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WDW Radio # 729 – Lost Resorts of the Magic Kingdom: The Asian, Persian, and Venetian – From the WDW Radio Archives

From the WDW Radio Archives…

Since on our last episode of the show, we imagined Walt Disney World resort concepts that could be and we’d like to see, this week, we go back in time not just on the show to 2008 and Show # 91, but way back to a time before Walt Disney World had even opened. We’ll metaphorically trek through the Florida swamps, as we take a close look at a Walt Disney World we never knew by exploring the Lost Resorts of the Magic Kingdom. The exotic Asian, Persian, and Venetian resorts would have been built along the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon (hence its name) as part of Phase One. We’ll take a fun look back at what was supposed to be and might have been, with a little wondering and wishing as well.

Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.

But for now… sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s episode from the Archives on the WDW Radio show.

You can listen to the original episode in it’s entirety at WDW Radio #91

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Click Here To Read The Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Lou Mongello: Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode from the W DW Radio Archives. I am Lou Mongello and this is show number 729, and each week I'm gonna select an evergreen episode to share with you that maybe you haven't heard before or one that you haven't heard in a long time.

From interviews to top tens, relevant reviews, guides, way back machines, and more. It's a great way to visit or revisit. Some of our favorite episodes, including ones that you've suggested I share from the archives, and this week we go back in time, not just on the show to 2008 and episode number 91, but way back to a time before Walt Disney World had even opened.

Well, metaphorically. Trekk through the Florida swamps as we take a close look at a Walt Disney world. We never knew By exploring the lost resorts of the Magic Kingdom, the exotic Asian Persian and Venetian resorts would've been built along the shores of the Seven Seas. He, it's name, lagoon as part of phase one, and we'll take a fun look back at what was supposed to be and might have been.

With a little wondering and wishing as well, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about these lost resorts. What might have been, what could be coming in the future in the WW Radio Clubhouse. Come be part of the community and conversation@wwradio.com slash clubhouse or call the voicemail at four oh seven.

909 3 9 1. That's 4 0 7 900 W d w one, and share your story and comments on the show. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's episode from the archives on the W D W Radio Show.

In this week's trip aboard by Walt Disney World Wayback Machine, we're gonna travel back to Walt Disney World's very early history, not to look at a show or an attraction or even a restaurant, although if we had time to, I'd love to stop by the adventure and veranda and check out JP and the Silver Stars, but instead, We're gonna journey back into a time even before Walt Disney World had officially opened to the public.

And we're gonna sort of set up our Explorers camp on the shores of what's going to be the Seven Seas Lagoon. And we're gonna take a look at the Lost Resorts of the Magic Kingdom, because believe it or not, the views from the Magic Kingdom across the lake in 2008 look very, very different from what they could have or should have bit looked like.

In the mid seventies across the lake to the shores on the opposite side. So to journey with me aboard the Way Back Machine is a new traveler and his name is Craig Wheeler. He's a fellow Disney fan. I guess it's safe to say actually a Disney geek. Uh, very much into the history like I am. We had a chance to email back and forth a number of times and finally got a chance to meet over at Magic Meet.

And I knew right away that we were kindred spirits because he brought me a copy of his Disney World Magazine from July, 1967. I resisted the urge to hug him. But Craig, I wanna welcome you to the show. Hey, thanks for

Craig Wheeler: having me, Luke. It's great to be here.

Lou Mongello: Great to have you here too. And, uh, this is, this is a topic I've been wanting to cover on the show for, um, a, a long, long time.

You actually had posted about it on your blog, which was earning, it's earning my ears.com. But before we sort of head back in time, um, let, let's kind of just take a look around at what we have first so we can sort of compare and contrast. Obviously we have. On the seventies lagoon, we have the Polynesian, we've got the Grand Floridian over on Bay Lake.

We have the contemporary resort, all of which are on the monorail line. But really when they were planning Walt Disney World, even before sort of construction began, things were set to look very, very different. Um, you know, it opened with the poly, it opened with the contemporary, but there were plans going way, way back for additional hotels on the lake.

And I don't mean the Grand Floridian.

