Monday, June 30, 2008

No Vacancy: Asian

"The Asian hotel will be strongly Thai in its motif. A theme restaurant and lounge at the top of its 160-foot tower building will provide an enchanting setting for nighttime dancing and stage-show entertainment."

Approximately two-thirds of the 600 rooms would be constructed on the water with the remaining rooms in the tower building, overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and recreation facilities. Included in the design were plans for 50 suites, decorated in royal Thai decor.

The planned convention facilities were to be underneath the main hotel facilities to separate them from the public resort areas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Vacancy: Persian

"Stepping right out of The Arabian Nights is the Persian resort which will reign like an exotic far-Eastern palace on the Northwest shore of the lake. Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculptured swimming pools and 'old Persian' dining facilities."

The 500 rooms of the resort were designed to radiate out from the central lobby, which was to be crowned with a huge dome. Restaurants and swimming pools could be found on terraced decks, overlooking landscaped courtyards.
"Guests will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Vacancy: Venetian

"At the Venetian resort, an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian 'City of Canals.'"

The 500-room Venetian was to be designed to resemble St. Mark's Square. The 500-room hotel would feature a 120-foot campanile which would toll the time. The glass-topped lobby would create a "brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."

Shopping would be a unique experience as guests were to have ridden gondolas through waterways flowing under ornate bridges, linking various sections of the resort.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Vacancy

As we all know, Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with two theme resort, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. These resorts were designed to handle the crowds at the Vacation Kingdom during the first few years, but they were not expected to handle the growing crowds by themselves for very long. Three other theme resorts were on the drawing board from the start and, as Walt Disney Productions President Donn B. Tatum explained, would "be ready to meet the demands of our audience as experience dictates." These resorts were the Asian, the Persian, and the Venetian.

But before we get into the new hotels, lets take a step back and look at the idea of theme resorts. Theme resorts were not at all a common thing. In fact, Disney had to take care to explain the concept as it was releasing plans for its Florida destination.

"The hotel 'theme resorts' -- so called because each is being planned around a single theme that represents a culture or architectural style around the world -- will offer far more than simply convenience of location to the new 'Magic Kingdom' and its attractions. In design motif, food specialties, recreation activities, convention facilities and even the type of entertainment to be presented, these major hotels will complement each other and the attractions of the theme park."

With the idea of theme resort, Disney began work with Welton Becket & Associates, a former partner who helped design show buildings for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Two of Walt Disney World's flagship hotels were completed, but the other three were met with challenges that ultimately led to the demise of the plans.

In the photo above, taken before the Walt Disney World was complete, you can see that site prep had already been started for the additional hotels. A pad was built into the Seven Seas Lagoon for the Asian. Land was cleared for the Persian. Tests were performed on the eastern shores of the lagoon to determine the feasibility of constructing a hotel on that land.

Before the end of the planned five-year "Phase One" which would have brought these hotels to life, the US economy took a hit. With inflation and an energy crisis, tourism dwindled and Disney was not in a position to invest in new hotels.

Ultimately, the Grand Floridian took the place of the Asian hotel. We never did see a resort on the north shore of Bay Lake. But we did get a hotel near the planned location of the Venetian. But why on Bay Lake rather than the Seven Seas Lagoon? The land on the lagoon was not solid enough to hold a building. Test pylons that were built on the site continually sank into the ground. The land to the east of the original site was deemed suitable and there today stands the Wilderness Lodge.

I came across some interesting pictures while researching these hotels. The one above shows Richard Irvine, John Hench, and Card Walker overlooking an early model of the Walt Disney World property. What caught my eye here was that the Asian, Persian, and Venetian hotels, as well as the campground, are all on the map, but the Polynesian and Contemporary are missing.

This graphic was widely circulated, but has some interesting details. First is just the general skyline that was on the drawing board in 1971. We see all five hotels. The Polynesian is still the old-style main house, before the design of the realized Great Ceremonial House was conceived. The monorail cars are all red, and the monorail track goes right through the Magic Kingdom on its way to the Persian hotel. Also, Space Mountain is represented by the old Space Port concept. Finally, Discovery Island obviously has some construction on it.

Stay tuned for my next few posts which will detail the three resorts that were left on the drawing board.

Friday, June 13, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Magic of Morocco

Rather than the Restaurant Marrakesh that we know today, the Morocco pavilion was to have a dinner show called Magic of Morocco. The pavilion would welcome guests with exotic plants in the Hesperides Gardens and jagged rock formations in the Hercules Grotto.

Past the Medina would be the Southern Morocco sector. "Here, lunch can be enjoyed in a desert kasbah where scenes of the Moroccan landscape pass before the diners. Later in the evening the kasbah features the 'Magic of Morocco' dinner show. This presentation combines live action with a panoramic background. A storyteller appears on the stage and begins to relate tales of Morocco. Scenes from his stories appear behind him, and he turns and seems to step into the film itself. He guides the guests through the setting and comes upon a troupe of dancers and acroboats. They, in turn, step out of the film and onto the stage to complete their performace."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest - Update

Last week, I posted some pictures of one of my favorite theme park souvenirs. Today, Ed at The Blog Wore Tennis Shoes has posted pictures of the Disneyland version of the Secret Panel Chest. He also found some interesting information on the origin of the boxes at

Monday, June 9, 2008

Music from the Parks: Pirates

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction has a storied and well-reported history. Like its counterparts It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion, which can all be found in parks around the world, a tune was created for the attraction that would prove to be an iconic work in Disney theme park lore. "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" has surfaced time and time again on theme park soundtracks and is a perennial favorite in the genre.

