10 Surprising Facts About Walt Disney World’s Resorts

by | Sep 13, 2023 | Disney History, Walt Disney World Resorts, WDW Blog

You might think you know every last detail about Disney World’s many resort hotels, but these facts aren’t widely known.

We absolutely love staying in Walt Disney World’s various resort hotels. From beachy and tropically-inspired to modern and sleek to homey and comfortable, there’s truly a resort for every kind of vacationer – and every mood! In addition to their unique theming, each of the resorts also features a history that’s as varied as each of Disney World’s theme parks (or even more intriguing, in some cases!). Below, we’re sharing some surprising facts about the hotels you know and love throughout Walt Disney World Resort.

1. Rooms for Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts Were Built Offsite

Disney's Contemporary Resort exterior

Photo by Brett Svenson

Have you ever heard the rumor that the rooms at Disney’s Contemporary Resort are designed to be slid in and out of the building’s structure for updates? Well, that rumor isn’t totally untrue – the rooms here are unique, and they actually were once slid into the building’s iconic A-frame structure.

That rumor likely originated from the story behind the Contemporary’s construction. According to Disney Parks Blog, the rooms at not only the Contemporary, but also Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, were built offsite inside little container-like structures using a process called “unitized modular construction.” Once the frame and the rooms were ready, workers used cranes to slide the rooms (or modules) right into the building frames.

While there are no plans to slide those room modules out of place at either Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Polynesian Resort, it is pretty cool that each is self-contained and a little module of its own!

2. Richard Nixon Gave His Famed “I Am Not a Crook” Speech at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Disney history and U.S. history collided back in the 1970s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. You may not have learned this detail in your high school history class, but one of the most memorable moments in Richard Nixon’s presidency took place at this Walt Disney World hotel.

On November 17, 1971, President Nixon was in the midst of the Watergate scandal – and he planned to give a speech in an attempt to confront the public outrage over his administration’s involvement in Watergate. He decided to give a speech before the Associated Press Managing Editors annual conference, which happened to take place at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. 

There, in the middle of a Q&A after his speech, President Nixon uttered the infamous “I am not a crook” statement, admitting to some mistakes and saying, “… people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

3. You Can “Find” Nemo in the Pool at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Big Blue Pool

Photo by Laurie Sapp

Fans of Pixar’s 2003 film Finding Nemo will want to book a stay at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort ASAP! Home to the sprawling Big Blue Pool, this colorful resort features plenty of beloved Disney animated stories come to life… and the chance to swim with characters from Finding Nemo.

Well, you won’t actually swim with the famous fish and sea creatures from the beloved film. But it will feel like you are, thanks to a unique feature of the Big Blue Pool. When you’re underwater in the 11,859-square-foot swimming pool, you can hear music and messages from Nemo and Dory. A series of underwater speakers brings the two characters to life as you swim, play, and explore the pool.

4. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort Used to Have Its Own Railroad

You’re likely already quite familiar with Disney World’s beloved railroad inside Magic Kingdom Park. While it’s the only railroad still in action today, it actually wasn’t the only one for many years. Just a few years after welcoming its first Guests, Disney World actually opened a second railroad – one located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

Fort Wilderness was home to the Fort Wilderness Railroad, a 3.5-mile narrow-gauge heritage railroad. It opened on January 1, 1974 and gave Guests at the resort a convenient and cool mode of transportation to get to and from their campsites. It even took Guests right to the nearby Disney’s River Country water park.

However, the railroad’s track became difficult to maintain, and it posed challenges for pedestrians at the resort along with a low fuel capacity that constrained its speed and efficiency. As a result, the Fort Wilderness Railroad closed down in February 1980. When you visit Fort Wilderness today, you can still see signs of its presence throughout the grounds – like railroad ties that are still in place and the laundry facilities, which used to act as the railroad’s roundhouse.

5. The Goat in the Disney Contemporary Resort’s Mural Isn’t a Mistake

Mary Blair mural at Disney's Contemporary Resort

Photo by Cliff Wang

If you’ve ever taken a look at the stunning, colorful mural inside the Contemporary Resort, you’ve likely noticed a funny detail: One of the goats has five legs, not four. But that’s not the most surprising piece of this masterpiece. Rather, it’s that the five-legged goat was “messed up” on purpose!

To create the mural, which is made up of six 90-foot panels and over 18,000 individual tiles, Blair took inspiration from the traditions of Native American cultures. The five-legged goat is actually an intentional tribute to the Native American belief that nothing man creates is perfect. So, Blair intended the goat to be a poignant reference to the errors humans commonly make (although in this case, the error is really more of a cool detail!).

