Walt Disney’s story and the history of his theme parks add to the magic that we experience when we visit.
Walt Disney himself once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” This sentiment has been applied to the parks across the world — Disney is always growing and changing. We’ve come a long way to get to the Disney we know and love, but can you imagine if there was a Disney World with no Mickey Mouse? Or you took your yearly Disney trip to Missouri instead of Florida? Disney would’ve been VERY different if these things happened.
If Walt Disney Didn’t Choose Florida
Following the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney began considering new locations for a second park. Hundreds of places all over the world were asking Disney to bring a park to them, including countries like Brazil and Egypt.
He began to consider locations on the East Coast like New Jersey and Niagara Falls but ultimately decided the weather was too risky. Disney World would probably look picturesque covered in a coat of snow, but imagine bundling up with temperatures in the 20s to go to the parks? We think we’ll pass.
The location that Walt seriously considered to be the new home of his second park was St. Louis, Missouri. This city was about three hours away from his hometown of Marceline, where he spent his childhood. This small, Missouri town was also the inspiration for Main Street, U.S.A.!
St. Louis was in consideration to become the home of Walt Disney’s Waterfront Square. In 1964, Walt announced that it would be a five-story, enclosed building that spanned two city blocks. This venue was to feature a bayou boat ride, a haunted house (with a stretching room!), a dark ride like Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and more. The project was projected to cost $40 million and would welcome approximately 25,000 guests per day. It appeared the collapse of this project resulted from a dispute between Walt and the city about the sale of alcohol, which he was against. The town is home to Anheuser-Busch brewery — the largest brewery in the United States — and many felt any amusement park there should sell the city’s famed beers.
One other big issue with St. Louis was that if Walt had committed to that location for his new park, there would’ve been no room for expansions. If we compare it to the Disney World we know now, that means no EPCOT, no Hollywood Studios, and no Animal Kingdom! That’s why land itself was one of the things that most attracted Walt to Central Florida.
Walt saw Orlando as a great crossroads where many different highways intersected. Others had written off Central Florida and saw it only as a marshy swampland filled with gators that wasn’t suitable for building. Walt, on the other hand, saw endless potential that didn’t compare to any other locations he was considering.
Central Florida has become a hub for tourism, featuring a handful of theme parks, resorts, and other attractions that draw guests from all over the world. But imagine if your yearly trip to Disney took you to…Missouri? Since St. Louis was already a developed city, the possibility for tourism to expand the way it has (especially in relation to theme parks) is extremely limited. Even Aheiser Busch didn’t open their later theme parks in St. Louis — instead, opening parks near Disney World in Tampa, Florida and another in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Learn about the recent million-dollar agreement that might change the way you travel to Disney World
If There Was NO Mickey Mouse
As Walt started out in the world of animation, he worked alongside collaborator Ub Iwerks and producer Charles Mintz. He had created shorts like Alice’s Wonderland, but he wanted to try something new. He created a silly little rabbit character, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, and signed on with Universal to create 26 animated shorts featuring the new character in 1927.
Walt wanted Oswald to be unique and unexpected, but also personable and relatable. He emphasized the character’s style and personality to make him a fan favorite. This creation caused a shift in the world of entertainment and eventually, the rabbit became incredibly popular.
Animators and collaborators began to plot against Walt to create Oswald content without him. In 1928, collaborator Iwerks signed a three-year deal with Universal for Oswald shorts without Walt’s knowledge. He fought with both his team and with Universal to obtain rights that would allow him to continue creating features with Oswald. Walt was unsuccessful and lost the rights to the character.
And according to Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, this is when history was made! Walt boarded a train to return home to Los Angeles and on that very trip, he thought up the idea for…wait for it…MICKEY MOUSE!
Had Walt not lost the contract to Oswald, we may have lived in a world with NO Mickey Mouse. Can you imagine that? We might have been searching the Disney Parks for hidden Oswalds, eating Oswald Waffles at breakfast, and accessorizing with Oswald ears. Hard to picture, right?
In 2006, Disney was able to bring Oswald back to the company in a trade with NBC. Although he’s certainly not as popular as the one and only Mickey Mouse, we now see limited Oswald-themed merch around the parks, and even the rare meet and greet in the past!
Oswald may technically be the OG Disney character, but Mickey will always hold a special place in our hearts.
