Despite the tough economic times, the Walt Disney World Resort is set to debut three new Disney Vacation Club resorts this year in Orlando. Two of these resorts—the Bay Lake Tower and the Treehouse Villas—have unique historical ties to the earliest days of Disney World.
Blooloop’s Chad Emerson visited with two Disney Imagineers, Brian McFarland and Todd Thomasson for an inside look at these highly-anticipated offerings.
Brian McFarland, Imagineer for Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
1. How did you end up at Walt Disney Imagineering in Florida?
Post college, I was working in Colorado at a design firm as a landscape architect. After a few years of enjoying the mountains, I was looking for what was next in my career path. Unexpectedly, I came across a job listing for a position with Walt Disney Imagineering – Florida, working on resort development projects. Being familiar with Disney theme parks and resorts, I knew it was a “chance of a lifetime” opportunity. I’ve now been here ten-and-a-half years!
2. Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort sits next to one of the Walt Disney World Resort’s original resort hotels. What are some steps that Imagineering has taken to blend the Disney’s Contemporary Resort and the new tower together?
Disney’s Contemporary Resort is such a significant icon at the Walt Disney World Resort and, as Imagineers, we knew Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort would need to both complement and build upon the design of the original. From the exterior color palette and strong horizontal lines, to the angular rooftop lounge that mimics the original resort’s A-frame structure, the new building is designed to feel right at home in this space. The Skyway Bridge also connects the two buildings – metaphorically, as well as physically – providing direct access from Bay Lake Tower to Disney’s Contemporary Resort’s fourth-floor monorail station and guest amenities.
3. Describe to us several of the design and building innovations that Disney incorporated into Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Many of the unique design features at Bay Lake Tower can be found within the individual rooms themselves. The kitchen has been designed with wonderful custom cabinets that feature these very unique pull-out pantries. The bathrooms are planned to have sliding “barn” doors which are great design elements, as well as being very efficient from a space standpoint. When guests see these features, the typical response is “how can I do something similar in my own house?” That’s when you know the design is a home run.
4. What was an unexpected challenge that you encountered while working on the project?
One challenge that we identified very early on in the planning stages was that the location of the construction site is right next to the monorail beam, meaning that everything is essentially “on stage, ” in that any guest staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort or riding the monorail has great views into the construction site for the duration of the project. Our typical eight-foot construction fence is not very effective in screening views when you have the monorail full of guests going by overhead. As a result, we have really partnered with the general contractor in an effort to have one of the cleanest and least-cluttered job sites ever.
5. With the project nearing completion, what has ultimately become your favorite feature of Bay Lake Tower?
My favorite feature of Bay Lake Tower is the emotion and reaction that the Top of the World Lounge sparks in people the first time they experience the space and tremendous views it has to offer. While availability at the Top of the World Lounge is limited, the views are as incredible as you can imagine with the Magic Kingdom Park just to the northwest and Bay Lake to the east.
Todd Thomasson, Imagineer for the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
1. Share with us how you got started in the amusement industry, including your time with Walt Disney Imagineering.
I grew up in a construction family and managed projects for general contractors at the Walt Disney World Resort in the late 80s and early 90s. After managing projects at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Convention Center, I left The Walt Disney Company for two years. When Walt Disney Imagineering offered an opportunity for me to join the team at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort in February 1994, I jumped at the chance and have been with Walt Disney Imagineering to the present day.
2. How did you end up involved in the Treehouse Villas project and what is your favorite aspect of the development?
It’s well known that I enjoy the more unique projects and the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa is very unique. When I was offered the opportunity to lead the Treehouse team, I enthusiastically agreed! I enjoy the setting, the natural Florida landscape and the challenges of building in this environment.
3. What was the biggest challenge you faced with this project?
Creating a design that fit the environment and the setting, as well as one that could be constructed in a way that did not impact the surrounding native habitat.
4. What was the most rewarding part of the project?
Recently, Walt Disney Imagineering’s Executive Vice President of Architecture, Wing Chao, had his first opportunity to review the project. His congratulations to the team on a job well done was extremely rewarding.
5. Looking back on the project as it nears completion, what’s the biggest reward you encountered on this unique undertaking?
The overwhelmingly positive response from everyone who has had an opportunity to tour the project. Everyone loves it!
Images: copyright Disney.
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