Thursday, October 11, 2012

How It Was Done: Part Four

(from Institutions / Volume Feeding, October 1972)

A striking view of the Contemporary Hotel. The structure is topped off with the very popular "Top of the World" restaurant. The floor just below is exclusively suites - and was the only guest floor built not using the modular construction system.

Disney: Design for Tomorrow

Design for Walt Disney Productions means setting the stage to complement the show. Every new act requires a new set. This philosophy is carried out at Walt Disney World, too although the shows here are more magical than Hollywood.

The two hotels in operation right now, the Contemporary and the Polynesian, were constructed by U.S. Steel with modular components. Both are of outstanding design and give the guest a clear feeling that this will be a different experience. With its 1047 rooms, the Contemporary is the largest hotel and will remain so. Business meetings and conventions, which account for 30% of hotel business, are usually held at the Contemporary since it has more meeting and banquet rooms than the Polynesian. Future hotels probably will not be this large, since most of top management agree that a hotel as large as the Contemporary is just not "right" for Disney. It is too large to give guests the individual attention and service Disney people feel is necessary.


The Contemporary is a 14-story A-frame with a monorail running through its core at the fourth level. This floor houses a large restaurant. Diners, young and old, stop munching their hamburgers or twisting spaghetti to watch the sleek transportation of the future whisk quietly by.

The next stop on the monorail is the Polynesian Village, which offers the visitor an entirely different world. The Polynesian theme and design was selected because most guests at WDW have never been to, or will never get to, Hawaii. In some ways, the hotel is more "Hawaii" than our 50th State could ever be. Vegetation and the sound of water dominate the public areas. As you leave the monorail your immediate impression is of peace and leisure. There is none of the hustle bustle you sometimes feel at the Contemporary. Even the employees sense this. As Assistant Manager Jim Raymond explains, "When I first started, I was at the Contemporary. When I was assigned here, it was different. You absorb the atmosphere as you walk around, it is so much more relaxed. It even shows in the housekeeping staff." Jim is so enthusiastic, he claims that guests stay longer at the Poly.

Polynesian Village Hotel Room, 1972
The 492 guest rooms at the Poly are basically the same as those at the Contemporary. "The biggest difference is that bathrooms in the Contemporary have two sinks, a bath/shower combination and another shower. The Poly rooms have only one sink and a bath/shower, making the sleeping/living area slightly larger. Rooms in both hotels are furnished in similar manners. Colors and careful fabric selection have been chosen to emphasize the theme of each hotel.

Because of heat, high humidity, strong sun and other factors inherent to central Florida, all materials in the park and the hotels have been selected for durability and easy maintenance. What appears to be wood to the casual observer might actually be a very durable plastic that will not warp. The majority of furnishings in the hotels were developed by Monsanto. While they are not the types of furnishings most people would purchase for home, they are extremely durable and practically indestructible-a hotel-manager's dream.

Disney designs for the future even though the setting might be a prehistoric cave. The most immediate plans for expansion include a small (probably no more than 150 room) hotel adjacent to the golf course and clubhouse. Right now, guests are not using the clubhouse facilities to full advantage- some do not know it is there, others do not know how to get to it because it is not a stop on the monorail. By building a hotel there. Disney will make the golf course more of a "center." In time, at least three other hotels will be built in other areas, all based on themes.

Every night at the Polynesian Village, there's a luau which is not only popular, but practical. By utilizing outside facilities, the foodservice facilities within the hotel are relieved, although they're still packed. Presently under construction is a huge canopy where luaus can be held even when it rains. Believe it or not, once in a while it dares to rain on WDW.
The city of Lake Buena Vista is also contained within Disney's 27,000 acres of property. Already four hotels are under construction, at least one renting rooms before the paint is barely dry. Dutch Inns, Howard Johnson's, Royal Inn and TraveLodge have all leased land from Disney and are building high-rise showplaces. WDW refers business they can't handle to these four.

There is a "Townhouse Community" with several residents already. Large companies have been buying the townhouses to entertain customers, to use as business retreats and as sales incentives. All sorts of special services come with the town-house: travel arrangements, car rentals, dinner reservations at WDW. Tour arrangements and tee times at the golf course are but a few of the numerous extras. Meals and cocktail parties can be catered and pantries, refrigerators and bars will be stocked on request. Townhouses can be leased on a one or two year basis, furnished or unfurnished. The Buena Vista Club will be completed soon. Residents will have first crack at membership. The Club will have all the social amenities of any first class country club, but with the Disney flair.

Eventually there will be condominiums and, hopefully, an entire community at Lake Buena Vista. Of course, Disney will maintain ownership of all land. The ultimate goal is for EPCOT (Environmental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), which will be the city of the future. Motorized vehicles will travel underground. Homes and offices will be designed with experimental equipment and furnishings, and the lifestyle will be far ahead of its time.

