Walt Disney World: What’s in a Name?

by by Brian Martsolf, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the January 25, 2005, Issue #279 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Last spring I found that a co-worker was going to Walt Disney World on vacation. Since I had not been back to Walt Disney World myself since 2002, I asked him if he would check out the gift shop at the new attraction Mission: SPACE and pick me up any postcards. Upon seeing him for the first time after he returned from his trip he handed my money back to me and explained that he wasn't able to buy me anything, because, as he put it: "We didn't go to Epcot — we only got to the Disney World part." I shrugged my shoulders, gave him a smile and said, "Oh well, thanks for trying."

People in the know, know that the proper name of the ENTIRE resort is Walt Disney World — or, more commonly, just "Disney World." I've even seen folks write it down as "Disneyworld," a simple one-word name to cover both the theme parks and the complex they reside in. All of us have heard the Magic Kingdom referred to in this way at one time or another — more likely many, many times.

You can hardly blame folks for thinking that is the name of the place. For locals, and even for out-of-towners who stayed off Disney property in the early days, it was natural to refer to the park they wanted to go to as Walt Disney World, since initially there was only one theme park — the Magic Kingdom — to visit. When folks thought of "Disneyworld," they thought of the Magic Kingdom. That was the theme park they saw on TV, so Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom became synonomous and interchangeable in the minds of many.

Even many of us, during our first expeditions to this wondrous place, may have referred to the Magic Kingdom theme park that way — some of us probably still do at times. After all, if you are talking to someone who has not ever been to Walt Disney World, or has not been for a while, they are also probably in the habit of calling the Magic Kingdom Disney World. They actually might not even know what you mean if you start talking about the "Magic Kingdom."

But, as I said, you can hardly blame your friends, neighbors and even the odd Disney theme park fanatic for referring to the Magic Kingdom as Disneyworld. Yes, I know there are great big signs that announce the Magic Kingdom at the toll plaza, on road signs, and on many other signs, and various pieces of paper you will see around the resort, including your park guide map. But it is easy for a guest who has always referred to the Magic Kingdom as Disney World to rationalize this away, since they obviously have to put something on the road signs to differentiate that park from Epcot and other areas, and that "nickname" (in the mind of the person rationalizing) is as good a way as any, and besides that… it wasn't always that way.

The park itself used to reinforce this notion — for example, at one time they printed information guides for the park with the title on the cover in large letters: "WALT DISNEY WORLD." The first few years the park was open they didn't even have the words Magic Kingdom on the cover of the guides. Even toward the late '70s when they finally added it, the name "Magic Kingdom" was in black print and a smaller typeface than "WALT DISNEY WORLD," which was printed above in a contrasting color.

In fact, there are still a few holdovers of this today. Look at the back of a regular photo postcard of each park. On the back of postcards for Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom, the parks' names are usually the ones found as a logo. But on the back of a Magic Kingdom photo postcard, what does the title say? Not Magic Kingdom — it says Walt Disney World. Still, even in those early days of Walt Disney World they did make some differentiations. They tried to use the "Walt Disney World" term only for those areas in the resort district at the northern end of the property (the Contemporary, Polynesian, Golf Resort, Fort Wilderness, Magic Kingdom, and the Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses), separated a bit from the non-resort park aspects of the development. The first postcards for the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (later known as the Walt Disney World Shopping Village, now known as Downtown Disney Marketplace) had a Lake Buena Vista logo on the back that listed only in smaller print "the host community to Walt Disney World." At that time they thought of those shops as the beginnings of a new community.

You may wonder why Walt Disney World itself so carelessly referred to the Magic Kingdom as "Walt Disney World" for so long. It had bigger things on its mind than building the world's largest and most successful theme park enterprise. Does that sound surprising? It might — after all, the Walt Disney World we know and love is a pretty amazing place as it is. (There is no other place in the world I'd rather spend my time!)

But let's step back in time a bit and see why they would let the park usurp the Walt Disney World name in most visitors' minds. Picture it — Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 1972: the "Vacation Kingdom of the World" is bringing guests in at a rate that will end up exceeding their ambitious projections for the first year. Yet, much work lies ahead for Project Florida. The Magic Kingdom theme park is just the first phase, and the focus now is shifting toward a latter phase of the project, an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. In short, a city of the future.

As a sort of warm-up to that, first the southeastern corner of the property was to be developed. Already the project had built its first works here. The preview center building in this area had been the first thing on the site to open to the public, and adjacent to it the first sites had been leased to hotel partners in the development. Hotels there are situated on what is now known as Hotel Plaza Boulevard near Downtown Disney. Next were a shopping village, and planned after that was a residential development, not "E.P.C.O.T." itself, but an additional preliminary development to the east of where Epcot now stands. Additionally, the other plans for Project Florida included an industrial complex, a jetport, and an "entrance complex," which would have eliminated the current Ticket and Transportation Center. Guests would have parked there and taken a monorail to their destination, and you would have gained a nice view of that city of the future as your monorail passed through it. That city was not really seen as a tourist draw, of course. It was more a place for the companies of this country to come together to solve the problems facing the cities of the U.S., starting with a clean slate, an example that could be studied, adjusted, and emulated, across the U.S. and perhaps even around the world. A high and noble goal, but you can see this is quite a different thing than what we ended up with. "Why is that?" you may wonder. Well, this is one of those questions that has many answers. Which answers are most important to you may just depend on from what angle you are looking at.

After Walt Disney's passing, it is not hard for me to see why the folks in charge were dissuaded from building the Epcot Walt had envisioned. They may have simply been afraid… it would have been a huge gamble. Walt Disney himself could have pushed for it — he gambled with the company for most of his life. In fact, he ran a company that went bankrupt before he started the studios, so he was not risk-averse. Without Walt, though, who would be so bold to risk losing it all? Like Walt selling his second home in Palm Springs, and borrowing against his life insurance, to get Disneyland built? If Walt lost it all, he may have felt it was his to lose. Even if you take into account that he had stockholders, they were, after all, investing in a company named for him. If they did not feel comfortable with the choices he made, that probably was not where they should be invested.

But can you imagine how it would have been if Epcot had been built as a "City of Tomorrow" and failed? Without Walt at the helm, the consensus might have been that Disney's former Chief Executive Officer E. Cardon Walker had run "the house that Walt built" into the ground. If that vision of what was to be built on the Florida property had come to pass, it would hardly matter if you said, "We're going to visit Disney World," when what you meant was that you were going to visit the "Magic Kingdom" — that is possibly all there would be to go to!

So the next time someone who is clearly talking about the Magic Kingdom refers to it as "Disneyworld," remember — they aren't necessarily ENTIRELY wrong. History is on their side.

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Brian Martsolf is a lifelong Disney theme park fan whose first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1996. He lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, Carlene, and works at a Tyco Plastics manufacturing facility. He also has his own Disney website, http://www.bigbrian-nc.com, which features trip reports (with lots of photos), a section on the history of Walt Disney World illustrated with its postcards, and articles on the Disney Internet community and Disney theme park souvenirs.

Read other articles Brian has written for ALL EARS® here: http://allears.net/btp/brianm.htm


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.