Port Orleans Fun Facts & Trivia
The Port Orleans Resorts are probably the most subtly themed and yet detail-filled of any of the non-deluxe Walt Disney World resorts. Less garish than the Value resorts and more picturesque than the other Moderates, the Walt Disney Imagineers who designed Port Orleans achieved some superb results with their beautiful and evocative Southern design concepts.
Originally intended as an extension from the Empress Lilly steamboat restaurant within the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (now Disney Springs), a New Orleans inspired hotel complex was first mooted back in the early 1980s. When this plan fell through, part of the design concept evolved to become the Boardwalk Resort, while the stylised New Orleans elements moved upriver and transformed into Port Orleans.
For Disney trivia buffs, or if you just want to find out a bit more background information on the design and building of the hotels and their grounds, look no further!
- Designed and built to reflect the ornate styles and architecture of New Orleans’ French Quarter in the American Old South along the lower Mississippi River.
- The registration lobby — the Port Orleans Mint — is located in the commercial building of Port Orleans Square is themed after the inside of a commercial bank of the 1800s. The musical staff notes across the registration desk represent the first verse of the classic tune “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
- Bonfamille’s Café, the resort’s full-service restaurant which closed its doors on 5th August 2000, was named after Madame Bonfamille from the Disney animated feature The Aristocats, which is also referenced in the naming of Scat Cat’s Club. Disney historian Jim Korkis wrote an excellent article on the backstory at MousePlanet.
- At the food court, the bakery section was originally named Jacques’ Beignets, which is not only another Aristocats reference but also an aural pun on American comedian Jack Benny.
- The old Bonfamille’s Café restaurant is now used as a test kitchen for developing new culinary ideas for other locations around Walt Disney World, and for occasional resort cast member activities.
- The Courtyard serves as a focal point around which the dining, recreation and entertainment take place. The ‘streets’ emanate from the courtyard area in a similar arrangement to that found in the historic Jackson Square Warehouse District located in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
- In the real New Orleans, the French Quarter is a six-by-thirteen block district famed for its balconies, wrought-iron railings, cobblestone streets and courtyards. Steeped in both Spanish and French colonial history, the French Quarter is also known as the Vieux Carre or “Old Square”.
- Mardi Gras — or “Fat Tuesday” — is the celebration that signals the beginning of the Lenten season. In New Orleans, this holiday is marked with parades, floats, masks, beads and the sentiment laissez le bon temps roulez, or “let the good times roll!” Each year, the Port Orleans French Quarter cast members put on a small unofficial Mardi Gras parade for the guests.
- The lush landscaping features palm trees and tropical plants that are reminiscent of those found in New Orleans’ Garden District. Pear trees, oaks, crepe, myrtles and magnolias complete the picture.
- Mardi Gras specialists Blaine Kern Artists Inc. were responsible for collecting and creating the special prop items such as the jesters. Some of the Mardi Gras decorative props were purchased directly from Mardi Gras warehouses in New Orleans.
- The colourful jester figures located inside the food court and on the approach to the Doubloon Lagoon pool are very closely based on the figure found next to the Canal Street / Algiers Ferry terminal in New Orleans — see this Flickr photo.
- The project architects were Fugleberg Koch Architects of Winter Park, FL in collaboration with Disney Development Co. The company was also responsible for the design of the Old Key West Resort and the Caribbean Beach Resort.
- The 1,008 guest rooms are located in seven three-story buildings, with 144 rooms per building.
- 59 rooms feature one King Size bed, and 32 rooms are specially adapted to accommodate guests requiring wheelchair access.
- The entire site, including the Riverside section, covers a total of 325 acres.
- The “Sassagoula Steamboat Company” lobby, which houses the registration desks and guest services, is themed after the inside of an actual riverboat and you can see the ports of call listed around the tops of the decorative columns: Riverside, French Quarter, Gretna, Chalmette, Port Eads, St. Louis, Sainte Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, Cairo, New Madrid, Caruthersville, Memphis, Helena, Greenville, Vicksburg, Vidalia, Natchez and Baton Rouge.
- At the Riverside check-in area, look for the Hidden Mickeys in the wood latticework above the destinations and on either side of the giant fans.
- The Riverside Mill food court was themed after an old Southern cotton mill and houses a cotton press powered by an authentically reproduced and working 35 foot water wheel. The food court, which was previously known as the Colonel’s Cotton Mill, features a 450 seat dining area.
- Boatwright’s Dining Hall is themed after a wooden shipbuilding yard with vintage shipbuilding tools hanging on the walls inside the restaurant. The partially built sailboat is actually an authentic reproduction of the flat-bottom “New Orleans Lugger’ that sailed the Mississippi River in the 1820s. Constructed at the Brewers Dauntless Ship Yard, you can find construction information and photos here. The restaurant can seat 208 people.
- The dockside immediately outside Boatwright’s features a cleverly imagined raised boat-ramp, just adjacent to two giant faux sliding doors hung from metal rails on the side of the building — after all, the shipyard would need to get its newly built boats down onto the river somehow, wouldn’t it?