Craig Wheeler: That's right Lou. And actually, as we look at some of the old stuff, this whole idea of the theme resort, I think was kind of new to people, and Disney really set out with a lot of their press materials of explaining what exactly they meant with that theme hotel.

Lou Mongello: Yeah, absolutely.

I mean, they, they really introduced this concept. I mean, everything that sort of introduced when they came to Central Florida was very new to a lot of people. And you are right because I think people weren't used to having a resort around a theme except maybe, you know, in, in. Old Las Vegas would maybe the only thing that I can think of, uh, but you're right, in a lot of the, uh, press materials that they released, they had to almost sort of explain what it is.

And, and I know, uh, on your site, you had some of the, some of the terms that they used to sort of explain to people what these theme themed resorts were gonna be,

Craig Wheeler: right? Yeah. They were talking the, the whole concept, it was around the theme and it was to compliment the park. And they were explaining, you know, this was the whole package.

It was the design, the recreation, um, entertainment, the costumes on the employees, and even your favorite loose food.

Lou Mongello: My reputation precedes me. I, I can't say,

but yeah. And they, you know, as Disney always did, they enlisted the help of others who had sort of done similar things before. Um, they enlisted the help of Welton Beckett, and you may know that name, because they helped do a lot of work for the 19 64 65 World's Fair. I think they designed, designed actually a lot of the show buildings for the world's Fair with Disney back then.

Craig Wheeler: That's right. Um, Wed was there designing a lot of the theme and then really did happen to Wilton and Beckett's expertise in the architecture end of things.

Lou Mongello: Right. And, and they knew very early on, Craig, they knew that they were gonna be building, uh, additional resorts. They had seen, I mean, the contemporary and the Polynesian.

Were designed to handle the magic kingdom of crowds. They were very much filled to capacity, um, very, very early on. And the grand plan was to sort of build things in phases. And it wasn't just to add a single additional hotel like the Grand Floridian. They had in fact planned on building a total of five different themed resorts, um, over the next, you know, maybe five to seven years.

On both Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Craig Wheeler: That was right. They kind of planned the whole thing in phases. And this really was phase one was the Magic Kingdom and then all of these supporting resorts and other facilities. And um, and really the message was, we've got these too. We've. We've got our flagship, contemporary, the Polynesian, and then we've got three more that we're gonna keep in our back pocket that we can build as the, as the demand builds for our theme

Lou Mongello: parks.

Right. And, and don't be confused. We're not talking about the Fort Wilderness campgrounds, which opened, you know, at the same time, as well as being one of those other, I mean, we're talking about a full-blown resort hotel destination. And I, you know, we can start talking about 'em individually, but they were actually gonna be three very distinctly themed hotels.

It was gonna be an Asian. A Persian and a Venetian, and I think let's, let's really start off with the Asian, um, hotel because it's probably appropriate, because it was gonna be the first one to have opened as part of this, this grand plan.

Craig Wheeler: So That's right. I think actually the design went the farthest in this, and I believe even in the 1972 annual report it even got mentioned that they were getting ready to start formal planning and designing on it.

Lou Mongello: Yeah. And they had actually done site prep work, um, for it as well. Um, and you could, you were actually able to see it in late 1971. You can see that the construction team had done a lot of work specifically for this resort. And you're right, in the, uh, very early annual reports, they had talked about the fact that the contemporary and the Polynesian, they were at a hundred percent capacity and they were gonna build this third, 500 room Asian themed hotel.

And the interesting thing about it too is where it was placed, because it actually sits where the Grand Floridian sits today.

Craig Wheeler: That's right. There was aerial pictures at the time are great to see and, and you can even see it from the monorail at the time as you drove over, there was basically just a square jutting out into the seven seas lagoon that they had prepped out.

That was to be the future side of the hotel.

Lou Mongello: Yeah, if you look at some of those overhead pictures, and we'll put some links up both to your site and some other sites where you can take a look at some of the, uh, some of the early concept art. You'll see that there was this large square piece of land that sort of jus out.

Right into the Seven Seas Lagoon. And it was like that for a long, long time. Maybe about 15 years. Cause I remember as a kid, um, going by and seeing it and, and kind of wondering what was gonna end up being there.

