A Brief History of the Disney World Resorts That Were Never Built

Last Updated on: July 19th, 2024

The Walt Disney World Resort, known for creating some of the most iconic and immersive experiences in the world, has also been the birthplace of ambitious dreams that never saw the light of day. Throughout its history, Disney has imagined and planned several resorts that, for various reasons, were never built. This article explores the captivating history of these ghostly visions, the reasons they were shelved, and the impact they might have had on the Disney legacy.

The Venetian Resort

Disney World Resorts That Were Never Built

Image credit: Disney

In the early 1970s, fresh off the success of opening the Magic Kingdom, Disney envisioned a resort that would transport guests to Venice, Italy, complete with canals, gondolas, and Italian architecture. The Venetian Resort was planned to be located along the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, offering guests a slice of Italian elegance in the heart of Florida. However, due to financial constraints and logistical challenges, including concerns over the feasibility of maintaining its intricate canals and waterways, the project was ultimately shelved.

Disney’s Asian Resort

Disney World Resorts That Were Never Built

Image credit: Disney

Another ambitious project planned for the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon was Disney’s Asian Resort. Envisioned in the 1970s, this resort was to feature a Thai-inspired theme, with a grand hotel that included an awe-inspiring A-frame structure at its entrance. The resort aimed to offer guests an immersive experience into Asian culture and hospitality. However, like the Venetian Resort, it was cancelled due to financial constraints and the shifting priorities of the company.

Disney’s Persian Resort

Disney's Persian Resort

Image credit: Disney

Perhaps one of the most exotic of the planned resorts was Disney’s Persian Resort. Planned to be located on the shores of Bay Lake, this resort was to be themed around ancient Persia, featuring architecture and decorations that reflected Persian art and culture. The highlight of the resort was to be a large, domed structure, reminiscent of ancient Persian palaces. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent geopolitical tensions led to the cancellation of this project, as it was deemed inappropriate and potentially insensitive given the political climate of the time.

Disney’s Mediterranean Resort

Disney World Resorts That Were Never Built

Image credit: Disney

Disney’s Mediterranean Resort was another ambitious project that never came to fruition at the Walt Disney World Resort. Planned to be located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, opposite the Magic Kingdom, this resort was envisioned as a luxurious getaway that would transport guests to the sun-drenched coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. The concept promised to blend the architectural styles of the Mediterranean region, including elements from countries such as Italy, France, and Spain, into a singular, cohesive resort experience that celebrated the rich cultures, cuisines, and atmospheres of the Mediterranean.

The design for Disney’s Mediterranean Resort included plans for a large, multi-story hotel with a striking façade reminiscent of a Mediterranean villa, complete with terracotta roofs, stucco walls, and lush landscaping that would evoke the feel of a coastal European retreat. The resort aimed to offer guests a mix of luxury accommodations, fine dining, and recreational activities that mirrored the leisurely lifestyle of the Mediterranean, with features such as a sprawling pool complex, watercraft rentals for exploring the lagoon, and possibly even a vineyard or olive grove to enhance the immersive experience.

The project was announced in the late 1990s as part of Disney World’s expansion plans, but it encountered several obstacles that ultimately led to its cancellation. One of the primary challenges was logistical, concerning the proposed site’s size and environmental impact, as well as the technical difficulties of constructing on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Financial considerations also played a crucial role, as Disney was simultaneously developing other significant projects at the time, including new theme parks and resort properties both domestically and internationally.

Fort Wilderness Junction

Disney World Resorts That Were Never BuiltIn the 1990s, Disney planned to expand its Fort Wilderness Resort with a new section called Fort Wilderness Junction (also known as Buffalo Junction). This new area was to include a hotel and themed dining experiences that celebrated American Western frontier culture. Concept art and plans depicted a rustic setting filled with the charm of the Old West. However, due to budget cuts and a shift towards developing other projects, Fort Wilderness Junction was never built.

The Legendary Years (The Unbuilt Half of Disney’s Pop Century Resort)

Disney World Resorts That Were Never BuiltDisney’s Pop Century Resort is celebrated for its whimsical tribute to 20th-century pop culture, with sections of the resort dedicated to each decade from the 1950s through the 1990s. However, a lesser-known chapter of the resort’s history involves the ambitious plans for its counterpart, “The Legendary Years,” which was intended to celebrate the earlier decades of the 1900s, from the 1900s to the 1940s. This project was poised to mirror the existing sections with thematic elements reflecting the culture, music, fads, and innovations of each decade.

