In 1982, EPCOT Center opened, costing an astonishing $1,400,000,000. 1983 was the year of Horizons, of The Disney Channel, of Tokyo Disneyland, and of a huge executive shakeup which resulted in the ousting of Ron Miller and the installation of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Lake Buena Vista, as well as all significant development at Walt Disney World and Disneyland would be put on hold until the duo would get the movie side of the company knocked into shape.
1983 saw two more hotels join the Motor Plaza across from the Village – the Buena Vista Palace and the Orlando Hilton. And in 1985, the collection of Villas - which had never quite ever been unified under a single name - became the Walt Disney World Village Resort. By this time, the Lake Buena Vista Club had been renovated to become more family friendly. And in 1989, to coincide with the opening of Pleasure Island and the renaming of the Walt Disney World Village to the Disney Village Marketplace, the Villas’ name was again shortened to Disney’s Village Resort.
The Treehouses remained relatively the same in name and appearance, getting a new coat of paint and new interiors. Gone were the rich wood tones, replaced with white painted interiors and uninspired décor. The shag carpets went away. The Vacation Villas were re-dubbed the Townhouses and got by with a new coat of exterior paint. The collection of four houses, rarely used, became Grand Vista Homes. The Fairway Villas were not so fortunate, retaining their name but now painted in garish “tropical” colors. A similar fate befell the Polynesian Village and Village Marketplace, once wonderlands of natural stone and wood, now caked with bright primaries. All of the original community pools were refurbished but untouched. Unlike Eisner developments like Dixie Landings or Caribbean Beach, there would be no central themed swimming pool.
It’s important to realize about Eisner’s early efforts in the theme park division that prestige was as important to him as profit, sometimes beyond any economic reality, and it is his efforts to bring Disney into the world of contemporary adult recreation that we have to thank for Walt Disney World’s current fleet of modern, stylish restaurants and resorts. The Disney Institute was similarly a prestige product – aimed at somebody who wasn’t very interested, perhaps, in spending all of their time in the theme parks – a stance which is today unthinkable. “You won’t believe what you can do!”, promises a 1998 brochure: “It’s a whole new vacation experience where you can do things you you’ve always wanted to do. You can custom design your vacation, making it as active or relaxed, as you like. A Disney Institute vacation will allow you to combine intriguing and engaging programs with outstanding recreational opportunities. These activities and programs are designed to stretch your body and mind. You’ll have opportunities to see, hear, and do things you never thought possible.”
The Disney Institute concept’s lineage in the Chautauqua Institution resulted in an upper-crust New England atmosphere which had to be honored if the Institute buildings were to be kept, which in turn resulted in a new theme, another one borrowed from upstate New York and the old resort town of Saratoga. Because the original pools and recreation centers of the Lake Buena Vista Villas had been destroyed with the rest of the 1970’s structures, the Disney Institute’s amphitheater became a family-oriented swimming pool themed to Saratoga’s famed hot springs. Everything else remaining received a minor horse-themed overlay: the lobby became known as the “Carriage House”, the Seasons dining room re-opened as the “Turf Club” with whimsical jockey jackets on the walls, and so on. The new four-story, cookiecutter design hotel units matched the Disney Institute structures remarkably well except in one area – quaint charm. The first units of the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa were ready in May of 2004.