Widen Your World – The Plaza Pavilion

The Plaza Pavilion
1973 – 2005

“Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and soft drinks
Your Guide to the Walt Disney World Vacation Kingdom, 1983
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Plaza Pavilion

Extinct Restaurant, Kind Of

Magic Kingdom

Opened: July 1973

c. January 2005

Space Later Became:
Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station

Building layout still the same

All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company.
Text 2012 by Mike Lee

Widen Your World acknowledges the thoughtful assistance of Brian Lee
with its
Plaza Pavilion Research

Last Update to this page: July 20, 2012 (additional photos and information)

If you didn’t live through the 1970s, it’s easier to miss them.  But even some of us who did slog through that highly suspect decade retain a soft spot for certain aspects of it.  One thing I miss is the balls out color schemes that permeated everything from clothes to kitchen appliances to cars to wall coverings.  There was an absolutely fearless use of what I call, incorrectly, hyperchroma to be found in almost all corners of the civilized world during the Nixon and Ford administrations.  Good taste took a backseat to garishness as lime green trumped mauve and turquoise put beige in the backseat.  As for orange, well, orange and its kid sister ochre triumphed over just about all else.

The 1971 Magic Kingdom thusly, as a product of its times, contained a nice amount of orange in places where designers and decorators wouldn’t dream of using it just a scant ten years later.  One nice location with lots of orange, although you couldn’t tell from a distance, was Tomorrowland’s Plaza Pavilion – a restaurant that didn’t make the Kingdom’s original roster of intended eateries but was quickly worked into the plans as a response to a crush of first-year visitors and a dearth of dining options during peak seasons.

Taking its cue from the hexagonal architecture of its home land, the Plaza Pavilion was an unambitious but functional series of tiered seating areas that worked their way backward from the hub canal, where they once overlooked Swan Boats on the first leg of their journey around the park.  A row of cash register stands fronted the serving counter that was tucked back against the southeast wall.  A stage for live entertainment ran the length of the uppermost dining area’s southern wall.

You might infer from a discussion of colors as a lead-in to a page about the Plaza Pavilion that I don’t have much else to say about it, and that’s almost true.  It was a nice place to eat, but outside of the crazy cast member costumes and saturated tones it didn’t compare well against more heavily themed restaurants in the park – especially after the entertainment was done away with in the 1980s.  But it did still have great views of the hub from the lower levels.

Mainly, however, I regard Plaza Pavilion as the first place my brother Brian worked when he became a WDW cast member.  Thanks to him we can now look at some candid 1987 photos of the counter area and imagine fairly well what it must have been like when it opened in July 1973.   Those cast member costumes – as with so many others in the park’s first fifteen years – are priceless.

That event was the headline story of the July 14 edition of the cast member publication Eyes and Ears.  The easiest way to convey the associated fanfare is to just reprint the brief article that accompanied the photo (below) of the opening crew waving to the camera:

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“Food, glorious food!  There’s one thing everyone does … and that’s eat.  This week the Food Division opened up its 65th food location to help feed the thousands of hungry guests who visit the Magic Kingdom each day.  The Plaza Pavilion Restaurant is located in the Hub area of the Magic Kingdom and has a beautiful view of the Swan Boats and the Castle.

The building follows the contemporary theme of Tomorrowland, with the unique feature of ‘climate controlled’ terrace dining … that is open-air dining (no windows or walls) yet the area is air-conditioned or heated depending on the weather outside*.

The Hub is the crossroad of all the lands in the Magic Kingdom and the menu at the Plaza Pavilion reflects that meeting by offering our guests such items as a ‘Tomorrowland,’ ‘Fantasyland’ or ‘Liberty Square’ burger, a ‘Main Street’ hot dog or ‘Plaza’ French fries.

The restaurant, open from 8am to 1am daily, serves between 9 and 12 thousand guests a day … seating 663 guests at one time … and has 93 employees.  While dining, guests will be entertained daily by a live group.”

A restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that doesn’t rush you out the doors like Homer Simpson at the Frying Dutchman if you linger past 10?  Granted we all know the park used to stay open later, and for more weeks, during the busier seasons (with 2am closings every now and then), but I don’t remember being able to get anything to eat other than a Coke Corner hot dog or popcorn as park closing drew near.  Oh, wait, yes, here it is … deep in the fog of my brain I recall a time when park operating hours meant PARK OPERATING HOURS and the only things that closed early were those that relied on sunlight to function in a meaningful way.  Tom Sawyer Island, for example, always closed at dusk.  But most restaurants were there to serve the guests even if they wanted to eat late.  Still, 1am, wow!

The placement of the Plaza Pavilion next to the building that became Main Street’s Plaza Restaurant prompts the obvious question as to why the names had to be so similar.  We’ll never know what they were thinking on that one, but let’s just concede that Disney was better at creating transitional zones between lands than coming up with consistently excellent nomenclature.  Yet, similar to the marriage of Fantasyland to Tomorrowland (where Alice In Wonderland meets a roaring race track), the Plaza Pavilion offered an abrupt entry into a zone of white concrete where Victorian gingerbread came, as it still does, to a dead stop.  It definitely makes one think it was built quickly.

So with the Plaza Pavilion cutting such a modern figure, try to explain how it was listed under Main Street USA in the park’s guide books until 1981.  Maybe because it was physically ringing the hub and, like the Plaza Swan Boats, someone thought it should fall under Main Street by virtue of that fact alone.  More likely it was just a goof that took them eight years to fix.

I don’t personally remember the entertainment here – not even walking past and seeing anything going on.  Former cast member Jimmy Layle took a picture of a band playing there around 1975, including a drummer and two guys on horns.  Since first posting this page in 2010 I’ve found a couple other pictures of performers, including Disney characters, in front of the distinctive stage backdrop.  One of those images dates to 1979/1980.  I have a Summer 1983 Entertainment Schedule listing bands performing all over the park – including the Tomorrowland Terrace – but not at Plaza Pavilion.  This probably means that the stage was scaled back in the early 1980s to make a large dining area on that upper level, and from that point forward the stage was used infrequently (if ever) because there really wasn’t anything left except its cool backdrop.

The Plaza Pavilion menu changed several times over the span of its operation under that name.  The above opening-year (1973) description is representative of the restaurant’s first ten years.  Fried chicken on the bone was also available.  By 1986, pizza had joined the menu along with chicken parmesan sandwiches and pasta salad.  Hamburger and hot dogs fell off the menu completely within the coming year.  Since this is a place where my family never ate – to my recollection – when we were kids, I only remember that the pizza from when Brian worked there was edible but nothing to scream about.  If you’ve ever had a store-brand frozen pizza that was so bad it made Domino’s seem fancy, then that was worse than what they served at Plaza Pavilion … but not by much.

Finally, while I consider the Plaza Pavilion extinct it is true that its location has remained a restaurant, albeit one that was down for rehab when I last visited that part of the park in mid-January 2010.  It became the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station in 2005, taking over the name (a better one for sure) of the original Tomorrowland Terrace … which itself turned into Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in the 1990s.  But this website doesn’t care too much about where the Noodle Station heads in the new century if they’re not bringing back those orange and yellow costumes or Liberty Square burgers.

The odds aren’t looking good.

* Would this open-air climate control pass a Jiminy Cricket ‘environmentality’ test?  Why not just put windows up and let people look through them?  It works everywhere else.

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Additional Plaza Pavilion Images

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First version posted January 30, 2010.  Updated July 20, 2012 (new photos and information).

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