Dixie Landings: What Happened to the Port Orleans Resort of the Past?

Walt Disney World is well known for its resorts, with the twenty-eight on-property hotels being some of the most sought after accommodations in the world. But did you know that the Disney resort with the most rooms isn’t the famous A-framed Contemporary or Polynesian Village’s longhouses, but rather the Port Orleans Resort? The story of how Port Orleans became largest hotel on Disney’s Florida property is one of the most interesting – and somewhat mysterious — stories in Walt Disney World history.

The blue sky concept of the resort that would eventually become Port Orleans was first introduced to the public by Walt Disney World Executive Vice President Dick Nunis in an early 1980s interview. According to Nunis, the resort would be somewhat similar to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square land, only much larger in scale and located near the Empress Lily “steamboat” restaurant in the area now known now as Disney Springs. However, the project went unbuilt for years due to the financial issues that occurred with the opening of the theme park then known as Epcot Center in 1982.

The concept of a New Orleans-themed hotel was revisited by the Michael Eisner-led Walt Disney Company in the late 1980s, after the successful opening to the Caribbean Beach Resort. Eisner, wanting to substantially expand the number of hotel rooms on the company’s Florida property, green-lit the concept amongst several others to be built in the early 1990s.

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort opened with French Quarter on May 17, 1991, to great fanfare. The resort was exquisitely themed to the real New Orleans famed French Quarter, complete with wrought iron balconies and architecture that expertly replicates that seen in the Louisiana city. Port Orleans opened with 432 guest rooms, before quickly expanding to 1,008 rooms with the completion of several buildings.

French Quarter’s Buildings

Less than a year after Port Orleans opened, the report was joined on the banks of the Sassagoula by a sister resort known as Disney’s Dixie Landings Resort.  The resort was split into two sections: the Alligator Bayou, which featured 1,024 guest rooms themed as “rustic, weathered lodges”, and the southern plantation-style Magnolia Bend mansion buildings, which also featured 1,024 guest rooms. The two resorts — Port Orleans and Dixie Landings — shared the same management behind the scenes and were thematically linked through an intricate backstory that was told to guests through faux-newspaper “issues” of the Sassagoula Times (for Dixie Landings) and the Sassagoula Sentinel (Port Orleans).

Original Dixie Landings Postcard – Disney

Port Orleans and Dixie Landings existed as sister hotels for nearly a decade, until the Spring of 2001. Beginning in March of that year, signage around the reports began to change, eliminating all traces of the Dixie Landings name. Then, on April 1, 2001, the two resorts were officially merged together into one large Port Orleans complex, with the original Port Orleans Resort now known as Port Orleans — French Quarter while the former Dixie Landings Resort was rechristened Port Orleans — Riverside.

Riverside Mill

So why were the resorts combined? Disney has never directly commented on the matter, however many believe that Disney wished to distance themselves from the possible racial connotations of the Dixie Landings name and backstory, which was built around a slavery-era cotton plantation backstory.

Port Orleans Riverside

This theory is certainly buoyed by the fact that the Port Orleans name was not only retained but given to the whole complex, while the Dixie Landings name was completely eliminated from all signage and merchandise.

Port Orleans Riverside Signs

 

The newly combined Port Orleans Resort almost immediately found itself in trouble with nearly half of its rooms closed due to the tourism slowdown that occurred in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The resort was fully reopened in 2002 and has been Walt Disney World’s largest hotel by room numbers – with the exception of refurbishment periods – since.

Do you have any favorite memories of staying at Port Orleans or Dixie Landings prior to their combination? Let us know in the comments below!

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11 Replies to “Dixie Landings: What Happened to the Port Orleans Resort of the Past?”

  1. My wife and I stayed at Dixie Landings on our honeymoon in January of 1995. To this day Port Orleans Riverside is our favorite resort. We’ve been blessed to take our kids there three times and they love it as well. We even have that original post card pictured in the story. Having three kids it was nice to find a moderate resort that could sleep five people.

  2. My family of four spent two vacations camping in Fort Wilderness in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As empty nesters, for our 30th wedding anniversary, we stayed at Dixie Landing. Loved it! Still do! I still miss my treasured Dixie Landing coffee mug from that first stay that my son accidentally dropped and broke it. It is now irreplaceable. I have adapted to the change, but still miss the old resort even though it still looks pretty much the same. What I really miss all over Disney property is the sad lack of flowers everywhere. Resorts are green with no colorful flower beds or abundant festive floral arrangements inside resorts and parks. Just another subtle way WDW is cutting back while still raising pricing on everything.

  3. I didn’t stay there back “in the day” but when my husband and I honeymooned (staying at Carribean Beach resort) in 1989,we visited the Port Orleans Dixie Landing resort for the day- it was so charming and beautiful! We bought a lovely pink coffee mug with the logo,and sparkly white flowers on it because we liked it so much. Much later, we stayed at what is Now the French Quarter,and really,really enjoyed ourselves. I wish we still had the coffee mug from 1989,I don’t know where it disappeared to. I loved that mug,and the pretty resort that it represented.

  4. We stayed at the original Port Orleans 2 times and once at Dixie Landings. This is in the 1980’s or 1990’s, we haven’t stayed there since the merger. I have fond memories of the original Port Orleans and less fond memories of Dixie Landings.

