All the WDW Hotels Never Builtby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Readers of my columns and books know that I have a great fascination with things the Walt Disney Company announced, but never built.
Today to help celebrate the half century anniversary year of Walt Disney World, I am going to look at all the WDW resort hotels that were at one time seriously considered and then abandoned. Over the decades, ideas for other hotels were pitched, but these were the ones that almost actually got built.
The word "cosmopolitan" refers to having an international perspective. In a vernacular sense, the word to refer to places where people of various ethnic, cultural and/or religious backgrounds live nearby and interact with each other.
While it was probably a "placeholder" name, it was the name chosen by Walt Disney for the hotel in his original version of Epcot. A totally climate-controlled city center, built around the 30-story cosmopolitan hotel and convention center was the centerpiece of his hub and spoke design.
The area would be pedestrian-centric and contain an international shopping district that would later inspire elements in Epcot's World Showcase.
The Walt Disney's Epcot '66 film describes it:
"Among its major features will be a cosmopolitan hotel and convention center, towering 30 or more stories, shopping areas, where stores and whole streets recreate the character and adventure of places round the world, theaters for dramatic and musical production, restaurants and a variety of nightlife attractions, and a wide range of office buildings, some containing services required by EPCOT's residents, but most of them designed especially to suit the local needs of major corporations.
"This towering hotel is the visual center of EPCOT, the shining jewel at the center of the city. It will offer tourists and vacationers not only the most modern guest rooms and convention facilities, but also a seven-acre recreation deck, located high above the pedestrian and shopping areas of the city."
Proposed Magic Kingdom Hotels
In 1967, the Disney Company created a full-color map to indicate the various resort hotels that would surround the Magic Kingdom theme park.
That map showed a Cape Cod Village, a South Seas glass skyscraper in the shape of a pyramid, Yesterday Hotel (to be located on Magic Kingdom's Main Street), Frontier Village, Spanish Colonial Hotel, Oriental Motel, the Dutch hotel, and the African Hotel. These were placeholder names to suggest the types of hotels that would be eventually approved.
By 1969, these possible resorts had been narrowed down to the Disney Persian Palace, U.S.A. Disney (that would become the Contemporary Resort), Far East Disney, Venice Disney and Disney South Pacific (that would become the Polynesian Village). Frontier Village was renamed Diamond D (for Disney) Dude Ranch on its way to becoming Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
In place of Disneyland's famed Opera House, the Magic Kingdom had what is now called the Town Square Theater.
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, that beautiful building was officially the elegant Main Street Hotel that housed the Gulf Hospitality Center. The legendary Dorothea Redmond had created concept art for the possibility of building an actual upscale Victorian hotel on Main Street.
The hotel would not only have encompassed the actual building as it is today but expanded into the backstage area that became a cast member parking lot.
Some of those design elements for an actual hotel still remain including the individual balconies on the upper floor windows and the broad front porch with rocking chairs.
According to the original storyline, the hotel was located next to the Train Station so that people would have a place to stay while they waited for their train connection or visiting the city.
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, this beautiful building was the unofficial central location for all of Walt Disney property, where guests could make reservations for resort rooms, dinner shows, golfing and other recreational activities.
The large, polished wooden counter reminiscent of a check-in counter in a hotel was primarily staffed by friendly and attractive young women who extolled the virtues of Gulf Oil, of course, and handed out maps and brochures that assisted guests with driving routes, places to visit in Central Florida and selecting hotels or motels at which to stay on their trip.
In addition to the service stations located on the property for both guests and employees, Gulf Oil had exclusive rights for oil products used on the property as it did at Disneyland.
"Etched glass doors, potted palms, comfortable velvet settees and antique chairs set the mood for relaxation and comfort," claimed the 1972 "Gulf Personal Tourguide (sic) to Walt Disney World," describing the Hospitality Center. These items like the interior counter suggested a turn-of-the-century hotel lobby.
The Hospitality House officially closed March 1990 and became Disneyana Collectibles. It became the Town Square Exposition Hall in 1998 and closed in 2011. It was then re-themed as the Town Square Theater.
The Asian resort hotel was scheduled to open by 1973. Land had been cleared and prepared where Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa stands today. A square plot of land prominently jutted out into the Seven Seas Lagoon and the nearby road had been dubbed "Asian Way".
"The Asian hotel will be strongly Thai in its motif. A theme restaurant and lounge at the top of its 160-foot tower building will provide an enchanting setting for nighttime dancing and stage show entertainment. Each of its 600 rooms, including 50 elegant suites in royal Thai decor, will look out on the lagoon or a central recreation area."
The Asian's imminent completion was heralded on the official recorded monorail spiel and WDW literature like the Stockholders' Annual Report. There were also plans to have large meeting rooms under the guest area of the resort for conventions.
The Asian had gotten to the point that an approved sample interior for the rooms was completed and elaborate Oriental gardens had been designed by landscaper Bill Evans.
