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Another WDW might-have-been: Fort Wilderness Junction

Jim Hill

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Another WDW might-have-been: Fort Wilderness Junction

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As regular readers of JHM already know, the history of the Walt Disney World Resort is littered with great what-might-have-beens stories. Terrific sounding attractions that never quite made it off the drawing board. Entire resorts that were all planned & ready to go, only to suddenly fall out of favor & never be constructed.

Me personally, I think one of WDW's saddest stories is about a resort that really should have been built along Bay Lake back in the 1990s. This hotel was almost certain to be a winner with Disney World visitors: Fort Wilderness Junction.

"And just what -- pray tell -- was Fort Wilderness Junction supposed to be like?," you ask. Well, let's take a look at the Wilderness Lodge. A high end resort that caters almost exclusively WDW visitors with fairly deep pockets. Now let's take a look at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. A nice little spot that appeals to those Disney World visitors who are working with a somewhat smaller budget.

Between these two resorts is a stretch of cypress forest ... As well as a large group of potential customers. People who don't necessarily have a whole lot of money to spend. But who'd still like to stay in a nicely themed hotel during their Disney World vacation.

Well, it was just this group of potential WDW visitors that the Imagineers wanted to go after. Which is why WDI (circa January of 1990) gave some very serious thought to doing something with that piece of property that lies between the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground & Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Those two WDW resorts were just supposed to be the book ends for the story that the Imagineers wanted to tell next.

The Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground -- with its rough hewn Pioneer Hall & Crockett's Tavern -- was supposed to be where this tall tale started out. The United States during its frontier period. Those rough and tumble times.

Whereas the Wilderness Lodge would have represented the end of the story. When the U.S. had finally gotten smart about conserving its natural resources and originally developed a network of National Parks. (By the way, the Villas at Wilderness Lodge occupies a very interesting niche in this narrative. According to WDW mythology, the Villas are supposedly the smaller, somewhat older hotel that the construction crew actually stayed in while they were building Wilderness Lodge. Which supposedly explains that resort's somewhat smaller, intimate scale. Anyway ... )

Now, as for that stretch of cypress forest between these two resorts ... This was where Fort Wilderness Junction (also called Buffalo Junction on some versions of this plan) was going to be built. A highly themed, moderately priced 600-room resort in the style of Disneyland Paris' Cheyenne Hotel complex. You know, the place where DLP guests get to stay inside an authentic looking recreation of a western town (EX: you bunk for the night in a hotel room directly above the livery stable)? Well, this would have been the WDW equivalent of that.

Yeah, this proposed Disney World hotel took its inspiration from the then-still-under-construction Euro Disney Resort. But this Wild West themed hotel wasn't the only idea that WDI was thinking of "borrowing" from EDL.

Take -- for example -- that large frontier rodeo-type structure that was going to be built at the outskirts of town (Right out toward Vista Boulevard, where there would have been a ton of parking available for those WDW guests who just wanted to drop by Fort Wilderness Junction for a few hours of fun). This enormous building was to have housed the arena that would have served as home for the Disney World version of that Euro Disney favorite, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show."

The best part of this plan -- at least for all you train buffs out there -- was that WDI hoped to use the construction of WDW's Fort Wilderness Junction as a reason to revive Fort Wilderness' late, lamented scenic railway. You know, that undersized steam train that used to haul guests all over Disney World's campground area back from 1973 to 1977?

The transportation master plan (And please keep in mind that this was just an idea that was floated during Fort Wilderness Junction's "Blue Sky" phase. So as whether or not the concept of using a locomotive would have lasted long enough to make it all the way through to the final version of the Fort Wilderness / Wilderness Lodge expansion plans remains to be seen) was that this steam train was to have had three stops. One was in the campground area (near Pioneer Hall & Crockett's Tavern), another in the Wilderness Lodge area (supposedly near the southwestern corner of the resort), while the other (featuring all of the train's support facilities) would be located right in the center of Fort Wilderness Junction.

All of that sounds pretty snazzy, doesn't it? So why didn't WDW's Fort Wilderness Junction ever make it off the drawing board? Well, it actually came pretty close to really happening. How close? The land along Vista Boulevard where all the heavy construction equipment would have been parked during the resort's construction phase was actually cleared back in the mid-1990s.

But -- because Fort Wilderness Junction had always been envisioned as a project for the second phase of Fort Wilderness' expansion plan -- this moderately priced resort would have to wait 'til work was done on Wilderness Lodge. Which didn't actually open its doors 'til May of 1994.

And -- by then -- management of the Walt Disney Company had kind of lost its enthusiasm for Fort Wilderness Junction. You see, they had become much more enamored of all the money that the corporation was making off of selling time shares ... excuse me, "points" in Disney Vacation Club resorts.

Well, I bet you can guess what happened next. The money that had originally earmarked for construction of Fort Wilderness Junction quietly got shifted over to the Villas at Wilderness Lodge project. Which finally opened to Disney Vacation Club members in November of 2000.

"So will the Walt Disney Company ever get around to building Fort Wilderness Junction?," you query. Well ... Given that there's a belief among Mouse House managers that -- because all those high capacity, low end hotels (I.E. Like the All Star Resorts & Pop Century) that the corporation added to its Central Florida resort back in the 1990s -- Disney World now has more on-site hotels rooms than it can usually fill, it's now rather unlikely that Fort Wilderness Junction will ever get built.

I know, I know. It's gotta be frustrating for all you JHM readers to keep hearing about this great sounding stuff (Like Fort Wilderness Junction. Or those exclusive honeymoon cottages that the Imagineers once wanted to build out on WDW's Discovery Island). But you need to keep in mind that -- every so often -- one of these long dormant projects actually does make it off WDI's drawing board.

Case in point: Disney's Cypress Point Hotel. This highly themed Bay Lake area resort was one of the six hotels that were originally planned for the Walt Disney Resort back in the late 1960s (Along with the Contemporary, Polynesian, Thai, Venetian and Persian Resorts). The proposed construction site was cleared and surveyed back in 1970. But then it took the Walt Disney Company nearly a quarter of a century before the corporation finally built a hotel at that location. And -- by then -- Cypress Point had a very different name: Wilderness Lodge.

So -- given the primo piece of real estate that we're talking about here -- it stands to reason that the Walt Disney Company will someday erect *SOMETHING* out there in that stretch of cypress that separates the Wilderness Lodge & Villas and the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds. Whether that will be Fort Wilderness Junction, Buffalo Junction or some other western / woodsy themed resort ... Well, who can say?

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