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Jaw Hitting Floor In 5.. 4.. 3.. 2..

A model of the S.S. Disney (web)The S.S. Disney, from bow to stern: the Orbitron, a ferris wheel, the glass-covered multideck hub area, the Casey Jr. Circus Train and glass-canopied carousel, and its a small world (Mark Hickson)

Hey, remember in 1994 when Disney built a traveling theme park inside the hull of a massive supertanker? You don’t? That’s because it’s insaaaaaaaane!

Alain Littaye has dropped this 100-megaton bomb in his interview today with former Imagineer Mark Hickson. Hickson worked at WDI on the S.S. Disney project in 1993-94, and has posted some images from the project on his website.

This surprising project began with an off-handed joke by a Navy Admiral to Disney executive Jim Cora, suggesting that Cora build a theme park on an unused aircraft carrier. Somehow this wacky notion found purchase in the ranks of management, and soon Imagineers were casting about for the proper type of vessel to contain an actual floating theme park.

Hickson was brought on board the project because of his previous experience with shipbuilding. He suggested that Disney use a supertanker; the ship’s vast internal capacity would allow Disney to build a full five decks of attractions and guest areas. It was decided that the ship would be used to tour the Pacific Rim, stopping at many tourist-friendly ports in China, southeast Asia, and Australia. The ship would stay roughly two and a half months in each port, returning to each city only every four or five years.

As to what would be contained in this floating park, Hickson mentions the following:

On the top deck there was the Orbitron, Casey Jr. Train, a large Ferris Wheel, Alice in Wonderland’s spinning Tea Cups, Dumbo, and a Fantasyland Carousel under a glass dome! At the stern end of the top deck, there would be It’s Small World.

Other attractions included Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Indiana Jones, Star Tours, a 3D movie theatre, and even a Space Mountain roller coaster!

Due to technical issues there would be no water flume attractions; its a small world would utilize an omnimover ride system instead of boats.

The ship would contain six restaurants – five quick-service and one table service. It would have a full entertainment division, and Disney considered a separate barge which would provide a nighttime fireworks show. A third ship would be added to the fleet to transport cast members from port to port.

S.S. Disney model amidships (web)The S.S. Disney model, amidships, reveals the Casey Jr. Circus Train circling the glass-canopied carousel. The facade of it’s a small world is visible to the stern. (Mark Hickson)

You can read the full interview at Alain’s site, but I’ll point out one key item. Like so many other projects we talk about, you’ll notice that the relevant dates for this concept are 1993 & 1994. So now the S.S. Disney joins Port Disney, WESTCOT and Disney’s America in the pantheon of great abandoned projects from that era. Why was this particularly fantastic project abandoned? Says Hickson, “Michael Eisner and Frank Wells both loved the project, but after Frank’s death, things changed.” You said it, brother.

The strategic planning group at corporate didn’t want to do a floating theme park, they wanted to do a cruise ship. Eventually they convinced Michael that a cruise ship was easier to do.

Long-time Disney watchers are well familiar with the infamous “strategic” planning group. Not surprisingly, they also had their hands in the demise of the S.S. Disney.

Perhaps this plan will be revived someday; I love the design of the ship – the giant steampunk gears and Victorian canopies give it a very distinctive, cool look. I’m not even that crazed about the mix of attractions they selected – it’s just such a crazy, appealing idea that you can’t help but wish it had come to pass. In a way its self-contained, multistory design is a descendant of Walt’s original “location based entertainment” concept, the unbuilt Riverboat Square. It’s amazing to discover this long-lost project, and kudos to Alain for uncovering it and to Mr. Hickson for sharing his art and story with the public.

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12 comments to Jaw Hitting Floor In 5.. 4.. 3.. 2..

  • philphoggs

    Man this thing is like dejavu all over again.. did this ever leak public back then? That steampunk gearing is either playing tricks on a false memory, or this filtered thru the backwaters of some entrepreneur mag.
    No matter, great post.
    My uneducated opinion says that the “strategic group” may have made a good decision on this one. (please don’t banish me from the site, you won’t hear that often) Those professionals who worked on the project, and are kind enough to share the info, there is the most respect for the creativity and time invested in the project. Massive outlandish craziness yes, proving no collar on fantastic ideas. It would be a great ship of good will, and I read that the Parks are loss leaders anyway?.. but after a few years, does this baby really still float? I just can’t buy into it.
    Again though, great post, and those out there that can talk of it seriously please do, it is very interesting and educational for a hack like me.

