Walt Disney World is home to some of the world's impressive theme park rides and shows, and has expanded its line-up significantly since the debut of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Three entire additional theme parks are on offer at the resort, as well as two water parks and many smaller attractions. Inevitably, though, not all of the attractions that have been designed by Disney's Imagineers for the company's Florida resort have seen the light of day.
Some were cancelled due to budgetary constraints. Some were dumped for creative reasons. And some were simply too complex on a technical level. You could build multiple theme parks populated by the attractions that Walt Disney World has rejected over the past four-plus decades. Let's take a look at 15 of most intriguing...
15. Dragon Tower (Disney's Animal Kingdom)
The original plans for Disney's Animal Kingdom included a huge land dedicated to mythical creatures, dubbed Beastly Kingdom. Cost overruns meant that this was pushed back to a "Phase II" expansion, and Camp Minnie-Mickey was built instead. Beastly Kingdom was to be headlined by an enormous, indoor roller coaster: Dragon Tower. This was to incorporate dark ride elements, and would have been Disney's first ever inverted roller coaster (with the trains hanging beneath the track, instead of sitting atop it). It would have raced through the dragon's keep, past its gold stores and along the bat-filled rocky corridors of the surrounding caves.
Dragon Tower, and the rest of Beastly Kingdom, was put on hold indefinitely when it became clear that Animal Kingdom was cannibalising attendance at Walt Disney World's other parks (and when Universal's new Islands of Adventure park failed to draw guests away from Disney). In one sense, though, it lives on - there are persistent rumors that laid-off Imagineers took the idea to Universal, where it became Dragon Challengeat Islands of Adventure.
14. The Great Muppet Movie Ride (Disney's Hollywood Studios)
Back in the early 1990s, Disney-MGM Studios (now renamed as Disney's Hollywood Studios) was locked in a battle with Universal Studios Florida for the title of "best movie studio theme park in Orlando". Universal's park had suffered a disastrous debut in 1990, but began its turnaround with the opening of Back to the Future: The Ride in 1991. Disney's park, meanwhile, had been criticized for its lack of attractions, after CEO Michael Eisner had insisted that it be designed as a "half-day park". Disney-MGM Studios had opened a full year before Universal Studios Florida, and attendance was strong. Eisner promised to remedy the capacity problems, saying: "The studio needs to be bigger, and it needs to be on the scale of the other two parks." Expansion plans were quickly put into place. Part of the expansion was to be an entire new land based on Jim Henson's Muppets, dubbed The Muppet Studios. This would include the Muppet*Vision 3-D movie theater, a stage show and a parade. The star attraction, though, would be The Great Muppet Movie Ride. This would complement the existing Great Movie Ride, one of the park's original E-Ticket attractions.
Disney promised that the Great Muppet Movie Ride would take guests on a "misguided tour through movie history". Effectively a parody of the Great Movie Ride, it would boast an entirely Muppet cast. Describing it, Henson said that it would be "a backstage ride explaining how movies are shot...but all the information is wrong." Disney was keen to buy the Muppets outright from Jim Henson. However, following his sudden death in May 1990, the company continued to push forward with its plans for Muppet Studios. This angered his children, who cancelled the deal. Instead, they agreed to license the Muppets characters for individual attractions, with the 3-D movie, stage show and parade going ahead but the Great Muppet Movie Ride being dropped (Disney eventually agreed a deal to buy the Muppets in 2004).
13. Matterhorn Bobsleds (Epcot)
The World Showcase was one the main elements of EPCOT Center when it opened in 1982. It featured a host of pavilions representing different nations from around the world, packed with shops, restaurants and attractions. To help fund the building of the World Showcase, Disney sought sponsorship from national governments and major corporations within the countries that it hoped to represent. Not all of them signed up. That meant that a number of pavilions were conceived that were ultimately never built. Similarly, a number of expansions to the World Showcase, in the form of new pavilions, have been proposed and subsequently dropped since Epcot opened.
Among these was a Switzerland Pavilion, which would have hosted an East Coast version of Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds roller coaster. Negotiations with the Swiss government fell apart in 1987, and Disney was unable to secure a commercial partner to help fund the pavilion.
12. Western River Expedition (Magic Kingdom)
The legendary Western River Expedition built upon a previous concept designed for a never-built indoor Disney theme park in St Louis. It was designed to occupy a new sub-land in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland, Thunder Mesa, along with a mine train-themed roller coaster. The attraction would have been hosted in an enormous Thunder Mesa show building, with guests entering a nighttime scene in a giant canyon. They would then board Pirates of the Caribbean-style boats before going on a cruise around recreated scenes of the Wild West.
The Western River Expedition was due to be added to the Magic Kingdom as its first expansion project. However, when the park opened, guests demanded a version of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean. This was built instead, although Big Thunder Mountain Railroad did eventually emerge as the mine train roller coaster featured in the Thunder Mesa plans. Imagineer Marc Davis, who had put together the plans, was reportedly livid when they were canned.
11. Mount Fuji Coaster (Epcot)
Epcot's Japan Pavilion has seen a number of ride and show concepts come and go over the years. Considered prior to Epcot's 1982 debut was a "bullet train"-themed CircleVision 360 show, complete with a vibrating floor. But another idea, inspired by the proposals for a Matterhorn clone, was to build a gigantic recreation of Mount Fuji. As with most Disney mountains, this would have hosted a roller coaster.
Located behind the pagoda that is the recognisable icon of the Japan Pavilion, the mountain would have transformed the look of one side of World Showcase's lagoon. The roller coaster itself would have raced around the outside and inside of the mountain, and would, of course, have been the first roller coaster in Epcot's line-up (assuming it was completed before the Matterhorn). So what went wrong to deny us this experience? Well, cost was likely to have been a factor. It was essential for every Epcot attraction to have a commercial sponsor, to help bear the cost of construction. The obvious suitor for a Mount Fuji attraction was the film manufacturer, Fujifilm. But, of course, arch-rival Kodak was already a major Disney sponsor (and sponsored the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot's Future World). It was never likely to stomach Fujifilm being featured at Epcot.