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What was supposed to be built at Disney World during the "Disney Decade"?

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What was supposed to be built at Disney World during the "Disney Decade"?

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So --  what with all the hoopla surrounding that "Coming Home" commercial -- I decided to go check out disneydestinations.com yesterday. And -- as I'm poking around the site -- I come across the "Happiest Memories on Earth Timeline" . This neat feature which allows you to explore the history of the Disney theme parks by going decade-by-decade and/or year-by-year.

And I have to admit that -- at first, anyway -- I was really enjoying playing around this timeline. I mean, it was obvious that someone with a slightly perverse sense of humor had set the whole thing up.

How so? Well, take -- for example -- 1997. That year's entry makes absolutely no mention of "Light Magic." Which -- given all the money & the embarassment that this ill-fated streetacular cost the Walt Disney Company -- is perfectly understandable.

Yet which piece of art is used to illustrate 1997 in the "Happiest Memories on Earth Timeline" ? You guessed it. A "Light Magic" concept painting.

Similiarly, the year 1998 is represented by several photographs of Disneyland's Rocket Rodds. Which tells me that whoever put the "Happiest Memories on Earth Timeline" timeline for the disneydestinations web page isn't a big fan of sweeping the Mouse's more embarassing moments under the rug.

Or --at least -- I thought so. Until I read what was written under the "1991" section of the timeline. Take a gander at this radical reworking of Disney Company history:

Michael Eisner announces Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, part of the planned "Disney Decade" that also includes Disneyland Resort Paris, the acquistion of ABC, the premiere of Disney Cruise Line, and the company's entry into interactive entertainment, the internet and theatrical production.

What a crock. Actually, Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park wasn't officially announced 'til June of 1994. And -- back in 1991 -- ABC wasn't the network that the Walt Disney Company wanted to acquire. But -- rather -- it was CBS that Mickey then had his eye on. And as for the Mouse getting into theatrical production ... Well, if you read the Jerry Orbach tribute that I wrote last week, then you know how Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" actually came into being.

As longtime JHM readers already know, I really don't like it when Mouse House flaks play fast-and-loose with the company's history. I mean, to just dismiss the whole "Disney Decade" project with a single poorly written sentence ... That's a travesty.

You see, the "Disney Decade" ... That was the moment when -- for a lot of people who worked for the Walt Disney Company, anyway -- when the dream died.

For -- you see -- that's how Michael Eisner and the late Frank Wells actually initially described their ambitious plans for the "Disney Decade." As a dream. In the introduction to the Walt Disney Company's 1990 employee annual report (which -- appropriately enough -- was entitled "Building a Dream Together"), Eisner and Wells said that they'd ...

"... been doing a lot of dreaming lately. And we've given the dream a name. It's called the 'Disney Decade.'

The Disney Decade is about a dream, and it's about us. The plans are incredibly exciting and will touch every aspect of this Company ... New hotels, new attractions and a new theme park at Walt Disney World. The biggest expansion of Disneyland in its history.

Some might think that we're overly ambitious. We don't think so ... We're confident about achieving the mission we've set for the next ten years. After all, people the world over expect Disney to dream, and dream big.

If the Disney dream, in its sheer size and scope, takes your breath away, we want you to know it does the same for us. But we're certain that there are still plenty more dreams to go around. Just wait until ... ten years from now ... when we'll be talking about Mickey's Millennium!"

'Way back in November of last year, I wrote a "Why For" where I went into great detail about all the stuff that was supposed to be built at the Disneyland Resort during the "Disney Decade." But -- to date -- I haven't yet talked about all the rides, shows and attractions (not to mention all the restaurants & resorts) that were supposed to be built at Walt Disney World during that same 10-year span.

Well, you may want to find yourself a comfortable chair. For I'm about to talk about everything that WDW visitors missed out once Eisner decided to radically scale back his plans for the Central Florida resort. And I mean everything.

I have to warn you, folks: This is a really long list. More to the point, this story does not end happily. The more you learn about all the rides, shows and attractions that you missed out on ... Well, the madder and more disappointed you're likely to get. So don't say that I didn't warn you, okay?