- Fulton’s General Store is named after real-life steamboat pioneer Robert Fulton who in 1807 built the first commercial steamboat, the North River Steamboat, later known as the Clermont.
- Architecture/interior spaces researched and “storyboarded” by Daroff Design Inc of Philadelphia, PA for Walt Disney Imagineering — see the company’s web pages for some background to the project: www.daroffdesign.com/projects/dixie. The company also had involvement in the design of other Disney hotel interiors, such as the Contemporary Resort.
- A Butterfly Garden was included just behind the Acadian House mansion building, although this feature does not appear to have been maintained in recent years.
- The grey concrete walkways (which feature wooden plank effects) at Port Orleans Riverside are the main routes from the waterside area through to the parking lots — so if you get lost, just follow one of these.
- The leaf imprints in the concrete on the walkways are created by placing real leaves into the wet concrete. As soon as the concrete sets, the leaves are removed.
- There are a total of 2,048 guest rooms at Port Orleans Riverside. The four mansion buildings of the Magnolia Bend section each have 256 rooms, while the sixteen smaller Alligator Bayou Lodges each contain 64 rooms.
- 94 rooms feature one King Size bed, and 51 rooms are specially adapted to accommodate guests requiring wheelchair access. There are 1,024 connecting rooms.
- The wooden Alligator Bayou guest beds were hand-carved from hickory by a North Carolina woodworker hired by Disney specifically for the resort project. These fixtures, along with the matching mirror frames, were retained during the 2011/12 refurbishment.
- Ever wondered why they chose the mottled green carpeting for the Alligator Bayou rooms? It’s meant to represent an alligator-skin texture.
- The 8,500 square foot, 225,000 gallon, Doubloon Lagoon pool at Port Orleans French Quarter is highlighted by a colourful 51 foot sea serpent slide called ‘Scales’ that emerges from the pool in a blaze of purple and turquoise. The name Scales, invented by Greg Ehrbar, is also a fun reference to the song “Scales and Arpeggios” from The Aristocats. Sitting atop the serpent’s head is a colourful likeness of King Neptune, and situated around the pool are comical Mardi Gras characters. The pool is named after the old gold coin originally used in Spain and Spanish America.
- The 3½ acre Ol’ Man Island, formed in the middle of the Sassagoula River, serves as the recreational area for the Port Orleans Riverside Resort. The main pool is 12,980 square feet and contains 158,000 gallons of water. The feature slide is 95 feet long.
- The Fishin’ Hole on Ol’ Man Island is stocked with Catfish, Blue Gill, and Bass.
- It took hundreds of people working over 48 hours to re-plant the live oak tree (Quercus Virginiana) on Ol’ Man Island. It is the largest living oak tree ever to be transplanted, with an original height of 55 feet and a weight of approximately 85 tons (including box and dirt). This live oak, and its sister tree in front of Port Orleans Riverside, were transplanted from the site that now contains Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. A wooden plaque on the island reads as follows:
“On Earth Day April 22, 1991 this majestic Live Oak was placed in its new home before you, The Oak and its companion at the entrance of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort Riverside each weighed 85 tons and were transplanted from a wooded location 13 miles away. Cypress boxes 22 foot square were constructed around and beneath each Oak, and after months of preparation, the transportation took three days. Ol’ Man Island was then constructed around this Oak as you see it now.”
- As an integral part of the theming, both the French Quarter and Riverside Regions of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort are connected by a winding river road and picturesque waterways to capture the mystery and romance of a voyage up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Natchez.
- The waterways surrounding the Riverside Region are all man-made and were originally woodlands. They are actually a constant-level canal system linked to Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs.
- The Sassagoula River is themed after the mighty Mississippi River, the word Sassagoula is the Indian term for “Mississippi.”
- The length of the river is approximately 2½ miles, beginning upriver at the Riverside Region and continuing down river past the French Quarter Region and the Saratoga Springs Resort, finally ending at the entry of Lake Buena Vista.
- Flat-bottomed riverboats transport guests from both the Riverside and French Quarter Regions to Pleasure Island and the Disney Springs area. These replaced the original green and brown pontoon boats which which were no longer available when Disney updated the fleet several years ago.
- A separate river ferry service transports guests from the Disney Springs area to the Disney Vacation Club resorts of Saratoga Springs and Old Key West, and another acts as a local taxi service running from the Marketplace to the West Side area.
- The fleet currently consists of 15 boats spread out over four routes, all decked out in a lively brightly-coloured yellow and blue livery, with suitably fitting Southern names:
- Memphis Miss
- Louisiana Lady
- Sassagoula Sunset
- Bayou Princess
- Crescent City Queen (spelled “Cresent City Queen” on the boat’s name plate)
- Magnolia Blossom
- Florida Queen
- Buena Vista Queen
- Saratoga Queen
- Blossom Queen
- Jazz Lady
- Delta Lady
- Azalea Bloom
- Southern Breeze
- Jazz Queen