Orlando – even the mere word conjures up images of thrilling rides, beloved characters and hours upon hours of undiluted fun in the warmth beneath clear, azure skies. This iconic place boasts a prime location in the centre of sunny Florida, just a short drive away from the miles and miles of marvellous white-sand beaches that line both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida. Orlando is also the site of a dazzling downtown area, which literally overflows with amazing restaurants, chic shops and hot nightlife locales.
But, when it comes right down to it, Orlando is most famous all across the globe for one thing, and one thing only – its unrivalled collection of incredible theme parks. They are, after all, the main reason why more than (an astounding) 50 million visitors flock to Orlando every year. They come in the millions in search of excitement, adrenaline, laughs and memories that will last a lifetime.
Yet, have you ever wondered how Orlando came to be the theme park capital of the world? What caused this once sleepy town, surrounded by swampland to transform into one of the planet’s largest draws, a place whose very name is synonymous with the sheer joy of having a good time? Read on, and you’ll find out.
The Arrival of Walt Disney
One decision, above all else, changed the destiny of Orlando and set it on pace to become the theme park Mecca that it is today – Walt Disney’s determination to build a theme park in this central Florida spot. After he had established his first park, the thriving Disneyland®, in Anaheim, California in 1955, Disney came to the conclusion that it was not attracting as many customers from the east coast as he would have liked. After all, in the 1950s, the trek out to California was too arduous and time-consuming for many. So, Disney began to look around for somewhere else to base a second theme park.
Eventually, he settled on Orlando as the perfect site, convinced by its year-round sunshine, relatively cheap land (since much of it consisted of swamps) and its proximity to several major highways (vital arteries that could stream customers from all over the United States’ east coast and midwest region). To cement his plans, Disney began buying up vast tracts of real estate.
Then, in 1965, Walt Disney made an announcement that would forever alter the course of Orlando’s history. He arrived in town and declared that he would build “the world’s most spectacular theme park”, one that would be bigger and better than even his other creation, Disneyland®.
True to his word, after several years of construction – which employed more than 9,000 people and cost an estimated $400 million (almost $2.5 billion in today’s money, or over £1.75 billion) – in 1971, Disney opened the doors to the Magic Kingdom. Over the next two years, the wisdom of Disney’s choice of Orlando became clear, as more than 20 million visitors streamed through the gates of his newly opened, and instantly legendary, theme park.
Orlando was no longer a tranquil, citrus-growing place. It had already begun to morph into what it is nowadays – one of the most-visited destinations on earth. Along the way, the Magic Kingdom was joined by its sister parks, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot, collectively known as Disneyworld®. And, before too long, a whole array of other amazing theme parks began to spring up in Orlando.
SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Others Join the Party
Beginning with SeaWorld in 1973 and gaining steam with the arrival of Universal Studios Florida® in 1990, there was a steady influx of theme parks into the Orlando area, spurred on by the presence of Disneyworld and the glorious sun-soaked climate.
Now, when you spend a holiday in Orlando, you can not only hang out with Mickey Mouse, and brave the chills of Space Mountain™, you can also meet your favourite Harry Potter™ characters, ride the Hogwart’s Express™, observe some of the globe’s most fearsome and exotic animals in their natural habitats and swim with dolphins. Truly, Orlando has come a long way and richly deserves its title of theme park capital of the universe.
Your Luxurious Holiday Base in Orlando
The best way to experience all that this enchanting getaway has to offer is to make one of our two magnificent CLC World resorts in Orlando your Florida home-away-from-home.
Each CLC World Orlando resort sits just minutes away from this city’s celebrated theme parks and provides a range of superb features, luxurious accommodation, sparkling swimming pools, tonnes of delicious dining choices and well-supervised teen and kids’ clubs expressly designed to keep the little ones happy.