There has been much written over the years about lost Disney attractions at the theme parks; those that have been planned but never delivered to the public. But what rarely get mentioned are the many planned and abandoned hotels and resorts around the globe that the company have intended to build at various times. In his latest article Shaun Finnie looks at some of these unbuilt resorts.
I love the Disney resorts. It’s my firm belief that if you’ve been to a Disney park but stayed off site, you’ve only experienced half of the magic. Sure they’re expensive, but for your extra cash you get the full Disney experience for 24 hours a day.
But the hotels and resorts we have today don’t quite paint the entire picture. A vacation in a Disney hotel might have been a whole different experience if some of the abandoned plans had got the green light.
For example, long serving Imagineer John Hench once designed a wonderful looking Mickey Mouse hotel which he hoped would have been built at Disneyland in California. The entire structure would have been shaped like the classic “Hidden Mickey” three-ring icon, sloping down on both sides so that its shape could be seen from the front or back of the building. Sadly, it never got past the design stage, but there are many other Disney resort plans over the years that have came quite close to actually being constructed.
When Walt Disney World was in its initial planning stages, it was going to include six resorts (including the Fort Wilderness Campground). The Polynesian and Contemporary were to have been in place from opening day. However the other three intended resorts were dropped.
Disney’s Venetian Resort would have gone on the monorail loop between the Contemporary and the Ticket and Transportation Center. This has been suggested on more than one occasion and they have even gotten as far as starting to clear the ground before dropping the project again. This Italian themed resort would have been the most luxurious on-site accommodation that Disney has ever designed. Gondolas on canals would have transported guests from a central shopping, dining and lobby area to their rooms in small villas. Each block would have represented a different architectural style from around Italy. The area would have been dominated by a large campanile, an authentic replica of the famous tower in St. Mark’s Square, Venice. Though the entire Venetian idea was eventually shelved, this bell tower was built almost exactly as originally conceived, and stands at the entrance to the Italy Pavilion at Epcot.
In this early plan you can see the Magic Kingdom on the right, then (going clockwise) the contemporary and the Venetian sticking out into Seven Seas Lagoon. On the left hand side is the Polynesian.
Also on the monorail loop would have been the Asian Resort, situated where the Grand Floridian is now. It’s on the square in the lake at the top of the map. This hotel came so close to being built that its huge foundation base was created out into the lagoon and prepared for construction. The ground lay cleared but empty throughout the seventies, waiting for the green light to build the fabulous Asia resort. Of course it was never given the go-ahead, so visitors never got to see this Thailand-themed property. It would have consisted of long blocks of visitors’ rooms facing onto the water and surrounding a central courtyard with a swimming pool and the resort’s restaurants, shops and administration centre in a single huge towered structure.
After the park opened, Disney’s Persian Resort would have been the first expansion at WDW. This would have been located between the Contemporary and the Magic Kingdom, and would have looked much like the Sultan’s Palace from Aladdin with its white walls, cultured gardens, archways and magnificent golden onion domes. Its and circular ‘walled city’ design would have made it unlike any other Disney resort. But, as we’ll see again later in this article, that patch of land was to remain undeveloped
Another resort that was never built at WDW was the Greek island themed Mediterranean Resort, which would have been a relatively small deluxe hotel on the banks of the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom. This was planned for the mid 1990’s but once again was dropped. As you can see from this model it would have featured simple, clean Spanish apartment style rooms facing onto the lagoon.
Of course all these resort concepts had been designed to give Walt Disney World visitors a feel for different areas of the globe. This was no longer required once EPCOT had stopped being talked of as an actual functioning city and had changed to include the World Showcase. However the idea of having Disney guests stay in various countries didn’t disappear completely, as I’ll show in an upcoming article about an entire abandoned Disney park!
In more recent times, Disney has expanded into the budget end of the room market with it’s All-Star resorts. But the ones that we see today could have been joined by All-Star Comedy and All-Star Theater resorts. There was also some talk of a Toontown Hotel to be built to the north of the Magic Kingdom, overlooking Mickey’s Toontown Fair.
And at the other end of the budgetary scale there were to be four very exclusive Honeymoon Cottages out on Discovery Island. Can you imagine spending the first days of your married life with that secluded island all to yourselves after it had closed for the night?
The site between the Contemporary and the Magic Kingdom that had been earmarked for the Persian Resort has often been talked of as a site for the Kingdom Suites hotel. This was to have been a luxury hotel complementing the Contemporary, but with all guests staying in their own superior multi-roomed suites (hence the name). This has been close to getting the green light on more than one occasion, but the success of the vacation club apartments has seen Disney execs cool to the idea of building hotel suites. Maybe it could be built as part of the DVC at some point?
If Disney had built all the resorts it planned to in the mid 1990’s there would have been no less that 26 hotels on property in Florida. One of the most eagerly anticipated resorts at Walt Disney World was Buffalo Junction. This was announced as coming in mid 1990’s but never materialised. Buffalo Junction was also known as Fort Wilderness Junction and would have provided a physical and thematic link between the Fort Wilderness Campground and Fort Wilderness Lodge. The idea was to have a ‘timeline of accommodation’. Guests could have walked from one to the other and ‘travelled through time’ as follows;
- Fort Wilderness Campground – the early pioneering days of log cabins and camping
- Fort Wilderness Junction – early western housing
- Fort Wilderness Vacation Club apartments – rustic self-contained cabins for the people who (so the back story goes) built Fort Wilderness Lodge
- Fort Wilderness Lodge – contemporary National Parks vacation lodge
The guest favourite small train that used to run around the Campground in its early days was to have been resurrected to run between all these areas. Actually the plans for Wilderness Lodge had been around since the early designs of the park in the 1970s, but it was going under a different name then. If it had been built 25 years earlier as intended, it would have been called the Cypress Point Hotel.
But what would Fort Wilderness (or Buffalo) Junction have looked like? It was to be a resort themed like a small “Wild West” town, complete with horses on sawdust streets. Think of the movies High Noon or Blazing Saddles. This resort was to be based upon the hugely popular Hotel Cheyenne at Disneyland Paris, complete with a copy of DLP’s much-loved Buffalo Bill rodeo dinner show.
And I’ll be looking at the fascinating story of the planned hotels of Disneyland Paris that were never built – as well as other Disney properties around the world –in the next part of this series. See you then.