Port Orleans / Dixie Landings Resort History

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort first opened to the public at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida on 17th May 1991, with the original ground-breaking during the fall of 1989. Originally featuring just 432 guest rooms in three buildings, the room count was soon increased to 1,008 as construction on the remaining four buildings was completed.

Dixie LandingsDisney’s Dixie Landings Resort first opened to the public on 2nd February 1992 featuring the rustic styled Alligator Bayou Lodge buildings. Shortly after that, phase two of the resort opened with the more elegant sophistication of the Magnolia Bend mansion buildings bringing the total number of guest rooms up to 2,048.

Dixie Landings Postcard
Original Dixie Landings Postcard

Dixie Landings was linked to the Port Orleans Resort, and then onward all the way to the Disney Village Marketplace area, by the Sassagoula River, a man-made waterway named after the Native American word for the Mississippi.

At Port Orleans, Bonfamille’s Cafe, the full-service restaurant adjacent to the main lobby, closed its doors for the last time at the end of service on 5th August 2000. Boatwright’s Dining Hall, the remaining full-service restaurant at Dixie Landings, continued to serve both sections of the resort.

On 1st March 2001, the transformation of Dixie Landings and Port Orleans into one large resort began with changes to road signage around the two resorts.

Port Orleans Riverside Postcard
Newer Port Orleans Riverside Postcard, which reused the old artwork minus the telltale water towers

On 1st April 2001, Port Orleans and Dixie Landings officially merged to form one large resort. In fact, the two sections had always shared the same management team but this process completely removed all vestiges of the old Dixie Landings terminology. The reason for the merger has never been made completely clear, but many think it was largely due to the inferred racial and slavery undertones of the Dixie Landings cotton plantation backstory.

The combined resort is now to be called Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, with the area formerly known just as Port Orleans changing its name to Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter and the area formerly known as Dixie Landings changing its name to Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside. The combined resort now spans some 325 acres and features a total of 3,056 guest rooms, making it the largest in Walt Disney World.

After the terrible events in New York in September 2001, the subsequent drop in tourist demand meant that Disney needed to reduce some of its resort capacity. From late November 2001, French Quarter was completely closed and Riverside’s capacity was severely curtailed to around 350 rooms. Guests who had bookings were contacted and offered alternative resort choices. The Sassagoula River Cruise was also taken out of service for several months. As demand picked up again, French Quarter was reopened for new bookings starting from 31 May 2002. Disney apparently used the six month downtime to undertake renovation work on the food court.

A year later, French Quarter was once again closed for more extensive update and renovation work to all guest rooms from 4 May 2003 until 21 March 2004, see the Local News 6 website for details. The freshly renovated rooms had new furniture, new carpeting, new wall coverings and remodeled bathrooms. 200 new or rehired staff were recruited to reopen the resort.

Subsequent year-long renovation work at the larger Port Orleans Riverside resort was undertaken by Friedrich Watkins Company of Orlando, FL on a building-by-building basis. Work started with the Magnolia Bend mansions (March 2004 — August 2004) and then continued to the Alligator Bayou Lodges (August 2004 — February 2005), progressing at a rate of about 64 rooms per week. It did not require the closure of the whole resort.

On 1 June 2007, all Walt Disney World resort hotels became completely non-smoking, with just a few designated outdoor smoking areas defined for those who still feel the need to light-up. Smoking is no longer allowed in guest rooms, on balconies, in corridors or in any other public areas. Prior to 2007, smoking was permitted at Riverside in Lodges 17, 27, 28, 34 and 36, Acadian House and Oak Manor, and at French Quarter in buildings 2, 4 and the upper floors of 6.

2010-2012 Refurbishment Program: Brand new decor, Queen Beds and Flat-screen TVs

Work commenced on refurbishing the Port Orleans French Quarter guest rooms on Monday 1 November 2010, starting with building 7 which three weeks later was complete and ready to accept guests. On Friday 15 April 2011 the final building (number 3) was completed and rededicated, meaning that the whole of French Quarter had newly renovated rooms.

Work then started on the Port Orleans Riverside area on 26 June 2011, starting with the rooms in Acadian House. By September 2011 both Acadian House and Magnolia Terrace had been reopened with newly refurbished rooms, and then Alligator Bayou lodges 14, 36, 37 and 38 were completed just prior to Christmas 2011.

During the first four months of 2012, all 512 rooms in Oak Manor and Parterre Place were refitted to the new “Royal Guest Room” theme. Oak Manor reopened on 9 March (slightly delayed from 17 February, see our news pages) and Parterre Place reopened on 13 April.

Finally, the remainder of the Alligator Bayou lodges were completed, starting with building 24 which closed for refurbishment on 15 April. The last building to be completed was 26, which reopened to guests on 1 August 2012.

Also in 2012, the Port Orleans Riverside main registration hall was refurbished to include all new floor tiles and carpeting, plus elegant dark-wood registration desks. Work commenced on 23 April 2012 and the first half was completed by 17 May (a week behind the original schedule). The second half of the lobby was reopened on 26 June, with various details such as the sumptuous new carpet/rugs added over the next couple of days. Over the next few months more furniture was added — such as custom-made child-sized chairs next to the TV — and a newly carpeted seating area completed the whole program on 5 September 2012.


Original Resort Layout Maps

Click for larger version
The Original Port Orleans Resort Map — click on map for larger (scalable) version

Click for larger version
The Original Dixie Landings Resort Map — click on map for larger (scalable) version

Sassagoula Times

The Sassagoula Times is the free handout information sheet which has been issued to guests staying at the Port Orleans / Dixie Landings Resorts since they first opened. It started as two extremely elaborate eight-page tabloid newspapers (the Sassagoula Times for Dixie Landings and the Sassagoula Sentinel for Port Orleans) which documented the entire fictional backstory to the two resorts, but more recently has been reduced to a single, simpler four-page letter-format resort information handout.

For more details of the elaborate faux history of the resort, please visit the Backstory page, or for scanned/downloadable copies of the newsletters from 1996 to the present day, please see the Documents page.

Dixie Landings Postcard
Dixie Landings Postcard — note the more subtle colours before they painted the food court blue

Other Reading

Here are a few other related websites I’ve found which may be of historical interest: