WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com

The Mysteries of the

Bonnet Creek Resort
Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

You’re driving down Buena Vista Drive through Walt Disney World. Soon after you pass Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort on your way to Disney Springs, you come upon the entrance to the Bonnet Creek Resort.

Disney’s Bonnet Creek Resort? No. Not Disney. Just Bonnet Creek Resort.

What’s the Bonnet Creek Resort? And what’s it doing inside the arches of Walt Disney World?

If you make the turn, Chelonia Parkway takes you off Disney property to a 482-acre master-planned resort complex, surrounded on three sides by Disney property and on the fourth side by Interstate 4.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Disney Vacation Club billboard at Buena Vista Drive and Chelonia Parkway

Let’s go back to 1962. A mystery investor purchased approximately 500 acres of land in the middle of nowhere. The investor must have thought the land would be worth something some day.

Well, it wasn’t quite the middle of nowhere. The property was 17 miles southwest of Orlando and 11 miles northwest of Kissimmee—two Central Florida towns with populations of 88,135 and 6,845, respectively, in the 1960 U.S. Census. The economic engine of the area was cattle grazing and orange groves, but the investor’s parcel was still untamed Florida wilderness.

Two years after the mystery investor bought the land, different buyers began acquiring far more land in the same area—over 27 thousand acres. Those buyers turned out to be working on behalf of Walt Disney. They managed to buy the land to the north, west, and south of the mystery property, but they couldn’t buy the mystery property itself.

Perhaps Walt Disney’s agents couldn’t find the mystery investor from 1962. Or perhaps the investor wanted too much money—or just didn’t want to sell.

In 1971, Walt Disney World opened. Magic Kingdom Park was several miles northwest of the mystery property—which remained untouched. Off-site hotels sprouted to serve Disney guests.

Over the years, Disney developed new projects. EPCOT Center opened in 1982, bringing roads and resorts closer to the mystery property. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort opened in 1989, immediately adjacent to the mystery property—which still remained untouched.

Who was the mystery investor?

Rumors suggested it was Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. Orlando Sentinel reporter Tim Barker did some digging in 2000. On July 18, Barker wrote that the ownership was “a little unclear,” citing public information:

“According to Orange County [Florida] property appraiser’s records, the land is owned by World Union-Cayman Limited, a company whose mailing address is a bank in the Grand Cayman Islands. But in the early ’80s, according to Circuit Court records, the owner’s name was World Union Industrial Corp., a company based in Hong Kong.”

A month later, Tim Barker published the name of the mystery investor. He was a Taiwanese man, Ling Kai Kung, who had died in 1992. For his Orlando Sentinel article on August 17, 2000, Barker spoke with Houston attorney Alan Ytterberg, who deals with complicated estate and probate matters:

“But it appears that Chiang Kai-shek’s only connection to the property was through his marriage into a wealthy Chinese family in 1927. Ling was his nephew by marriage.

“‘All the mystery behind it really isn’t all that mysterious,’ said Alan Ytterberg, the attorney who represented Ling’s estate.

“Ytterberg insists that Ling purchased the land on his own as an investment, without any involvement from his uncle, a pivotal figure in the development of modern China and Taiwan.”

Barker wrote that Ling thought the site might be useful for warehouses, shipping, and space industries.

Things began to change in 1993, the year after Ling Kai Kung died. The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)—the Disney-controlled entity that serves as the local government for Disney’s Florida property—and representatives from World Union Industrial Corporation worked out design criteria for the mystery property, which was now being called the Bonnet Creek Resort Area.

Although the Bonnet Creek Resort Area was not within RCID jurisdiction, the parties came together to work out issues such as road access, compatible development on adjacent lands, and storm water management. According to publicly available online documents at the websites of Orange County and RCID, the parties entered into official “Interlocal and Development Agreements” in 1993 and 1995, with numerous subsequent amendments.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Image: Guy Butler Architect, LLC

Master plan for the 482-acre property by architect Guy Butler

In 2000, Orlando-based Brooksville Development Corp. became the developer for Bonnet Creek Resort. Orlando-based architect Guy Butler created a master plan with a timeshare resort, four or five high-end hotels, and an 18-hole golf course.