The Poly Pool is always crowded - and a special treat is a natural waterfall, where swimmers climb the rocks and slide down into the pool.
In the Magic Kingdom, the future holds a wealth of ideas. Some will be implemented and some will probably never get off the drawing board. Everything is planned to please people. "If you think back to when you were a kid, there was always something you dreamed of doing but you never did. Or maybe you did something once but you've always wanted to do it again. It could be riding rapids or swinging down on a rope and splashing in the water or exploring a pirate's den. These are the kinds of things we want to do." says Dick Nunis. One thing is for sure. Disney World and Disneyland will never be finished. A visit to either is not meant to be once in a lifetime. Things are constantly changing so there is always something new to capture interest and enthusiasm, and most importantly, to encourage a desire to return.

Hopefully, if the legal hassles ever end, Mineral King (a year-round nature and recreation facility) will begin to be developed in California. Back in 1965, the U.S. Government asked for proposals on how to create a recreation complex in this area. Based on their proposal, Disney was awarded the job. Since then, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups have tied the project up in court and a lot of people seem to look at Disney as the villain in the dispute. Eventually, they will probably go ahead with plans, but as Card Walker said, "in the meantime, we have enough to do."

Two examples of Disney's flexibility: elegant dining or drinking at the Top of the World - or full-scale, elaborate banquet scene.
Disney has been approached by several foreign governments, the most recent being Taiwan and Yugoslavia. It seems a lot of countries want a Disneyland of their own. The possibility has not been ruled out. But Card Walker is adamant about the fact that they will never franchise a park or turn it over to a third party. "We find outsiders can't even run a restaurant for us.  They always need to make money and they don't have our values."

Within 11 short months, over ten million visitors have passed through the gates of WDW. This figure exceeds the projections made before the opening day, but then it is hard to project any Disney endeavor. The hotels are running at close to 100% occupancy and turning down 1000 reservation requests daily. The state of Florida has collected over $200-rrillion in tax revenues that they really hadn't expected. The Orlando area has become one of the hottest growth areas in the country with a building boom that won't stop for a long time to come.

Certainly this is change and progress. To a large degree, it can all be attributed to Disney. Walt Disney World is the first total leisure experience center in the world. It won't be the only one for long, Marriott will provide competition with their complex outside Washington, DC. Dick Nunis has that "Marriot will be a very fine competitor and we enjoy competition. I just wouldn't want their weather."

As long as there's imagineering within the Disney team, there is bound to be a bright future. What direction the future will take is hard to determine, but with the people involved, it's bound to be the right direction.

(Navigation: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


4 comments:

Leonard Bast said...

"Future hotels probably will not be this large, since most of top management agree that a hotel as large as the Contemporary is just not "right" for Disney. It is too large to give guests the individual attention and service Disney people feel is necessary."

Wow! That is a very telling (and astonishing) statement, especially considering how much WDW needed hotel rooms in the early years and how long it would take for them to finally start developing the property in this respect.

philphoggs said...

What a great read. I freaked out on the beach luau photo, what a shot! Is that the raft that used to bring the luau cast over from the island at the start of the show? In the day of exploding capacity and DVC it was something to read “most of top management agree that a hotel as large as the Contemporary is just not "right for Disney” I guess I should finish reading now…

K. Martinez said...

Great Series. It's the early WDW that I love reading about most.

BTW, why are comments disabled on your latest EPCOT article?

Leonard Bast said...

I had wanted to respond to your excellent essay, "An EPCOT Generation Manifesto," but see that comments have been disabled for that particular post. I hope you will allow to me to post a reaction here:

Thank you for this personal tribute to EPCOT Center. I am an historian, with an interest in how symbols, especially historical symbols (as opposed to historical reality) affect our worldview and our sense of ourselves, so, naturally, I am most at home on Main Street, U.S.A., and in Frontierland and Liberty Square. But EPCOT is nonetheless special to me. I visited the Magic Kingdom three years after it opened and EPCOT Center one year after it opened. EPCOT Center did, indeed, represent the kind of optimism embodied in men such as Walt Disney and Ray Bradbury, an optimism closely associated with mid-twentieth-century America, when we still believed that we would shape the future in positive ways, rather than become its victims. We envisioned a tide that would lift all boats, improve life for all people, bring diverse people together as one human family, and solve our problems through science, research, and learning. No sentence of your essay rings more true than “Truthfully, EPCOT was a mad grasp for the brass ring that was already a cultural dinosaur—the very last gasp of old-fashioned optimism before mass culture went permanently ironic.” Our culture has been, for some time now, in that phase of development (or decline) that sees worldviews such as “Disney optimism” as simplistic and na├»ve, the “too cool for Disney,” or “too cool for school” phase. People pass through it (usually), but civilizations not always so. We seem to be proof of this, having been stuck since at least the 1980s in what is essentially a shallow, materialistic, cynical worldview. EPCOT Center was the opposite of all those things. Even though many of us, at the time, knew that it did not represent exactly what Walt Disney had envisioned for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, we did think that it was to be the “Center,” the start of something new and brilliant, something that would grow to be more of what Uncle Walt had envisioned (and had discussed with us on Sunday evenings). We were wrong, of course. The visionaries would lose and the sharp-pencil guys (Walt’s phrase) would win, and, as long as people had their immediate need for sensory gratification met and the “free” market returned a profit, no one would question it. It strikes me as more poignant now than ever, perhaps because Bradbury’s death this past summer is so fresh in my consciousness. He was the last embodiment of it. In any event, here’s to EPCOT Center and the new world to which it pointed us.