Craig Wheeler: That's right When they dug out Seven Seas, lagoon, I mean, that was there from the beginning.

So from the time the Magic Kingdom was even being constructed, you had that square of land that was sitting there and, and nothing was ever done with it until the Grand Floridian was built on it. Um, opening 1988.

Lou Mongello: Right. And, and the location is important for a couple of reasons. One of which is much like we talk about the Polynesian and the contemporary, sort of tying into where they are geographically.

So the contemporary tying into the future theme of tomorrow land, the Polynesian, tying into the, uh, the adventurous theme of adventure land. This was specifically meant to be a also, again, sort of a, a backdrop to adventure land with a very. Not a Polynesian theme, but really more of, uh, a much more sort of Asian flair to it, obviously.

Craig Wheeler: That's right. And, and I, I would expect it might be even visible from the park a little bit, as you see the CONT areas, um, the, the main structure of the hotel was to be 160 foot tower building that would've housed, you know, shops and, and nightlife restaurants. Um, sounds like they would've had something along, something on the top that would've been along the top of the world show at the contemporary.

So, I mean, it really was, these, these were designed. To actually fit in as pieces of the, of the theme park.

Lou Mongello: Exactly. That's one of the things that really intrigued me about this was the size of this center tower building. I love the idea of having that, uh, uh, entertainment venue on top. Like I said, like the top of the world over the contemporary was, but they had also planned for, uh, convention area space, which if I understand Craig correctly, they wanted to keep it very separate from.

The guest areas. So it sounded like it would be like the first few floors would be the convention area, almost like the same way that the Magic Kingdom was built sort of on the second floor, the resort rooms and, and the area that guests would see, uh, who weren't going for the convention would be above that convention space.

It would also be, um, a lot of space for recreation areas, but trying to keep the convention area separate from the resort area.

Craig Wheeler: There was a lot of planning for convention space, but among all these hotels, I think they were all supposed to have some level of convention space. And Disney, I think, expected to kind of draw on that.

During the off seasons, they, they planned to have this, these large convention facilities, they would all be linked together with closed circuit television. Um, and, and they really did plan to only schedule conferences during certain times of the year. And I really think that was their business plan up front to try to draw some traffic down during the slower times of the year.

Lou Mongello: Yeah, and it also definitely seems from the pictures and the descriptions, That it was gonna be a very high end resort. Um, very beautiful in theme. A lot of, uh, drawing from Thai culture and Thai architecture, the theming of the decor, of course, obviously the restaurants. I'm disappointed that never came to be.

Um, but it, it seemed like it was much more opulent, I guess is the word, as opposed to maybe what we have with the Polynesian now. Right. There was.

Craig Wheeler: It's scheduled to be 600 rooms and they were saying 50 of them would be suites and the description reads in royal tie decor. So I really think they were trying to go fancy in this hotel.

I mean, if you look through some of the concept art that was released, you really do see a lot more of pictures in this one of the dining establishment and of the Grand Lobby and things like that, that we didn't get so much with the Persian of the Venetian.

Lou Mongello: Right. So at this point people are saying, okay, it sounds good.

They were well on their way to building this. There were models that were constructed, there were plans. The designs went back early on. Why did this never happen? Why did this never take place?

Craig Wheeler: And I think that really comes back. Um, all three of them. And, um, Disney hit a roadblock in, in the early seventies.

Shortly after, after the, the whole Walt Disney World opened and, and it was. Largely an energy crisis in oil embargo in 1973, followed by a stock market crash. And really, Disney saw this and, and the whole thing was gonna hit tourism. And so they just really couldn't afford for any of these hotels really come out of the gate.

Lou Mongello: Exactly. And that actually goes for the second hotel on the list. And that was the Venetian, because this too was also supposed to be one that would've been open and operational, hopefully on or about October 1st. And. The location of the Venetian would've been, if you can picture this, between where the Transportation Ticket center currently sits and the water bridge that's in between Bay Lake and Lagoon.

So sort of, if you could picture it in between the Polynesian Transportation Ticket Center and where the contemporary currently sits. Right.

Craig Wheeler: Just to the west of where Wilderness Lodge stands today.

