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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

From Epcot to River Country, Disney is looking to build some of its boldest hotels ever

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2018 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA DISNEY
  • Photo via Disney
As Disney World prepares for its 50th Anniversary in 2021, the sounds of construction seem to be stretching across the entire 27,000 acres. New projects are in the works at all four theme parks, but some of the most significant changes are outside of the parks. There are currently four major hotel developments in the works at Walt Disney World with another three strongly rumored.

There are currently 1,150 new rooms, already confirmed, in development across the resort with at least an additional 1,128 rooms strongly rumored not counting the unknown number of rooms at the confirmed Star Wars hotel and the rumored Epcot entrance hotel.

Confirmed Disney hotels include the new 15-story, 500 room tower at Coronado Springs and the new 8-story, 300 room Riviera Resort tower near the Caribbean Beach resort. Both of those towers have construction well underway. The Riviera tower will be exclusively Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s in-house timeshare division. A 13-story tower with 350 rooms Marriott-managed hotel is also slated for the Fantasia Gardens mini golf parking lot, just across the street from the Swan and Dolphin, though that hotel has yet to be officially confirmed by Disney despite numerous vendors stating that they are working on it.

Then there is the LARPing-style, interactive Star Wars hotel that Disney has confirmed but has yet to give many specifics on. It’s believed that the Star Wars hotel will open sometime after the 2019 opening of the land, likely past the 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021.

Still, more hotel rooms are in the works.

click to enlarge River Country - PHOTO VIA DISNEY
  • Photo via Disney
  • River Country
The long-rumored on-again, off-again River Country site hotel took a new turn this week after numerous outlets began reporting that the resort is moving forward with pre-construction work now underway. After GrowthSpotter, a local business journal ran by the Orlando Sentinel, reported international design firm WATG and construction company Balfour Beatty have been retained for the project numerous other local Disney news sites confirmed the reports.

The scope of the resort is still up for debate with reports ranging from 700 rooms to "at least 1,000 rooms." Most of the confusion is likely due to the size of the Disney Vacation Club wing of the resort and if the over the water bungalows, similar to those of the nearby Wilderness Lodge, are to be counted since they may be built in a later phase or may have been cut from the plans altogether.

Even before River Country’s closure in 2001 there were plans for a hotel on the site. In 2014, plans for the resort were leaked showing a similar design to the Wilderness Lodge. Those leaked plans also showed a three-year construction timeline for the resort. The new resort is believed to be extremely similar to the previously leaked plans, with only small, mostly cosmetic, differences. If the timeline is still accurate, that would mean the resort would need to break ground very soon for it to open by 2021, though some insiders have claimed Disney is looking towards a mid-2020’s opening instead.

The former plan called for roughly 800 rooms with around half of them being slated for DVC. Industry insider Jim Hill has remained steadfast in his comments that the new resort will have approximately that same amount of DVC units at the formerly leaked resort plans, though like most DVC resorts most of the units will feature multiple rooms and will be much larger in size than a typical hotel suite.

Hill has also stated that the amenities at the resort, especially those at the pool area, will pay homage to the former River Country water theme park though specifics on what amenities will be included are still under wraps. The previous plans called for a small lazy river and featured a water tower similar to the one found near the entrance of River Country. Also still unconfirmed is how connected the resort will be to Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge. At one time a train ran through this area providing natural views for guests. One of the working titles for the former plan was “Buffalo Junction,” causing some to question if a train station would be included in the resort though the leaked plans of the previous resort project do not show one.

With the Transportation and Ticketing Center rumored to be moving just east of its current location, a train, or tram, line could easily connect Fort Wilderness, the rumored new hotel, and Wilderness Lodge to the TTC, or the bus drop-off area which is rumored to be moving to the same side of the street as the three resorts, helping alleviate demand on the boat taxi system.

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA DISNEY
  • Photo via Disney
The need to alleviate demand on the boat taxi system makes sense with another Bay Lake Tower rumored for the Contemporary Resort. The tower would likely be nearly identical to the northern tower, which has 428 DVC suites, and is rumored to be replacing the 250 Southern Garden Wing rooms of the Contemporary and the convention center expansion that despite being designed by internationally renowned architecture firm Gwathmey Siegel and Associates never seemed to garner the same level of love from Disney fans at the original A-frame Contemporary tower. The new tower is rumored for a mid-2020s opening with possible zen-inspired over-the-water bungalows opening at the Contemporary around the same time. While walking distance to the Magic Kingdom, most other transportation access will require a ride on the already crowded monorail or the boat taxis to access the TTC and other Bay Lake area attractions.

Another rumored hotel project will have even more impressive transportation access. Numerous outlets are now reporting that Disney has finally settled on a location for the Epcot entrance hotel with it going directly over the entrance plaza with the monorail running either between two towers of the hotel or through the hotel itself.

Again, little is known about the Epcot entrance hotel though it's widely believed Disney will have DVC in at least part of the hotel, if not the entire thing. This hotel will be part of the Epcot re-imagining that will also see dramatic updates to Future World and a full slate of new experiences throughout the park. The Epcot updates will continue well past the WDW 50th Anniversary in 2021 with the hotel possibly opening in 2022, just in time for Epcot’s 40th Anniversary.

Disney is known for waiting until construction is well underway to confirm new projects so there is no telling when we might get official confirmation on any of the rumored resorts but next year’s D23 convention from August 23-25 is likely to include plenty of new details regarding the future of Walt Disney World.

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