NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Disney > Orlando



The home of Disney's biggest theme park

Disney's first theme park was Disneyland in California, but the biggest is Disney World in Orlando, Florida. In 1997, 27.3 million people flew into Orlando airport. It is estimated that almost half of them visited Disney World.

Forty years ago, before Disney came, there was no tourism in this part of Florida. Orlando was a quiet town of around 20,000 people. It was surrounded by orange groves, farms and wetlands. The main crops were citrus fruits, and the white farmers who owned the orange groves also controlled the town.

TOURISM: travelling and visiting places for pleasure

CITRUS FRUITS: fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits.

How Disney World started

In the early 1960's someone - nobody knew who - started buying more and more small pieces of land around Orlando. By the time people knew that the buyer was the Disney company, it owned more than 9,700 hectares (24,000 acres) of land. Now, Disney owns more than 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) in the area. Disney World itself is 111 square kilometres, twice as big as Manhattan.


The theme park was a small part of Walt Disney's original plan. The most important part of the plan was to build two new communities of about 20,000 people each. Walt Disney planned that these towns would be ideal communities of the future (Environmental Prototype Community of Tomorrow - EPCOT - as he called them).

A PROTOTYPE is something you make as a trial model. Go to quick-check

Disney's special status

When Disney told the local authorities and State authorities about its plan, it asked for the same rights and powers as an independent municipal government. The authorities gave the Disney company these powers because they were so happy about the tourists that Disney would bring to the area.

Today Disney's 'government' is called the 'Reedy Creek Improvement Area'. On the Disney company's land, this 'government' can build its own roads and run its own police stations and fire stations; it controls its own town planning, inspection, sewage and water treatment.

AUTHORITIES: government officials. LOCAL authorities are the government officials for a small region. STATE authorities, here, means government officials for the state of Florida.

MUNICIPAL: (adj) for a city or a town

Disney also saves millions of dollars in taxes every year because it is both a 'local government' and a company.
This allows Disney to:

issue bonds;
tax itself to pay for them;
claim some of these expenses as local taxes;
then deduct those taxes from its corporate income tax.
TO ISSUE BONDS: to borrow money by providing certificates that promise to pay back the money

DEDUCT: (v) subtract; take away


Disney gets what it wants

"[Disney] is really a state within a state," said a journalist for an Orlando newspaper.
"Disney gets what it wants in this town" (Orlando) because the people who run Orlando and the people who run Disney work together.

Disney is powerful for another reason, too. It is very difficult to take legal action against the Disney company because of Florida;'s legal system. In Florida, a lawyer is not allowed to sue someone that they have previously represented in court. In other words, if a lawyer has taken part in a trial, working for Disney, that lawyer can never take legal action against Disney.

It is not surprising that Disney hires as many lawyers as possible, so that there are very few lawyerrs in the area who can stand against Disney in court.

A STATE WITHIN A STATE: something that operates independently of the government and can do whatever it likes


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Orlando is a city with problems

Now, the population of Orlando is almost 1, 000,000 and, as the city grows, its problems grow too.

  • Low pay
    Most people work in low-paid 'service' jobs. These include people who work for Disney World itself, and other people who work in the tourist industry: in hotels, restaurants, tourist shops and other tourist attractions.
    The average wage in Orlando is less than the average wage for Florida and less than the average wage for the USA as a whole.
  • Poor public services
    Orlando has spread further and further into the surrounding countryside as developers look for cheaper land. There is little public transportation so the roads become more and more crowded with traffic. The level of public services is going down.
  • Too little housing
    There is also a shortage of housing that ordinary people can afford. Houses in the special town of Celebration, built and controlled by Disney, are far too expensive for most Disney employees to buy.


SERVICE JOBS: jobs like hotel and restaurant work that provide for people's needs but do not make products

AVERAGE WAGE: the typical amount of money a worker would be paid

SURROUNDING: (adj) nearby

SHORTAGE: (n) too little

Judith Kovisar, the director of a local mortgage company, thinks there could soon be a crisis in Orlando. She explains how she sees the problem:

"The real danger here is the growing disparity between rich and poor. Disney's got the wealth, they just don't distribute it to those who need it... The investment is here, but most of the wealth ends up back in California. The workers are just an expendable resource... And people are beginning to understand."

MORTGAGE COMPANY: a company that lends money for people to buy houses

DISPARITY: (n) difference

EXPENDABLE: (adj) something you can throw out when you don't need it

Go to quick-check

This information is taken from the article "Inside the Disney dream machine" by Wayne Ellwood, in the December 1998 issue of the New Internationalist.

© 1998, 1999: the New Internationalist

NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Disney > Orlando

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Last Modified: 19 June 1999

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