EPCOT In-Park Hotel “Rumor” Returns

It’s that time of year when the EPCOT hotel “rumor” returns! The previously-abandoned project is supposedly on the table again to become Walt Disney World’s first in-park resort. This 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. (Updated February 28, 2023.)

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 around 2016 and 2017 when it was a hot topic that almost happened. This predated the original announcement of the EPCOT overhaul, and obviously, a lot has changed since then.

At the time, there were “competing” rumors for an in-park EPCOT hotel, or rather, for its location. 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 former Innoventions plot. For a bit of further historical context, this rumor rose shortly 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 credible rumors 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.

In the 6+ years since, a lot has happened and changed. Reflections Lakeside Lodge was announced, site prep work started, then was paused only months later, and the project was quietly cancelled. That construction site has been mothballed, but is likely still a long-term option as one of the last highly-desirable hotel sites at Walt Disney World.

In the time since Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge was put on ice, Walt Disney World has moved on to two different Disney Vacation Club projects. The first was conversion of a building at the Grand Floridian into “Resort Studios” (basically just hotel rooms, but they’re quite nice) plus a not-so-nice tower that’s currently under construction at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

These projects are notable because it seems to me that the company is going for low-hanging fruit before returning to the location between Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. Whatever ends up being built there probably won’t be called Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, but it’s hard to imagine Disney totally abandoning the fully-prepped parcel.

Against that backdrop, we share that the EPCOT in-park hotel “rumor” has returned. (Note the air quotes before getting too excited.)

In a new TikTok video, Orlando real estate expert Ken Pozek claims that he saw new permits indicating that Walt Disney World had “awarded” Buena Vista Construction Company the “rights” to build the hotel inside or near EPCOT. The permits purportedly include a swimming pool and other recreational facilities in addition to the hotel.

As his video implies, this isn’t the first time that Pozek has made bold claims about the EPCOT hotel. Two years ago, he 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 then was 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.

In case it’s not already clear, I’m incredibly skeptical of all this. For one thing, I could not track down the permit in question. For another thing, the way Pozek has described it doesn’t really make sense. Buena Vista is Walt Disney World’s in-house construction company, and they typically handle smaller-scale projects. I’m struggling to think of anything “big” that Buena Vista has built within the last decade.

Moreover, since Buena Vista Construction Company is in-house, they would not be “awarded” the “rights” to build a hotel. They’re the same company! That’d be like Good Morning America awarding Walt Disney World “best-value travel destination in the world.” (Okay, bad example–I could totally see that happening.)

Once again, there’s also the reality with ongoing and existing projects. Expansion at the Polynesian and reimaginings at the Grand Floridian (and elsewhere) are full steam ahead. Once finished, it’s likely that a replacement for Reflections is next up on deck. Disney’s Riviera Resort has still sold only around 50% of its total inventory and will take several more years to sell out, even assuming healthy monthly numbers.

Frankly, that’s a bold assumption. Disney Vacation Club direct sales have been slowing over the course of the last several months, and that decrease will only worsen if there’s an economic downturn. It’s safe to assume that the towers at Disneyland Hotel and Polynesian will still well regardless of the broader environment, but that’s still a lot of properties to sell simultaneously.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the EPCOT in-park hotel will have absolutely nothing to do with Disney Vacation Club. Given that this is a prime piece of real estate, a theoretical resort in this location could likely command nightly rates that are on par with or higher than the Grand Floridian.

Even though Magic Kingdom is the flagship park at Walt Disney World, this would be the prized location. The EPCOT hotel would be the first at Walt Disney World actually inside or at the front gate of a theme park. That alone would help it do tremendous numbers, and it would presumably be smaller than many of the sprawling resorts around Walt Disney World.

In other words, 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 few years. Ditto project priorities. There’s also the reality that demographics have changed at least a bit, and Walt Disney World continues to cater to convention-goers. (Just look at Gran Destino Tower!)

An EPCOT hotel might thus be viewed as a safer bet than Reflections. It also might be a “best of both worlds” solution. Disney opted to “take a different approach” with the multi-level Festival Center. New concept art of CommuniCore Hall & Plaza has since been released, and shows that the company is basically rebuilding what was previously there.

It’s entirely possible that part of the reason for the scaled-back CommuniCore plans is because some of that is moving to the EPCOT Hotel. That could host rooftop dining, dessert parties, special events space, and more–all without requiring convention guests to actually enter the park.

At some point, these rumors of an EPCOT in-park hotel will likely be correct. Over a long enough timeline, this parcel will likely turn into a hotel. Whether it happens in 4 years or 40 is anyone’s guess at this point, which is what makes this specific rumor dubious. I could throw a bunch of random “rumors” at the wall that I know are likely to happen at Walt Disney World in the long-term; it doesn’t mean I was right when my prediction comes true 14 years from now.

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 unshelved. The best I can do is draw inferences from generalized sentiment I’ve heard on the DVC side of things, but that would lead me to conclude that Reflections will be reevaluated and revived at some point in the future…but not this.

I also 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 in the next decade. However, that’s probably better than most other unannounced Walt Disney World projects at this time.

When the EPCOT hotel was first rumored ~6 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.

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Your Thoughts

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!

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