The happiest place on Earth, Disneyland, is likely so happy because of its real estate holdings. This company has one of the largest asset portfolios in the world -- and who wouldn't be happy about that?
As a child whose down-the-block neighbor was Disneyland (the original in Anaheim, California), I viewed this place as a magical land of fun and escapism. And Disneyland is that, but make no mistake, real estate is the heart of the business.
Residential real estate
Let's first look at how Disney does residential real estate. For people who can't get enough of the fun and fantasy of Disney with a mere visit to the park (oh, and if they're rich), they can live inside Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, by buying in the Golden Oak community through Disney's own real estate company, Golden Oak Realty. There are 450 luxury homes in Golden Oak, and prices start at around $2 million.
Inside the Golden Oak community are even more exclusive homes -- ultra-luxury residences that start at $5 million and have an arrangement with the Four Seasons Resort, which is in the heart of Golden Oak. Homeowners who buy in the Four Seasons Private Residences have access to their own concierge, who can arrange housekeeping, in-house spa services, and private parties.
Many people who buy in Golden Oak consider the home a vacation property, but an increasing number of residents are starting to consider this their primary home. Only a small number of owners lease the property, and if they do, it's for a six-month minimum stay.
Before Golden Oak, the only community inside a Disney park was Celebration, Disney's first foray into real estate. The year was 1996 when Disney unveiled this master-planned community a few miles outside Orlando's Disney World. The Walt Disney Company no longer owns Celebration, after selling it for $6.5 million.
Other real estate Disney owns
The original: Anaheim, California
Although in the United States, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, has overshadowed Disneyland, we must give props to the original. From 1955 to 1971, if you wanted to experience the magic of Disney, Anaheim was it. The Disneyland Resort sits on about 500 acres and is home to two theme parks: the original Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. Anaheim is also home to the AAA Four-Diamond Disneyland Hotel, with 975 rooms, and the Downtown Disney District, with restaurants and retail.
Orlando is home to The Walt Disney World Resort that includes 34 resorts with hotels and residential areas. (See Golden Oak above.) The resort exists, of course, because of Disney World, which is about the size of San Francisco, spread over an incredible 43 miles. Besides the four theme parks -- Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot -- are 27 themed resort hotels, nine regular hotels, two water parks, and four world-class golf courses. And all this is using only about a third of the total land owned here.
The Euro Disney Resort, also called Disneyland Paris, is in Marne-la-Vallee and sits on 4,800 acres. There are two theme parks, resort hotels, restaurants, shopping, and a golf course in this biggest theme park in Europe.
The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is in Lantau Island. It's Hong Kong's largest theme park but Disney's smallest attraction, on 68 acres of land with one theme park and two themed resort hotels.
The Millionacres bottom line
A true real estate investor, Walt Disney had an eye for real estate, in particular the future of real estate. He designed Disneyland's Tomorrowland with the future in mind. And while not all his visions came to be, they are fascinating all the same. Florida's Celebration, for example, didn't materialize the way Walt Disney imagined -- an experimental utopian city under a climate-controlled dome, called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. But Walt Disney did understand real estate.
Note: If you can figure out acronyms, you'll know the "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" was used elsewhere. Spoiler alert: EPCOT!