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The Walt Disney World that Never Was: The Asian Resort

by Josh Taylor

During Walt Disney World’s early days, the Disney Company wanted to keep people on the World’s property instead of staying in a cheap motel just outside Orlando. They had struggled with cheap motels and trashy streets at Disneyland and they didn’t want that again, so when Walt Disney went to purchase land in Florida, he bought tons of land knowing he would build several hotels that would suit a Disney theme park. By the time Walt Disney World was being built, the plan was to have several major themed hotels just a Monorail jump away from the Magic Kingdom. The Contemporary was branded as the “flagship” hotel and the Polynesian Village was the next in line on the Monorail line; however, that was just phase one and there were several other hotels to follow that would sit along the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. The next in line to be built was The Asian Resort.

The Asian Resort was to sit in between the Polynesian Village and the Magic Kingdom in the same spot that is now occupied by the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. In fact, that land was purposefully held for several years to be occupied by the Asian Resort and it would become the third major Disney resort on property, and what a beautiful hotel it could have been. Imagine a hotel sitting out on the lake from the shore line with the center tower rising 160 feet high while the hotel room wings lay out over the lake giving at least half of the rooms lake views and some rooms Magic Kingdom views. All of this connected to the Monorail for easy access to the Magic Kingdom as well as other hotels on the Seven Seas Lagoon loop.

Much like the Contemporary Hotel’s Top of the World lounge/restaurant/supper club/whatever you want to call it, the Asian Resort was to have a fine dining restaurant and entertainment club at the top of the center tower. The club would have a Royal Thai theme, much like the rest of the resort, and the entertainment and food would rely heavily on Asian culture.

To accompany the new Asian Resort, there would also be a convention center. The convention center would be located underneath the main lobby, suggesting the same use of space that was used at the Magic Kingdom, making the second level the main level and the lower level much more private and for conventioners and staff only.

Mentioning the main level, this floor, most likely featuring the lobby, was to also have a recreation center and swimming pool (no surprise there) as well as other dining and entertainment options. Disney even went as far as to advertise the resort in brochures and guide maps, even showing a road, Asian Way, that led down to the Polynesian and up to the Magic Kingdom.

So what happened to this planned resort? Obviously Disney Imagineers had made it quite far into the planning process. The answer simply comes down to supply and demand. During the 1970s, when the U.S. had energy crises, hotel stays saw a decline in the Orlando area and across the States. That included not just the Disney resorts but even some of the cheaper off property hotels and motels. If Disney isn’t going to make money on a property they had put tons of money into, then why bother building another resort at all. The plans were put on hold for several years, and Asian Way was still left without a resort at its end.

By the mid 1980s, the economic stage across the U.S. had changed and the Disney resorts saw a boom in occupancy. This brought the company to plan for more hotels and resorts on their property. When the plot of land reserved for the Asian Resort was brought up, it was decided that another hotel in the works would fit well in that spot. The Grand Floridian Resort Hotel and Spa opened in 1988 in that plot of land sitting out on the Seven Seas Lagoon which meant that the Asian Resort had no place to call home.

Will the Asian Resort ever be built? Anything is possible, but as it sits on the shelf and other new ideas emerge at Disney Imagineering, one has to wonder if the Asian Resort designs will ever be dusted off and added to list over Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World. In my personal opinion, with the opening of Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary, I see no reason why Bay Lake couldn’t be used as yet another Monorail loop with several resorts attached to it. Make the connection at Magic Kingdom for both loops and make the Asian Resort one of the hot properties on that lake. Disney Vacation Club condos? Maybe, but even if it was a smaller resort geared to a cheaper price tag audience, I think the Asian theme is popular enough in this day and age to sell out its rooms.

Give your thoughts on this weeks topic. Would you like to see the Asian Resort come to life? Would you prefer it over the Grand Floridian or would you rather see it somewhere else on Disney property? Let me know your thoughts this week!

Josh Taylor is a 26-year-old fan of Disney Parks. He has become a travel agent for friend and family lookig to go to a Disney Resort. As a historian of the company, he also has his own blog at www.disneyparkhistory.wordpress.com