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The Racism of Coronado Springs

As I write, this, Ryan and I are waiting for our Tragical–er–Magical Express bus ride back to Orlando International Airport at the end of a weeklong stay at Walt Disney World’s moderate-level Coronado Springs Resort. It’s our third stay here since 2016–and, surprisingly, our final one, too. Three years ago, we loved our summer stay here so much, we bounced back for Christmas and our anniversary the same year. We loved the ancient American cultures theme, traditional Mexican and southwestern design and motifs everywhere, intensely colorful buildings, florid landscaping, Mayan pyramid pool–it all worked so well together.

Most folks never think to stay at Coronado, the largest convention property at Walt Disney World. It’s true, you do pass by a fair number of dressed, badged conference goers while you’re here. And the resort sprawls–originally three distinct “settlements” of buildings (designed like Mexican Casitas, Southwestern Ranchos, and tropical Cabanas) surrounding the enormous Lago Dorado. Lobby, dining, and shopping concentrated in the marvelous El Centro complex–also the gateway into the giant conference center.

But executives don’t like to stay in conference hotels with room doors that open to Florida humidity instead of hallway air-conditioning. So after 20 years of colorful, Mexican Coronado, Disney spent the past two years bulldozing part of the resort to build a “Las Vegas Lite” tower to house those outdoors-averse executives. Not a bad idea in itself–the new Gran Destino tower includes new dining and lounges–including two (the Toledo restaurant and Dahlia Lounge) with sweeping, panoramic top-floor views–a soaring, Spanish modern lobby area, and the first Club Level at a Disney moderate resort.

Except…well, everything.

The new tower is themed after Disney’s Destino animated short, itself born out of a creative partnership between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. That means Spain–and Barcelona in particular. The tower drips with Dali-esque curves and Spanish-modern touches, with a very light touch of Disney, aside from some limited wall art and a few hidden Mickeys. The welcome packets in every room go on and on about Spain and the allegedly classic era of discovery and settlement.

If you’re Hispanic and reading this, you probably already know where I’m heading with this. Disney took a a resort themed to ancient Mexican cultural motifs and implanted on top of it a giant tower themed to conquering Spain. Colonialism much? And not just in a little way, either. In a gigantic, implicitly racist way. Throughout the resort, topiaries and design elements evoking Mexico–even the resort’s old Disney Three Caballeros motifs–were removed. Every single building throughout the resort was repainted in browns, and beiges, and black to evoke–the beige tower?

That’s Disney’s official reasoning. Except the interiors of the tower are dripping with color–bright oranges and deep reds in the carpets, everywhere. In the lobby. On every floor. Where bright colors are no longer allowed is on the exteriors of the “settlement” buildings, where the colors were always culturally appropriate to the design and theming there. It’s clear Disney’s inside-voice reasoning is it’s too expensive to bulldoze and rebuild the rest of the resort, so the next most affordable way to erase Mexico from Coronado Springs is to erase all–and I mean ALL–the culturally appropriate paint jobs.

As a result, this is an exceedingly depressing place now. I’ve spent a week trying to like or feel inspired by the new color scheme. But where the kaleidoscope of color used to uplift while walking throughout the grounds, now the single word that has most often entered by head this week is a big, fat, boring, depressing DINGINESS. As if Coronado Springs’ had a nearby volcano spew gray ash over everything. The settlements now are, simply, ugly places.

Sad, too, is the former lobby with it’s lofty, faux flying-buttress ceilings. It’s the only part of El Centro that hasn’t had all its color bled away. Instead, it sits abandoned, since the new lobby is 1,000 feet further away down a completely undecorated connector hallway to the new tower and up an elevator flight. We’ve had guests ask us why “this space” (where I’m sitting now) is unused. They’re amazed when we tell them it was the lobby. Now it’s got assorted chairs and tables used by folks like us waiting on our buses to leave.

