The Monorail Resorts at Walt Disney World
By Dave Shute
These are called monorail resorts because they are the only hotels at Walt Disney World with monorail stops.
They are among the most popular hotels at Walt Disney World…and may face an interesting future!
Disney World’s monorail system has three loops, a spur, and some switches.
- One loop, the Epcot Monorail, runs between Epcot and the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC).
- Another, the Express Monorail, runs counterclockwise around Seven Seas Lagoon with stops at the TTC and the Magic Kingdom.
- The third loop, the Resort Monorail, runs clockwise around the lagoon, paralleling the Express Monorail tracks, and stops at TTC, the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary, and then back to TTC.
A spur ties in between the Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary, affording access to the monorail shops, and switches allow the monorails here to access the two Seven Seas Lagoon loops. Another set of switches at TTC gets the monorails onto the Epcot loop.
The Resort Monorail stops at the three principal monorail resorts (Bay Lake Tower is a short walk from the Contemporary’s stop), and most famously travels through the Contemporary itself (as does the Express Monorail).
As a result, guests at these hotels have a particularly fun and convenient way to access the Magic Kingdom, the other monorail resorts and their restaurants, and the Epcot Monorail.
Well, kinda convenient.
While the Magic Kingdom is the first stop out from the Grand Floridian, that hotel is the last stop back; the Contemporary is the first stop back from the Magic Kingdom, but that park is the last stop from the hotel; the Polynesian has reasonable monorail access in both directions, being two stops in and three stops back.
Those at the Contemporary can walk ten minutes to or from the Magic Kingdom; those at the Grand Floridian can evade being the last stop back by taking a boat, and those at the Polynesian can avoid being the third stop back by taking the Express Monorail to the TTC and walking to the Polynesian from there.
These resorts access Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios theme parks via buses, which they share with at least one, and sometimes two other resorts.
Getting to Epcot from the monorail resorts requires two transportation acts: getting to TTC, and then catching the Epcot Monorail. Travelers from the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary have no other way provided to get to TTC than taking the Resort Monorail; those staying at the Polynesian can walk to TTC and catch the Epcot Monorail there.
THE FUTURE OF THE MONORAIL RESORTS
Redevelopment of the monorail resorts began with the demolition of the Contemporary’s North Garden wing and its replacement with Bay Lake Tower.
Extensive site development between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian is widely understood to be the pre-cursor to a Disney Vacation Club site at the Grand Floridian, although Disney has made no announcements on this.
Then last month Steve at Tikimanpages.com dropped a bombshell of a rumor–that the Polynesian would be taken down and rebuilt from the ground up, and the new facility would include Disney Vacation Club rooms. There’s no timeline, and he carefully qualifies this report: “I think there is some truth to it but I think we will have to wait and see.”
I can see the logic to this–I’ve argued before that Disney World uses the Polynesian footprint and the footprint of the adjacent ferry landing poorly. But the question that’s fun to speculate about is when–or more precisely, after what?
The Poly’s 840 or so rooms generate a third of a million dollars a night just in room rates on a slow off-season night. And with the Fantasyland expansion opening in 2012 and 2013, it’s hard to see why Disney would choose to miss that capacity and those revenues at the very time it is trying to earn a return on the Fantasyland investment.
So my speculation–and that’s all it is, speculation, building on rumor–is that Disney will build another monorail resort before it closes and re-fashions the Polynesian, and that the Polynesian re-opening will be targeted for Disney’s 50th anniversary, ten years from now.
This avoids reducing capacity and revenue during the Fantasyland expansion, adds capacity and excitement to the 50th anniversary… and adds bed capacity in response to a potential fifth theme park that might open at about the same time.
The obvious spot is the place that had once been reserved for the Venetian Resort, between the Contemporary and TTC.
In the image, the site is the red-colored land north of TTC between the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.
Reportedly, Disney has tested this site at least twice, and both times been dismayed by the suitability of the geology for building.
But that dismay could mean several things–ranging from “expensive” to “impossible.” If the issue is on the “expensive” end of the scale, then the expense has to be compared to the next best alternative–having no place to put those who would otherwise stay at the Poly.
But this site, although likely the best, isn’t the only option. It looks to be the only buildable site on the Resort Monorail–but that’s not the only monorail worth considering.
What about a monorail resort on the Epcot Monorail?
A MONORAIL RESORT AT EPCOT?
There’s a couple of sites on the Epcot monorail that look buildable to me–and also to Disney’s land-use documents, the Reedy Creek Improvement District Comprehensive 2020 Plan.
One of these sites for an Epcot monorail resort is visible on the image above–it’s the long, wide strip of red-colored land between the Magic Kingdom parking lot and Fort Wilderness, which currently contains the old STOL landing strip and swamps.
This enormous space, big enough for a theme park, could easily hold both a large monorail resort and a major water feature, perhaps an extension of Seven Seas Lagoon.
It’s the red-colored “C”-shaped land on the northwest corner of the Epcot area, where the Epcot Monorail curves away into Epcot proper from the straight line it had been taking from the TTC.
It lies between the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and Epcot Center Drive, and could easily hold a massive monorail resort.
I dunno if any of this is gonna happen…but I’d bet on a new monorail resort somewhere, sometime before Disney’s 50th anniversary!