Orlando, Fla. (CNN) — Before there was Disney World, there was nothing... or in Orlando, Fla., there was very little. In 1971, Walt Disney transformed 40 miles of unwanted land into what is now "the most magical place on earth." Since then, others have followed suit, and Orlando now houses seven of the world's top 25 theme parks, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, luring in 60 million visitors each year.
The bulk of the city's tourists come to pay homage to the mouse. Last year, Disney World welcomed almost 20 million, retaining its position as the world's most popular theme park. Since its launch, the Magical Kingdom has grown, and today houses 30 hotels, 300 restaurants and ever-expanding roster of attractions for "kids of all ages."
Though summer is peak time, when the park stays open later to meet demand, Disney World remains popular in all seasons.
"There's actually isn't a slow time of the year anymore," says George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort.
One reason for the park's success is the frequent release of Disney movies, which leads to a constant supply of fresh attractions. Disney World receives details of new releases three years in advance so that star characters and experiences can be prepared.
The Kingdom also stays ahead through its innovative use of technology. The billion-dollar Magic+ system uses a biometric wristband that covers the entire site, serving as ticket, room key, and method of payment, while also eliminating the need for physical barriers. It connects to a mobile app that maps the resort and provides waiting times and speedy booking options.
"We're just beginning the journey with this type of technology," says Kalogridis. "The list of where we would like to use it is endless."
A new contender
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Fifty miles south of Disney World is Orlando's smallest theme park: Legoland Florida. Despite its stature, the new kid on the block has grand ambitions.
"You're hardly an entertainment company without having some kind of presence in central Florida," notes General Manager Adrian Jones.
"The Lego brand is huge...it has the ability to cut through the big parks in Orlando."
Jones hopes to capitalize on the classic toy's appeal to young children.
"The heart of Lego is around five- to eight-year-old boys," he says, adding that the Legoland doesn't need to poach visitors from rival parks, as the theme park industry keeps growing. And so, too, is Legoland. The park recently opened the Legoland Hotel (a "kid's paradise," says Jones), which keeps to a strict Lego aesthetic and is boosting the multi-day visits from foreign or domestic tourists.
Establishing a foothold in the land of giants can be intimidating, but Jones believes the competition is driving up standards. Of course, to beat the House of Mouse, Legoland will need to keep innovating, for in the theme park industry, there are no easy rides.
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