The EPCOT Hotel is back! The previously abandoned project is again on the table to possibly become Walt Disney World’s first in-park resort. This post shares thoughts on the revived rumors, its likelihood of coming to fruition, and comparisons to similar hotels at Tokyo DisneySea, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Resort.
Before we dig into the current rumors, let’s quickly bring anyone up to speed who hasn’t been following long-running Walt Disney World rumors–or just doesn’t remember the details of this project from ~5 years ago when it first made headlines. Basically, there were “competing” rumors for an in-park EPCOT hotel, or rather, for its location.
At the time, there were three potential sites for the EPCOT hotel: outside the front entrance adjacent to the monorail station, backstage between the Living Seas and Land pavilions, or on the (then soon to be) former Innoventions plot. For a bit of further historical context, this rumor rose after Riviera Resort and Gran Destino, but before Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge was announced…
That’s significant because Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge becoming official was pretty much the last anyone heard of the EPCOT in-park hotel. That’s not to say that the two were directly competing proposals–they were not–but it’s entirely possible the company evaluated all of the resort projects in the pipeline for Walt Disney World and opted to shelve the EPCOT hotel, not wanting to overbuild hotel inventory.
If that’s what happened, it was savvy foresight given the last year. You probably don’t need the reminder, but several hotels remain closed at Walt Disney World, with some unlikely to reopen until 2022. Work paused on Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge last spring, and the site appears to be mothballed long-term with signs that incarnation of the project has been cancelled.
The last year is why I wrote off the EPCOT in-park hotel concept when it first reemerged a couple weeks ago. It seemed so patently absurd that I didn’t even bother checking into its details at the time, and instead assumed it was wishful daydreaming due to boredom from a lack of credible rumors.
However, since then I’ve heard that Walt Disney World will likely “revive” resort plans and resume construction sooner than previously expected. That’s bolstered by improving sales trends from Disney Vacation Club, current economic data, and projections of a travel industry recovery and boom on the horizon. Conversely, it’s interestingly contradicted by what’s happening at the Reflections site. The EPCOT hotel is one way to neatly reconcile all of that.
With that said, I’m still skeptical. Even with improving numbers the last few months, Disney’s Riviera Resort has still sold less than 30% of its total inventory and will take several more years to sell out, even assuming accelerated monthly numbers. Convention and special events business is still going to take a long time to recover, if it ever fully does. It’s impossible to project whether Walt Disney World’s current hotel room inventory is sufficient or insufficient for demand 5 years from now, or how it satisfies the types of demand then.
My bearishness has also been flatly wrong over the last year. While I correctly “called” Reflections early, I also expected Disney Vacation Club to have way more issues (that bill could still come due!) and the travel industry to have a longer road to recovery. I never expected Universal to resume work on Epic Universe so quickly, among other projects. It’s thus probably best not to dismiss the EPCOT hotel rumor out of hand before even hearing it simply because it doesn’t comport with my preconceptions…
Cutting to the chase, Orlando real estate expert Ken Pozek shared a surprise find on YouTube (video above starts at relevant conversation). That’s based on construction bid information Mr. Pozek discovered on Dodge Data & Analytics, a site that tracks the construction industry and allows bidding on projects by contractors.
The listing is for “EPCOT Future World Hotel” and shows it in the planning schematics stage of design with a $50 to $75 million project valuation. The overview shows that it was first published in 2018, but republished in 2021. Walt Disney Parks & Resorts is listed as owner, with Imagineering and Gensler as architects. There’s also an address for the project on Avenue of the Stars, which would seem to suggest its location inside the park near Soarin. (I’d disregard that last detail as it’s often inaccurate. It’s possible this will be built on the Innoventions plot, but that would present significant logistical challenges.)
There are probably a dozens or more reasons why this EPCOT hotel won’t come to fruition. However, this is not simply a blue sky pitch or vague rumor of dubious origin that has no chance of happening. At minimum, Disney is actually going through the motions on the previously-shelved project, and involving third parties. There is absolutely something of substance to this.
Calling it a rumor is not quite–or at all–accurate, though. (Sorry, we don’t have a more succinct term.) To the contrary, I can’t find a single credible insider who has knowledge of this project being un-shelved. The best I can do is draw inferences from generalized sentiment I’ve heard on the DVC side of things, but that would suggest to me that Reflections is being revived, not this. As Disney prepares to move construction offices from the Reflections site, there’s actual evidence that’s not moving forward anytime soon.
Just because Disney already began work on Reflections doesn’t mean the EPCOT hotel couldn’t happen first. For one thing, leadership at all levels of the company has changed dramatically in the last year. Ditto project priorities. There’s also the reality that demographics have changed at least a bit.
An EPCOT hotel might thus be viewed as a safer bet than Reflections. It also might be a “best of both worlds” solution. Last summer, Disney announced it would “take a different approach” with the multi-level Festival Center. New concept art hasn’t yet been released, but it’s expected to be less vertical and architecturally-ambitious. One feature of that was top-level Harmonious viewing and special events space. Reflections promised more Disney Vacation Club inventory, albeit in a taste-specific location. (Hardly the least questionable aspect of that particular plan.)
Why not combine them both? Previously, we cast doubt on the idea that an EPCOT entrance hotel would contain a Disney Vacation Club component because “overlooking Spaceship Earth is a slam-dunk concept” that would command high nightly rates, would easily achieve occupancy goals, and simply would not need DVC.