X Atencio had been brought on to the Pirates project in 1965. His background had been in animation and he had been doing some work with audio animatronics when Walt Disney asked him to work on the script for the Pirates attraction. As development of the attraction progressed, many Imagineers were worried that the entire premise of the attraction might not be "Disney" enough given the debauchery and drinking taking place.

Atencio decided that a sea chantey might lighten the mood and provide a sense of continuity for the show. Using the old saying "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" as inspiration, he came up with a few lyrics and some ideas about the tune. After presenting his rough version to Walt, he was paired with Disney music veteran George Bruns. Atencio completed the lyrics while Bruns scored the piece. The finished song was recorded for the attraction by the Mellomen.

The music and other audio from the attraction have been released in various forms. The storyteller record set included audio from the attraction, as well as sound effects and music tracks borrowed from other record releases. For the attractions 33rd anniversary, a limited edition CD was released that included the entire attraction audio, early and unused versions of the attraction's song and music, voiceovers, commercials, and audio from a press conference in which Walt described plans for the attraction. This collection was later made available in general release, although without the press conference or commercial audio.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest

I just wanted to share one of my favorite theme park souvenirs in my collection. Sadly, I didn't purchase this new at Walt Disney World. I picked this up from a collector in the early to mid 1990s. I don't have a lot of history on the item, except that it is copyrighted Walt Disney Productions.

The top panel of the box says The Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World Secret Panel Chest. It has several sliding panels that are designed to blend in with the box. It takes five moves to open the main box, then a sixth move to get to the second hidden compartment -- a small drawer.

Judging by the generic instruction sheet that was included, I would guess that these trick boxes were mass produced for other companies. Just the graphics on the top panel would have been altered.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Space

Long before Gary Sinise led trainees into a journey at the International Space Training Center, the Imagineers had devised a different journey into space. Rather than boarding X-2 Deep Space Shuttles, guests would enter a twelve-story high gantry and board the Leviathon.

This ship would blast off from Future World, zoom around the earth, then head out into deep space. The attraction would create "the feeling of actually leaving EPCOT and flying through deepest space, complete with the sensation of zero gravity."

It took an engineering feat to bring zero-gravity to Epcot guests in 2003. We can only imagine how Disney designers would have pulled this off with a 768-seat theater, rather than a forty-seat centrifuge.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Music from the Parks: An Anthropologist's View

The 1992 book Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America is an anthropologist's take on everything Walt Disney World. Stephen M. Fjellman explores art, architecture, government, politics, consumerism, music, Kodak Picture Spots, and anything else that might be deemed remotely cultural. I will write up a formal review of this book sometime in the future.

Fjellman dedicates roughly four pages of the book to the music that we hear in Walt Disney World. Throughout the book, he is very cynical about American consumerism and how Disney and the various sponsors prey on this attribute of its guests. This section on music is no different. Fjellman starts:

"Many attractions at WDW have musical signatures. Although they differ somewhat in style in the various theme parks, they perform a similar set of rhetorical functions. Most of the show music at the Magic Kingdom is infantilizing. The themes suggest that adults performing nefarious and violent activities, as at the Pirates of the Caribbean, are just like children whose mommies and daddies will tuck them into bed after their adventures. The ghosts and goblins at the Haunted Mansion are not to be taken seriously; the possibilities of supernatural terror are punctuated with humor and general silliness. The theme from It's a Small World presents 'a world of laughter' in which fractious adults do not exist. Although initially separated by continents, child dolls join together in the last room -- dressed in white -- in a sentiment internationalism."

He goes on to say that tunes in the Magic Kingdom are like "obnoxious commercial jingles" and he relates "It's a Small World" to water torture. He lumps "One Little Spark" with the Magic Kingdom music. He does hit the head on the mark though in describing the themed lands as "experiential envelopes" where visitors are inserted to experience a created world where music and sound help complete the illusion.

Moving on to EPCOT Center, Fjellman notes that the songs are simply there to remind us about the dreams of Americans -- "fun, freedom, creativity" -- and then show us how the sponsors' commercial products can fulfill those dreams. For example, "Tomorrow's Child" from the AT&T-sponsored Spaceship Earth simply tells us that we will "have an exciting, communicative future." He also tells us that "Listen to the Land" preaches exactly the opposite of what the ride teaches us. The song wants us to make peace with nature while the ride focuses on controlling nature by manipulating it, tricking it, and beating it into submission. One positive note comes from Kitchen Kabaret, where people who lived through the 1930's - 1950's will be able to identify with the various allusions to musical styles and performers of that era.

I must say that I am a bit perplexed by Fjellman's assessment. He fails to note that the music is intended largely for guests' entertainment. His academic lens has turned the focus to control and consumerism -- how can Disney and its corporate partners make us believe that we need to consume the ideas and products that they are presenting. He only briefly implies the music's function in place-making, escape, and whimsy. He also completely ignores the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park and World Showcase. The omission of World Showcase is especially troubling given that a good amount of text in this book relates to cultural elements and how they are conveyed -- though through a happy lens -- by Disney in an effort to educate the guests. There are several instance in World Showcase where a country's music is used to teach about its heritage and culture.

Perhaps I am missing something. Maybe I am just jaded by my love for the parks. But it seems that Fjellman has read into the purpose of the music too much. It seems he is assigning intent that does not exist, or perhaps intent that was a secondary rather than primary reason for creating the music from the parks.