Now a little background info before we get started here: The info that I'm about to share with you comes straight from two official Disney Company documents: the aforementioned "Building a Dream Together" employee annual report from 1990 plus an informational hand-out that I picked up at the EPCOT Outreach Center many moons ago.

According to these two documents, the Walt Disney Company's original plans for its Central Florida resort during the "Disney Decade" were supposed to have gone something like this:

At the Magic Kingdom Park

One Man's Dream -- For 1992, a spectacular salute to 65 years of musical highlights from such favorite Disney films as "Peter Pan," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Lady and the Tramp," "The Jungle Book" and many more, The extravaganza, to be presented at Tomorrowland Theatre throughout the day, has been a super hit at Tokyo Disneyland for the past four years.

Splash Mountain -- The ultimate water thrill ride, Splash Mountain comes to the Magic Kingdom Park in early 1993. The attraction has drenched visitors with excitement at Disneyland Park since its opening last year. Guests ride eight-passenger logs through marvelous musical scenes from the Disney classic "Song of the South" on their way to a meeting with destiny: a drop off the side of a five-story mountain through Brer Rabbit's briar patch to a misty pool below.

The Little Mermaid -- In 1994, guests will be able to board a magical, musical ride into the undersea world of the mermaid Ariel and her friend, Sebastian the crab

New Circle-Vision 360 Adventure -- In 1994, a fascinating new Circle-Vision 360 attraction will quite literally surround visitors with the wonders and cultures of Western civilization. Sophisticated Audio-Animatronics characters will disappear into the film at key points, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

New Tomorrowland -- Science fiction replaces reality, allowing Walt Disney Imagineers' imaginations to run wild. For 1996, this area will be redesigned as an intergalactic space port for arriving aliens. It will feature two major new attractions.

  • Alien Encounter -- will put visitors in the midst of a "teleportation" experiment gone wrong and materialize the most terrifying alien being in the universe in their midst.
  • Plectu's Fantastic Intergalactic Revue -- will be an outer-space musical-variety revue featuring a troupe of Audio-Animatronics itinerant alien musicians whose spaceship has landed in Tomorrowland.

EPCOT Center

Future World for the '90s -- Enhancements moving Future World into the 21st Century will begin within its major pavilions presented by outstanding American corporations in 1992 during the 10th anniversary of Epcot Center. These enchancements (which are scheduled to begin in 1992) will be made to Spaceship Earth, The Land, Horizons, Journey into Imagination, World of Motion, Universe of Energy and Communicore.

New 3-D Musical Movie -- Premiering by 1994 will be a thrilling 3-D musical movie from George Lucas and The Walt Disney Studios. Plans call fora high-tech production to dazzle audiences as does "Captain EO," a smash hit presented at "Journey into Imagination."

Soviet Union Showcase -- A USSR showcase is the addition most requested by EPCOT Center visitors. Its towering onion-domed spires and bold architecture will add a breath-taking new silhouette to the World Showcase skyline by the end of 1999.

Matterhorn Mountain and Bobsled Ride -- Inspired by Europe's tenth most famous mountain, this imposing landmark will be built on the shores of World Showcase Lagoon beside a charming Swiss Village. Bobsleds will race up, down, around and through a chilling ice-covered adventure. It will be the centerpiece of a picturesque Switzerland Showcase.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

Journeys in Space -- The long-planned Future World attraction will present visitors with the ultimate thrill-ride: space travel. New systems and special effects will be used to give guests an outer-space experience without ever leaving terra firma.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Adventure Zone -- Opening in 1990, this oversized outdoor play area -- featuring 20-foot blades of grass, monstrous insects and giant sprinklers -- gives "miniaturized" guests another place to explore at the studio theme park.

