If you're a fan of the site then you know how I feel about Tokyo DisneySEA...
If you've been here long enough you know my love for the Long Beach Project: Port Disney. It comes from my love of all things Disney and the ocean in general. When I first heard about this project in the fall of 1990 I was ecstatic. The combination of these two things would have been simply a magnet to my heart. I would have to see it. I would have to go there. I couldn't wait to see it built and walk inside...
So I waited and waited. The project stalled and suffered one setback after another. The red tape that surrounded it was like a giant whirlpool dragging it down. Slowly, I became worried that it wouldn't see the light of day. Finally when the word came that the project was being abandoned, I was deeply saddened. A few years later when I heard that the project was being reborn as a possible new Second Gate for Tokyo I immediately started following any news that I found out about the project. I read every newspaper clipping I found, listened to what any Cast Member would tell me about it and looked for any piece of artwork that was available.
When Tokyo DisneySEA opened I again watched everything I could about it. There wasn't near as much about it as today because the Internet hadn't yet matured to display what it now does about TDS(As the years go by I expect further and further information to come out about this park and the enlightenment of Disney Fans will hopefully keep the Walt Disney Company from giving us another disappointment like DCA turned out to be.). I wasn't able to make it to see this park for a few years, but when I did I was awestruck. It was amazing, beautiful and totally Disney. Everything that DCA was not, this park was. The possibilities that existed in the minds of Imagineers were on full display here. Now this was the park we in America deserved. This was what should have been placed across the esplanade from Disneyland if it weren't in Long Beach. But it wasn't to be so...
As I left after an amazing week of visiting both parks and spending most of that time in DisneySEA, I kept having those thoughts bouncing around my head. All the while I looked back on the original plans for the Port Disney resort and wondered what could have been. Because as much as I love it(my favorite after Disneyland itself), it's still not Port Disney. Only the remnants of what could've been.
I'd have to say that Tokyo got a more refined and focus collection of what the Port Disney resort was going to be. I'd say close to 70% of what was in the original park made it in some form inside the Tokyo park. But what would it have been like to see the original park? To have walked down that newly built resort in Long Beach? To have experienced the only true alternative to what Walt wanted Disney World to have been. Southern California would have truly been a Disney destination beyond measure were this little jewel to have actually came into being.
So I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss the differences between Tokyo DisneySEA(the second best theme park in the world) with Port Disney(what could have been the best Disney resort in the world).
I know that sounds controversial to Disney fans. To say it would be better than Disneyland(as a resort, not the park)? It's all subjective, let's remember that this is coming from a man that loves Disney and the ocean. Not to mention I'm typing this while looking out the window at the crashing waves. So I'm biased, but this was a project that appealed to so many things that I love. The theme, the architecture and the setting were the kinds of blend that would put my senses into overdrive. It was just that kind of place.
So as you know from the other articles that we've posted here, the Long Beach Project/Port Disney began after the Walt Disney Company acquired the Disneyland Hotel, Queen Mary, Lone Ranger and several other properties back in the late 80's. This was when Eisner was in his early days and while going forward with the planning for Euro Disneyland he wanted to expand Disneyland into a full resort as well. While doing that he wanted to see what the Imagineers could do to come up with something for the newly purchased acreage down in Long Beach. This all comes from his famous "Impress Me" statement to WDI. And impress they did with WestCOT and Port Disney. Now we're not going to focus on the downfall of this dream project from bureaucratic red tape. That's been dealt with before in posts here and other places. This is about what Port Disney project was and what it would have looked like.
Let's start with the park itself: DisneySea:
Oceana - The architectural centerpiece of DisneySea, Oceana would also serve as one of the main educational components of the park. Within this oceanarium, guests would experience true-to-life recreations of marine habitats and ecological systems from around the globe. Visitors would have been able to touch, smell, feel and hear the world of water. Overhead walkways and underwater portholes would provide both bird's-eye and crab's-eye views.
In Oceana, interactive displays and hands-on participation encouraged children and adults to learn about the ocean in ways that would have come off as fun, challenging, and informative. For example, guests could have see for themselves how gills work, how fish communicate, and how coral build their fragile, complex reefs. Through special lenses, they would have seen through the eyes of an octopus, a lobster, a penguin, and a whale. A variety of demonstrations and experiments had been specially created to educate as well as entertain.
Future Research Center - Set at the edge of DisneySea, the Future Research Center was to have been a state-of-the-art research laboratory where guests could interact with some of the nation's top marine scientists conducting oceanographic research.
Southern Californians active in marine science would have been invited to serve on an advisory board to direct the initial mission statement of the Center.
Through an ongoing dialogue with the local scientific community and nearby universities, joint research programs will offer students of all ages a rare opportunity for hands-on exploration.
Guests could visit the heart of this functioning sea laboratory, observing scientists at work. Watching these experts, visitors can glimpse the future of man's involvement with the seas and probe deeper into man's relationship with the environment. For the more light-hearted adventurers, the Center was to include a simulator adventure that will give guests a glimpse of the drama and danger faced by real explorers of the deep.
The park would have operated very much like Disney's Animal Kingdom as more than just a theme park, but an actual oceanographic exploration organization that works to teach, explain and help solve problems dealing with the other two thirds of our planet that are we exist with(somewhat like EPCOT's "The Living Seas," but more). You can imagine the way DAK is a nature's preserve, DisneySea would have been the aquatic equivalent on steroids.
Unlike Tokyo DisneySEA in Japan, DisneySea in California was not as well formed because it was still in the planning phase waiting for governmental approval. Approval that never came, sadly. But the plans for DisneySea were ambitious and Imagineers were planning attractions for visitors to enjoy the spirit and nature of the sea with fun being the objective. Examples were the exotic beaches of Venture Reefs, guests would have enjoy scenic beach vistas from the Caribbean, Polynesian, and the Pacific. They'd have been entertained and had marvelous places to dine, shop, and even taken a dip in the ocean, where they'd found sunken ships and marine life "under the sea."
Fleets of Fantasy, adventurous attractions, themed to storybook seafaring, would have recaptured the spirit and whimsy of turn-of-the-century amusement park rides. Mysterious Island and Hero's Harbor would have featured "high seas" thrill rides incorporating thousands of years of mythic folklore relating to the ocean.
As the Port Disney News; a Disney publication produced to highlight the potential resort said:
"At the rim of the American continent and the Pacific Ocean, DisneySea will offer a unique entertainment experience and a site of magic and wonder."
That it was and would have been.
Next time we'll take a look around the resort and all the wonders that it would have held...
* All artwork is copyright the Walt Disney Company.