealthy home buyers with multi-million dollar properties and special privileges at the theme parks.
Most of Walt Disney World is located in Orange County, although part of the resort lies in neighboring Osceola County. The property, which is known as Lake Buena Vista, lies next to south Orlando and adjacent to Kissimmee, although Downtown Orlando is about half and hour away from Walt Disney World. Orlando International Airport also about half an hour away from the resort. Disney runs free buses, a service known as Magical Express, for guests who stay at its on-site Disney-owned hotels. Others can rent cars and drive to Disney World via I-4 or the 417 toll road or take a shuttle or private towncar or limousine.
Disney has its own free internal transportation system so guests don't have to drive between the hotels, theme parks, and Downtown Disney. Buses are the primary means of transit, but Disney also runs boats and monorails between some destinations.
Walt Disney World is close to many other Orlando attractions. SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure, which is the home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, are no more than 20 minutes away from most parts of the Walt Disney World Resort. Some attractions are farther away. For example, Gatorland, an animal park with alligators as its main feature and zip lines for thrill seekers, is at least half an hour from Disney World, depending on Orlando traffic. Legoland Florida, a theme park well-known as a family friendly activity because of its focus on children between the ages of two and 12, is about 45 minutes away, since it's in the town of Winter Haven.
Many area attractions are located on and around International Drive, which is about 20 minutes from Walt Disney World. For example, the Wet n' Wild water park is on International Drive, as is the WonderWorks exploratory attraction.