Episode 83: The Disney Institute

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Welcome to Episode 83 of the RetroWDW Podcast: The Disney Institute – We appreciate your support and hope you have been enjoying each and every episode. Be sure to check out some of our previous shows from over the years. We have visited multiple parks, resorts, and just about everything else in between.

Listener Mail

We open the mailbag monthly and are ready to hear from you. Be sure to reach out with questions, stories, memories, and more. You never know if your letter will be read on a future episode: podcast@retrowdw.com

  1. John from Texas is up first this episode and he is curious about the Millenium Village. We go into what we remember and our various experiences with this early 2000s EPCOT add-on.
  2. Another letter from another John, this time an update on the smellitzer in Living With the Land. John sent us a link to a video with some cold, smelly proof…. Click Here to have a listen.
  3. We have another note, from another guy named John! This John reached out about a time capsule and we love these. John wanted to give us the info on the Nickelodeon Studios Time Capsule. Lots of updates on this one….
  4. Our final letter, from Jimmy and he sent us lots of positive words. Jimmy also shared with us a Christmas ’94 video which is super fun. We also go deep into programming your VCR back in the 80s and 90s.
  5. Bret wrote in and thanked us for mentioning the vintage Norway pavilion t-shirt he sent in.  He has an entire site tracing the history Disney apparel tags from 1972-2010.  So if you’ve got an old t-shirt and are looking to figure out an approximate date of its manufacture and sale then head on over to Brett’s excellent resource site at defunkd and don’t miss Brett’s blog where he breaks down the stories behind some of the coolest retro t-shirts you’ll ever see at the Digital Shirt Musem.

Main Topic

In this episode, we head back to the mid-1980s when Michael Eisner took a vacation at The Chautauqua Institution and decided to bring its blend of enrichment, entertainment, and fun back to Florida, adding a “uniquely Disney” touch. Originally conceived to be part of the Disney Development Corporation’s “Celebration” project, The Disney Institute opened in February of 1996 on the site of the former Lake Buena Vista Townhouses/The Disney Village Resort, offering “Discovery Vacations” where guests could choose from a variety of classes in the topics of Culinary Arts, Design Arts, Entertainment Arts, Environment, Lifestyles, Story Arts, and Sport and Fitness.

After a brief recap from How about what the property was used for before the institute opened, Brian walks us through the history of the development of the Institute, the brainchild of then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Using a treasure-trove of original documents as a reference, Brian covers the ambitious launch of the Institute and its many educational programs and specialized facilities, shares first-hand stories from listeners who vacationed at the Institute, and tracks the eventual decline and reimagining of The Disney Institute as a corporate training program as guest demand for an inclusive educational vacation experience fell off.

The Disney Institute was a unique idea that fell victim to shifting vacationer demographics. Could the concept become relevant again in our more “me”-centered society? You won’t believe what you can do!

Disney Institute Documents

RetroMagic Updates

Tickets are now on sale for our latest RetroMagic event, which celebrates EPCOT Center. Join us on the anniversary of Epcot’s opening, Sept. 30 – Oct 1, 2023. Click here to get tickets for the event!

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Cheryl Mekarski
Cheryl Mekarski
April 25, 2023 1:04 pm

In October, 1994, my husband and I took my kids and my younger sister for their first trip to WDW. Since there were 6 of us, AAA recommended we stay in one of the townhouses were Saratoga Springs is now. This was sold as great housing for people attending the Disney Institute. Was it called Disney Village? Anyway, it was disappointing because it was not Disney themed at all, but was a short walk to the Pleasure Island area. Somewhere in my WDW stuff is a brochure from the townhouse area. I’ll scan it and send to you. Also, I… Read more »

Shaun Doyle
Shaun Doyle
May 1, 2023 3:29 pm

I was part of the opening team of The Disney Institute! I helped develop and facilitate youth programs at Camp Disney and was there from opening day until late ’98. One day I sent the littles to the bathroom covered in face paint, not knowing that MARTH STEWART was in there. She was NOT TOO HAPPY. They had been filming in the cooking studio adjacent to Youth Central and she and her crew were just wrapping up. I don’t think she was teaching actual guests, maybe actors for a filming. She stormed out and boy did I hear about it… Read more »

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