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.
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.