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Elseworlds – Walt Disney World’s Cypress Point Lodge

Cypress Point Lodge rendering, 1982 (web)“Cypress Point, located between Fort Wilderness and the Contemporary Resort Hotel, will offer guests a ‘rustic’ WDW vacation.” (Disney)

To start with, I have a few notes. First, this post was originally going to be another Neverworlds piece, but I went back and forth on that (for reasons that shall become apparent) and instead I’ve elected to label this an Elseworld – an alternate, unrealized version of a Disney attraction that we later received in a different form. The other point I’d like to make is that I was initially very smug, thinking that I was delivering unto the web the very first widely-known rendering of the Cypress Point Lodge. A single Google search deflated my ego, though, as Brian Martsolf’s excellent Disney World site had beat me to it. He also scooped me on some other renderings that I had for upcoming stories. Martsolf!!!!

In any case…

Cypress Point Lodge will be a medium-sized hotel facility, located on the south shore of Bay Lake near our Fort Wilderness Campground Resort. Encompassing 550 rooms and 50 log cabins on the beach, Cypress Point Lodge will offer a romantic notion of a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge secluded in a deep forest. Neither the trees nor the buildings dominate the entire area; but blend together in a natural harmony.. One can almost hear the crackling fireplace and feel the large wooden beams offer a haven of security and comfort.

Cypress Point Lodge will also include: two restaurants, a pool, extensive beach, and lake dock. Guests will commute in and out of Cypress Point Lodge by watercraft.

- Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears, 4 November, 1982

As Walt Disney World’s first decade came to an end, Disney executives were looking ahead to the 1982 debut of EPCOT Center. Knowing that a second gate would extend guest stays and increase demand for lodging, management decided that it was time to expand Disney’s lineup of hotels. Original opening-day plans in 1971 had called for the quick construction of three new hotels to join the existing Polynesian and Contemporary resorts; by 1975, the Asian, Venetian and Persian hotels were to have debuted on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. By the turn of the decade, however, these resorts had yet to see the light of day.

The reason for this reluctance to build, despite the fact that Disney’s existing hotels were constantly and completely booked year-round, was Disney’s extremely cautious Chairman, E. Cardon Walker. Disney’s original expansion plans were scheduled to begin with the opening of the Asian Resort in 1973 – later pushed to 1974 – but by the time construction was to begin, the first gas crisis of the 1970s had hit. Management’s concerns mirrored those of today, but despite a dip in attendance at the parks, the Disney hotels remained packed.

Other hotels and motels in the area, though, were not so lucky. Many of these businesses had swooped in overnight in the wake of Disney’s arrival in Orlando, hoping to strike it rich like the low-rent hotels that surrounded Disneyland in Anaheim. The result was a sudden oversaturation of the market, which was probably doomed to collapse regardless of the Arab oil embargo. Many of these properties never even opened; some were left unfinished, and some closed immediately upon opening because they could not keep enough guests to pay off their construction loans.

This spooked Walker, who abandoned the bold existing plans for expansion and vowed not to build another major hotel on property for many years. Instead of the ornate and highly-themed Asian Resort, 1973 instead found Disney opening the very small and inexpensively-themed Golf Resort. Despite overwhelming guest demand, it was the last Disney hotel to open for fifteen years.

The ensuing years would see expansions to the Polynesian and Golf Resorts, as well as the slow roll-out of the Villas at Lake Buena Vista. But when construction of EPCOT Center was underway, Walker and others knew that it was time to start building new hotels. Sometime around 1980, it was announced that three new hotels would be built at Walt Disney World to coincide with the opening of EPCOT Center. The first was the Grand Floridian Beach Resort, to be built on the former Asian Resort plot. The Mediterranean Resort was next, giving a new name to the original Venetian Resort project. This was, of course, never built, despite Michael Eisner giving the concept a third try in the 1990s.

The final new resort, and the reason for all this folderol, was to be called the Cypress Point Lodge. As mentioned in the citation above, it would be a medium-sized hotel with 550 guest rooms and 50 cabins on the shore of Bay Lake. The theme of the resort, and the reason that this unbuilt hotel doesn’t belong in the realm of Neverworlds, is quite similar to the Wilderness Lodge which opened in 1994. The Cypress Point Lodge was a different design, but it shared a theme and was intended for the same plot upon which the Wilderness Lodge was built fourteen years later.

Cypress Point Lodge, 1982 (web)The front facade and arrival area of the Cypress Point Lodge. Rather like the little brother of the Wilderness Lodge.

The origin of the Cypress Point Lodge is somewhat mysterious. Jim Hill claims that it was always intended to be built as the sixth Disney resort, after the Polynesian, Contemporary, Asian, Venetian and Persian. According to Hill, it was to be the first hotel built in Walt Disney World’s “Phase III”, which would have lasted from 1981-86. I’ve seen little from this period to corroborate this fact; the Lodge isn’t mentioned by name in a Walt Disney Productions annual report until 1981, although the three new hotels are referred to without elaboration in 1980. I can find nothing from the 1968-71 period that mentions the Lodge, although aerial photos from the time show that the site intended for the Lodge had been cleared for some purpose by 1971. In fact, in early plans (pre-1971), the site that would later be intended for the Cypress Point Lodge was originally designated for a campground area.

In the Walt Disney World souvenir guide from 1973, it’s mentioned that a “Lodge” would be built at Fort Wilderness to house guests, but it’s unclear if this would have been our Cypress Point Lodge or rather an extension of the western town that was then planned for development around what is currently Fort Wilderness’s Settlement Outpost. I’ve always assumed that it was the western town idea that eventually evolved into the aborted Buffalo Junction/Wilderness Junction project in the 1990s.

It’s interesting that the Cypress Point Lodge would have also featured separate cabin areas; this would have given the area a more villa-like aspect, and it’s also possible that those cabins eventually morphed into the Wilderness Junction concept and then the Wilderness Lodge DVC property. This is all speculation, though.

Cypress Point Lodge model, 1980 (web)The Cypress Point Lodge model in 1980 (DisneyPix.com)

What we do know is that by 1980, the Cypress Point Lodge had been included as part of the large model of the Walt Disney World property that occupied the post-show area of the Magic Kingdom’s Walt Disney Story attraction. I don’t know how long the model remained on display, but the hotel was widely touted as a much-needed expansion of guest capacity as late as 1982. In articles both before and after EPCOT Center’s opening that October, Card Walker and others mentioned the three new resorts coming to Walt Disney World. I have yet to find a mention of the hotel in 1983 or after, but that’s probably because all funds were diverted for the completion of EPCOT Center’s Phase I attractions. By then there began to be a shakeup in management, and Michael Eisner arrived in 1984 to change the course of Disney history.

This is one case, though, where Disney fans might have won out. The Cypress Point Lodge does indeed look quaint, and it would be nice to have those cabins on the beach, but it’s hard to deny the grandeur and beauty of the Wilderness Lodge. Architect Peter Dominick’s take on Yellowstone’s famous Old Faithful Inn is a masterwork of design, and I would be hard pressed to say that the Cypress Point Lodge would have been an improvement.

One final, interesting note – one common complaint about the Wilderness Lodge is that, unlike other deluxe hotels in the area, it does not have monorail service. Yet the original plans for the Cypress Point as well as the Mediterranean Resort called for them to both center around boat service. Then again, in 1980 no one at WED would have anticipated the need to get from Bay Lake to Animal Kingdom!

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