The Walt Disney World Resort, informally known as Walt Disney World or simply Disney World, is an entertainment complex that opened October 1, 1971, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and is the most visited attraction in the world, with attendance of 52.5 million annually. It is owned by The Walt Disney Company through its division Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. The property covers 42,000 acres (16,997 ha; 66 sq mi), in which it houses 24 themed resorts, four theme parks, two water parks, and several additional recreational and entertainment venues. Magic Kingdom is the original theme park on the complex, and Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom opened throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Designed to supplement Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which had opened in 1955, the complex was developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s, though he died in 1966 before construction on "The Florida Project" began. After extensive lobbying, the Government of Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special government district that essentially gave The Walt Disney Company the standard powers and autonomy of an incorporated city. Original plans called for the inclusion of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow", a planned city that would serve as a test bed for new innovations for city living.
In 1959, Walt Disney Productions began looking for land for a second park to supplement Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. Market surveys revealed that only 5% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, where 75% of the population of the United States lived. Additionally, Walt Disney disliked the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wanted control of a much larger area of land for the new project. Walt Disney flew over the Orlando-area site (one of many) in November 1963. Seeing the well-developed network of roads, including the planned Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike, with McCoy Air Force Base (later Orlando International Airport) to the east, Disney selected a centrally located site near Bay Lake.
To avoid a burst of land speculation, Disney used various dummy corporations to acquire 27,443 acres (11,106 ha) of land. In May 1965, some of these major land transactions were recorded a few miles southwest of Orlando in Osceola County. Also, two large tracts totaling $1.5 million were sold, and smaller tracts of flatlands and cattle pastures were purchased by exotic-sounding companies such as the Latin-American Development and Management Corporation and the Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation (some of these names are now memorialized on a window above Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom). In addition to three huge parcels of land were many smaller parcels, referred to as "outs".
Despite marketing claims and popular misconceptions, the Florida resort is not within Orlando city limits, but is actually about 21 miles (34 km) southwest of downtown Orlando, much of it in southwestern Orange County, with the remainder in adjacent Osceola County. The property includes the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake which are governed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The 25,000 acres (10,117 ha; 39 sq mi) site is accessible from Central Florida's Interstate 4 via Exits 62B (World Drive), 64B (US 192 West), 65B (Osceola Parkway West), 67B (SR 536 West), and 68 (SR 535 North), and Exit 8 on State Road 429 (Florida), the Western Expressway. At its peak, the resort occupied approximately 30,000 acres (12,141 ha; 47 sq mi), about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan. Portions of the property since have been sold or de-annexed, including land now occupied by the Disney-built community of Celebration.