Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Three
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For the last two days, I’ve been telling you all about the Swan and Dolphin Resort and the amenities that are offered. Today I’m going to discuss why these non-Disney hotels exist in the middle of the action and are not relegated to some remote corner of the World.
In the early 1980’s, the Disney Company was subjected to several hostile takeover attempts. In order to fend off these attacks, the company needed an infusion of money -- quickly. One of the parties Disney turned to was Tishman, the construction company that built much of Epcot. In return for the loan, Tishman would be allowed to build two convention hotels somewhere on property. In the end, Disney prevailed and the takeover attempts were thwarted, but many of the company’s executives were ousted. It was at this time that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells entered the picture with a directive to further develop the Florida property.
In 1984, the only on-property hotels were the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Golf Resort (later the Disney Inn, currently Shades of Green). Eisner wanted to build more, architecturally pleasing resorts to lure off-property guests to spend their entire vacation on Disney property. But there was this pesky contract with Tishman that needed to be honored first. After reviewing Tishman’s plans, it was discovered that they intended to build uninspired “boxy” buildings. This did not please Eisner, so in typical fashion, he demanded that the contract with Tishman be broken. Of course Tishman did not take kindly to this and filed a countersuit against Disney. In the end, Disney had to back down but a new contract was crafted. It gave Tishman a prime location next to Epcot but it gave Disney the right to determine the design. So Eisner hired famed architect Michael Graves, who had never designed a hotel before, to create the whimsical Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Swan opened January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin opened June 1, of the same year.
In all my research, I have never found a good explanation as to why Eisner okayed a design that would intrude so much on Epcot. If you stand anywhere on the east side of World Showcase (from Mexico to Italy) you can see these massive buildings standing behind France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. When Walt built Disneyland, he insisted that a berm be built around his park. He wanted to keep the outside world from intruding on his realms of fantasy. It’s beyond me why Walt’s philosophy was not followed in this case.
This next picture was taken from between the Mexico and Norway Pavilions. Notice how the towering Dolphin dwarfs the Eiffel Tower in France.
But if you can get past the Swan and Dolphin’s controversial location, they represent inspired architecture. They’re fun. They’re silly. They’re whimsical. They are not “boxy” anywhere U.S.A. hotels. These are one-of-a-kind buildings that are full of magic. It’s just a shame they are located where they are.
There are two persistent rumors that will not die in regards to the Swan and Dolphin. First, that the “black boxes” in the middle of each building can be removed so a future monorail can pass through the buildings (in much the same way the monorail travels through the Contemporary).
Another rumor insists that the giant swans and dolphins were placed atop the wrong buildings. The swans sit on a building painted with ocean waves while the dolphins are on top of a building with palm trees. Many think this is incorrect and ask “Shouldn’t the dolphins be on the building with waves and the swans associated with the foliage?”
Both of these rumors can be dispelled with one explanation.
Even though these are not Disney hotels designed by Imagineers, architect Michael Graves crafted a “story” to help him with his design. Unfortunately, this story never found its way into any formal documentation and has more or less been lost with time.
Graves wanted to represent the essence of Florida with his design and color selections, and he felt the theme of “water” could best accomplish his goal. As the story goes, there was a massive upheaval beneath the ocean that spewed forth and created an island. As the land mass grew, it lifted dolphins out of the water. It’s these dolphins we see sitting on top of the hotel (or island). And the island is lush with tropical growth which is why we see banana leaves on the side of the building (island) and palm trees encircling the structure. The black box represents the heart of the island that burst open when the upheaval occurred. (It’s symbolism, folks.)
As the island continued to grow, water began to cascade down the side of the mountain. As more water began to flow, it started to splash a nearby island (the Swan). If you take a look at the walkway that connects the two buildings, the railing is wave-like, representing the water flowing toward the Swan. And the waves on the side of the Swan represent the water lapping up against its shores.
When it comes to the swans themselves, I have read two accounts. The first suggests that the swans were so transfixed by this phenomenon that they decided to take a closer look and were turned to stone as they sat watching the events unfold. The second story says that the eruption captured the attention of two passing birds and they were so awed by the spectacle that they alighted on the top of the waves to get a better look and were magically transformed into swans.
The original interior of both resorts helped tell this story, but during the redesign, much of the tale’s elements were lost. It’s also said that Graves selected the swan and dolphin because they weren’t already in Disney’s arsenal of characters.
I think this story illustrates that the swans and dolphins were placed onto the correct buildings. And as for the black boxes being removed for a monorail, this just doesn’t make sense. I know the “heart of the island” story is a bit over the top and symbolic, but if you look at things practically, these spaces are tremendously huge. Why would you take out all of those cash-generating rooms when all you need is a small space for the monorail to pass through? I grant you, it would be impressive to see this happen, but it just isn’t so, folks.
So there you have it, the controversial Swan and Dolphin Resort - a resort that has its admirer’s and its foes.