The Disney Channel Auditions -- An entirely new kind of audience participation show where guests not only will watch auditions in progress but will have a chance to show their own talents. The winning "screen test" will be shown on The Disney Channel. Those with outstanding talents may even win professional roles in future productions. In the pre-show, the audience will review the varied schedule of shows like "Pooh Corner," "The New Mickey Mouse Club" and others. Guests then move directly onto a soundstage viewing area. Young and old will compete with others selected from the audience for their shot at show business. A TV director will oversee the tests to determine a winner for each of the 30-minute shows. Sets from popular Disney Channel shows will be built at the Disney-MGM Studios.

MuppetVision 3-D -- "Kermit the Frog presents MuppetVision 3-D" will be created by Walt Disney Imagineering. Already in production, the show combines incredible 3-D film technology, live special effects and new Disney Audio-Animatronic figures to literally put Muppet-style mania right in the lap of visitors.

The Muppet Movie Ride -- Opening in 1993, this ride will take guests on a misguided tour through movie history -- Muppet-style.

Sunset Boulevard Area -- A new Tinseltown street beginning at Hollywood Boulevard and extending the atmosphere of film's past and present with landmarks along the way geared to memorable moments. To be opened in the first half of the decade, the new attractions includes:

  • Roger Rabbit's Hollywood -- An exciting group of attractions, shops and restaurants are centered around the Toontown Depot including unique merchandise and the Terminal Bar & Grill. Set to open in the mid-1990s.
  • Toontown Trolley -- This madcap adventure uses flight simulators surrounded by animated screens to take guests on a hare-raising trolley ride through a zany cartoon world with Roger Rabbit at the helm. Inspired by the Touchstone Pictures release, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," a joint collaboration with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment.
  • Baby Herman's Runaway Baby Buggy Ride -- Guests aboard oversize buggies will careen through sets of Toontown Hospital, flying downstairs, crashing through doors and flying over beds. This ride was inspired by the recent Disney animated short, "Tummy Trouble."
  • The Benny the Cab Ride -- Which puts guests behind the wheel of the famous Toontown taxi.

*** Tracy's Crimestoppers -- This action-packed adventure will bring a new level of state-of-the-art technique to simulation, Audio-Animatronics, sound and special effects.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

Mickey's Movieland -- Disney history will come to life in the form of a replica of the original Hyperion Avenue Disney Studios. Inside, children amd adults will encounter whimsical hands-on movie-making equipment which will give them a chance to live out their own motion-picture-producing fantasies.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

In the 1990s, additions at the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park will include a whole new menu of unusual dining experienceces, "streetmosphere" characters and many other themed specialty shops that will line the new boulevards.

Fourth Theme Park

The company expects to design and begin construction on a fourth entertainment theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort by the end of the decade.

Resort Developments

New resort projects include major resort hotels plus Disney's Boardwalk, an exciting new entertainment, dining and shopping area. Resort development and construction is under the direction of Disney Development Co.

Disney's Boardwalk -- Scheduled to open in early 1994, Disney's Boardwalk is designed in the tradition of the great amusement areas of Atlantic City and Coney Island. The 30-acre project is now under construction just west of EPCOT Center between the Walt Disney World Swan and International Gateway to World Showcase. The following are in the concept stage to be included in Disney's Boardwalk.

Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company.

  • Under the Sea -- a 900-seat indoor aquatic dinner show extravaganza featuring The Little Mermaid and Sebastian.
  • Family Reunion -- A 300-seat environmental theater dinner show that involves guests as a part of the show when the cast sits with them.
  • Disney Magic -- To be included in a possible expansion phase, this incorporates magic with the Disney characters in a dinner show format.

Seven new hotels with "Entertainment" as their main arhitectural theme are to be built as demand warrants with a total of more than 4,800 guest rooms. This is in addition to Disney's Port Orleans and Dixie Landings resorts already under construction. They will range from moderately priced to luxury facilities, but each range will be designed with elaborate detail to extend the fantasy and imagination with created the Magic Kingdom Park to a new dimension in resort experiences. Outstanding architects have been chosen to assist the Disney design team. All will be operated by the Walt Disney World Co.

Master architects working closely with Disney on hotel projects include Michael Graves of Princeton, New Jersey; Robert A. M. Stern of New York City; Antoine Predock of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Gwathmey Siegel Associates of New York City.