Making the racism of Disney’s Imagineering decisions overtly apparent are the Cast Members (CMs.) Not they, themselves, but their location. Nearly every CM dealing with guests in the old El Centro is Hispanic. Nearly all the CMs in the tower are white. Brightly, cheerily, Western Europeanly white. It’s so obvious it stings. Disney is clearly betting that ordinary (and really, non-Hispanic) guests won’t notice that Coronado Springs Resort now essentially genericizes all Hispanic culture into one undifferentiated mass. Or simply won’t care.

That’s many things. False. Insulting. Culturally inappropriate. But most of all, it’s racist. Racist as the walking path around Lago Dorado is long. Racist all day long. Disney has turned racism into a resort theme, and it’s name is now Coronado Springs.

That would be enough. But it’s not all. Guest complaints we’ve heard or heard about all week–and include us among them–is the persistent feeling that everything at Coronado is now completely geared to Gran Destino tower and tower guests (as in, conference guests.) Erasing the old lobby and relocating it to the second floor of the tower is a big clue that that was the deliberate intent. Resort materials that go on and on about the amenities in the tower. Need Guest Services? Tower. Luggage check-in for your flight home? Tower. CMs who don’t look depressed about all the changes? They’re all in the tower too–and obviously the only place in the whole resort with happy CMs. There’s an overall unhappy vibe in the “old” parts of Coronado now. Clearly there’s stress about all the changes.

What has really made non-conference guests feel secondary, though, is the Gran Apagon (um, Great Blackout) that Gran Destino experienced for the better part of this week. As was explained to me by more than one CM, Disney opened the tower during an annual ebb in conference business, using the rank-and-file family guests at this time of year as guinea pigs for the tower’s debut (it opened barely a month ago.) This week, 200 of those families experience two to three days of intermittent power outages in their rooms, elevators going out of service, the new signature restaurant and lounges closing–all due to a systemic electrical system failure throughout the tower.

One night nearly half the tower was relocated to other rooms–many across the resort. We watched family after family lugging bags behind them, flashlights in hand after packing their tower rooms in total darkness with no AC, trudging across the resort at midnight. When Disney screwed up our annual passes a few years ago at Disneyland, we got a free three-night stay at the Grand Californian as a pixie-dust apology.

Families moved out of Gran Destino got a cupcake. Not cupcakes. Cupcake. Does that sound like customer service to you? Those who complained got more. What nobody got at first and for several days was any sort of pre-emptive, resort-wide communication from management about the issues. Not even to Cast Members. One woman told us when she awoke to no power, she thought the building was burning because all the hallway fire doors on her floor had snapped shut. And management didn’t say a thing.

And that was enough for us.

We sang Coronado’s praises for three years to anyone who asked up about a groovy, affordable moderate resort with amenities above its weight class at WDW. No more. Yes, as a Hispanic, I find the new theming culturally offensive. And both of us find it unnecessarily boring. But even more than that, we didn’t like being treated like guinea-pig guests. We didn’t like watching other families like ours who likely scrimped and saved for months–or longer–for their “magical” Disney vacations be treated like afterthoughts by Coronado Springs Resort management.


Never. Not ever.

We have once again decided to book a return stay at WDW for our ninth anniversary in December. For the first time, we even took advantage of the bounce-back offer that Disney makes available to current guests who haven’t checked out yet. We did some resort hopping this week and fell in love with Port Orleans Riverside. That’s where we’ll be this Holiday Season. We’ve already paid our deposit.

We’re leaving the lobby in five minutes for our Magical Express bus ride back to the airport. Goodbye, Coronado Springs Resort. We’ve had great times together.

But this time, we won’t be back.

Categories: Disney World (Orlando)

Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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2 replies

  1. This was well written and brings up some very interesting concerns regarding the resort. In today’s climate of confronting covert racism, it does show Disney can be tone deaf at times.
    I’m confused, though. You’re saying Disney is being racist and culturally offensive (& treated you and other guests unfairly) but are going to continue to give the WDC your money?
    I honestly do not get it.
    Why not stop going altogether, let Disney know why, and find another vacay spot?
    Disney will not make changes unless people put their money where their mouths are.

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