Home » Long Before Elsa, This Icy Princess Nearly Reigned Over Fantasyland in Her Own Frozen Boat Ride…

Long Before Elsa, This Icy Princess Nearly Reigned Over Fantasyland in Her Own Frozen Boat Ride…

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived a beautiful queen born with the magic of ice and snow... No, not that one. 

For Disney Parks history buffs, the only thing more interesting than the real-life stories of beloved and lost theme park attractions are the stories of those that never got built at all… From a whole theme park dedicated to American history to a planned steampunk land of submarines and hot air balloons; from never-built “mountains” to a future that never will be, our Possibilityland series is packed with stories of the most spectacular and industry-changing attractions… that never were.

What if a glistening icy palace rose up over Fantasyland? That’s what might’ve been if The Enchanted Snow Palace had come to be… Today, we’ll dig into Disney’s seventy-year quest to melt the icy antagonist of “The Snow Queen” and trace animators’ on-again, off-again attempts to turn this Scandanavian legend into a workable character in films… and rides. 


Though we rarely tend to think of it this way, most of Disney’s greatest stories weren’t originally Disney’s at all. In fact, before Walt Disney was even born, a pair of German brothers – Jacob and Wilhem Grimm – had already collected dozens of popular tales from around Europe and assembled them in a written tome of fairy tales. Until the Grimm brothers’ physical recording of the tales of “Cinderella,” “The Frog Prince,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Rapunzel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Snow White,” they’d lived only through oral tradition, passed from generation to generation at bedtimes.

The Grimm brothers’ versions of those well-known stories were the definitive versions of the tales for more than a century before the first Disney animators ever put ink to paper. But while the Grimm Brothers were collecting and curating tales woven by others, one of their near-contemporaries was creating a new generation of stories.

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That would be Danish author Hans Christian Andersen – the prolific playwright and novelist born about a hundred years before Walt Disney, in 1805. Andersen is thought to have produced over three thousand written works in his lifetime. At the age of 32, he published his first collection of Fairy Tales, which included “Thumbelina,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Little Mermaid.” 

Image: Vilhem Pedersen

Though it might seem impossible that so many tales so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness could originate from one man, Andersen wasn’t finished. In the 1940s, subsequent collections produced “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” “The Little Match Girl,” and “The Ugly Duckling.”

You can imagine why Andersen was and is renowned for the way his stories appeal to children, but always rose to present lessons of virtue and resilience – a feature that allows his tales to transcend time, generations, and cultures. But Andersen’s longest and most unique work was published December 21, 1844…

“The Snow Queen”

Image: Vilhelm Pedersen

Remembered today as one of Andersen’s most prolific works, “The Snow Queen” is an epic and complex tale telling of a sinister mirror crafted by the devil that distorts anything it reflects, allowing people to only see the darkness in others. When demons attempt to carry the mirror into the heavens to infect the angels, the mirror shatters, leaving its shards to fall to earth, concealed in the snow.

The falling glass lands in the eye of a young boy named Kai, changing him and sending him out into the snow where the beautiful Snow Queen awaits, ferrying him away to her ice palace. That leaves his friend, Gerda, to set off on an epic quest to find the Snow Queen’s castle hidden in the permafrost, and to break the mirror’s spell over Kai before his heart freezes solid. 

Image: Vilhelm Pedersen

With a single kiss, the Snow Queen erases the little boy’s memory of his family and friends, leaving him in her frozen palace to play with shards of ice and snow. The elegant, beautiful, and mysterious Snow Queen then disappears into the night. Gerda, arriving just in the nick of time with a band of friends she’s met along the way, saves Kai with her tears in an act of true love defying the romantic norm, and as the pair return to their town, they find that winter has come to an end. 

As you can imagine, Walt and his animators set their sights on “The Snow Queen” as far back as 1937, with the story considered a contender to follow up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a full-length animated feature. In the early 1940s, Disney allegedly connected with Samuel Goldwyn (later, the “G” in “MGM”) about co-producing a live action biopic of Andersen’s life, with Disney animators creating short adaptations of “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Snow Queen” to intersperse throughout in a hybrid animation style. (Ultimately, MGM did move forward with 1952’s Hans Christian Andersen, but the stories interspersed throughout were told through ballet, not Disney animation.) 