It should go without saying, but the last year has changed things. That’s still probably true long-term, but if you’re a risk averse Disney looking to slowly resume projects, having a mixed use property at the entrance to EPCOT that also has a large rooftop for special events space is arguably perfect. It’s not the most risk-averse approach (that probably involves converting room inventory at Yacht Club, Contemporary, or elsewhere to DVC) but it kills two birds with one stone and is a solid hedge.
In digging into the project details, I couldn’t help but check out Gensler’s portfolio. It’s sort of all over the place–no singular style or vision. There are a lot of bland modern interiors reminiscent of what Imagineering has been doing the last few years, but also some interesting exteriors. Several of the transportation and gateway projects have sweeping curves and fluid modern designs that actually do instill confidence; that type of direction would make sense for a project outside EPCOT and adjacent to the monorail station.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself–I still think the EPCOT hotel is 50/50 at best. However, that’s probably better than literally any other unannounced Walt Disney World project at this time–and even a few that previously had the green light.
When the EPCOT hotel was first rumored ~5 years ago, my take was that the hotel could be an asset to EPCOT. It might move EPCOT closer to the mixed-use community Walt Disney initially envisioned for E.P.C.O.T., albeit with tourists replacing residents.
That would be cool, especially if other forward-thinking visions for that were resurrected, and it weren’t just a talking point for marketing an otherwise bland project. Given that we heard a lot of the latter with Disney’s Riviera Resort, I can’t say I have a ton of faith that this project would be done right at this moment in time.
The EPCOT hotel could also be used to enhance the entrance area from a thematic perspective to enhance Future World or help increase the wow-factor of standing in front of Spaceship Earth for the first time. Aesthetically, the hotel could be used to extend whatever style and visual motif is used during the re-imagining of Future World.
Think of it as a potential use of the ‘borrowed scenery’ style–like how the facade of Hotel MiraCosta’s facade doubles as part of Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea. That port has the appearance of incredibly pretty buildings lining its walkways, but in reality, it’s all the hotel. It’s a brilliant dual-use, and having part of this be a revenue-generating hotel no doubt helped justify the lavish design.
Likewise, at both Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea, the ‘wow-factor’ concept is executed brilliantly. In both cases, the hotel conceals the park’s main icon (Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in France and Mount Prometheus in Japan) and there’s a big reveal once you pass under the hotel and enter the park. The effect is akin to walking under the train station at Magic Kingdom and seeing Cinderella Castle. Same idea.
Hotel MiraCosta is the better comparison, as here you’ll be able to see Spaceship Earth when riding around the monorail (just as you can see Mount Prometheus at DisneySea), but there’s still a sense of awe when you walk through the breezeway at Hotel MiraCosta and Mount Prometheus is revealed. Given the grandiosity of Spaceship Earth, that feeling could be even more pronounced at EPCOT. Another potentially good comparison might be the also-abandoned Downtown Disney hotel at Disneyland Resort since that also incorporates a monorail station:
For me, the biggest concern here is that the exterior design ends up being bland. For one thing, Disney has never built a stateside hotel like the MiraCosta.
More recently, there’s plenty of precedent for this fear–regardless of whether you like their rooms, the outside of Riviera and Gran Destino don’t exactly scream “pinnacle of themed design.” Reflections had the same problem.
Another concern for me would be the sight-lines looking back towards Spaceship Earth from World Showcase. Presently, Spaceship Earth towers over the rest of Future World, as something of a beacon of progress, world unity, or what-have-you. Having a huge hotel tower as its backdrop would diminish this view. Conversely, something looking similar to the TRON canopy rising just over the tree line behind Spaceship Earth could look pretty cool.
As with virtually anything, there are good and bad ways this project could be accomplished. It could be an asset to EPCOT, it could be another eyesore. It all comes down to budget, execution, and the balance of form and function. When Walt Disney World/Disney Vacation Club management try to cram as many rooms into their hotels as possible while keeping per unit costs low, the overall design-aesthetics suffer.
Ultimately, I’m fairly mixed on the revived EPCOT Hotel “rumor.” There’s reason to believe this could happen, but I’m still highly skeptical in spite of that. I want to be optimistic about it, as there is a ton of potential that could make a hotel an asset to EPCOT. I want to daydream about the unique ways the hotel could harness bleeding-edge technologies to be a natural extension of the park, and one that aesthetically enhances Future World. I think about how cool it would be to stay in Seabase Alpha Hotelater or Brava Centauri Inn.
However, I feel like all of that is really getting ahead of the rumor. At this point my baseline is just hoping that if it does happen, it’s more ambitious and thoughtful than yet another generic high-rise tower and has a superficial design with some ambition and surface-level congruity with EPCOT. My fear is that it’s going to be yet another Disney-branded generic that could just as easily be a random Marriott. Once we (hopefully) get past that, maybe I’ll start thinking deeper about the “what ifs” of this project.
Do you agree or disagree with our perspective on these potential EPCOT in-park hotel? Do you think it’s likely to happen or has that ship sailed? Think it’ll be outside the front entrance, behind the Living Seas and Land, or on the former Innoventions site? Any particular themes or styles you’d like to see if an Epcot hotel is built? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!