That land held much more promise than most kids could have fully appreciated. The Asian Resort was a beautifully conceived and rendered project. As descriptions in WDW pre-opening publications read, it was to be Thai in style, furnishings and food offerings. It was essentially laid out in a large square, with a 160-foot tall tower building near the center. Four massive A-frame windows faced out from the sides of this tower’s upper level, which would serve as a themed restaurant and cocktail lounge. This restaurant, illustrated as an opulently appointed room with high ceilings and ornate statuary, would have been the setting for nightly dancing and “stage-show entertainment,” much as the Contemporary’s Top of the World was for many years a one-stop evening hot spot for anyone who like Rosemary Clooney. The perimeter of the Asian would have been formed by its long outer rows of rooms, which would surround the inner courtyard on the three sides facing the water. On the far west side would be a separate building connecting the hotel to the WDW monorail line. The Asian was initially projected to house 600 guest rooms, 50 of which were to have been “elegant suites in royal Thai decor.” Two-thirds of the rooms were to have been located “on the water” of the Seven Seas Lagoon or in garden settings. The remainder were to be housed in the tower building, with views overlooking the lagoon and a central recreation area. What exactly would have sat in this recreation area is unclear, but plans definitely looked to have included (surprise) a large swimming pool.
Also planned for the resort were some extensive convention facilities, which were to be located apart from and underneath the main guest areas. This suggests that the aforementioned recreation area might have been built up a floor or two over the ground level in order to leave room for convention halls below – a construction method employed successfully at the Magic Kingdom, where the park’s main walkways sit an average of fifteen feet above the ground level utilidor system (or tunnel).
The positioning of the Asian on this side of the lagoon was in keeping with a school of thought that seems to have been dismissed by the early 1980s…that hotels on the Seven Seas Lagoon would serve as extended backdrops for the lands on the southern side of the Magic Kingdom. The Contemporary sits behind Tomorrowland, the Polynesian behind Adventureland. The Asian would also fall behind Adventureland, helping to maintain a broad but subtle sense of order. In addition to setting aside land for the resort, the company named a road for it. Asian Way was the thoroughfare that ran from a service area north of the Magic Kingdom down to the Car Care Center south of the Polynesian. The name remained until about 1986, when the road became Floridian Way. Another difference between the Asian and the other two planned resorts is that neither the Persian or Venetian received any public mention by the company past the time of WDW’s opening. The Asian, however, came very close to realization. In its 1972 annual report, the company announced that architectural work would soon begin on the Asian, which at the time was described as a 500, vs. the original 600, room hotel. Construction and the resort’s opening were both planned for 1974. Several models of the hotel were completed, as well as some detailed elevation drawings. Construction, however, never got underway.
What exactly happened is probably complicated, but logic would suggest that the “U.S. energy crisis,” which began in 1973, was the greatest factor in the resort’s demise. Off-property accommodations in the Orlando area took a big hit during this time, and it has been written that the company delayed the building of more on-property rooms as something of a good-will gesture toward the surrounding community. While the Golf Resort Hotel did open in 1973, it contained a mere 153 rooms, was aimed at a specific market niche and had broken ground before the crisis set in. Plans for additional accommodations at WDW past that point were limited to the expansion of the Fort Wilderness campground and some townhouse-style buildings in the Lake Buena Vista area.
Ten years later the playing field had changed. The economy was strong and Orlando area hotel occupancy was up. The company was poised to take advantage of this situation with the proposed development of more on-property hotels. One of those was the Grand Floridian, which was conceived circa 1983 as a possible development along the lagoon. It finally opened in 1988 on that square piece of land which was so carefully set aside for something much different almost twenty years prior. Its opening also heralded the Eisner era of WDW expansion, one that more than tripled the number of hotel rooms on property by 1998.
For all the growth, however, the simple appeal of the Asian Resort has yet to be matched.