The minute someone even mentions Walt Disney World, most people's minds immediately conjure up visions of Cinderella Castle and the Magic Kingdom. That's unsurprising when you take into account that the park that started it all -- it opened in 1971 -- is still the most widely recognized and the most popular Disney destination in the United States.
Today, however, Walt Disney World has grown to include an array of themed resorts, hundreds of restaurants and shops, nightclub venues, smaller attractions, and four major theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. And even with an uncertain economy, park attendance continues to rise. WDW attracted more than 47 million paying customers in 2007, according to estimates by TEA Inc. and Economic Research Associates. All four Disney parks make the country's top five in attendance list (the remaining park on the list is Disneyland in California). But that should hardly surprise you -- they offer a fanciful, self-sufficient vacation where wonderment, human progress, and old-fashioned family fun are the key themes. The Disney Imagineers show off their creative capabilities through spectacular parades and fireworks displays, 3-D and CircleVision films, nerve-racking thrill rides, and adventurous journeys through time and space. Though still more expensive, you'll seldom hear people complain about failing to get their money's worth -- at home, an evening out, including dinner, a movie, and a babysitter, can add up to a hefty amount without nearly the same return.
To keep you coming back for more, rides and shows are periodically updated, new experiences are added, and unique (often spectacular) year-long park-wide celebrations periodically add to the mix.
As Walt Disney World has matured, changes and additions have been numerous. Just this past year, several more attractions debuted, new restaurants (themed of course) opened their doors, and at random, guests were surprised with special experiences that money couldn't buy (including an overnight stay at Cinderella Castle, special FASTPASS giveaways, the chance to be an honorary cast member, and more). The Disney-MGM Studios even got a new name: Disney's Hollywood Studios.