Image: Vilhelm Pedersen

Disney animators continued to play with Andersen’s stories (primarily, “The Little Mermaid” and “The Snow Queen”) but ultimately, “The Snow Queen” had a fatal flaw: the Snow Queen herself. Try as they might, Disney animators allegedly struggled with the tale because of its icy antagonist. The enigmatic and amoral Snow Queen is present only briefly in the story, and doesn’t exactly come across as a “villain.” Though the world Andersen had imagined was compelling, the story lacked a cinematic narrative and the essential conflict that would be needed. Maybe the Snow Queen just wasn’t a bad guy…

And even if Disney couldn’t adapt this particular fairy tale into a film, it didn’t mean that the character and world couldn’t become useful. One Disney animator was excited about the opportunity to bring the Snow Queen to life… just not in a film. What might a ride through the Snow Queen’s frozen world look like?

Marc Davis

Image: Disney

To find out, we need only look through the portfolio of Disney Legend Marc Davis. One of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men” – the original team of animators at Walt Disney Animation – Marc is more than just a Disney Legend; he’s the creative designer who crafted the iconic Disney versions of those fairy tale characters. Among Marc’s distinctive creations? Snow White, Bambi, Cinderella, and Cruella da Ville, to name just a few. 

So when you hear that Disney borrowed from timeless tales and crafted their definitive versions, we really should say that Marc Davis did. The final looks of Mr. Toad, Alice, and Br’er Rabbit? Those are Marc’s designs. He created the timeless visual appearance of those characters known the world over.

Tinker Bell and Maleficent are his, too. It’s no surprise that Walt famously said, “Marc can do story, he can do character, he can animate, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is tell him what I want and it’s there! He’s my Renaissance man.”

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That becomes especially important in the 1960s, when Walt asked Marc to come over to Disneyland and take a look at some of the attractions there. In 1962, Walt asked Marc to bring his character eye and penchant for perfectly staged animated scenes to Disneyland, and particularly to take a “good, hard, critical look” at one of the park’s signature attractions: Frontierland’s Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland. Walt was somewhat unsatisfied with the attraction, which had only opened in 1960 as a supposed American west equivalent to the Jungle Cruise.

“There was an awful lot of things wrong,” Marc reported later. “They had no gags in it; no story at all… One kit fox’s head is going up and down, then about a hundred feet away another kit fox’s head is going left to right, so I took the two, put them nose to nose, so one is going up and down, the other moves side to side, so immediately you have humor!”

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Marc doodled and carefully noted the ways in which he thought that the Mine Train could be given new life with an infusion of character and humor… and when he reported back to Walt that morning with his ideas, everything changed.

Within a few hours, Marc found himself standing before a group of Imagineers at WED Enterprises – the very people whose ride he was asked to critique – to read off his ideas for improving the Mine Train. Marc recalled watching as the Imagineers grew angrier and angrier that this “stranger from animation” thought he could criticize their work. 

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Though he still technically worked for the studio, Marc became Walt’s go-to for restaging Disneyland’s rides to include more humorous vignettes and iconic characters. Walt’s seeming favoritism of Marc’s designs caused hostility, and Marc spoke of an unnamed WED Enterprises executive who walked by his desk while he was sketching and condescendingly asked, “And what are you doing with your little pencil now?”

What he was doing was exactly what Walt had asked. Even if he initially made few friends in Imagineering, Marc had a friend in Walt. 

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He was asked to add his signature staging and humorous vignettes to a redesign and expansion of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, which – throughout the 1960s – gained the Indian elephant bathing pool, the ruins of a temple of Ganesha, the design of the African veldt scene, and the iconic “trapped safari,” all instantly recognizable as the kind of beautifully staged, humorous scenes Marc was known for.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Those signature set-ups all read like snapshots in a film. Davis was somehow able to expertly stage those scenes as living moments, perfectly translated from “screen to stage” before our very eyes. And that’s far from the last. Marc’s character genius would add life to three of Disney’s fabled Audio Animatronic productions – the Modern Marvels: The Enchanted Tiki Room (1963), Carousel of Progress (1964), and Country Bear Jamboree (1971) – literally forging the art of robotic animation.