Why is access to the Bonnet Creek Resort from Buena Vista Drive? On the west was Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and a future resort site, which became Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. To the east, Interstate 4 is a formidable barrier. Osceola Parkway, on the south, is an arterial road, but is blocked by ramps from Interstate 4.

That left Buena Vista Drive to the north. It was the best choice—an arterial road with direct access to Epcot Center Drive, which connects to Interstate 4 and World Center Drive (S.R. 536).

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek, the first development at the Bonnet Creek Resort

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Upscale lobby of the Club Wyndham

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Bus transportation from the Club Wyndham

The first hospitality company to develop a resort at Bonnet Creek was timeshare developer Fairfield Resorts Inc. In 2002, Fairfield bought 46 acres, with an option for 12 additional acres. The Fairfield Orlando at Bonnet Creek Resort opened in June 2004. It became the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in 2006, after Fairfield’s parent company bought the rights to the upscale Wyndham brand.

It’s now the Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek, with 1,149 timeshare units—more than the largest Disney Vacation Club resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (828 units in the main section plus 60 Treehouse Villas).

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Caribbean Beach Resort from Club Wyndham

There’s only a narrow border of trees between Club Wyndham and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort—but there’s no pedestrian or road access between the two.

In fact, the only access from anywhere in the Bonnet Creek Resort to anywhere in Walt Disney World is by taking Chelonia Parkway to its intersection with Buena Vista Drive. And the only way to go to Orlando International Airport or anywhere else in Orlando is to drive through Disney property.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Hilton and Waldorf Astoria under construction

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Image: Hilton Hotels Corporation

Rendering of the announced two-hotel Hilton development

For years, the Wyndham timeshare was the lone development at the Bonnet Creek Resort.

Finally, in May 2006, Hilton Hotels Corporation announced plans for a 1,000-room Hilton hotel and a 497-room Waldorf Astoria luxury hotel. They would share a 115,000 square-foot conference center. Hilton’s press release explained, “Bonnet Creek Venture, Ltd., a joint venture between Brooksville Development Corporation and the estate of the original owner of the property, will oversee construction and ensure delivery of the project.”

Yep. The press release actually said, “the estate of the original owner of the property,” without revealing the name Ling Kai Kung or who now controls his estate. It seemed there was still an effort to shroud the ownership in mystery.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Waldorf Astoria Orlando both opened October 1, 2009.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, a few days after its grand opening

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Pool area at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek was simultaneously a convention hotel and a family resort. Some rooms provided a view of the trees of a nature preserve, while others faced the lazy river pool area, water and golf course. The lobby and restaurants were modern and stylish.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Image: Hilton Worldwide Holdings

Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Hotel companies now seem to be in competition to see who can have the most brands. Choice Hotels International has 13. IHG Hotels & Resorts has 18. Hyatt Corporation has 22. Marriott International has at least 30. It makes sense to differentiate basic overnight accommodations, traditional full-service hotels, luxury properties, extended-stay lodging, and collections of one-of-a-kind hotels—along with identifying the personalities and features of hotels within those tiers. All those brands can be bewildering.

Hilton had only 16 brands when 2019 began—so Hilton announced another, Signia by Hilton, focusing on meetings and events. (With the addition of Tempo by Hilton in 2020 and Spark by Hilton in 2023, Hilton now has 19 brands.) On July 13, 2021, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek was renamed to become the first Signia by Hilton hotel in the world. Plans call for expanding the combined meeting and event space of the Signia and Waldorf Astoria to share almost 300,000 square feet.

