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 there that were ultimately never built? 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. 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. The Asian Resort was scheduled to start construction
in early 1974 with plans to open later that year. In fact in early photos of the lagoon you
could see the flat plot of land jutting out into the water in preparation for the Asian
Resort, and across the lagoon on the other side, land was visibly cleared for the Venetian
Resort. 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. Since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978
wouldn’t occur for another five years, higher airfare meant that at this point flying was
still more of a luxury for a family on vacation. 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. Then in the mid 1980s Disney would see a leadership
shakeup with the replacement of Ron Miller by Michael Eisner. Eisner jumped into the role of CEO with an
energy dedicated to revitalizing and growing Walt Disney World, and that included expanding
their resort offerings in order to capitalize on all of the guests who were coming down
but staying off property. 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 1990s 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. And so Disney would begin to expand, building
hotels all over Walt Disney World so that guests would have more options and closer
proximity to the different parks. The fate of the Persian, Asian, and Venetian
Resorts at Walt Disney World serve as great examples of how the path in which Disney World
developed sometimes wasn’t even in Disney’s own hands.