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But perhaps most memorably, Marc is famously recalled as the mind behind the singalong, character-focused second half of both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion (opposite his peer, Claude Coats, who handled the atmospheric, eerie, characterless first-halves of both).

And as development picked up on the brand new Walt Disney World in Florida, Marc Davis designed two incomparable masterworks showing off the full force of his character and stage set-up skills… Attractions that he thought would best even Pirates and Haunted Mansion for their scale! Read on…

Marc’s Masterpieces

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Perhaps one of the most well-known (and well-studied) never-built Disney Parks attractions, Thunder Mesa was a massive, interconnected complex of attractions earmarked for Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland. The enormous attraction was intended to be built in a “Phase II” expansion of the park soon after its 1971 opening, and was even included on souvenir guide maps!

Among the cavernous complex along the Rivers of America, Thunder Mesa would’ve included a mining town and restaurant, a log flume through natural scenes (set on top of the enormous showbuilding), a runaway mine train roller coaster darting through rock canyons, and then, a dark ride so legendary, we sailed through it scene-by-scene in Possibilityland: Western River Expedition.

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The Western River Expedition was literally meant to be Magic Kingdom’s complement to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean – an epic, enormously-scaled dark ride with guests floating through massive scenes populated by dozens and dozens of Audio-Animatronics.

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As you’d expect from Marc given his portfolio, Western River Expedition would’ve been masterfully designed with sensational set-ups, hilarious gags, and memorable scenes. Playing with light, color, sound, and Audio Animatronics, this blazing red and sunset blue dark ride through the American West was planned to be the anchor attraction of Magic Kingdom. 

And though the land was set aside to make it happen, shifting priorities in the ’70s (and a massive guest demand for “the pirate ride”) meant that Marc was reassigned to fast-track a budget-built version of Pirates of the Caribbean for Magic Kingdom. Still, it wouldn’t be Marc’s last attempt to do something truly ambitious and original…

Enchanted Snow Palace

Abandoning the fiery southwest in favor of a glistening, icy blue, Marc’s other big project in the 1970s is the subject of our story today: the Enchanted Snow Palace. Significantly less is known about this frozen boat ride once planned for Fantasyland, though the character design and concept art Marc developed gives us some insight into the experience.

First, we know that Marc planned for this attraction to debut at Disneyland, just north of Fantasyland (on the plot of land currently home to the Fantasyland Theater). There, guests would be surprised to find a sudden and dramatic upheaval of ice, as if a crystalline glacier had plowed through the park to create a towering, glassy sculpture.

Once inside, they’d find themselves in a glowing snowflake cavern, walking along icy ridges above a tranquil Arctic river of ice chunks. Naturally, our cruise through the Enchanted Snow Palace is truly a river ride like Pirates or “it’s a small world,” with guests sailing down the frigid waters en route to the source of the wintery magic: the Snow Queen herself.

Imagine the icy beauty of this attraction and its sunrise scenery striking walls of ice and mountains of snow. Sure, we’d sail past timber wolves on snow-covered hills, howling at the aurora borealis; pass playful walruses spraying us with water…

… But given that this is a Marc Davis attraction, you’d expect a healthy dose of character set-ups and humorously staged scenes. Take, for example, these friendly characters you’d likely have met early on in your voyage: Arctic animals encountering the first of the Queen’s magical creations: the Three Snowballs (including Marc’s note, “a cool trio!”) and a small abominable snowman of melting ice.

