Inside the Walt Disney World Empress Lilly

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Features, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on September 30, 2013 at 1:00 am with 3 Comments

I’ve heard the same story from so many people: “When my mom took pictures of us at Disney, she took pictures of us and not of the parks or restaurants!”

Before the era of digital photography, photographs were expensive for the amateur photographer. I remember my first trip to Walt Disney World in which we came back with 27 photos! Subsequent trips required larger amounts of film but it’s not like today. Thankfully, I’ve got some more amazing images from a friend that really shares some great details of the Walt Disney World Empress Lilly from 1978.

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The Empress Lilly from March, 1978.

I covered the secrets of building the Empress Lilly in an earlier article (you can read it, here.) I shared a lot of the concept artwork that was surprisingly mis-labeled and the stories Disney told while building it.

Inside the Walt Disney World Empress Lilly

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I still can’t believe that my friend had the foresight to snap this photo. While not quite an accurate deck plan of the ship, it still gives you a great idea of what to expect inside the Riverboat Restaurant. My source for the photos offers a great description of the layout:

Starboard, Promenade, Skipper’s/Texas Lounges were just connecting hallways with bathrooms and payphones. Cramped kitchens were in the middle section where the previously listed lounges are [displayed]. Skipper’s Table was usually a private dining room and the Texas Lounge was a private lounge complete with bar and roof deck. Empress Room was indeed window-less and very high end. The Baton Rouge Lounge had nighttime entertainment by Denny Zavett and the Riverboat Rascals – great show. His stage was raised above the three-sided bar. The bar was slightly lowered and the Liquor Cellar was beneath the stage and down in the “hold”(basement) They used to have the best home made potato chips years before it was common.

Daveland provides a few other shots of a marquee from April, 1981. What I wouldn’t give for a really upclose look at the descriptions.

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You can see the flote boat dock on the starboard side of the ship. This was an exclusive dock that was used to shuttle guests from the Lake Buena Vista Club to the Empress for dinner.

Here’s an enlargement of sorts from Daveland.

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The Baton Rouge Lounge

The concept artwork for the Baton Rouge Lounge was mislabeled in an early cast newsletter.

At the bow of the main deck is a show bar. Decor will be turn-of-the-century, Bourbon Street- style with a mahogany bar, wood planked floors and stained glass.
At the stem of the main deck will be a steakhouse restaurant. It will carry the same turn-of-the-century decor with a dominance of mahogany, burgundy colors and leaded glass…and offer the guests a view of the paddlewheel and the lagoon.

Here’s a fantastic image of the Baton Rouge Lounge from March, 1978

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You can see why the Empress Lilly was such an amazing and upscale dining experience. More than just tables and chairs, you have a truly elegant setting that you simply didn’t find in the theme parks.

Baton Rouge Music Company

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Guitarist Denny Zavett of the Baton Rouge Music Company leads the crowd in sing-a-longs aboard the “Empress Lilly”. From Eyes and Ears.

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The Dixie Deltas provide strolling entertainment on the river boat.

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The Baton Rouge Music Company’s masters of honky-tonk and ragtime are (l-r) Dave Tobiasen, Sonny Helmer and Bill Dendle.

This had to have been a spectacular dining experience.

Finally, we have a photograph of the lunch menu for the Steerman’s Quarters.

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I’m always amazed when new photos or details about 1970s Walt Disney World rise to the surface. Special thanks to everyone that emailed me and sent photos or anecdotes from their trips. If you have any great photos or memories to share, feel free to email me at [email protected].

Did you ever get to experience the Baton Rouge Lounge or any of the other restaurants of the Empress Lilly? What do you think about dining at Disney?

If you’re looking for a great read on the first decade of Walt Disney World, check out the fantastic book, Walt Disney World: the First Decade. It has a lot of great information and photos.


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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3 Comments

Comments for Inside the Walt Disney World Empress Lilly are now closed.

  1. Wow – not only did whoever took those get some great subject matter, they also must have used really high-quality film and got them developed onto really nice paper – and then stored them well in the intervening years! I know none of our pictures from that era look anything like that now, thanks to acidic photo albums, sun damage, cheap cameras/film/developing in the first place. What a find!

  2. Wow, great to see such historic photographs of a very positive memory for me. Although I didn’t experience the Lily Belle until 1986, much of the feel and charm that you show in these pictures was still present. WDW was also managed by a very different Disney back then and the experience was magical. It was likely consistent with how things were in the 70′s. The appointment of the ships interior was immaculate as these photos show and describe. I genuinely felt like I was in a different time-period while on board. Although we didn’t have a live performer in the dining room for dinner, there were entertainers in the lounge areas and you could hear them from down the hall. The dining experience was very fancy (by 1986 standards), very formal (everyone was dressed up) and the guests in the restaurant seemed to be slightly upper class. However, the service cast members were all friendly, welcoming and courteous. The food I recall was also very nice (the seafood and steaks stand out to me). We cherished our visit to this facility. I’ll have to see if I have any pictures from that evening to share with you. We have also enjoyed it as Fulton’s in 2006, but the magic was not the same.

    Great article, keep them coming!

  3. Really cool. I love photos from this time period in the Disney Company when I was a kid and starting to fall in love with the parks.