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Why For didn't the Walt Disney Company go forward with construction of the Port Disney project ?

Why For didn't the Walt Disney Company go forward with construction of the Port Disney project ?

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Vernon S. wrote in yesterday to say:

You know what I liked best about today's article? That photograph of the Disney Sea model. I've always been fascinated by the Long Beach project. I don't suppose, as part of one of your upcoming Why For columns, that you could write about some of the rides, shows and attractions that the Imagineers had planned for this seaside park. Please?

Dear Vernon S.

Well, since you asked so nicely ... Sure. Why the hell not?

The Disney Sea theme park was supposed to have been the creative and economic centerpiece of Port Disney, a $2 billion project that was to have revitalized the Queensway Bay area of Long Beach Harbor.


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The concept behind this new Disney park was to explore the myths, mystery and wonders of the oceans. To introduce this idea as early as possible, the Imagineers wanted to line the park's entrance plaza with over-sized sculptures of dolphins & sea horses.


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

After stepping through the turnstiles, the very first thing that the guests would have seen was Oceania. The icon of this theme park, Oceania was (in WDI's eyes, anyway) going to redefine the way the world looked at aquariums.


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now how Disney intended on doing this was by allowing Oceania to have tidal exchange with the ocean along Queensway Bay. Meaning that -- as the tide went in & out the Port of Long Beach -- the water levels in the outside display tanks would also rise & fall. Which would then expose Disney Sea guests to all the flora & fauna that could be found in Pacific Coast tidal pools.

Mind you, Oceania would also have featured the usual assortment of aquatic displays. Only with a Disney touch. So -- as you toured this 200-foot-tall bubble-like structure, you could have viewed penguins from both above and below the water line ...


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... or watch Disney Sea's animal experts work at rehabilitating injured Californian sea lions & otters.


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Okay. I know. So far, this theme park seems to be a bit on the tame side. Well, those of you who were feeling a bit more daring might have then wanted to explore Disney Sea's Venture Reef area. Where -- after pulling on a bathing suit -- you'd have been invited to going snorkeling in 5 different reef environments.

Or -- for those of you who were feeling really adventurous -- how about spending a few minutes submerged in a shark cage?


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I'm serious, folks. This "Shark Cage Encounter" was a really-for-real attraction that the Imagineers had proposed for Disney Sea. I'm told that WDI actually came up with a way to give guests this experience that still managed to appease Mickey's lawyers. How they planned on doing this ... I have no idea.

For those of you who'd prefer more traditional thrills when you visit a Disney theme park, how about a trip to Mysterious Island?


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Where you could then board "Nemo's Lava Cruiser," a next generation simulator-based attraction that (Through the magic of Omnimax) would have then taken you down into the depths for a far-too close encounter with a giant squid.


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now I know that that Mysterious Island concept painting may seem awfully familiar to all of you Tokyo DisneySea fans out there. But trust me, folks. This wasn't the only Disney Sea show idea that the Imagineers recycled over the past 17 years.

Don't believe me? Okay. Then let's talk about Pirate Island ...


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Which the Imagineers described as being " ... just like Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. Only with 100 times more excitement & detail." I'm told that -- when WDI was asked last year to come up with a bold new way to bring the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise characters into "The Happiest Place on Earth" ... Well, the people who were in charge of that project just went down to the IRC (i.e. The Imagineering Research Center), pulled out the Pirate Island plans and then presented them to Mouse House management as a brand-new project.

Pretty crafty, those Imagineers, aren't they?

Speaking of the more Disney-fied sections of this proposed theme park ... There was also Heroes Harbor. Which was to have celebrated the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts as well as Sindbad.


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And -- yes -- the Sindbad attraction that was originally proposed for this Long Beach project was eventually built in the Arabian Coast section of Tokyo DisneySea.

The original American version of Disney Sea was also supposed to have had a Fleets of Fantasy area ...


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Which was to have featured a wide variety of old-fashioned carnival-style attractions. Which the Imagineers saw as their tribute to Long Beach's first seaside amusement park, the Pike.


 Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Seems like a pretty fun place to spend a day, don't you think? So why didn't the Walt Disney Company go forward with construction of the Port Disney project? Well, to be honest, the corporation encountered an awful lot of opposition from the California Coastal Commission (Which refused to allow the Imagineers to dredge and then fill in 250 acres of open coastal water. Which would have then given the Mouse all of the buildable land it needed for its Long Beach project) as well as from the Port of Long Beach. Which worried that the resort that Disney wanted to build (With its theme park, five hotels and huge new cruise ship terminal) might then disrupt day-to-day operations at one of the world's busiest seaports.

Given the unenthusiastic response that they were getting from both the CCC and longshoremen, Disney decided to turn its attentions back toward Anaheim. To a project that was originally intended to be the West Coast answer to Epcot ...

But that's a story that I should probably save for another time. Here's hoping that you folks enjoyed this quick look back at the history of the Port Disney project. Have a great weekend, okay?

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  • Well Vernon, you see they sent some Imagineers over to Sea World with a sketchpad and came up with all these ideas ... But kudos, your email received unprecedented attention. People have begged Jim to finish stories for literally years. You ask a question - BAM - 24 hr service ! Use the power wisely, Vernon.

  • Great article. I almost wish I didn't learn about the project, now I know what I'm missing out on.

  • Damn.

    That could've been a really, really cool place.

  • Now THIS is the type of article that keeps  bringing me back to this site.  I love this stuff!

    What I wouldn't give for a Shark Cage Encounter!  That would be awesome.

  • Agreed.  Articles and concept art on never built, blue sky or future attractions are the reason why I check this site out.   Would love to see concept art, if any exists, of the proposed Fire Mountain or Forbidden Mountain coasters once proposed for MK.

    Thanks for posting this story, Jim.

  • Hmm - I wonder how much of this was real or was blue-sky for the sake of blue-sky. Given the issue with Anaheim city council, and the whole notion of "really, we are doing a third gate" pressure - how much of the Port-Sea project was real and how much was it to pressure anaheim to allow for resort expansion?  I know - it's somewhere in the middle - but did Eisner REALLY want to do this or was it just an exercise.

  • I'm actually glad this park was not built. As exciting as it sounds, I think it would have been an environmental disaster. Not that Long Beach doesn't already have big environmental problems, but building and maintaining a project of this size would have been environmentally dumb.

  • They have a shark encounter exactly like the one in the concept art at Seaworld Orlando. It's a pay extra thing.

  • Jim, why don't you round up all the stories you have on these 'never-built' parks and attractions, all all the artwork you can find, and make it available in book form?  It's one that I'd have on my coffeetable for sure!

  • Jim, you kill me every time I read one of these "parks that never were" articles - I know that there's got to be more about this you haven't told us about yet, and I can't wait until you do.  

    I'd love to know the answer to olegc's question myself - how serious was Disney about building PD, really? My own suspicion is that Michael was shining Long Beach and WDI on in the hope of getting a better deal out of Anaheim, but I've never seen anything definitive on this.    

  • Have to say Jim that this was by far one of your greatest stories yet , thanks for sharing them.

    The next is not subject related but dear to my heart,

    Is there any possible way you could one day devote an article on

    Disney's cancelled Aida Movie, still sad about that!

    Why for is it that for every good thing that comes out of the House of Mouse ten bad things usually follow.

    Is nothing sacred anymore, must it all revolve around money

    (I know little naive, but stil, someone out there in management must still have some heart!)

    Thanks again

    Reinier, The Netherlands

  • Ahhh BUT wasn't the  involvement  of DISNEY  in running  the Queen Mary hotel ship at the LB port the beginning of it all????       And once they were not approved for the rest of the prodject  that you discussed, then they slowly got out of the hotel/ship.             ..remembering..  That the Ghost Tour that they ran and I Saw  with other disney nuts !....  was  so good.         You might want to  write about that walk thru on the ship.

    michelene    disney nut in tampa fl.

  • JHM guest writer Todd James Pierce kicks off a brand-new series for JHM. Which discusses that 40-acre entertainment district that the Walt Disney Company once wanted to build right in the heart of beautiful downtown Burbank

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