Lou Mongello: Exactly. And this one, again, a beautiful resort themed after obviously, as its name implies. Venice, Italy.

Craig Wheeler: Right. And they were looking at St. Mark's Square. And so they were planning, you know, think of how we see it today at the Italy pavilion and Epcot, where you've got the Campanile and you know, you've got just these, these great buildings. But the great thing about it was there actually were supposed to be canals and waterways with gondola rides and, and bridges going over them.

You know, you could take your gondola ride down and do your shopping and, um, I mean, it really just looked like it would've been a great experience.

Lou Mongello: Yeah. There was a, uh, The lobby would've been topped with glass. It would've had a, a beautiful sunlit atrium. Uh, but like you said, the, the real sort of draw would've been this city of canals.

And if you've ever been to the Venetian in Las Vegas, uh, appropriately enough, that's exactly sort of what they have. They have a canal going through it. It threw the, this shopping mall basically.

Craig Wheeler: So the resort actually was supposed to have a small harbor enclosed in it. And so then that actually is what would've led.

To your, you know, gondolas down the streets of water and the footbridges and everything. Um, I think this would've been a great place to rent a boat. I mean, can you imagine if they would've had the harbor right there and you split, uh, steps from your door, you would've had the boats there. You could've gone out and, and hit those out onto the lake.

Lou Mongello: Yeah. And, and you actually have on your site, you've got a scan of not just one of the postcards, but one of the actual models. And it, it really looked like, and again, to a, a much, much smaller degree, what you see. Over in World Showcase, but it, it's also, it was gonna be huge. You're looking at another 500 rooms that they would've had basically on the monorail line.

Craig Wheeler: That's right. And actually, um, it's interesting looking through some of the concept art and stuff of this because, um, the model you refer to actually had two campanile as opposed to one that you would hear in the descriptions or see on the postcard. And then some of the various, uh, pictures and renderings you would see of the entire property.

Some have. The monorail actually going to the Venetian, and I actually found one where the Venetian wasn't on the monorail line.

Lou Mongello: Interesting. Now, something else that's interesting about this resort too, obviously you're talking about the early oil embargoes of, of 73, whatever it is. This was allegedly a vi a victim because of that.

But this idea of putting a resort here didn't die and we'll, we'll, I wanna touch on maybe the, the. Fourth of the, the resorts that wasn't built and, and not one of the original three because they had the idea. Eisner actually had the idea in the early nineties of, yes, it's time to add another resort to this area.

We need the rooms, uh, the economy is doing better, but we're gonna abandon the idea of going with the Venetian, and instead we're gonna go with a Mediterranean themed resort. And. That would've opened up in the late nineties, uh, themed after sort of like a, a small Greek island, a Greek village. Again, this was gonna be their flagship resort.

This was gonna be the new five star resort that they wanted to build. That's right. But

Craig Wheeler: this one kind of went under for a different reason. As you alluded to, um, the land where they wanted to put this wasn't suitable for buildings. They, they did soil samples and they, they tried to put up some test structures and, and everything just kind of went into the ground.

It wasn't stable

Lou Mongello: at all. Yeah, supposedly they just sank and they just don't know how far down they actually went down. Um, and because the, the land is just so swampy and so boggy, there's just no, there was just no way to sort of solidify it to even, you know, forget about putting up a structure in a hotel.

They couldn't even get the pilings to stay up. Mm-hmm. So until they, uh, until they're able to sort of, maybe, if they can ever get around that, that construction thing, we may never see anything. In that section of the Seven Seas Lagoon. That's right.

Craig Wheeler: But thematically, I mean, if you look, you've got everything right there and the wilderness slides right behind it.

I, I can't imagine they would even consider putting something there anymore.

Lou Mongello: Of course, then again, they were able to sort of get around it. I, I adding the extra rooms in, in a roundabout way by knocking down the North garden wing and building the new Bay Lake Tower. Um, which is obviously, we all know next to the contemporary.

And gonna be incredibly popular. I, I have a, a sneaking suspicion

Craig Wheeler: That's right. I'm trying to work

Lou Mongello: that one in the budget. I think a lot of people are trying to work that in the budget. It's, uh, it's made discussions of, Hey, should we buy D V C, uh, I think come up a little bit more around the dinner table for a lot of families.