Guest rooms would have been arranged in a square around the perimeter with two-thirds of the guest rooms having beautiful garden or lake views. The remainder of the rooms would have been in the tower building providing a view into the central recreation area that would probably have featured a themed pool.
Located between the Contemporary Resort and the Ticket and Transportation Center near the water bridge on the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Venetian would have resembled the current Italy pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot in terms of architecture and style.
"At the Venetian resort, an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian 'City of Canals'. Shopping will be a unique experience as guests travel by gondola along 'streets of water' and under ornate bridges linking various sections of the resort. The style is reminiscent of St. Mark's Square, complete with a 120-foot campanile that will toll the time. The entire lobby will be glass-topped, creating a brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."
Located to the north and slightly east of the Contemporary Resort on Bay Lake, the Persian would have been laid out in a circular pattern with a large central building featuring a 24-foot blue dome. Smaller blue domes would have highlighted the white columns and buildings.
"Stepping right out of The Arabian Nights is the Persian resort, which will reign like an exotic far-Eastern palace on the Northwest shore of the lake. Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculpted swimming pools and 'old Persian' dining facilities. Guest will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina."
After a stop at the Contemporary, the monorail would have journeyed to the Persian. From there, instead of going directly to the Ticket and Transportation Center, the monorail would take a short detour through nearby Tomorrowland, just like the monorail at Disneyland, to offer guests a glimpse of the highway in the sky of the future.
Cypress Point Lodge
The land in the area near the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground had been cleared of trees by 1971 although some claim that this was originally meant for additional campground.
The 1973 WDW souvenir guide states that an unnamed "Lodge" was planned to be built in this location for guests. A rough replica of the resort was featured in the model in the post show area of Magic Kingdom's The Walt Disney Story attraction.
In the early 1980s, it was given the name Cypress Point Lodge but because of cost overruns in the building of Epcot Center, the resort was cancelled. Later Wilderness Lodge was built in the same location.
The November 4, 1982 issue of Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears provided the following description of the rustic, moderate resort:
"Cypress Point Lodge will be a medium-sized hotel facility, located on the south shore of Bay Lake near our Fort Wilderness Campground Resort. Encompassing 550 rooms and 50 log cabins on the beach, Cypress Point Lodge will offer a romantic notion of a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge secluded in a deep forest.
"Neither the trees nor the buildings dominate the entire area; but blend together in a natural harmony. One can almost hear the crackling fireplace and feel the large wooden beams offer a haven of security and comfort.
"Cypress Point Lodge will also include: two restaurants, a pool, extensive beach, and lake dock. Guests will commute in and out of Cypress Point Lodge by watercraft."
However, cost overruns for the building of Epcot Center resulted in Cypress Point Lodge being cancelled and it was no longer mentioned in any documentation starting in 1983.
Grande Venezia Resort
Disney's Grande Venezia Resort would have been located where the previously announced Venetian resort would have been built. This resort was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering in conjunction with architectural firm Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo, the same firm that helped design the Grand Floridian Resort.
The hotel was to rival the Grand Floridian to be the most luxurious of all the resorts. Concept blueprints called for intricately-designed buildings with terra cotta roofs, canals with functioning gondolas, lighted fountains, a masquerade-themed pool, a conference center, and a wedding chapel.
The same site was later also considered for a planned Greek-themed complex in the late 1990s. Known as Disney's Mediterranean Resort, the hotel would have been themed to a Greek fishing village built on the banks of the Seven Seas Lagoon and was also planned to rival the Grand Floridian in luxury and price.
In 1991, Disney described it to travel agents as "minutes from the Magic Kingdom and yet worlds away, the Mediterranean Resort will become the fourth Disney hotel to be located on the monorail system. The deluxe property, which is scheduled for completion in 1992 will recreate all the luxury and style of the 'jet set' hot spots throughout the Greek Islands. With contributions from renowned southwest U.S. architect Antoine Predock, the opulent village will feature elegant, vaulted arches, quiet courtyards, sparkling pools and powder-white beaches as well as 45,000 square feet of meeting space."
Allegedly the hotel wasn't built due to poor ground samples and the swampy nature of the ground at the site, which would have made the Mediterranean too expensive to build for Disney's liking.
New Orleans Hotel
In the early 1980s, Disney executive Dick Nunis pushed for an expansion of the Shopping Village at Lake Buena Vista (better known as Disney Springs today) by creating a moderately priced themed resort to resemble New Orleans.
The Empress Lilly restaurant would have been a steamboat that had docked to unload its cargo at this riverfront town of New Orleans where the guest rooms would have been "hidden" in buildings resembling a cotton mill or a boatwrights shop. The rooms would be on the upper floors with the bottom floor reserved for shops and restaurants.
