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Why For did WDW's Asian, Venetian and Persian resorts never get built?

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Why For did WDW's Asian, Venetian and Persian resorts never get built?

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Terri P. writes in to say:

I really enjoyed last week's Why For and was wondering if you had any more info about those three resort hotels that were never built.

Ah, you mean the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian.

Turning again to my handy-dandy copy of the "Preview Edition" of the "Walt Disney World : Vacation Kingdom of the World" guide, the Asian resort is described as being ...

... 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 stageshow entertainment.

Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions

Each of its 600 rooms, including 50 elegant suites in royal Thai decor, will look out on the lagoon or a central recreation area.

 Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions

While 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 with 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 which will toll the time. The entire lobby will be glass-topped, creating a brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors.

Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions

And as for the Persian Resort (Which was deliberately designed to look it had come straight out of "The Arabian Nights"), this ...

... exotic far-Eastern palace (was to have been) located on the Northwest shore of (Bay) lake.

 Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions

Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculptured swimming pools and "old Persian" dining facilities. Guests will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina.

Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions

Now it's important to understand that -- as late as the Fall of 1972 -- all three of these themed resorts were still considered to be "Go" projects. Meaning that Disney officials genuinely planned to push forward with construction of each of these hotels as part of WDW's "Phase Two" (I.E. That time period in the resort's master plan that was supposed to have stretched from October of 1976 to September of 1981).

And -- in the case of the Asian Resort ... Well, according to what was written in Walt Disney Productions' 1972 annual report, the company was originally looking to start construction of that particular themed hotel a full two years ahead of schedule.

Don't believe me? Okay. Here's the appropriate quote from that corporate document:

Since opening day, the demand for accomodations throughout central Florida has exceeded the supply. On site, our two theme resort-hotels, the Contemporary and the Polynesian Village, operated at near 100% capacity all year long ... Recognizing that the public will always prefer to stay within the "Vacation Kingdom" site, the Company will soon begin architectural work on a third theme resort, the 500-room Asian Hotel. Construction is planned for 1974, with the formal opening to take place late that year.

And if you look at this aerial photograph of the resort that was taken in December of 1971, you can see that Disney's construction team had already done most of the site prep for both the Asian and the Venetian resorts.

 Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions

If all had gone according to plan, that Thai-themed hotel was to have been built on this square piece of property that juts out from the Western shore of Seven Seas Lagoon.

Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions

While the Venetian resort was to have built on the Eastern side of this same body of water. With the various canals that were to have run around & through this Italian themed hotel being dug out of the soil that was left on site after all of the prep work was done.

Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions

Here's an interesting bit of trivia for all you WDW history buffs. Do you see that cleared chunk of forest along the southwestern shore of Bay Lake?

 Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions

That's where the Imagineers had WDW's construction crew do site prep for a sixth themed hotel. Which wasn't supposed to be built 'til after construction of the Persian Resort was completed in 1980. Back then, this was where the Cypress Point Lodge would have been located. A rustic-themed resort that was to have resembled Yellowstone Lodge.

Cypress Point was to have been the first hotel built as part of WDW's "Phase Three" (The period in WDW's Master Plan that was to have run from October of 1981 through September of 1986). But then the Energy Crisis of 1973 happened. And all of Disney's carefully crafted expansion plans promptly flew out the window.

Quoting now from Walt Disney Productions' 1974 annual report:

Inflation, the crisis of confidence in government and the prolonged concern about the availability of gasoline had a profound effect upon business activity in the United States, and our Company felt the impact of these conditions, as did everyone else.

Long story short: When attendance at the resort dropped off by more than 20% due to the Oil Embargo, Disney officials realized that they should probably cut back on the number of new on-property resorts that they were planning on building. And -- instead -- give people a truly compelling reason to come down to Orlando and then stay on the hotel rooms that the Mouse already owned. Which is why -- starting in 1974 -- development of Epcot was fast-tracked, while plans for any additional on-property resorts were quietly tabled.

Mind you, the Imagineers always hoped that they'd be eventually able to get back to Disney World's "Master Plan." But then a decade went by and suddenly the Walt Disney Company had a brand-new management team. And Michael Eisner? He wasn't all that enthusiastic about the idea of building a Thai-themed hotel at Walt Disney World. But an elegant new resort that paid tribute to those grand old hotels that you used to find in Sarasota & Boca Raton around the turn of the century? That Disney's new CEO could get behind.

Which is why WDW wound up with the Grand Floridian Resort in 1988.

Copyright 1986 The Walt Disney Company

And as for the proposed construction site of the Venetian Resort ... Well, the Imagineers came up with a number of ideas that Uncle Michael liked (Including a resort that tried to put a post-modern spin on classic Greek architecture) ...

 Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

... Only to have construction of this particular hotel permanently postponed because ... Well, this piece of property alongside Seven Seas Lagoon is notoriously boggy. So much so that every time Disney's construction team has driven in a test piling (I.E. To see if this chunk of shoreline could then actually support the weight of an enormousnew waterfront hotel) ... That piling just sinks into the ground and is never seen again.

Sooo ... Until WDW can come up with a construction technique that can safely be used on this primo piece of property (And/or come up with some other way to stabilize this soil) ... The old Venetian resort site is off-limits. Which is one of the main reasons that Disney Vacation Club is building its yet-to-officially-be-announced Magic Kingdom Area resort next to the Contemporary, rather than over here.

Ironically enough, the themed-resort that was furtherest down in the pile (I.E. Cypress Point. Originally No. 6 on WED's list of proposed WDW hotels) was the only other one to get built. Though with a slightly different design and a rather different name: Wilderness Lodge.

