Walt Disney thought big when he decided to build his second theme park in Florida. Although he died in 1966 before he could see his vision through to completion, his successors still managed to turn Walt Disney World into the most popular theme park resort on the planet. Indeed, Walt Disney World established the very concept of a destination resort, in which guests could stay and play in on-site hotels once the theme park day was over.
Naturally, others have since tried to copy the formula. Disney itself has built resorts in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong, as well as expanding the original Disneyland into a multi-day attraction. Universal has managed to establish its own resort right in Disney's backyard in Orlando, while European resorts such as PortAventura and Europa Park have also found a healthy audience.
None of those other resorts, even the Disney ones, remotely rival the expansive Walt Disney World, which covers 25,000 acres and boasts four theme parks, two water parks, a vast retail and entertainment district and dozens of hotels. But that doesn't mean they haven't tried.
Let's take a look at 3 mega-resorts that hoped to establish themselves on a scale to match (or even exceed) Walt Disney World, and what became of them.
3. Dubailand (Dubai)
The almost-impossibly ambitious Dubailand became synonymous with the debt-fuelled construction boom in Dubai in the mid-2000s, and many theme park fans will rue the fact that it wasn't able to fulfil those lofty ambitions.
Some 45 "mega projects" were planned for Dubailand, which would sprawl across more than 68,000 acres of the Arabian Desert - making it double the size of Walt Disney World. In total, it was expected that more than $60 billion would be spent making this vision a reality - most of it borrowed from over-enthusiastic banks, of course.
As announced in October 2003, Dubailand was to be divided into six zones: Attractions and Experience World, Sports and Outdoor World, Eco-Tourism World, Themed Leisure and Vacation World, Retail and Entertainment World, and Downtown. While there were many interesting elements in the other five lands (including the world's largest shopping mall, the Mall of Arabia and a Universal CityWalk in Downtown), it was Attractions and Experience World that really grabbed the headlines. This would feature the largest collection of theme parks in the world - and almost every big name in the industry was involved, with the notable exception of Disney.
The first theme park to open was intended to be F1-X, which was to be themed around Formula One. The park was to boast a Formula One Museum, various grand prix-themed rides and simulators, along with a hotel. The entire park would be themed around a Formula One paddock, with several F1 teams involved in its design. Three bespoke roller coasters would recreate the experience of driving an F1 car.
Nearby, Universal Studios Dubailand would bring the magic of the movies to the desert. The park was set to be based on the rough template of Universal Studios Florida, but would include a host of unique attractions. This would have included a King Kong-themed roller coaster that would race around a jungle setting, a massive recreation of Jurassic Park and the world's first ride to be themed around Ghostbusters. There would also be clones of rides from other Universal theme parks, such as a version of the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster.
Another huge US chain, Six Flags, was set to be expand into the international market with a theme park at Dubailand - predictably named Six Flags Dubailand. This was not to be your average, run-of-the-mill Six Flags park, filled with off-the-shelf thrill rides and cloned roller coasters. No, this was to be a Six Flags park on steroids - a heavily-themed wonderland packed with every type of ride imaginable.
Disney would be involved - in a way. Marvel, which was later acquired by Disney, would license its characters for use in the spectacular Marvel Superheroes Theme Park. We covered the proposed attractions in-depth in this article, and they included a mega-budget dark ride based on Spider-Man, a RoboCoaster ride themed around Iron Man and an incredible roller coaster with an "underwater" drop.
Along with Universal, two other major studios signed on for the Dubailand project. Among them was Warner Bros., with a host of the firm's movies and DC Comics characters set to form the basis of attractions at Warner Bros. Movie World. Elsewhere, animated characters would provide the inspiration for many of the rides and shows at DreamWorks Studio Theme Park. Merlin Entertainments would also be part of the setup, with a Dubailand version of its popular LEGOLAND theme parks.
There would be original theme parks, not based on existing brands, among the line-up, too. Legends of Dubailand, for example, would be the world's largest indoor theme park, boasts three sub-parks (Legends of Arabia, Legends of Nature and Legends of the World).
Sahara Kingdom, meanwhile, would cover some 113 acres and would combine virtual and physical rides with a state-of-the-art gaming zone, an IMAX theater, live shows and four hotels. Cities including Saaba, Babylon, Palmyra, Petra Ubar and the City of Thieves would be recreated.
Alongside the theme parks, there were to be dozens of hotels, six water parks, zoos and marine parks, extensive sports facilities and a snowdome. The Great Dubai Wheel would offer a nice aerial view of the giant resort.
If the project had started a little earlier, it's just possible that it might be up-and-running today with several theme parks on offer. However, the global debt crisis struck in 2008, and Dubailand became its poster-child victim. Construction work had already begun on Universal Studios Dubailand and F1-X, but ground to a halt, leaving one of Universal's signature archway entrances leading into an empty desert.
Elements of the plans have been revived, including construction of a LEGOLAND theme park. But it's very unlikely that we'll ever see Dubailand built in anything like its original guise.