If Disney Owned the Rights to Harry Potter
Now, it’s not so often that we talk about the theme park down the street from Disney World. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an incredibly immersive land that’s found at Universal Orlando Resort. But, what if Disney had the theme park rights to the franchise?
Would the Disney version of the Wizarding World have its own park entirely? Or would it be added to one of Disney World’s four parks? It could probably find a nice home in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but would that have meant we’d never have seen the creation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? There’s a lot to take into consideration when thinking about how Disney would have created this land, but we can’t help but wonder!
The Harry Potter franchise would give Disney lots of opportunities to employ its innovative technology. Maybe there could be a Flight of Passage-style attraction that would allow guests to hop on a broomstick and ride through Hogsmeade and beyond. Or, a Harry Potter-themed resort might be in the works, similar to the upcoming Star Wars Hotel.
In actuality, this deal came close to happening. Disney DID make a proposal to bring the Boy Wizard to Disney World, but it was far too small of a scale for author J.K. Rowling’s liking. Disney proposed two small attractions and a restaurant to be added to Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom. They also insisted Coca-Cola products and other Disney merchandise be sold in the land. Rowling wasn’t a fan.
As we now can see, she took her business down the road to Universal who accommodated her with two entire lands and agreed to her merchandising requests. Disney’s acquisition of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises certainly gives them plenty to work with, but seeing Hogwarts in Disney World would have been pretty wicked! 😉
If Walt Worked on EPCOT Firsthand
Walt had dreamt of creating an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which he hoped would be a functioning city where people lived and worked. This was another big reason why all the spacious land Central Florida offered was so attractive to him. Walt hoped that this community would be an opportunity to use all the technology he developed in a much bigger scale.
It would feature a city center, called “Progress City.” This hub would offer pavilions dedicated to teaching citizens about different topics like energy, communication, Earth, technology, and more. There were to be residential neighborhoods as an offshoot of the city center, and residents would travel via monorail or magnet-driven vehicles like the PeopleMover.
After he passed, Imagineers felt that this plan was unattainable. However, many of his ideas were incorporated into the EPCOT we know today! Guests can learn about communication and technology on Spaceship Earth, two pavilions are dedicated to teaching about the Land and the Seas, and the Imagination pavilion makes guests think about the world around them (via a silly little purple dragon!).
Plus, we do have a monorail (although it’s not currently operating in EPCOT), and a PeopleMover over in Magic Kingdom. There, guests can see the Progress City. This is an actual portion of the original model created as part of Walt’s dream for this community.
Next time you take a ride on the PeopleMover, make sure to take a peek at this little model city that could have been!
Beastly Kingdom Instead of Pandora
The lands in Disney’s Animal Kingdom that we know and love bring us to Africa, Asia, DinoLand USA, and Pandora — The World of Avatar. But, what if we were transported to a land of dragons and mythical creatures instead? Animal Kingdom was originally planned to incorporate real, extinct, AND imaginary animals.
The imaginary animals were supposed to be represented in a land that never came to be — Beastly Kingdom. Former CEO Michael Eisner even mentioned it at the dedication of the park, stating, “Welcome to a kingdom of animals…real, ancient, and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs, and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony, and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.”
Beastly Kingdom was to be split into three sections — nice, beautiful, and dangerous. Here, guests would encounter creatures from folklore like dragons and unicorns. The Quest of the Unicorn was planned to be a walk-through maze where guests would come across an audio-animatronic unicorn. The main attraction in the land would have been Dragon’s Tower — a huge roller coaster featuring an animatronic dragon, the largest ever to be created by Imagineers.
Due to budget cuts, Dinoland was prioritized over Beastly Kingdom and the land ultimately never came to fruition. Now, this space is used for Pandora! If Beastly Kingdom had existed, it’s possible we would’ve never had Expedition Everest. Dragon’s Tower would’ve acted as the park’s leading thrill ride, and it’s possible there wouldn’t be a need for another big, animatronic-driven coaster.
A nod to the land that never was can be seen in the park’s logo as a dragon.
You can spot this on original lamps and park benches, and atop the park’s ticketing booths!
Disney has decades worth of history that contribute to the parks, entertainment, and beyond. It can be kinda hard to imagine it any differently than it is today, but there are certainly some things that would’ve made it REALLY different! Stay tuned to DFB for all the latest from Disney!