The Legendary Years was designed to be the other half of the Pop Century Resort, with the Hourglass Lake serving as the central dividing point. Guests would have been able to travel between “The Classic Years” (1950s-1990s) and “The Legendary Years” via the Generation Gap Bridge, symbolically crossing from one half of the century to the other. The resort’s design intended to feature iconic figures, toys, and moments in history that defined the first half of the 20th century, offering a nostalgic journey through time.

Construction of The Legendary Years began in the early 2000s alongside The Classic Years. However, the aftermath of the September 11 attacks led to a significant downturn in tourism, prompting Disney to reassess its expansion plans. As a result, construction on The Legendary Years was halted indefinitely, leaving partially completed buildings and structures on the site.

For years, the area that was to become The Legendary Years stood as a silent testament to what could have been, with Disney fans and guests speculating about its future. The unfinished resort became something of a curiosity, with its visible but inaccessible buildings evoking questions and imaginations about the untold stories of Disney’s ambitious project.

The story of The Legendary Years took an unexpected turn when Disney announced the development of the Art of Animation Resort. Instead of continuing with the original theme, Disney opted to repurpose the site and the existing structures for a new concept. The Art of Animation Resort, which opened in 2012, focuses on celebrating Disney and Pixar animated films, featuring family suites themed around “Finding Nemo,” “Cars,” “The Lion King,” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge

Reflections - A Disney Lakeside Lodge | Disney World Resort

Image credit: Disney

Among the fascinating tales of what might have been at the Walt Disney World Resort is the story of “Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge.” Announced in 2018, Reflections was to be a deluxe, nature-inspired resort situated along the shores of Bay Lake, near Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. This ambitious project aimed to blend the tranquility of nature with the magic of Disney in an entirely new lodging experience.

Conceptualized as part of Disney’s continued expansion and renovation efforts, Reflections was designed to celebrate the beauty of the natural environment while incorporating Disney’s storytelling prowess. The resort was envisioned to include more than 900 rooms and proposed Disney Vacation Club villas, offering guests a luxurious yet rustic retreat that paid homage to the grandeur of the great outdoors.

The design of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge was to feature a modern architectural approach while drawing inspiration from its natural surroundings. The lodge was to include amenities such as a lakeside restaurant that offered breathtaking views of Bay Lake and themed dining experiences that embraced the outdoor lifestyle. The resort planned to offer unique recreational activities, with a focus on connecting guests with nature through hiking trails, water sports, and environmental education programs.

However, in the wake of the global pandemic in 2020, Disney announced the indefinite postponement of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. The unforeseen challenges and economic impact of the pandemic led to a reassessment of Disney’s development priorities. Currently, the project remained on hold, and Disney has shown no intention of picking it back up, leaving fans to speculate about its future and whether it might eventually join the ranks of Disney’s legendary unbuilt projects making it worthy of a mention here.

Why Were These Resorts Never Built?

The reasons behind the cancellation of these projects are as varied as the concepts themselves. Financial constraints often topped the list, as the economic landscape and Disney’s financial health in certain eras made it difficult to justify the substantial investments required. Logistical challenges, such as maintaining a network of canals for the Venetian Resort also played significant roles.

Moreover, changing priorities within the company meant that resources were often redirected towards projects deemed more viable or urgent. The shifting political and cultural climate, as seen with the cancellation of Disney’s Persian Resort, also influenced Disney’s decision-making process, reflecting the company’s sensitivity to global events and trends.

The Legacy of What Never Was

While these resorts were never built, their legacy lives on in the imagination of Disney fans and the company’s continued ambition to push the boundaries of themed entertainment. Elements of these unrealized dreams have found their way into other Disney projects. The concept of immersing guests in a themed environment, central to all these unbuilt resorts, continues to be a cornerstone of Disney’s approach to resort development.

The story of these ghostly visions serves as a fascinating chapter in the history of the Walt Disney World Resort, reminding us of the limitless imagination that drives the Disney brand. It also underscores the complex realities of bringing such grand visions to life. As Disney continues to expand and evolve, the tales of what could have been offer a unique insight into the creative process and the challenges of theme park and resort development.

Related News:

About the Author

Craig Smith
I am founder and editor of DisneyNews.us. My passion for all things Disney goes pretty far back to my first trip to Walt Disney World in the mid-80's. I have since returned to the magical place more than 20 times. I started this site when I came to the realization that I spent a significant portion of my day reading articles about Disney and watching Disney content with my 8-year old, so it made sense that I would start sharing some of what I read and see and building a little community around it. Other interests include 80's nostalgia, vintage toys, video games, LEGO, Star Wars and tech gadgets. Other site isDMR.