  • Haha no worries, there will be no banishment! I think that you’re probably right; although the “strategic” planning group have long been seen as villains of the Eisner age, this concept wasn’t exactly super-practical. I just admire the scale of it’s sheer audacity – the three-ship Disney fleet cruising the Pacific Rim like the circus coming to town. The mishmash of themes would probably also have been rather overwhelming. But man, I would LOVE to see this in action. Reading the description of the ship makes it sound like a mess, but when you see that model… man, that would have been impressive. It’s like something Willy Wonka slapped together.

    This might have leaked to the public, but if so I never heard about it. Alain’s post floored me because this is the first I’ve ever, EVER heard about it. I know it was never mentioned as part of the “Disney Decade” plans.

  • I also can’t believe I didn’t make an “I’m on a boat” reference

  • philphoggs

    I like the circus coming to town light ~ it does make you think well maybe…
    Looks like the Hall of Presidents post has taken the wind out of the sails of this thread :) there I did it!

  • Hehe true…

    Anyway, while I’d much rather go to a theme park than a condensed version in one building, this idea was so crazy it just might work. I doubt it would take any business away from the parks, and I’d rather have this than them building mini-Kingdoms in every major city in Asia!

  • bambamwed

    Second time in one day that I learned of a project totally unknown to me previously. I adore your blog.

    philphoggs, I may be wrong, but it seems to me that I have often sen the Parks generating the significant income and the other areas of the Disney family benefitting from that Park income. I do not think the Parks are loss leaders even if there are occasionally a rough year or two in bad economic times.

  • Thanks very much! I’m glad you enjoy it!

  • philphoggs

    Yo bambamwed, with patronage trending upward and personnel downward, its hard to see a loss even with the current discounts. The earlier comment of the Parks being a loss leader; admittedly was with a question mark following, as one who had hijacked this thought from elsewhere. Truth be told then I’m actually happy when the Parks are at least considered one of the ventricles of the family, but from what I gather, they are often treated otherwise. Perhaps the originator may have been implying the term, as the Parks being a drawing card for Disney products regardless in periods of loss or gain. A reflection of my own expertise: being pumped when finding a 1972 WDW foldout post card set at a local flea market this weekend. ~ i.e. All enthusiast and no expert!

  • android.dreamer

    This is an old thread, but after the twitter feed today, it deserves to be revived! I believe this is the S.S. Disney in the upcoming game Epic Mickey: http://www.endsights.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Epic-Mickey.jpg

    Also, even when they did cruises, I was VERY disappointed that they had no rides on board. It should have felt like a theme park in design and not just an ordinary cruise ship. Where is 20,000 leagues under the seas or Star Tours on a Disney Cruise? They could have easily fit in one small ride into the cruise. The only thing they really have is the new water slide on the Dream. It is basically an ordinary cruise with some Disney characters and themes added in. It doesn’t even come close to something like the new Oasis of the Seas. At least they have a carousel!

  • philphoggs

    Yea, truly this would be a sight to behold, S.S. Pleasure Island! I got to hand it to whoever came up with the idea.

  • So true. Just making sure everyone saw Alain’s new story with more artwork and an interview:

    http://disneyandmore.blogspot.com/2009/11/ss-disney-incredible-wdi-project.html

    This would have been bonkers. There’s so much chutzpah and sheer insanity in this project that I can’t believe it was ever considered. And I mean “insanity” in the most completely positive way. This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that Walt would have come up with.

    The part of Alain’s interview that grabbed my eye, though, was the part about why the project was abandoned. As Eisner started to go back on his heels creatively, the guys in strategic planning convinced him that building a plain cruise ship would be cheaper and “easier”. I will now point out that the future parks chief Tom Staggs came from that same strategic planning office, as did the current parks chief / future CFO Jay Rasulo. Sigh.

  • philphoggs

    Oh you mean the future CEO and President of the Walt Disney Company? (gag) I surmise they’re currently and suggestively calling the shots, more than we know.

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