The musical Snowballs will be a constant during the journey, singing and humming along to a score composed by beloved and incomparable Disney songwriter Buddy Baker. Even if you don’t recognize Baker’s name, you know his work; he’s the composer behind many of Disney’s film scores through the ’70s and ’80s, as well as the composer behind the music of “Grim, Grinning Ghosts,” the Lost Legend: “If You Had Wings,” and even the score to Tokyo’s Modern Marvel: Journey to the Center of the Earth. (Baker was also the music genius behind the original scores of Future World and World Showcase, including “The American Adventure” and “Impressions de France,” plus the Lost Legends: World of Motion and Universe of Energy.)

The musical Snowballs would then be put on their best display in a clever gag. Each would be standing on a floating chunk of ice in the water right alongside guests! As the pillars of ice rice and fall like floating ice cubes in a glass of water, the Snowballs would remain still, their legs merely telescoping up and down to keep them at the same level!

Imagine sailing past this most unusual sight: a turntable of creatures real and imagined ice skating across the tundra, accompanied by two glowing fairies (perhaps from Fantasia‘s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” segment).

In one of the attraction’s more cleverly kinetic scenes, guests would watch as the bumbling Snowballs fly out of a cave, seemingly floating for a moment before sliding down an icy hill, twisting and tumbling. On a neaby hill, skating animals of all kinds would slip and slide down an enbankment.

In classicly-Marc-Davis scenes, we might’ve sailed past penguins and seagulls in all manner of laugh-out-loud setup 

Growing closer and closer to the source of the Palace’s magic, the ice forms would begin to take on more carved and ornate shapes, forming chandeliers, arches, and spires against the blue sky. Doubtless a symptom of the Queen’s magic, guests would even sail past an orchestra of Audio Animatronics penguins (long live Muppet*Vision!) being conducted by a seal.

With the atmosphere growing grander and grander, and snowy owls beginning to gather and roost, our destination must be ahead.

Sailing onward, guests would suddenly drift in a looming, icy cavern. Within, towering ice giants would use their snowy clubs to haphazardly swat at frost fairies. But this crystal cavern is truly home to our grand finale: a face-to-face encounter with the beautiful and beguiling Snow Queen herself.

A number of peices of concept art exist for different “moods” that this encounter might inspire, like the somewhat ethereal and eerie Queen flanked by defensive owls above. Other concepts show a much gentler and welcoming Queen sitting astride a polar unicorn or, in a fan-favorite…

The graceful and ageless Icicle Princess dancing as if on water. What we do know is that, in any case, the ride’s beautiful and climactic musical finale would see guests showered in real snow conjured by the Audio Animatronic queen.

While the Enchanted Snow Palace may not have the leftover evidence nor the fan following of Marc’s other never-built magnum opus, this poetic and mystifying journey down a melting river would likely be a classic today… if it had been built. Why did plans for the Enchanted Snow Palace melt? And would Disney ever crack the case of the Snow Queen?


Image: Disney

Ultimately, neither the Western River Expedition or the Enchanted Snow Palace got the green light. Why? Frankly, because after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the tempo at WED Enterprises changed significantly. In the simplest terms, ambitious, radical, and expensive projects were largely sidelined through the ’70s, and without Walt at the helm, the executives and designers left over weren’t entirely sure what they should do next.

Somewhat sadly, it seems that Marc was designing attractions hoping to achieve the heights of Disney’s 1960 masterpieces… something executives simply weren’t interested in pursuing.

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Meanwhile, the modernization of the steel roller coaster (and its spread throughout the country) meant that Disney saw a place to pivot: low-cost thrill rides. Space Mountain proved that roller coasters could play a role in keeping Disney Parks fresh. That’s why the Western River Expedition wasn’t built, but its simplest derivative – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, designed by his protege Tony Baxter – was.

Marc Davis allegedly held out hope that at least one of his two masterpiece attractions would eventually be built – whether in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, or Paris – but ultimately, EPCOT Center, and then the “Ride the Movies” whims of Michael Eisner filled up the late-70s and ’80s. That’s why the Enchanted Snow Palace and Western River Expedition exist only in Possibilityland. Of course, that does not mean that the story of the Snow Queen was finished… And eventually, Andersen’s legend would come to life in an attraction! Read on…


Though the Snow Queen had melted once again, another of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories would reemerge and literally save Disney.