So, but, uh, we're gonna save, we, we saved the last of the, the three resorts, um, because of its location really. And this was. The Persian resort, and unlike the others that were on the seventies lagoon, this one was actually gonna be over on Bay

Craig Wheeler: Lake. It would've been on the northwest corner. Um, a little bit ways from where the contemporary stands today.

So this one looks really interesting actually, because you really do have that, that great Persian feel that you think of. You've got the big domes and, and the mosques and columns. And, um, actually again, a lot of water was planned into this one. Um, Some of the press materials said that guests will practically be able to sail to their rooms through a sheltered

Lou Mongello: marina.

Yeah. And if you look at the model, and again, you have a great scan of this and I'm obviously gonna link to it, uh, from this week's show notes on your site. It's a, I, I really, really like, I. The themeing of this resort. And, uh, you know, like you said, they talk about these, the, like I said, the mosques and the columns and the courtyards.

And I don't know what an old Persian dining facility is, but it sounds intriguing nonetheless.

Craig Wheeler: And this is yet again, another big one, another 500. All of these resorts would've, would've been very large as in terms of number of rooms. And this one, I think though, would've been great just for its seclusion.

It would've had its own monorail path going out to it, and it would've had its little spot. Out on Bay Lake. And, and the only things you really would've been able to see would've been the contemporary and Discovery Island.

Lou Mongello: Exactly. And you made a, you made a point that's very important to talk about, which was this was gonna alter the monorail line because it would've actually changed the route.

So now, instead of kind of going from the contemporary to the magic Kingdom, It would've actually, I think the original plans, Craig had actually had it going from the Persian into tomorrow land, much like, uh, the monorail actually goes into the theme park in Disneyland. It would've stopped in Tomorrow Land and then sort of gone back around maybe to the front of the Magic Kingdom and then over to where at the time the Asian resort would've been.

Craig Wheeler: That's right. And, and I do wonder if that would've actually come to be, if they would've built a hotel, because you talk about the Great show. Um, the movie style as you're, as you're approaching the magic kingdom of coming across the lagoon and seeing the long shot of the castle and the curtain rising as you come under, under the train station.

And I think you would've lost that effect if you would've come straight in through Tomorrowland.

Lou Mongello: True. Yeah, true There. It's kind of hard. It would be very hard to hide that giant blue domed building that sort of served as the center building, um, for the entrance area and the meeting facilities and the restaurants and, and.

Some of the other entertainment offerings that they had because it was, like I said, surrounded by these smaller wings, sort of off to each of the sides. But, um, it, it, it's, it's very, this would've been one of the ones I think I've been most intrigued to see built possibly because it would've also added another stop, um, on the monorail route.

But there, there's also one too, Craig, that doesn't necessarily fit in with these original three slash form because of the Mediterranean. But there wasn't one point a mention of another hotel that was supposedly going to be built, um, along by, by the west of River Country themed as a Western hotel. This was according to, actually Dick Newness talked about this back in 1982 and that was Cypress Point.


Craig Wheeler: right. And um, we didn't get Cypress Point, but we did get something very similar and kind of along those same things. And that was the Wilderness lodge that came up later.

Lou Mongello: Yeah, exactly. This would've been called. Cypress Point Lodge, it would've been themed after specifically Yellowstone. Uh, and, and we do, like you said, we, we kind of have this with Wilderness Lodge.

Um, and it's interesting just because they were thinking about this and planning this so far back. Um, and obviously the location would've been a little bit different than where it is today.

Craig Wheeler: Right. But I think they, they hit it on the head. I mean, with, with that type of seeming and, and kind of this rustic American very different from anything else they had or anything else they had planned.

And I, I think it really did. Um, served to be a great idea from the start, and I'm glad to see that one came

Lou Mongello: along. Yeah. You know, kinda like their last idea is the one, you know, that, that they ended up going with as opposed to sort of resurrecting some of the older ideas for the Asian or the Persian or the Venetian.

So, uh, and maybe that's, you know, a, a, a topic to talk about, you know, we lost those three, or I guess you could say four different resorts. Is there any one of those that to you, you would've liked to see built or you just maybe you think wouldn't have worked?

