For many fans, Disney Parks are as well known for the projects that didn’t come to fruition as the ones that did. We’re fascinated by closed attractions, forgotten concepts, and plans that simply never made it off the drawing board. That's why Theme Park Tourist set out to recall and record the spectacular, never-built parks, attractions, and lands that – for one reason or another – aren’t around today.
That's why our Possibilityland series is here. Over the years, we've explored the mystical Beastly Kingdom once planned for Disney's Animal Kingdom, toured the Disney-MGM Studios' lost Muppet Studios, summitted Disney's never-built "Mountains," been launched into the future in Tomorrowland 2055, and many more in our In-Depth Collections Library. But today, we'll step into the most inventive lost land ever planned for Disney Parks.
In the 1970s, Walt Disney Imagineers officially announced a stunning new area to join Disneyland’s seven – an extension of Walt’s love of Americana and the impossible fantasy environments that only Disney’s Imagineers could create, Discovery Bay would’ve been the flagship land of Disney’s theme park empire. The gorgeous, thoughtful, brilliant concepts of Discovery Bay would’ve easily been one of the strongest lands at any Disney Park, even unto today. But Discovery Bay never opened. Today, we’ll explore the tumultuous tale leading up to its design, what this magnificent land would’ve contained, why it never opened, and where you can find its DNA scattered around the globe. Hold on tight as we uncover the sunken mysteries of Discovery Bay.
Hints in the West
If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, or Disneyland Paris, you’ve likely been awe-struck by the towering, geometric “natural” formations of Big Thunder Mountain. At each of those parks, the ride’s iconic rock towers were modeled very precisely after the inspiring stone monoliths of Arizona’s Monument Valley, a massive and expansive desert National Park. Like their (relatively) massive and overpowering castles, those three parks all built imposing, harsh, angular, geometric peaks in expansive desert settings on purpose - it builds a larger-than-life scale (above).
But did you ever notice something subtly different about Disneyland's version of the ride?
Sure, the roller coaster track itself in California is a scaled-down replica of Florida’s, meant to fit more snugly into the miniscule park’s cramped quarters. But there’s something else about Disneyland’s that simply doesn’t match the others.
There, the iconic mountain range is not modeled after the geometric, harsh, intimidating towers of Monument Valley. Instead, famed Imagineer Tony Baxter opted to use the softer, rounded “hoodoos” of Utah’s Bryce Canyon, a National Park famous for its eroded desert formations nestled amid a dense forest. The hypnotic towers are not gigantic, powerful and strong. Like Disneyland's castle, they're not about size and dominance. Rather, they're more charming and warm. The hoodoos are somewhat… well… unbelievable. They’re more fantasy than forceful (above), and of course, it's not just a coindence that Disneyland's is different from the others. In fact, that’s just the way Baxter wanted it.
The softer towers of Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain tell a subtley different tale... The fanciful formations are certainly more appropriate for the quaint park (and the ride’s proximity to Fantasyland), but they also signal the existence of Discovery Bay.
Imagine this: when you step into Frontierland, you’re supposed to feel that you’ve been transported to the 1860s Old West, when prospectors discovered gold in the fresh mines of Thunder Mountain. And for all we know, the miners there simply settled into the town and spent their winnings at the saloon, right?
But what if they didn’t? What if, instead, those prospectors – now flush with gold – continued their Westward Ho journey to manifest destiny and found themselves along the Golden Coast of California? Imagine, then, if those prospectors settled into San Francisco, right at the start of its economic boom – right as it became known as the “Paris of the West?”
Imagine if they created in San Francisco an international coastal city for explorers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, and scientists – a golden, seaside port of crystalline towers, technology, cogs, hot air balloons, steel, gadgets, and wonder? Welcome to Discovery Bay.
On the next page, we’ll begin our in-depth exploration into this seaside mechanical Mecca and its origin story, then we’ll go in-depth into the rides and attractions planned for Disney’s most impressive lost land.
Really appreciated your article. I truly love what could have been. I think with the creation of Star Wars Land, they could move Star Tours and transform the rest of the land into some concept of Discovery Sea while incorporating/transforming their iconic Matterhorn Mountain into the land. There are many things that could be altered or changed in order to make it work. Possibly change; Finding Nemo into 20,000 Leagues, rework Space Mountain fitted with the cannon launch, remove the Tomorrow Land Stage and change the walk path above and below to create a larger lagoon, maybe fit a Tron Cycle Coaster in. I am sure much more could "Imagineered".
I agree with you and your article completely. Discovery Bay should have been put in its rightful place instead of Star Wars Land. I would love to have it here in Disneyland Anaheim.
I for one have dreamt about Disney building a third gate in Anaheim based upon alternate worlds of imagination.
I imagine a park layout based on Disney Sea, with a version of Discovery Bay at the entrance tied with Mysterious Island at the heart. And the rest of the lands being built around the Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar properties. And perhaps others as well....but alas, Star Wars is being shoehorned into Disneyland.
I was at D23's Attraction Rewind where Tony did a presentation on Discovery Bay. When they announced the deal with Anaheim I hoped that perhaps they would go ahead and build it. Of course those hopes were dashed when they announced that Star Wars Land would go there. I am excited about Star Wars Land but sad about Discovery Bay. I am a big fan of Tony and hope he will be involved in future projects because he does things right.
Reading this now with the knowledge of the impending Star Wars expansions has me feeling disappointed that Discovery Bay will never be.