    I have fond memories of the original Port Orleans restaurant (Bonfamille’s Café). It was one of the best medium priced restaurants I recall eating at. Unfortunately, it closed in 2000.

    Besides the sit down restaurant, I loved the small size of Port Orleans (back when it only had 432 rooms). Everything was close together, and of course the New Orleans theme was great. Unfortunately, in addition to closing the sit down restaurant, it appears they have added many more rooms, and I suspect it no longer feels as cosy as the original Port Orleans was.

    Back at that time, I was a decent three ball/club/ring juggler. I loved getting up early in the morning and taking my juggling clubs and juggle in isolation at the river, as the mist was going away.

    In our middle trip back then, I think the pool at Port Orleans was being worked on, so we went over to Dixie Landings (now Riverside). What a contrast.

    While I only ate there a few times, Boatwrights stands out as one of the worst sit-down restaurants I have eaten in (leaving out obvious things like low rent places and places with possible health code violations). I recall the food was horrible and the wait staff was glacial in their service. Normally, we like to eat breakfast at a sit down restaurant, but we changed to the fast food option for the rest of our trip.

    And of course the resort is much bigger with multiple bus stops. Depending on where you are, it was a common sight seeing full buses pass you buy. And trying to walk to the front desk at the end of the day to pick up something could be tiring.

    I was also a little bothered by the Antibellium imagery as well.

    So after 2000, we decided to upgrade. We stayed first at the Wilderness Lodge, which I liked, but it was not my wife’s cup of tea. Then we went to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and fell in love with it. We love having our hot beverage of choice (coffee for me and tea for my wife) and looking at the animals from our balcony in the morning before getting going. Of course the deluxe resorts are more expensive.

  5. Dixie landings was our favorite resort in its heyday. So quiet and peaceful. Nice pool, fishing, above average restaurant and a peaceful boat ride to the also peaceful and quant Disney Shopping Village. They erased all reference to the word Dixie, but the one section of rooms are designed to look like the entrance to plantations

    WDW has also worked very hard to eliminate all reference to the concept of “peaceful” in its parks and resorts. Visitors today have absolutely no idea of the decline in all aspects of WDW. So very Sad.

    If the newbies only knew what the place was like 20 to 30 years ago they would refuse to spend their time and money at WDW today. No lines for rides, no reservations for dining needed, quick and uncrowded transportation, cleaner, happier staff, over the top customer service, characters roaming freely everywhere, reasonable prices, inspiring, America loving, many unique shops in the parks that did not hock just Disney, etc………..We almost always felt completely relaxed and stress free while there. And left refreshed with our bank account still intact. Why current Disney lovers don’t demand the same is beyond me.

  6. We stayed in the Magnolia Bend section in 1997. It was near a bus stop in the back and the quiet pool was right outside our door. I do know I still catch myself calling it Dixie Landings sometimes, just because that’s what it was when we stayed there. My sister and I stayed in one of the Tiana rooms in 2015. We loved having the fireworks go off over the head of the bed each night.

  7. We stayed at Dixie Landings in October of 1999 for our Honeymoon (part of our land/sea package which continues onto the new-at-the-time Disney Cruise Line).
    We loved it — I don’t remember any issues with the buses, but it was 20 years ago. I’m pretty sure the re-branding was to avoid any further backlash about the “slave era”. Our room was “Song of the South” themed, with Brer Rabbit & gang, but other than that I don’t remember any other theming that could be problematic. And since one of MK’s mountains is based on the same theme … seems a little crazy, but whatever!
    Since then, we have stayed at French Quarter twice, and found we like the size of that resort the best.

  8. DL was the first on-property resort we stayed at in 1996. It was quiet & secluded in the Aligator Bayou. Our only complaint was the bus stops. There are too many & if you were at the last stop you may not have gotten a ride!

    1. My family and I stayed at Dixie Landing more times then I can remember, starting back in 1992. I have 3 kids and we absolutely LOVED this resort, with many awesome memories made there! I still have the original huge yellow DL refillable mugs. We loved eating at the food court by the water wheel, fishing in the fish stocked pond, playing in the treehouse and playground area, and of course the the pool area with the bridge above the water. We used to rent a pontoon boat and take to Downtown Disney (Disney Springs), down the Sassagula River, dock it there, have lunch and come back.
      This resort changed quite a bit when the name changed. But by far, it’s still a great moderate resort to stay at.
      I’m waiting for grandkids to do this all over again! ❤️

      1. I agree on all counts Ken. I grew up visiting annually from 1987-99 with my parents and siblings. My aunt began working there in ’72 and would take us to the parks. Just showed my kids a pic of King Louie just walking around for pics in uncrowded streets of MK. I miss so much of my childhood Disney but still take my kids in the hopes we’ll find those hidden moments. We don’t do Disney like most people in scheduling a million FP and reservations. We hmgo with the flow and off the beaten path. Still miss the original Downtown Disney, less crowds, and cheaper prices for sure but for us the magic can still be found if you know where to look.

        1. Of all of the changes made to WDW over the years I think I miss the old Disney Shopping Center the most. It was such a calm relaxing wind down from the excitement of a day in the parks. And because almost all of the shops were unique one-of-a-kind and did not sell Disney merchandise it cleared the pallet of your mind for the next day at the parks.