6. The Beatles Officially Broke Up at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

When the Beatles broke up in the 1960s, it was huge news – although, technically, they broke up slowly over a number of years. While the end of the band began back in a meeting at Apple headquarters in 1968, the members’ partnership was officially and legally dissolved in a surprising place: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

While John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison had all already quit the Beatles by the time 1970 rolled around, it took four more years to actually wrap up the band’s breakup. By 1974, all of the members except Lennon had signed the paperwork at the Plaza Hotel in New York. And when the day came to sign the final documents, no one could find Lennon.

So, after some travel and legal finagling, a lawyer finally tracked down Lennon and brought the dissolution contract to him – at Disney World, inside a room at the Polynesian, on December 29, 1974. Lennon officially signed the paperwork, and the process was complete. 

7. Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation Resorts Were Originally Meant to Be One

Disney's Pop Century Resort

Have you ever wondered why the Little Mermaid section of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is a bit different than the other areas themed after Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Lion King? Well, it’s because this resort wasn’t originally planned to look like it does today. In fact, it was actually supposed to be an extension of a different resort – Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

It makes sense when you think about it, after all; Pop Century covers the decades from the 1950s to 1990s. But what about the rest of the century, from the 1900s to 1940s? Well, the resort was intended to be divided into two sections, with the existing structures called the Classic Years and the second half to be called the Legendary Years. They would be linked to each other via a bridge called the Generation Gap.

The Classic Years section was built, the bridge was completed, and work got underway on the Legendary Years section with an initial building. However, after the events of September 11, 2001 took place, construction stopped for the remaining buildings in the Legendary Years area. Everything sat as it was for years, until Disney decided to scrap the Pop Century second half and transform it into Art of Animation instead. That’s why you’ll find one of the resort’s buildings full of standard rooms, and the other three with family suites!

8. A Whole Host of Internationally-Inspired Hotels Were Planned for Disney World

Speaking of hotels that were planned but never completed at Walt Disney World, there’s a whole array of ideas that weren’t brought to life! When Disney World officially opened, there were plans to create a whole group of hotels around Magic Kingdom Park that were inspired by different destinations and cultures around the world – kind of like EPCOT’s World Showcase, but with hotels featuring far more in-depth theming.

For example, The Asian was a resort hotel scheduled to open in 1973, according to MousePlanet. Land was cleared and prepped for this hotel (right where Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa sits today, in fact), which was intended to be themed after Thailand. Plans were underway, so much so that one of the roads nearby had been named “Asian Way” and room interiors were approved and completed… but it never came to be.

Similarly, there were plans for The Venetian, a resort located between the Contemporary Resort and the Ticket and Transportation Center along the Seven Seas Lagoon; The Persian, which would be located to the northeast of the Contemporary on the monorail’s route; the Grande Venezia Resort, which was intended to fill the spot never taken by The Venetian; and Mediterranean Resort, which was supposed to be a Greek-themed resort complex on the monorail system.

9. Magic Kingdom Park Almost Had a Real Hotel on Main Street, U.S.A.

Main Street, USA Town Square Theater

Photo by Laurie Sapp

If you’ve always dreamed of spending the night inside a Disney World theme park, that was almost a possibility back when Magic Kingdom first opened. In fact you can actually check out the hotel that was intended for Magic Kingdom visitors today; it just looks nothing like a hotel!

While Disneyland Park in Anaheim has the Opera House, Magic Kingdom has the Town Square Theater. However, these buildings were originally nothing alike. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the Town Square Theater was actually called the Main Street Hotel – and it was home to the Gulf Hospitality Center. Guests could stop by and make reservations for rooms across the resort as well as dinner shows and other recreational activities. It even felt like a hotel lobby inside.

However, before its doors opened, Dorothea Redmond had created concept art to turn that building into a legit hotel, right on Main Street, U.S.A. And some of her details even made it into the building’s final design; for example, the individual balconies on upper floor windows and the rocking chairs on the front porch were all intended for hotel guests. 

But the hotel never came to be, and the building ultimately grew into its current form as the Town Square Theater in 2011.

10. Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort Wasn’t Originally Intended for Theme Park Guests

There’s no denying Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort is unique (after all, who doesn’t want to stay in a treehouse?). But few people know that it wasn’t actually built for theme park Guests; it was meant to be a neighborhood of actual homes.

You’ve heard of Walt Disney’s original dream for EPCOT, turning it into a place where families would live and work. While these plans were abandoned, Saratoga Springs was actually built in the spirit of that dream. The resort buildings – including homes, apartments, and the Treehouse Villas – were intended to be vacation houses and facilities for those living and working on property. 

Later on, when the Disney Institute was built near the existing villas at Saratoga Springs Resort, the buildings were used as accommodations for visiting Guests. Then, they were turned into housing for Disney’s International College Program. 

So, it was quite a long journey for Saratoga Springs Resort to actually turn into an official Walt Disney World hotel!

Want to learn more incredible facts about Disney World’s resorts? Keep reading:

Disney World Hotels by the Numbers

Posts by Heather Adams

Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.

Authored by
Heather Adams

Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.
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