Back when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the two notable hotels on property were the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts by the Seven Seas Lagoon. Did you know there were plans for three more hotels, the Persian, Asian, and Venetian Resorts, that were ultimately never built?
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First up was Disney’s Asian Resort, which would have sat along the Seven Seas Lagoon right where the Grand Floridian sits today. The Asian Resort would have been heavily themed around the country of Thailand, and Disney had hopes of opening it in late 1974. It was planned to be a square plot of rooms surrounding a 160 foot tall main building that would have featured a Thai themed restaurant at the top, overlooking both the Seven Seas Lagoon and parts of the Magic Kingdom.
The second resort, Disney’s Persian Resort, was actually the only one of the five planned to sit outside of the Seven Seas Lagoon area. Situated along the coast of Bay Lake, the Iranian themed hotel was planned at one point to share a dedicated monorail line that would run into Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom.
Lastly, Disney’s Venetian Resort, built along the lagoon between the Ticket & Transportation Center and The Contemporary Resort was going to be themed after the Italian city of Venice. It would feature a 120 foot tall campanile and guests would actually get around the resort by gondola on streets of water and under bridges that connected the various parts of the hotel.
So what happened? Well for a while these hotel projects were actually going along as planned. Then the oil crisis happened. In October of 1973 OPEC instituted an oil embargo on a number of nations, including Canada, the UK, Japan, and the United States. As a result in less than half a year the price of a barrel of oil in the US quadruped. Suddenly the nation was facing gas shortages and climbing prices.
The vast majority of families still drove to Disney World and during this oil embargo families were cancelling their vacations out of fear that they might not be able to afford or even find the gas needed to get to or from Disney.
As a result Disney saw a decline in attendance to Disney World and the company, taking a financial hit from it, was forced to reconsider their priorities with the resort. By the mid 1970s Disney was less concerned with building more hotels and rooms to fill up and instead shifted their focus on using their resources to create new rides as well as their first ever second-gate, EPCOT.
At this point the three resort ideas were shelved. It’s said that in 1978 the Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi offered to fund the Persian hotel to make it happen, however in the following year he would be overthrown during the Iranian Revolution, rendering the offer moot.
That same revolution would kick off a second oil crisis in 1979, causing the price of oil to more than double, once again causing a financial impact not only for Disney but tourism as a whole.
While the Persian hotel was out, there were still plans to put more hotels around the Seven Seas Lagoon. In place of the Thailand inspired Asian Resort and on the same plot of land, Disney instead opted to build a Victorian era beach resort similar in style to those built around the coast in the early 1900s. In June of 1988 the hotel was completed and Disney’s Grand Floridian Beach Resort would open to the public.
As for the the Venetian Resort, the concept would eventually be replaced with plans for Disney’s Mediterranean Resort. The five star hotel was going to be themed around a Greek island on the land in between the Ticket and Transportation Center and the Contemporary. It was cleared for the hotel, but Disney quickly found that the land around that part of the lagoon proved to be extremely difficult and unstable to build on, and so the project was ultimately abandoned.
Lastly, there was something to be said about the necessity of building extra hotels around the Seven Seas Lagoon by that point. When Disney World first opened, Walt’s plans for EPCOT hadn’t fully died yet. The Magic Kingdom and its surrounding resorts were considered phase one of the overall project, with the city to follow. So at that time it made sense to group the hotels closely around the Magic Kingdom. As far as they were concerned in the 1970s, that was the only theme park the property would ever have.
Over time that obviously changed. EPCOT transformed from a city of the future to a theme park, and by the 1990’s Disney-MGM Studios would open for all to enjoy. With the city concept long gone, and various theme parks spread out across the property, there was no longer the need to keep the hotels constrained to the Seven Seas Lagoon area.