Craig Wheeler: The one I think I would've most liked to have seen would've been the Asian.

Um, I think the Thai style just really would've been great with its delegate. And, um, I am, as we get back, and I'm sure we're gonna talk about food here a little bit, um, the restaurants I would've shown up there. I'm, I'm a huge fan of Thai food in, in Asian cuisine, and so just seeing all the concept art for this and um, seeing their plans for the rooms and the layout and um, just experiencing, I'm sure the great restaurants that would've been there would've been fantastic, although, I must say, That the location of the Persian would've been great.

Lou Mongello: Okay, good. So I don't feel bad giving you the, the lawyer answer that I was gonna give you because like you, I, I would love to have seen an, an Asian themed resort. And I also love the Thai culture and the Thai food. I think it could have been a very, very beautiful resort with what they could have brought in.

Just picture, you know, all the different elements, um, that they could bring in. Think of what some of the things that you see. Over in Asia, in Animal Kingdom and other Asian elements from World Showcase. By the same token, I agree with you, the location of the Persian resort was also very intriguing to me.

And because it was something so far off the beaten path, not just in location, but in theming too, um, there's something. About that culture that's very mysterious, especially to us who, you know, have very little connection or ties to it. Um, so it might have been a, a, a nice cultural introduction for us.

That being said, the location of the Venetian resort, also being on the seventies lagoon, being able to look out from a lot of those rooms. Onto the water. Being able to see the fireworks, being able to see the castle in the distance, uh, obviously I think would've been something that would've appealed to people a lot.

A and I, I have to tell you that over time I have heard rumor after rumor I. Uh, about the concept of a Mediterranean resort not being quite dead. Um, it not being built in the same location being built elsewhere on property using similar concepts, but a very different design. Uh, that's something I, I might be very intrigued to see a Mediterranean themed resort.

Kind of tying into all the other theme themed resorts on property might be a nice addition to the mix.

Craig Wheeler: I think it would too. Yes. The, the thing too about the Persian is it would've been nice had it come when it was proposed because, you know, given political climate, I don't even know if we could. Have a chance to see anything like that today.

So if that were sitting there, it would, it would definitely be a great treat.

Lou Mongello: True. I, I, uh, really good point. Really good point. Um, and it's interesting too that obviously all of these would've been, it seems like, very high end. They would've been, you know, three additional deluxe resorts on property. They, they, they don't seem to have been, I mean, they didn't really have the categories back then, but they obviously wouldn't be, certainly not value and obviously probably not a moderate resort either.

Absolutely. And I should mention too that although we talked about the oil crisis impacting the hotel construction, sort of on that level, we should note too that the campground did open after the Magic Kingdom opened, and in 1973, the Golf Resort Hotel also opened, but that was very small. Only about 153 or so rooms aimed at a very, very specific, Target market, but obviously nothing was built along the size or along the lines as these, the original three hotels, the additional three hotels were supposed to be.

Craig Wheeler: So, and I think today, you know, as you talk about a Mediterranean resort, I think that would fit right back in that category, another deluxe resort. And I think it'd be one that would draw a big

Lou Mongello: crowd. Very true. And you know, also with, with DVC being so popular, especially in this location, it might be another offering for a part of the resort to even be DVC accommodation as well, having.

Uh, you know, DVC Villas as part of like one of these ancillary wings or, um, section of rooms that they can allot for it. So I'd be very curious to hear, uh, what the listeners think based on what they've heard. Again, pictures that, we'll, we will link them up to on the site, taking a look at those. Uh, see what they think they would've liked to have seen, been built, or see something that they would like to see be built in the future.

Which one of these themes might be something that would appeal to them as, as a guest at On Property to see in the future? Very different. Very interesting, very different landscape than we, what we would've seen today than what we currently have. So that's gonna do it for this trip aboard the way back machine.

Craig Wheeler, I appreciate you taking a trip back with me. I'm gonna link over to your site. That is earning my ears.com. Uh, again, I really appreciate you, uh, you taking this little trip and look at some of these lost resorts to the Magic Kingdom.

Craig Wheeler: Thanks, Lou. This has been a great journey.