Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Host Community

For the first few years of the existence of Walt Disney World, saying "Lake Buena Vista" would have meant very little outside of Disney's corporate offices and the hallways of Reedy Creek. This was years before the LBV Villas would become publicly available, originally leased as they were to corporate participants in Walt Disney World. This was years and years before the Treehouses, the golf course, the club house, the Village, and pretty much all the public had to go on was that there was a little squat rectangular building (the Preview Center) sitting there alongside the lake.

By 1972, Disney was already in a bind. After an anticlimactic September, October and November, the droves of tourists had finally arrived to the new Florida property for Thanksgiving and the lines just to park in the Main Entrance Complex had stretched all the way down World Drive, spilling onto I-4 in both directions requiring the intervention of Florida police. Corporate bookings for such spaces as the Contemporary Resort convention space were healthy, but demand quickly exceeded supply for the resort's available 1,576 hotel rooms in the first few months. Construction to expand the Palm and Magnolia's clubhouse into a full hotel began immediately after the first Walt Disney World open, but the Golf Resort wouldn't be ready for another two years. Thankfully, by mid-1972, the first of the hotels for the Motor Inn Plaza would be ready. Although these non-Disney hotels along Preview Blvd today seem to strike Disney travelers as being of little consequence, they would be an absolutely essential relief valve for the first five years of the resort's existence, before the expansion of the Polynesian and Fort Wilderness in the late 70s.

Let's peek into the past here, shall we?

From 1973, here's some of Disney's earliest advertising for their on-site, off-brand hotels. From left to right we're looking at the Royal Plaza, Howard Johnson's with its distinctive orange roof, and the uniquely shaped TraveLodge. TraveLodge is blocking our view of the largest hotel, the Dutch Inn. Noe the Walt Disney Travel Co endorsement. In 1977, the WDTC would actually open an office in the old Preview Center, sharing space with the check-in facilities for the Lake Buena Vista Villas.

A very gorgeous 1975 advertisement, with a full color spread of images from all four hotels. The interior atrium is part of Howard Johnson's and I believe still exists in today's Holiday Inn onsite. The distinctive cross shaped pool is from TraveLodge.

I wish I had more of these, but this advertisement for Earl's Seafood Grotto in the Royal Inn is evidence that the Motor Inn Plaza was indeed very popular for a time due to its distinctive restaurants and nightclubs. Fine Dining was a fairly scarce commodity for the first few years of Walt Disney World and guests seeking the reprieve from the Vacation Kingdom found they didn't have to drive up I-4 to Orlando or Winter Park to feel away from he Disney influence.

So that's just a peek into the strange world of the Host Community to Walt Disney World's earliest years. In the late 70s and again in the 80s the Motor Inn Plaza would expand, and eventually be renamed Hotel Plaza Blvd. But the Preview Center still stands there, the absolutely earliest thing open to the public at Walt Disney World, and the observant few who stop there, park in the 150 car parking lot, and walk down to the shores of that natural body of waer known once upon a time as Black Lake, may find a little hint of bygone days.


Unknown said...

Yet again, a fascinating look at time gone by. What's more interesting and perhaps pertinent is that all four of the original motels still exist and even retain the same phone numbers although their names/affiliations (and the area code, of course) have changed. The Dutch Inn is the well-respected Grosvenor Resort; The old Howard Johnson's (that my family stayed in during our first visit to the Vacation Kingdom) is now a Holiday Inn; The Royal Inn has held onto its heritage and is now know as the Hotel Royal Plaza; while the TraveLodge is now a Best Western hotel (although the original front desk number will put you through to the hotel restaurant, Traders).

Unknown said...

Forgive me for this lack of update, but I had forgotten that the "well-respected Grosvenor Resort" has been sold/bought and is now the Regal Sun Resort (but it still has the same phone number that The Dutch Inn had almost 40 years ago).

Unknown said...

I love that they call it the Orlando Jet Port!

And check out the amazing circular stairs...

philphoggs said...

I should, I should, I should… maybe next time.
Nice literature and amazing that the original phone numbers are still intact!
Adding comment to those sweet photos, check that 70s classic Jack Nicklaus swing. Wish I had it.

ericpaddon said...

Actually that should be Howard Johnson's with it's distinctive *orange* roof. The Red Roof belongs to a very different chain. :)

I remember at age seven staying at the Dutch Inn in 1976, and it turned out to be a not very pleasant experience because a maid stole about $20 from my sister's purse while we were at the Park. My father was so mad about that experience that for *every* Disney trip our family made from 1978 on through 1990, he decided to just have us stay at the very inexpensive Howard Johnson's located across from Circus World. It wasn't until 1993 (my last "golden age" visit) that I got to stay at a Disney hotel for the first time when we were at the Polynesian.

Zanna said...

Wonderful pictures...I never really gave much thought to the hotels when we stayed at the Villas in 1983 and 84, so love seeing the original advertisements.

FoxxFur said...


Wow, thanks for thinking to check the phone numbers! If anybody reading this wants a strange afternoon I can't suggest enough going to these original Motor Inn Plaza hotels and poking around; the atmosphere at some of them in pretty remarkable (I'm looking at you, Royal Plaza).


Yikes... usually I let my mistakes stay in the posts in name name of honest self representation but that's obvious and embarrassing enough that I'll go fix it. In 2002 my family stayed at the Howard Johnson when it was a Courtyard by Marriott and we all found the experience very unfortunate. Thin walls, loud neighbors, and a frankly decrepit hotel. I have heard that Holiday Inn has fixed it up nice however. My mom was so angry that she moved us to Wilderness Lodge. That sure showed them!

ericpaddon said...

A site on the web devoted to charting the history of the Howard Johnson's hotels and restaurants (there are only three HJ restaurants left in existence) has this page on the Disney World Village one with a view of their restaurant menu covers.

Unknown said...

I am a film student from Florida State University. I am doing a documentary relating to the Hotel Royal Plaza. I was wondering if anyone was able to stay there in Bob Hope's Signature Suite in the 1980's?