A Look Back at What Could Have Been: Disney’s Legendary Years Hotel

These days, Disney’s Pop Century Resort (themed to popular culture of the second half of the the 20th century) and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (themed to four of Disney’s modern animated classics) are two of Walt Disney World’s most popular Value Resorts. The pair are the crown jewels of the Vacation Kingdom’s Value tier of Resorts thanks to modern room amenities, family suites at the latter, and easy access to Disney World’s latest transportation method: Disney’s Skyliner gondola system, which has a shared station located between the two Resorts on Generation Gap Bridge. 

Wait, we can hear you asking, “Why are two completely thematically unrelated resorts linked by a bridge?”

Well, the answer to that lies in the fact that most of the buildings and infrastructure that make up the Art of Animation Resort were originally supposed to be a part of the Pop Century Resort, doubling the Resort in size and capacity.

So how why did half of Pop Century’s original plans join Walt Disney’s World’s long list of unbuilt Resorts? Well, to understand that we need to take a trip back in time.

Take it Back

The 1990s were a time of great expansion for Walt Disney World, and Walt Disney World’s Resorts were no exception. Over the course of the decade, the property saw ten Resorts open, including the first three Resorts at the Value tier: Disney’s All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, and All-Star Movies Resorts. While some purists scoffed at their motel-like layouts and oversized icons for each building, the Value Resorts proved quite popular with guest thanks to their (comparatively) cheap prices and family-friendly theming. 

Pop Century Resort

By the early 2000s, construction was underway on a new addition to the Value Resort tier: Pop Century. Half of the hotel, known as the Classic Years, featured buildings themed to the popular culture of each decade from the 1950s through the 1990s, with large icons similar to the All-Star Resorts and huge numbers (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s) in front of the main building. This section was originally scheduled to open in March of 2002.

Pop Century Bowling Pool

The other half of the Resort, to be located across Hourglass Lake and accessible by the Generation Gap Bridge, was planned to copy the Classic Years layout – complete with giant icons, and numbers in front – but with each building representing a decade from the 1900s through the 1940s. Known as the Legendary Years, this half of the Resort was to have its own entrance building, lobby, food court, and check-in desk. This section was scheduled to open in 2003. However, unprecedented national tragedy soon put things on hold. 

Following the September 11 attacks, tourism around the country – including to central Florida’s theme parks – essentially cratered, sending Disney into cost-saving mode. Construction on both the Classic and Legendary sections of Pop Century was put on hold indefinitely in late 2001. All guests who’d reserved rooms at Pop from its March 2002 opening onward were moved to other hotels, and no new opening date was announced.

The Pop Century complex sat unused for two years before the Classic Years section of the resort finally opened in December of 2003. While the Resort was instantly popular, work was never resumed on the Legendary Years section. Instead the unfinished buildings, complete with giant numbers in front of the lobby building, sat unused and became an eyesore for guests staying at Pop Century.

More intrepid guests could even walk across the Generation Gap bridge and reach the fenced-off, overgrown entrance to the Legendary Years site. The situation remained unchanged for nearly a decade, with fans often wondering if and when Disney would finally complete Pop Century. Little did they know, it was never meant to be. 

Source: World Abandoned

Moving Forward

In 2010, Disney announced that they would finally be completing the Resort on the Legendary Years site. However, instead of completing Pop Century, the site would instead become the Art of Animation Resort, a Value tier hotel made up of family suites and themed to Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. As mentioned above, the bridge remained, and it still connects the disparate Resorts  

Art of Animation Resort

Disney has never officially confirmed why Art of Animation replaced the Legendary Years, however given the company’s move toward IP-based entertainment, it’s safe to assume that Disney thought that a Resort themed to modern animated classics was a wiser financial investment than one themed to the first 50 years of the 20th century, especially since an ever-dwindling number of guests would have first-hand memories of the 1900s-1940s. If that was the reason, the continued success and popularity of Art of Animation has proven Disney correct in spades. 

Art of Animation Resort

Do you have memories of staying at Pop Century during the period when the Legendary Years buildings were visible? Are you a fan of the Art of Animation Resort, or do you wish Disney had completed the Legendary Years? Let us know in the comments below. 

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7 Replies to “A Look Back at What Could Have Been: Disney’s Legendary Years Hotel”

  1. I remember vividly the unfinished legendary years section. I always thought it would be torn down and something else, non hotel, would be built. I have stayed dozens or times at Pop and love it for the cost. Stayed at Art of Animation once and didn’t like it at all. The Cars Land portion needed much refurbishment in building halls and at the pool. The food court was limited and we didn’t much like the choices there. It was also unkempt with trash overflowing the trash cans in the food court. Didn’t find the cast members very friendly at all.

  2. There is a little more to the story. Disney couldn’t have used the existing buildings at the legendary resort because the no longer met codes. State building codes changed taking effect January 2004. I’m not sure business had actually picked up enough to open pop century yet, but it was closer to being done than the legendary years hotel and it was more economical to finish it and get it open before the new codes went into effect. Unfortunately, none of the uncompleted lodging buildings at the other site meet the new codes and therefore had to be redone and would require a lot greater cost. Between Jan 2004 and the opening of the art of animation, a number of things had changed that caused Disney to revaluate what the wanted to put there. Disney vacation club had been growing very well where they had larger multi room lodging for larger families. They had also converted a few rooms at the all star resorts to larger suite rooms. And saw great interest in value versions of the suites. Since the unfinished location buildings had to be completely redone anyway, it fit perfectly. The change in theming probably made since after such a long amount of time as well, and the great success of the movies they used, most of which were made after the opening of pop century.

  3. We stayed at Pop Century in 2008 and vividly remember the empty building that was to become the Legendary Years.

    I always remember thinking that it would be great to stay there when it finally got finished.

    It finally got finished, albeit in the form of Art of Animation, and I still have never got round to staying there. Maybe I should book a room there for my next trip 😊

  4. On our first stay at POP Century my husband and I looked across the lake at the “gray” buildings that we thought would become the Legendary years and talking about staying there as soon as they opened. Although we have stayed at Art of Animation and really enjoyed it, we still think the Legendary years would have been fantastic.

    1. Yea I have pics of those buildings when we staying at POP back in 04 I think. Wish they could have opened it up like it was suppose to be.

  5. We were at Disney in November 2011. We stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside (former Dixie Landings). Disney had to close the French Quarter and Caribbean resorts and locate guests to Riverside and Coronado due to the limited travel after Sept. Best trip we ever had at DW. Back then the parks tickets were called Magic Your Way. From the moment you checked in to the day you left, you had unlimited visits to the parks everyday and included park hopping. Plus you had the option for one water park visit. Cost for room and park passes for our visit from Saturday to following Saturday was around $1200.00 for both of us. Moderate rooms back then were around $60.00

  6. We’ve been staying at Pop Century for every Disney trip since 2006. We used to walk across the bridge, and have pictures of the old lobby and the section that became the Little Mermaid rooms.