Anyway ... That's a brief overview of the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian resorts. Three beautifully designed & themed hotels that -- thanks to circumstances entirely beyond Disney's control (I.E. The Oil Embargo) -- never quite made it off the drawing board.

And sepaking of overviews ...

 Copyright 1969 Walt Disney Productions

... Pretty, ain't it?

Your thoughts?

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  • "... an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian "City of Canals." Shopping with 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 which will toll the time. The entire lobby will be glass-topped, creating a brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."

    It's sort of interesting to think about how different things could be if these resorts would actually have been built.

    If WDW's Venetian was completed in the 70's, would Vegas's ever have been built?

  • Whow, it all sounds so wonderful. Even though it's disputable if all could have been build like they envisioned it, it still sounds pretty cool. All those resorts could have made Walt Disney World into a much larger experience. Especially the Venetian sounds really exciting.

    Maybe someday an Imagineer will stumble upon the original concepts of the resorts in the archives, he/she will show it to his/her boss, who will etc...... and after a long road it ends up at Iger's desk, who says, "this could be great to revive", and than construction begins after more than 30 years! Oh, how I like to dream..

  • The one I wish had been built is the Persian. It would be so cool to stay in a place like that! Sigh, if only.

  • Personally, both the inside and the outside of the Asian resort look a LOT like the Polynesian.  Something tells me that part of the reason it got scrapped was that it was too similar as well.  And, the postmodern Greek one (which to me looks like the coolest) appears to be a cross between Caribbean Beach and the Boardwalk/Yacht/Beach area.  I don't know, but like a lot of Disney's ideas, it seems we may have gotten these in one way or another.

  • The designs of the Phase 2 resorts are intriguing, but I have to wonder if Disney would ever pull out some of these designs for use today, even if they had the inclination to build more resorts.  For example, the Middle East might have seemed exotic and intriguing back in the early 70's, before Islamic fundamentalism and several major wars (including a couple we were involved in), but I suspect peoples' attitudes about staying in an "Arab hotel" (and yes, I know that Iranians aren't Arabs, but I think a lot of Americans lump them all together anyway) would be a lot different now. And as mentioned previously, with the Venetian in Las Vegas already in existence, Disney would probably be accused of copycatting if they built the Venetian Resort, even if their Venetian was on the drawing boards long before the Vegas version was.  

  • It seems to me that a lot of people think everything that was “originally” planned is always better than what ended up being built. I have to disagree. My wife and I happen to love the Grand Floridian, and I have to agree with IMFearless on the fact that the Polynesian and the Asian together would have been too redundant. Personally, I also would have zero interest in a Persian hotel… I think between the Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian, the Magic Kingdom ended up with two fantastic hotels to compliment the existing two. I have heard, and maybe somebody can add to this, that there have been two idea “themes” for hotels near the Magic Kingdom over the years, the hotels from around the world, and the hotels representing the different lands in the Magic Kingdom, i.e. the Contemporary was built behind Tomorrowland, the Polynesian was for Adventureland, and Cypress Point/Wilderness Lodge is for Frontierland and if you continue that thinking, Grand Floridian can represent Main Street USA to some extent. I always thought a Castle Hotel or something to represent Fantasyland would be much better suited (or that fantastic looking Mickey Mouse hotel from way back when) for around the Magic Kingdom. The country hotels should have been saved for the Epcot area.      

  • I. for one, am so glad that these planned resorts were never constructed. They all, in my opinion, would just clutter up the shores of Bay Lake/Seven Seas Lagoon. There's something to be said about seeing all of that green scenery all around you while riding the monorail.

    And I detest the new DVC hotel's location. Mainly because I love the Contemporary so much, and wouldn't want to see some upstart building overshadow my favorite WDW resort. Go and build it where River Country used to be, or somwhere like that!

    Way I see it, if the folks down at Disney want to build more themed resorts, they should do it far removed from the waterfront near the Magic Kingdom. And while they're at it, they should expand the monorail service to include other hotels and parks, like the supposed monorail to Disney/MGM Studios that was going to be built.

    The monorail is also a huge favorite of mine. Now that something I wouldn't mind seeing a lot more of. Down with neo-gaudy resorts along Seven Seas Lagoon/Bay Lake, and up with more monorails!

  • I wouldn't be surprised if Vegas' tendency for this type of theming has kept Disney from making more of these types of resorts now.

  • One thing that strikes me about the proposed hotels is the global theme -- featuring hotels that truly represent "the world."  Given the name of the new resort, that must have been part of the plan.  

    While you still have that at WDW today -- most notably with the Animal Kingdom Lodge and, of course, the Poly -- most of the hotels are not designed to transport you to another place, but just to give you a fun experience.  

    But it's interesting to see that some of the original ideas found their way into a couple of Epcot's pavillions (Morocco, Italy)...at Disney no ideas are ever completely wasted! :-)    

  • Interesting history. I noticed that part of the Venetian design was reused for the Italian pavillion at Epcot. It would be nice to have a great Thai restaurant at WDW even if there isn't a Thai hotel. Perhaps a Thai pavillion at Epcot.

  • Vegas has cornered the market on recreating locations now. Have any of you guys seen the cable special on the Venetian? Their sculptures are made of foam, painted to look real and then sprayed with a weatherproofing spray.

  • I agree with mouse'o'ears...we as fans always tend to think about what might have been, rather than what is.  I enjoy the Grand Floridian and I do enjoy the view that the Lagoon has now.

    Remember, the persian resort would have looked very gaudy and very, very 70s.  Even if they had redone the interior, the outside wouldn't have changed so much.

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