More Walt Disney World Resort Stories

Histories of Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts

Hello, Disney fans! I’m the senior writer for Eyes & Ears, an internal magazine for Walt Disney World Cast Members. I’m delighted to share some of those stories with you from time to time. Here’s one in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort.

In 1969, Disney announced five “theme resorts” for the project’s first phase. Two opened October 1, 1971 – we know them today as Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Early renderings for what became Disney’s Polynesian Resort included a 12-story tower.

An early concept for Disney’s Polynesian Resort featured a 12-story tower, a bold design that might have looked more at home among the luxury hotels on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.

By about 1970, the site plan had evolved to a more architecturally authentic “village” layout, much of which remains today. Incredibly, construction began in February 1971, less than eight months before the first guests were scheduled to arrive.

Construction of Disney’s Polynesian Resort began in February 1971.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort were designed by WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering), the California architectural firm of Welton Becket & Associates and United States Steel Corp. Each was built with a unique process called “unitized modular construction.”

Take a look at this early photo of Disney’s Contemporary Resort:

Disney’s Contemporary Resort was built using a new method of modular construction.

Once the central elevator shaft went up, crews assembled 13 steel-trussed A-frames around it, forming a 150-foot-high skeleton. A few miles away, assembly-line workers built rooms for both resorts at a rate of around 40 per week. When finished, each was a free-standing unit complete with air conditioning, bathroom fixtures, sliding-glass doors and groovy decor.

During construction of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, prebuilt rooms were slid into the building’s frame one by one.

After being trucked to the construction sites, the nearly nine-ton rooms were slid into the building frames by crane, like dresser drawers. Despite a widely believed legend, they were never meant to be removable for future refurbishments, though.

To help learn the hotel business, Disney leased the Hilton Inn South in Orlando, Fla., which opened in May 1970, and used the 140-room hotel as a kind of living laboratory, developing everything from training manuals to restaurant menus later used in its own resorts.

The remaining “Phase One” resorts, inspired by Asian, Venetian and Persian motifs, never made it off Imagineers’ drawing boards. Four decades later, they remain tantalizing examples of what might have been.

Who visited our first two resorts in the early years?

Construction of Disney’s Contemporary Resort Construction of Disney’s Contemporary Resort Construction of Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Contemporary Resort Disney leased the Hilton Inn South in Orlando, Fla., as a place to learn the hotel business.
Disney’s Polynesian Resort was known as the Polynesian Village Resort when it opened in 1971. Disney’s Polynesian Resort opened with 492 rooms in eight longhouses, and later expanded. In 2001, the Nanea Volcano Pool replaced the original swimming pool (seen here) at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. A never-built Asian-themed resort (seen here as a model) was planned for the
five-year first phase of the Walt Disney World Resort.


  • I still have photos of my sisters and me from both hotels in 1971 and 1972. One picture I have shows my sister sliding down the original pool slide at that Polynesian Village and Mr. Smee sliding down the slide behind her into that original swimming pool. Back then character interactions were spontaneous and free.

  • We spent our one week honeymoon at the Contemporary Resort in 1984 and many more vacations before and with our 3 kids. Our family loves Disney World and made forever memories and plan on making many more. “)

  • My parents honeymooned at the Contemporary in early 1972… it’s still our favorite resort to date!

  • I always like reading about and seeing pictures of contstruction projects in the Walt Disney Family , they were great thanks.

  • David, I really enjoyed your writeup. Thanks for sharing a little bit of official history with us.

  • I actually have a rate card from 72 (I think) when I first went as a two year old… $15 for Garden View at the Poly! That’s where it all began for me…39 years later and it’s part of who I am. I’ll be there tomorrow bright an early…Can I use my E-tickets and my Transportation Ticket???

  • Welcome to the blog Mr. David!

  • Our Disney stay progression goes like this so far: Off Property, Caribbean Beach, Dixie Landings, Polynesian, Polynesian, Polynesian, Polynesian. So yeah, I guess you can say we ended up liking the Polynesian.

  • I’ve always loved the Polynesian resort! I have fond memories of that place!

  • With my parents and very young daughters, we stayed in the Contemporary resort in November 1971. As I remember the tower was only complete up to about floor 6 or 7 and the south unit were we stayed had contruction offices on the first floor our rooms were on the second. The following year we stayed in the Polynesian Resort and fell in love with slide and waterfalls in the pool. At that time we could also swim in the bay with nice sandy beaches.

  • Would love to read those 40 year old training manuals.

  • Thanks for this! Loved reading this, and as a former CM, I have to say I really miss E&E!

  • My parents stayed at Disney’s Polynesian Resort during opening year!

  • Thanks for this! These kind of photos are fascinating to me.

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