When The Little Mermaid debuted in 1989, the film was Disney’s first true fairy tale adaptation since Sleeping Beauty in 1959 – exactly thirty years before. The film was a turning point, bringing Disney (and the art of animation) back to the forefront of pop culture. With the legendary artwork of animator Glen Keane giving life to Ariel, the film set a new visual standard for animation going forward.

Brilliantly fusing the evergreen fairy tale with a larger-than-life Broadway-style musical production (spearheaded by composer and lyricist Alan Menken and Howard Ashman), The Little Mermaid is remembered today as the studios’ modern turning point. It’s the undisputed origin of the Disney Renaissance that would go on to produce hit after hit at the box office including Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and… The Snow Queen?

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Yes, in the 1990s, Disney animators once again revived The Snow Queen, certain that this time they could use the storytelling skills they’d gained during the Renaissance to finally breathe life into the frosty character. Glen Keane (who’d worked on each Disney Renaissance film after Mermaid, too) even worked to crack the case of the Queen before famously abandoning the project in 2002 (taking up character designs for Disney’s adaptation of Rapunzel instead).

Nearly seventy years after their original attempts, it seemed that a new generation of Disney animators was finally willing to admit defeat: The Snow Queen was simply “unfilmable” – a rare designation placed on a handful of beloved literary stories considered inherently incompatible with the structure of a movie. The Snow Queen seemed to have melted at last…

… Freezing 

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But in 2008, then-Chief Creative Officer of Disney Animation, John Lasseter, found and was apparently “blown away” by some of the art created in Disney’s Renaissance-era attempt at the story, and he saw the merit in reviving the concept with Chris Buck (director of Tarzan) at the helm.

In 2010, Anna and the Snow Queen was put into pre-production, with the team tasked with making sense of the Snow Queen story… After all that time, could it really be just that simple? Of course not. Despite early concepts interpolating Glen Keane’s blue, icy antagonist, writers still couldn’t figure out how to work the titular villain into a compelling and consequential role.

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In order to make the Snow Queen work, the creative team needed to essentially invent a personality for Andersen’s aloof and vacant character. She was too one-dimensional; too distant; a lightly sketched-in barely-villain who didn’t connect to the protagonist in a personal way – and worse, didn’t drive the plot. Concept art created for the character communicates the directions that Disney was experimenting with to give the Snow Queen an identity of her own, testing a sharp, regal, curled-lip, avante garde royal, or a sassy, shapely, musically blustering bad guy. Nothing stuck.

Then, the animation team had a breakthrough. Since turning the Snow Queen into a traditional “Disney villain” wasn’t working, what if they rethought the traditional Disney formula? What if the Snow Queen wasn’t a vengeful witch, a sinister spirit, or a bad guy at all? What if she was conflicted? Misunderstood? What if she didn’t understand her powers? What if she couldn’t control them?

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The gorgeous Art of Frozen coffee table book shows how the Snow Queen – by then, given the name Elsa – gradually lost her imposing features. Her blue skin became alabaster; her villainous, exaggerated shape was changed to that of a human, in-scale with the protagonist, Anna. Suddenly, Elsa was a yin to Anna’s yang.

Then came the true breakthrough. As we know, a hallmark of Disney Renaissance films is each protagonist’s ‘I Want’ song, explaining their inner monologue and their deepest ambition (for example, “Part of Your World,” “Belle,” “One Jump Ahead,” “Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Just Around the Riverbend,” “Reflection,” and “Almost There.”). Given the new, human character and her broiling internal conflict, Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez crafted an “I Want” song not for Anna, but for Elsa. Yep: “Let It Go.” From then on, Elsa’s personality was set. 

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As legend has it, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place once a member of the story team asked, “What if Anna and Elsa were sisters?” With an entirely new dynamic to shape the relationship between the characters, Elsa’s call to villainy fell away entirely, and Anna’s trek toward the icy castle was now in search of her sister, deep in self-imposed isolation.

