|By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 30, 2006 - Renovations under way at two of Walt Disney World's original resorts demonstrate the theme park's obsession with perpetual self-renewal.
The Contemporary and Polynesian hotels will soon emerge from a major face-lift aimed at putting rooms on par with those in the region's newest resorts. Every five or six years, Disney gives its rooms a makeover, changing furniture, revamping bathrooms and installing the latest technology.
"What we are doing is really a complete redesign of the rooms," said Kevin Myers, Disney World's vice president for resort operations and transportation. "We generally stay on a certain cycle."
The two hotels opened in 1971, the same year that Disney World was born. They've both undergone substantial changes since, but theme park officials say the current revamping is particularly ambitious.
The 1,008-room Contemporary, which resembles a giant A-Frame house with a monorail running through its center, was a strikingly futuristic structure when it opened. Its lines still seem sleek, and the regular arrival of streamlined trains still conjures visions of a futuristic world.
But the rooms hadn't kept up. So Disney hired designers to give them a new look that hints of Asian decor and incorporates features such as flat-screen televisions and high-tech workspaces that appeal to business travelers as well as tourists.
"We've steered to the idea that the Contemporary is a convention resort," Myers said. With nightly rates reaching $725, it caters to well-heeled travelers.
Like the Contemporary, the Polynesian is retaining its basic design -- 10 buildings clustered about a main lobby. The renovated rooms will contain visual references to the South Seas with a modern, casual feel aimed at family vacation guests, Myers said.
Disney would not discuss the costs of the renovation projects.
Hotel-room renovations are, for myriad reasons, routine lodging-industry practice. Any room that changes occupants on a near-daily basis tends to take its share of punishment. But it is also important for rooms to reflect current trends in interior design -- particularly if the hotel commands top prices.
"People expect to see something a little nicer in a hotel room than they have at home," said Peter Yesawich, chairman of the YPB&R marketing firm in Orlando. "During the past five to seven years, people have spent a lot on enhancing their homes. So it is harder for hotel operators to keep up with things that people have installed in their own houses."
Yesawich said the latest multimedia center and bathroom designs are important -- something Disney embraced in the Contemporary.
As new luxury-hotel construction continues in Central Florida, Yesawich said it is crucial for old upscale resorts to keep up appearances.
"The competition is clearly raising the bar," Yesawich said. "That is the case in Orlando with the upper-end hotels that have come along in the last five years."
Abe Pizam, dean of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, said major makeovers like the ones under way at Disney are important, but less sweeping updates are generally part of the routine at premium resorts.
"Most decent hotel companies have a policy on renovations," Pizam said. "They have policies on hard and soft renovations. Some . . . have a policy of renovating everything -- hard renovations -- every four years and renovations of everything soft, the fabrics for instance, every two years. In a good hotel, there is usually some work being done all the time."
Christopher Boyd can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5723.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
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