The Asian Resort

"The Asian Resort will be strongly Thai in its motif"
A Complete Edition About Walt Disney World, 1969
  Look - it's the Asian Resort!
 
Concept rendering of the Asian Resort c. 1969   Intended site of the Asian Resort on the Seven Seas Lagoon


The
Asian
Resort

Unbuilt WDW Hotel

Intended Location:
Western shoreline of Seven Seas Lagoon, on land where Grand Floridian was built

Plans Abandoned
: c. 1973

Contributors & Personnel:
Wing Chao,
Welton Beckett Associates

Descendant of:
Disneyland's
Pirate Museum Arcade

B
ibliography:
A Complete Edition
About WDW
  1969,
Walt Disney World Preview Edition  1970,
Walt Disney Productions Annual Reports 1971-1973

All images copyright The Walt Disney Company.
 Text copyright 2009
Mike Lee


Last Update to this page: July 24, 2009


It only takes a casual glance at the alluring concept art created for this hotel to cause anguish sufficient to rue what eventually took its place. While the story of how Walt Disney World guests came close to spending one night in Bangkok could be more extensive than what follows, it is perhaps best to not dwell at length on topics destined to yield despondency.

Themed resorts were planned for WDW from the beginning.  As far back as 1967, there were published mentions of hotels with South Seas and Cape Cod leanings.  As the master plan came together over the next few years, the decision was made to pursue five specific resorts: The "flagship" Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Asian, the Persian, and the Venetian.  The Contemporary and the Polynesian Resorts were slated to open with the Magic Kingdom in October of 1971, which they did, with the other three to follow over the course of the next five years (if demand for on-property accommodations so dictated).

While none of the three future resorts ever saw the light of day, the Asian differed from the Persian and Venetian in a couple key respects.

For one, the Asian Resort was the next in line for construction.  Its inclusion was deemed so imminent by the company that a space was left for it on the western shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon during WDW's initial construction. It was about midway between the Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian on the monorail line, in a spot now occupied by a cluster of blocky white buildings called the Grand Floridian Beach Resort.  As a square bit of flat land that jutted out into the lagoon, dotted with only a few pine trees, this site remained untouched for fifteen years.  As children, my brother and I looked at this big green expanse with no sense of its meaning or promise, it was just a weird manmade shape that stood out in the water - something we'd see from the monorail on trips back to the parking lot.

The Asian site - close up!  The Asian as it appeared on the 1971 WDW "Fun Map" - seen across property until the 1980s  Tower building lounge & restaurant

That land held much more promise than most kids could have fully appreciated.  The Asian Resort was a beautifully conceived and rendered project.  As descriptions in WDW pre-opening publications read, it was to be Thai in style, furnishings and food offerings.  It was essentially laid out in a large square, with a 160-foot tall tower building near the center.  Four massive A-frame windows faced out from the sides of this tower's upper level, which would serve as a themed restaurant and cocktail lounge.  This restaurant, illustrated as an opulently appointed room with high ceilings and ornate statuary, would have been the setting for nightly dancing and "stage-show entertainment," much as the Contemporary's Top of the World was for many years a one-stop evening hot spot for anyone who like Rosemary Clooney.

The perimeter of the Asian would have been formed by its long outer rows of rooms, which would surround the inner courtyard on the three sides facing the water.  On the far west side would be a separate building connecting the hotel to the WDW monorail line.  The Asian was initially projected to house 600 guest rooms, 50 of which were to have been "elegant suites in royal Thai decor."  Two-thirds of the rooms were to have been located "on the water" of the Seven Seas Lagoon or in garden settings.  The remainder were to be housed in the tower building, with views overlooking the lagoon and a central recreation area.  What exactly would have sat in this recreation area is unclear, but plans definitely looked to have included (surprise) a large swimming pool.

Also planned for the resort were some extensive convention facilities, which were to be located apart from and underneath the main guest areas.  This suggests that the aforementioned recreation area might have been built up a floor or two over the ground level in order to leave room for convention halls below - a construction method employed successfully at the Magic Kingdom, where the park's main walkways sit an average of fifteen feet above the ground level utilidor system (or tunnel).

The positioning of the Asian on this side of the lagoon was in keeping with a school of thought that seems to have been dismissed by the early 1980s...that hotels on the Seven Seas Lagoon would serve as extended backdrops for the lands on the southern side of the Magic Kingdom.  The Contemporary sits behind Tomorrowland, the Polynesian behind Adventureland.  The Asian would also fall behind Adventureland, helping to maintain a broad but subtle sense of order.

In addition to setting aside land for the resort, the company named a road for it.  Asian Way was the thoroughfare that ran from a service area north of the Magic Kingdom down to the Car Care Center south of the Polynesian.  The name remained until about 1986, when the road became Floridian Way.

Another difference between the Asian and the other two planned resorts is that neither the Persian or Venetian received any public mention by the company past the time of WDW's opening.  The Asian, however, came very close to realization.  In its 1972 annual report, the company announced that architectural work would soon begin on the Asian, which at the time was described as a 500, vs. the original 600, room hotel.  Construction and the resort's opening were both planned for 1974.  Several models of the hotel were completed, as well as some detailed elevation drawings.  Construction, however, never got underway.

What exactly happened is probably complicated, but logic would suggest that the "U.S. energy crisis," which began in 1973, was the greatest factor in the resort's demise.  Off-property accommodations in the Orlando area took a big hit during this time, and it has been written that the company delayed the building of more on-property rooms as something of a good-will gesture toward the surrounding community.  While the Golf Resort Hotel did open in 1973, it contained a mere 153 rooms, was aimed at a specific market niche and had broken ground before the crisis set in.  Plans for additional accommodations at WDW past that point were limited to the expansion of the Fort Wilderness campground and some townhouse-style buildings in the Lake Buena Vista area.

Ten years later the playing field had changed.  The economy was strong and Orlando area hotel occupancy was up.  The company was poised to take advantage of this situation with the proposed development of more on-property hotels.  One of those was the Grand Floridian, which was conceived circa 1983 as a possible development along the lagoon.  It finally opened in 1988 on that square piece of land which was so carefully set aside for something much different almost twenty years prior.  Its opening also heralded the Eisner era of WDW expansion, one that more than tripled the number of hotel rooms on property by 1998.

For all the growth, however, the simple appeal of the Asian Resort has yet to be matched.

Doctored photograph of Asian Hotel model   Aerial property rendering c. 1969   Designer Wing Chao works on plans for the Asian Resort c. 1970  

 
First draft of page posted June 1997
Updated July 24, 2009 (expanded text, additional images)