Disney World Update: Park Still Being Replaced, Disney Makes Quiet Confirmation

in Walt Disney World

A joyful child in a yellow dress leaps with excitement against a magical backdrop of Cinderella Castle at Disney World and a sky filled with sunshine and floating bubbles.

Credit: Disney Parks Blog

Back in 2018, Walt Disney World Resort announced a replacement for River Country that didn’t go down particularly well with fans. Four years later, the project was canceled – but it may not be quite as dead as we thought.

As the largest theme park resort in the world, it makes sense that Disney World offers a wide variety of hotels, from value resorts such as the All-Star Resorts and Art of Animation, to luxury resorts such as the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. What started with just the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, and Fort Wilderness in 1971 has expanded to a lineup of over 25 immersive locations.

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Replacing Entire Hotel, Axing Original Theme in Favor of More IP

However, Disney hasn’t had the best luck with new resorts in recent years. The most recent addition – the two-night roleplaying experience Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – shuttered late last year due to low occupancy. Just one year earlier, Disney was also forced to cancel another hotel project known as Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge.

The latter wasn’t a particularly disappointing move. First announced in 2018, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge (which was intended to be a Disney Vacation Club resort) had drawn ire from fans due to its uninspiring concept art, which both the name and aesthetics compared to a Disney-fied rehabilitation center.

Concept art for Disney's Reflections hotel, which would open on the former site of River Country.
Credit: Disney

In early 2020, the project was full steam ahead, with excavations taking place at the planned site (the area between Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground that was once home to Disney’s River Country Water Park).

But then the pandemic hit.

Later that year, all references to Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge were removed from Disney websites and digital press releases. In 2021, permits were filed to remove construction offices from the excavation site, which further fueled rumors that the project had been either delayed or canceled.

reflections concept 3
Credit: Disney

In 2022, Disney seemingly confirmed that the project had been canceled by announcing that it was now focused on building new DVC villas at the Polynesian.

Now, however, it seems like Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge isn’t totally dead in the water.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Walt Disney Imagineering has filed a request with the South Florida Water Management District for a five-year extension on permits that would allow it to still develop Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. The extension request covers the hotel, parking lots, and backstage buildings.

Illustration of a modern bedroom in a hotel on the former site of River Country with a large bed, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a vibrant Disney World mural on the wall. Includes sleek furnishings and a cozy seating area.
Credit: Disney

“We would like to request an extension of this permit as construction is not yet complete,” Walt Disney Imagineering said in the request. “This project was shut down during COVID-19 conditions and therefore delayed the completion of this project.”

Should the project still go ahead, the hotel would celebrate “Walt Disney’s lifelong love and respect for nature.” Original plans for the hotel included 900 rooms inspired by the likes of Bambi (1942), Brother Bear (2003), The Fox and the Hound (1981), and Pocahontas (1995). It also featured a lakeside table-service restaurant inspired by The Princess and the Frog (2009).

An animated character, a young woman cheerfully balances an empty tray on her palm in a cozy kitchen filled with dishware and jars. She wears a yellow
Credit: Disney

“This resort experience will be a celebration of Walt Disney’s lifelong love and respect for nature, with some fun and even surprising accommodation types that families will find irresistible,” said Terri Schultz, who was the senior vice president and general manager of Disney Vacation Club at the time of the hotel’s announcement.

“It will give our members and guests yet another opportunity to stay in close proximity to all the newest attractions and experiences in our theme parks, and with the flexibility, value, and world-class service families expect from Disney.”

Long ago thriving River Country
Credit: D23

The former River Country site has drawn plenty of controversy in the past, with several documented break-ins from those curious about what lies within the previously abandoned waterhole-inspired water park.

Open from 1976 to 2001, Disney didn’t disclose that it was closing down for good at the end of the 2001 season, with a representative stating that “River Country could be reopened if there’s enough guest demand.” Instead, its permanent closure was announced in 2005, with the park sitting at the mercy of nature ever since.

Would you like to see Disney revive Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge? Let us know in the comments!

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