Disney's Mediterranean Resort -- 1,000 deluxe rooms in the southeast side of the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom park plus 45,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. Its architecture is inspired by glamorous resorts of the Greek Islands. It will be located on the monorail system.

Disney's Fort Wilderness Lodge -- 700 full-service rooms adjacent to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with the rustic appearance of a national parl lodge.

Disney's Fort Wilderness Junction -- 600-room hotel themed in the style of a Wild West town is set for the second phase of Disney's Fort Wilderness expansion.

Kingdom Suites Hotel -- 50-75 luxury suites in harmony with Disney's Contemporary Resort, located besides the Seven Seas Lagoon between the Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Contemporary Resort,

Boardwalk Resort -- An all-suite hotel of 530 units will open in early 1994 with a turn-of-the-century character compatible with the adjoining Boardwalk entertainment complex that will link the EPCOT Resort area with the International Gateway entrance to World Showcase.

Two other hotels of 1,000 rooms each will be located in the EPCOT Resort area with Hollywood-related themes.

The new hotel projects are part of an expansion for resort and convention facilities that began in 1985. Seven new hotels have already been completed. Two others that are now under construction, plus the planned projects, will bring the total to 26 separate resort hotel complexes with almost 21,000 rooms on Walt Disney World property by 1995, plus more than 1,000 campsites in Disney's Fort Wildness Resort and Campground. The room total includes hotels in the Walt Disney World Hotel Plaza and Disney's Village Resort.

Construction is well under way on two moderately priced resorts -- Disney's Port Orleans (1,008 rooms opening May 1991) and Disney's Dixie Landings (2.048 rooms opening July 1992).

Expanding the attractiveness of the Walt Disney World Resort as a major meeting site, more than 200,000 square feet of convention space is included in the Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin. Disney-operated hotels are adding almost 82,000 square feet of meeting and convention facilities, including 54,800 square feet at Disney's Contemporary Resort and 27,047 feet at Disney's Grand Floridian Beach Resort.

Disney Vacation Club -- A new concept in family vacation planning, it will offer members the option of vacationing at the new Disney Vacation Club at the Walt Disney World Resort now being built at the Lake Buena Vista Gold Course. Memberships will be available July 1991.

That sounds like one pretty amazing plan, don't you think? Full of rides, shows, resorts and attractions that (I'm sure) would have made your Disney World vacation that much more memorable.

"So why didn't 70% of these proposed projects actually make it off the drawing board?," you ask. Longtime JHM readers already know the answer to this question. Almost immediately after Euro Disney opened in April of 1992, that resort was plagued with financial problems. And Michael Eisner ... In the wake of that fiasco in France, Disney's CEO became quite conservative. As a result, Eisner never again dreamed as big as he used to do back in the late 1980s / early 1990s.

Consequently, the "Disney Decade" died a slow, painful death. As promising project after project -- Westcot, Port Disney in Long Beach, Hollywoodland at Disneyland -- got severely cut back and/or cancelled altogether.

As I said at the start, folks: This is not a story with a happy ending. The whole "Disney Decade" story is really about a dream that dies. And the truly sad part of this tale is ... It all started out so hopefully.

I mean, just read what Michael had them print on the back cover of that 1990 Disney employee annual report:

"As we begin this new decade, we can look back with pride at all that has been accomplished and ahead to what we hope will be the greatest creative effort in our Company's history."

Well, that's not exactly how the next 10 years played out. Sure, there were triumphs like "The Lion King" lying ahead. But -- when you think about all the hard times that the Walt Disney Company had to go through in the 1990s (I.E. Frank Wells' tragic death, Jeffrey Katzenberg's departure, the embarassing public flame-outs of Disney's America and Go.com) -- it's really kind of sad to think that the management team of the Walt Disney Company moved from the 1980s to the 1990s with such optimism & confidence. Little realizing what really lay in store for the Mouse.

Talk about your dreams deferred. Soooo ... What do you folks think about the whole "Disney Decade" debacle?

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