Elsa was re-animated to lose her icy crown and high-neck dress. Instead, she gained long, braided blonde hair and kind eyes. (Look familiar? Check out the Snow Queen on the last page…) She wasn’t a villain at all… she was “free” after a lifetime concealing powers she didn’t understand, haunted by the fear of accidentally hurting her own sister… And that gave Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee the chance to have “true love” save the day as never seen before.

Anna and the Snow Queen was back on the docket… with one last major change. Since Disney’s marketing team suspected that the title of The Princess and the Frog had led to its box office underperformance by excluding families with young boys, the Glen Keane Rapunzel feature in post-production was renamed Tangled (with a marketing campaign emphasizing Flynn Ryder and the film’s adventurous tone), and Anna and the Snow Queen gained a similar title (and a largely princess-free marketing campaign in the U.S.) that we know well.

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2013’s Frozen centers around the frosty relationship between two sister princesses – Anna and Elsa. Elsa maintains a chilly distance from her younger sister to protect Anna from her secret (and increasingly uncontrollable) ice powers. On the night of her coronation, Elsa’s emotions get the best of her and she ignites an eternal winter that blankets the kingdom of Arendelle in snow. Naturally, it’s up to Anna to chase her fleeing, frightened sister into the snowy mountains to convince her that she’s not better off alone.

The distinctly 21st-century take gave a new twist to Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Snow Queen at last. (And indeed, Disney fans say it’s no coincidence that the film’s leads are Hans, Kristoff, Anna, and Sven… say it three times fast.)

Though the story of Frozen is, ultimately, only loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen original, it retains that titleThe Snow Queen – in many international markets, with beautiful, romantic, atmospheric trailers and movie posters to boot (compared to the comical, buddy-comedy, Olaf-centered U.S. marketing).

It probably goes without saying that, $1.2 billion later, Frozen became the highest grossing animated film of all time. It also spawned 2019’s darker and more mythological Frozen II, recapturing the magic by earning the biggest box office debut for an animated film ever, then bypassing its own predecessor to claim the highest grossing animated film record for its own.

Turns out it was possible to get audiences to connect with Andersen’s “Snow Queen.” To Disney’s point, she just needed to be reimagined. Just like that, Disney’s version of the Snow Queen became the most coveted royal in the Disney Princess line. So Enchanted Snow Palace will never exist. But

Frozen Ever After

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On June 21, 2016, Anna and Elsa made their way to Epcot. Replacing the Lost Legend: Maelstrom, the sisters would overtake a large portion of World Showcase’s Norway pavilion – the first major character infusion for the otherwise grounded World Showcase realm, made all the more controversial, of course, because Frozen wasn’t set in Norway, but the fictional Kingdom of Arendelle. That said, Arendelle is deeply influenced by the styles, textures, clothing, and people of Scandinavia, as was the original Danish fairy tale it drew inspiration from.

The resulting dark ride is itself a Modern Marvel: Frozen Ever After, inviting guests back to Arendelle for a “Winter Summer Day” reunion. Guests sail through frozen glades, see the film’s family of trolls, ascend the North Mountain, and splash down in the bay of Arendelle. While it might not be the musical, magical journey to the Snow Queen Marc Davis had once envisioned, it’s a star in its own right. And just as in Marc’s original concept, the highlight is a face-to-face interaction with the Snow Queen herself… blonde braid and all.

The attraction is such a favorite, Frozen Ever After is already confirmed to be cloned in Hong Kong Disneyland’s new Arendelle-themed expansion of Fantasyland, while a third copy will be located in the Frozen-themed land coming to Walt Disney Studios Park.

In fact, one of the few complaints fans tend to have about Frozen Ever After is that the story of Elsa and Anna deserves a better ride – not just a reskin of Maelstrom – and that it should be in Fantasyland, not in Epcot… If only they knew how close that was to being reality.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to a never-built ride found only in Possibilityland. Be sure to make the jump to our LEGEND LIBRARY, where still more never-built masterpieces await, as well as in-depth rides through Lost Legends, behind-the-scenes looks at Modern Marvels, and the Declassified Disaster stories Disney doesn’t want you to know.