Why people get confused about Disney World
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about Disney World, which can make it very difficult for someone unfamiliar with the area to understand where it is, and what it is.
If one is trying to choose where to stay for a Disney vacation, all of this conflicting and confusing information doesn’t help at all. To make matters worse, most people don’t understand where and what Disney World is even after they’ve been there!
The Disney World Property covers about 40 square miles of land, SouthWest of Orlando, FL. As such, it is actually West of Kissimmee. It consists of a large area of land made up of pine forests, palm scrub land, a large swampy area dedicated to conservation that runs right through it, and of course; four of the most amazing theme parks in the world; a dining, shopping and entertainment district called Disney Springs; two of the best water parks in the world; a number of golf courses (plus four fabulous miniature golf courses); a huge sports complex called ESPN Wide World of Sports; along with about 15 amazing (and very expensive) resort properties and other hotels that together offer 30,000 rooms – plus a whole host of support facilities and other properties that keep the whole thing functioning; such as its own fire department, emergency services, security/police force, nuclear-powered electrical utility, zoning office and even its own local government!
All of this makes Walt Disney World the largest single-site employer in the United States, with a total of over 100,000 people employed! And they are all there to make you and other guests have the time of your life while visiting.
In addition to this, there is also the City of Celebration, a preplanned city designed in the late 20th Century by four of the pre-eminent architects in the USA as a living and working proof-of-concept for neo-traditional whole-city planning, which was build in the SouthEast corner of the property.
No wonder it is hard to understand exactly what Disney World is, and even where it is! The fact is, Disney adds a lot to the confusion themselves, because in some ways, their success is so overwhelming that they actually work to minimize the public’s awareness of it, lest people become concerned that the Mouse has simply gotten too big! Plus, there are political and tax issues to be considered as well, especially with a property that stretches across two different counties in Central Florida.
Cutting across the SouthEast corner of the property is the major highway in the area, the interstate I-4, which runs between Tampa and Daytona. Even though it crosses right over the Disney World Resort Property, there is NO indication where the property starts or stops!
You can tell roughly when you’re there because of all the road signs indicating exits to the various Disney parks and attractions, but there is NO marker when you cross the boundary. Nothing says “Hey! You’re on the Disney property! Welcome to Walt Disney World!” Thousands of people drive across Disney World every day and have no idea that they are!
Well, actually there is one very special marker along the highway that always delights people! It’s a utility pole! I won’t say anything more about that here; you’ll just have to visit the area to see what I mean by that.
If you read books on the history of Disney World like I do, you will see how the Imagineers specifically decided to put the ‘gates’ to Disney World far inside the property, close to the theme parks, because they didn’t want children in cars to get upset when they drove through them but then would not arrive anywhere soon.
Well, the placement of those gates causes a lot of confusion for people about where Disney World stops and starts, because they just assume that the gate would be at the edge of the property.
It is also confusing for people to think that the City of Celebration is within Disney World, especially when Disney themselves will describe it as being ‘five miles’ from Disney World, but they really mean the area where the resorts are.
The simplest way to come to terms with it is to understand that a governmental district was originally created out of the Disney property to hold Disney World, and that entity is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. It encompasses an area that stretches across two counties, and itself contains two incorporated areas (cities) called Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, and a bunch of unincorporated land used for other purposes (agriculture, conservation & Celebration).
You don’t really need to know any of that to have a great Disney Vacation, but it helps to understand why so many people have a hard time understanding what Disney is, where it is, and where they will be staying in relation to it!
It is also helpful to understand that this confusion leads to a lot of false or contradictory claims about the location of accommodations relative to ‘Disney World’.