Nunis told cast members in a May 1982 issue of Eyes & Ears cast newspaper that "From the Empress Lilly, we're going into a New Orleans street, and you'll walk right into a beautiful New Orleans hotel".
The hotel would have 600 rooms with the same French Quarter theme as New Orleans Square at Disneyland. A name for the hotel was never officially confirmed.
An illustrated marketing packet was produced by the Walt Disney Company in September 1981 (and later revised in April 1982) for the project, that detailed what was called "Lake Buena Vista New Orleans Square".
The lushly landscaped area, making use of already existing Florida flora, would have included approximately 120,000 square feet of restaurants, entertainment venues and merchandise shops. The area would have been themed in an old New Orleans motif and would have rippled out from Royale Circle.
Like at Disneyland, there would have been a Café Orleans with Cajun and Creole inspired cuisine in a casual setting.
The entertainment venues would have included a Preservation Hall Jazz Lounge. Jazz artists had already been performing periodically at the Village Restaurant to so much popularity that a cover charge had to be instituted. A more raucous time was had at the full bar in the Baton Rouge Lounge of the Empress Lilly that featured Dixieland Jazz.
Disney MGM Film Noir Hotel
Before the decision to build the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney MGM Studios was made, several other proposals were under consideration including a hotel attraction inspired by the novel The Shining featuring the various characters that appeared in several other of author Stephen King's novels in different rooms.
Another suggestion was a partial walking tour narrated by Vincent Price (who had recorded the original Disneyland Paris Phantom Manor narration) about a group of movie stars who had been staying at the hotel but mysteriously disappeared.
Throughout the tour, guests would discover clues and when they finally entered the elevator what had happened to those missing people became very clear but it was too late to get out.
CEO Michael Eisner suggested expanding the idea by making the hotel an actual in-park Disney resort themed to a 1939 "film noir" movie murder mystery. It would revolve around the hotel manager who had gone crazy and would have included period costumed staff interacting with guests much like the eventual Tower of Terror.
At night, there would be screams and activity taking place in the hallways and lobby as well as clues for the guests to uncover. It was even suggested having resort guests brought directly from the airport in a 1939 vehicle with the shades drawn to immerse them in the time period.
Eventually it was felt it would be too expensive, too complicated and too disruptive to the guest experience and was put aside.
Blizzard Beach was originally going to be connected to a Disney resort.
Located where the Coronado Springs Resort site now stands, Disney's Alpine Resort would have overlooked the melting snows of Blizzard Beach. The Alpine Resort would have been a moderately priced hotel and as one of the perks for staying there, guests would have been able to ride a chair lift over the street to the water park.
One of the reasons the idea of a hotel connected to a water park was eventually rejected according to Imagineer Kathy Mangum was "the water parks need to be rehabbed just about every year, which means draining them and sandblasting the bottom. We didn't want the guests overlooking an empty water park. It would ruin the story".
In addition, Disney Legal was concerned about the liability of the proposed ski lift.
In 1976, Edward Prizer, editor of Orlando-Land magazine, had lunch with Dick Nunis who told him there were plans to add a stockade and a replica of a frontier town to the Fort Wilderness Resort and campground.
"We're going to have lots of fun things there," Nunis told Prizer. "I've always wanted to do a fun place called Sadie Mae's Palace. Another thing we'll have in the old town will be Granny Kincaid's Farm where kids can pet animals and jump in the hay. That's another of Walt's ideas that we never developed."
In 1992, the Walt Disney Company announced a new addition to the Fort Wilderness area that was strongly supported by Nunis called at the time Buffalo Junction (and later referred to as Wilderness Junction).
The plans were to build an upscale 600-room moderately-priced resort between Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground and the Wilderness Lodge in the style of Disneyland Paris' Cheyenne Hotel complex very much like a Hollywood back lot movie set for a Western movie. It would have been themed to the Old West of Dodge City. One of the main attractions would have been a version of Disneyland Paris' Buffalo Bill Wild West Show prompting the name Buffalo Junction originally.
A large frontier rodeo-type structure was going to be built at the outskirts of town near Vista Boulevard, where there would have been a ton of parking available for those guests who just wanted to spend a few hours of shopping, eating or seeing the show.
The bottom level of the buildings would have shops and restaurants, while the upper levels would have rooms for guests. All three resorts would have been connected with a new operating version of the Fort Wilderness Railroad.
There would have been a stop at Pioneer Hall/Crockett's Tavern, another at the southwest corner of Wilderness Lodge and a big station with support facilities right in the center of Fort Wilderness Junction.
The story would begin at Fort Wilderness, representing the original frontier period of the United States. Wilderness Junction would showcase the expansion out to the Wild West, and, finally, the story would end at Wilderness Lodge, where Americans now live in harmony with their environment. Americans had finally realized the importance of conserving its natural resources by developing National Parks.
Some of the ideas for these hotels were later adapted and incorporated into other hotels that Disney built, including Port Orleans and Wilderness Lodge.