Not only does the Signia by Hilton brand identify this property as a convention destination, it also helps it to avoid confusion with two other Hilton-branded hotels near Disney Springs: the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista and Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Waldorf Astoria Orlando, a few days after its grand opening

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Waldorf Astoria clock below a dome padded with acoustical fabric

New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria had been owned by Hilton since 1949. In early 2006, Hilton used the legendary name to launch the Waldorf Astoria Collection, competing against other luxury brands such as Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton. The Waldorf Astoria Orlando was the first newly built Waldorf Astoria since the New York original in 1931.

A protected nature preserve and Bonnet Creek water channel separate the eastern and western development areas of the Bonnet Creek Resort. A 2008 press release from Waldorf Astoria boasted that the private nature preserve would be an attraction for guests:

“The 75-acre Bonnet Creek Nature Preserve is a diverse ecosystem, which includes state-protected wetlands and a native forest of conifers and deciduous trees that 100+ migratory birds call home.

“Resort guests will have the opportunity to explore the nature preserve on a walking path designed to minimize its impact on the environment. On escorted walks naturalists will engage participants’ curiosity in the Central Florida region by sharing tips on birding, identifying flora and fauna and the ecological history of the area. The Bonnet Creek Nature Preserve will also be a teaching tool in the property’s Young Explorers children’s program.

“‘In the midst of Orlando’s many sites and attractions, the Bonnet Creek Nature Preserve offers a tranquil escape,’ states Tom Parke, the resort’s director of marketing.”

What a great idea! Alas, the walking path and nature programs never became a reality.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

When the Bonnet Creek Resort was first being developed, Walt Disney World already had a Bonnet Creek Golf Club, consisting of the Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge courses. The club was located near Fort Wilderness. On February 1, 2005, eight months after the timeshare resort opened at the new Bonnet Creek Resort, Disney changed the name of the golf club to the Eagle Pines & Osprey Ridge Golf Club. Disney realized that it would be too confusing to keep the old name.

At the Bonnet Creek Resort, the 18-hole course, designed by Rees Jones, is called the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club. It’s the first golf club to bear the Waldorf Astoria brand name, and it opened on the same day as the two hotels from Hilton.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Image: Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc.

Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek

In June 2006, on the heels of the Hilton announcement, Wyndham revealed plans for the 400-room hotel adjacent to the Wyndham timeshare. The plans included conference facilities and a two-level, 14,000-square-foot spa.

The Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek opened October 1, 2011—exactly two years after the opening of the two Hilton properties and 40 years after the opening of Walt Disney World.

All lodging sites on the west side of the Bonnet Creek Resort were claimed. That left 12.6-acre and 11-acre sites on the east side. Both are directly up against the interchange of Epcot Center Drive and Interstate 4.

Would anyone want the final two sites?

The answer seemed to be no until August 2017. Then a developer announced that he had arranged financing for a $282 million, 516-key JW Marriott hotel.

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2019

JW Marriott, under construction in November 2019

Bonnet Creek Resort adjacent to Walt Disney World

Image: Marriott International, Inc.

JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa

The JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa opened July 1, 2020. JW Marriott is a luxury brand, positioned above the regular Marriott Hotels brand. This one is the most family-oriented JW Marriott anywhere, with family suites and the 6th Floor Kids Conservatory. There’s also a rooftop terrace offering nightly views of Disney fireworks—in the distance.

The entrance to the Bonnet Creek Resort from Buena Vista Drive now takes you to a huge timeshare resort, two luxury full-service hotels, two other full-service hotels—each with multiple restaurants—an 18-hole golf course, and a nature preserve without trails.

This leaves just a single buildable but undeveloped site at the Bonnet Creek Resort. It’s immediately north of the JW Marriott. Do you want to buy it? Perhaps you could build another hotel. If you think there are already too many hotels near Walt Disney World, perhaps you could use the site for a different purpose.

How about something involving warehouses, shipping, or space industries? After all, that’s why mystery investor Ling Kai Kung bought the land in the first place.

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Updated January 21, 29023

This article is based on a Yesterland article originally published March 26, 2009.