It’s hard to imagine Disneyland without its Main Street and magical castle, but what about a Disneyland with unicorns and dragons? It almost happened! So did a Disney amusement park that would feature the immigration experience. It’s hard not to imagine how successful these projects would have been if they actually happened. See some of the biggest failed Disney projects below...
The Queen Disney
In 1955, a financially plagued Disneyland turned to television producer turned real estate tycoon, Jack Wrather, when they wanted to create a hotel for guests to stay in. For dozens of years, the Disneyland Hotel was owned and operated by Wrather. This changed in 1988 when Disneyland bought the property from Wrather Port Proteries along with another popular Southern California destination: The Queen Mary and Spruce Goose in Long Beach, California. Many had long seen the Long Beach attraction as a failure, but Disney saw potential in developing the area into both an amusement park and working port. They needed a place to launch their line of Disney cruises and Long Beach seemed like the perfect place. For several years, the property was managed quietly by Disney with no signs of Disney’s branding, then, in 1991, Disney distributed The Port Disney newspaper to residence, which announced their plans to build Port Disney and the DisneySea Theme Park. While the plan looked good on paper, its estimated 1 billion dollar cost was steep at a time when Disney was still trying to recover from EuroDisney. The City of Long Beach also didn't quite see eye to eye with Disney's demands for freeway expansions to get guest to the park more easily.
The Grand Expansion
The effects of EuroDisney weren't just felt at the sea, however. They made their way to the original home of the mouse: Anaheim. Disneyland has always been the mecca for Disney fans who want to see Walt's true vision--but it was tiny in comparison to what had been done in Florida. If Disneyland was going to survive for years to come, it needed to expand. In 1991, Disney announced WestCOT--the West Coast answer to EPCOT Center. It would feature many of the same hallmarks of the Florida original. Cost kept adding up, and, by the time the plan was cancelled in 1995, it would have been a shocking 3 billion dollars to build. The planned site now is the home of Disney's California Adventure Park, which opened in 2001.
In the early 90s, Disney had grand plans for America--so grand it wanted to create an entire amusement park devoted to it. Called Disney's America, the doomed amusement park would be built in Haymarket, Virginia. No Happiest Place on Earth would be complete without putting a smiley mouse face on some of the darker moments in American History, and this place had plenty—including space for Civil War re-enactments, a replica of Ellis Island where guest could see what it was like to be an immigrant (churros not included), and a roller coaster themed after the Industrial Revolution. In the end, citizens who didn’t want their quaint town to be invaded by tourist were able to make Disney reconsider and ultimately scrapped their plans in 1994.
Not Berry Disney
Disneyland has an incredible archive, and they love to reuse plans—even the failed ones. A year after the failed Disney America Park, Disney’s mouse ears heard gossipy chatter that the Anaheim resorts biggest competitor (Knott’s Berry Farm) might be looking for a buyer. Less than 15 minutes from Disneyland in Buena Park, Knott's Berry Farm has always been the place to go when you have more than a few days to spare on a vacation to the Magic Kingdom. Disney was, of course, more than interested. It dusted off its Disney America blueprints and started crafting a new vision—same kind of Americana Park just a different location. Knott’s seemed like the perfect fit; it already had entire sections devoted to the American West—by changing ride names and adding a little bit of Disney’s charm, Disney would have the park they wanted to build in Virginia with little work. Alas, Disney faced several obstacles with this park as well; there seemed to be no easy way to get guest from each of the resorts and a monorail system proved to be too costly. Ultimately, however, it was the Knott family who stood in the way; they feared that Disney would ruin the vision that their parents had spent their entire lives building. The park was sold to Cedar Fair in 1997, and Disney was once again left without their great American amusement park. Curiously, the Knott’s Berry Farm you see today is radically different from the one Walter Knott had in mind, and Disney’s plan would have preserved far more than Cedar Fair did.
Didn't the American West Have Pirates?
The Pirates of the Caribbean is by far one of Disney's most popular rides, but when Walt Disney made plans to open a new park in Florida he wanted to try something a little different. Disney also feared that people in the bayou region might take pirates more seriously then people on the West Coast. Instead of Pirates, Disney set out to make a ride with cowboys and Indians. The ride, very similar in style to Pirate's of the Caribbean, would have taken guests on a boat through prairie America so they could experience the great American West. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, however, people made note of the lack of a pirate ride and complained. Plans for the ride, named the Western River Expedition, were scrapped and the Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1972.
A Zoo Fit For Unicorns
Anyone can have a zoo with monkeys and elephants; when Disney set out to create their own zoo experience with Disney's Animal Kingdom, they wanted what other zoo's did not have: mythical creatures. Plans were created for an area within Animal Kingdom called "Beastly Kingdom" that would be devoted to mythical animals like dragons and unicorns. A highlight of the land would be Fantasia Gardens, a musical boat ride that would take guest through animal scenes of the animated classic, Fantasia. The plan was cancelled for budget reasons and for years Camp Minnie-Mickey sat in its territory. In 2014, the mythical vision returned when Avatar Land (based on James Cameron's series) began construction in the same region that would have been Beastly Kingdom.
The Disney of the Midwest
Walt Disney World wasn't supposed to be Disney's second amusement park; that honor was meant to go to Walt Disney's Riverfront Square, which would be located in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri. Unlike any other Disney park to date, Riverfront Square would have been entirely indoors. The five-story building would house all the Disney fan favorites including Pirates of the Caribbean, Main Street U.S.A. and the Haunted Mansion. Despite being indoors, the lighting would have changed to stimulate the time of day. Reasons vary about why the park, which would have cost roughly 40 million to build, was never started; it probably didn't help that St. Louis business magnate Augustus Busch Jr. (the brewing tycoon who built the Anheuser-Busch empire) publicly called Disney crazy for thinking he'd ever be able to be successful without selling alcohol to the guests. In the end, Disney wanted to put all his focus into a grander park in Florida.
Holy Land Meets Disneyland
Disney has never been a stranger to controversy, but when they announced a planned pavilion at EPCOT devoted to Israel, the mouse didn't have the ears to pull through. The planned area would have recreated the food and atmosphere of ancient Jerusalem. The pavilion would have also included a dozens of ancient artifacts from the Holy Land. While the park cited budget problems, a more lightly reason might be have been the security nightmare that the pavilion would have created. It does beg the question: would they have put the Mickey ears on Jesus? Disney’s Holy Land wasn’t the only pavilion scrapped from EPCOT; there have been several others, including a Switzerland Pavilion (which was primarily conceived because they wanted to bring the Matterhorn Bobsleds to EPCOT) and a United Arab Emirates Pavilion that would have included a magic carpet ride.
Too Scary For Walt?
While Disney was busy designing the Haunted Mansion, he also had his mind tinkering on something a little more...creepy. "The Museum of the Weird" as it was called was originally slated to be inside the infamous Haunted Mansion. It was an art gallery of bizarre that, had it been built, might have seemed like something Salvador Dali cooked up after losing a Poker bet with Disney. Featuring a chair that stood up and talked, disappearing objects and other oddities, the project was eventually cancelled. Some say Disney scrapped the idea because he found it too weird and creepy. A more likely reason is more likely space—the haunted mansion became a moving ride. Regardless of the reason, many of the ideas originally slated for the museum found their way in the Haunted Mansion—perhaps most famously the illusion of paintings changing before your very eyes.