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Neverworlds – The Magic Kingdom’s Fantasia Gardens

This one’s a bit of a surprise. Most Disney folks, myself included, upon reading that headline would probably think of the fairly well-known but unbuilt Fantasia Gardens – the boat attraction based on the animated film that was intended to be part of Animal Kingdom’s “Beastly Kingdom.”

Concept Art for Fantasia Gardens, Beastly Kingdom, Animal KingdomConcept art for the Animal Kingdom’s Fantasia Gardens boat ride

I was shocked to find out that this wasn’t the first iteration of this concept. The idea of a Fantasia-based boat ride goes back to the 1960s at Disneyland, and was seriously discussed as a replacement for the Magic Kingdom’s defunct Swan Boats attraction in the 1980s. A quick internet search reveals that, not surprisingly, David Koenig had already beat me to this story six years ago, but I have a picture!

First, a bit of history. In the Winter, 1990, issue of WD Eye, Imagineering’s John Hench described an attraction that Marc Davis and Claude Coates had developed to replace Disneyland’s Fantasyland Motor Boats. The ride, tentatively titled Garden of the Gods, would feature music and scenes from Fantasia as well as character-shaped “water sculptures.” According to Hench, the Marc Davis-designed characters would literally be “carved” out of water. This intriguing concept was abandoned because of ambient noise from the adjoining Autopia cars; the noisy motors from guests’ cars would drown out the classical music from the Fantasia soundtrack.

According to Koenig, Claude Coates had considered a walk-through version of the Fantasia Gardens concept, but this idea was adapted when Walt Disney World was looking to replace the Swan Boats after their 1983 closure. The Swan Boats had been a stop-gap measure in 1973 to help ameliorate the lack of ride capacity in the then-new Magic Kingdom, but as the park expanded, their popularity allegedly waned. There was little purpose to the fairly short and uneventful attraction, although it often had a long queue due to its ride system; in many ways the situation presaged that of the similarly-fated Discovery River Boats at Animal Kingdom.

Rendering for the Magic Kingdom's Fantasia Gardens, 1987This 1987 rendering by Guy Vasilovich shows the animated grand finale for the Magic Kingdom’s unbuilt Fantasia Gardens

Coates conferred with Katy Moss Warner of Walt Disney World’s Parks Horticulture group about crafting the attraction’s characters from topiary bushes, discovering that it was possible to create flowering topiaries. The ride would consist of several separate scenes based on sequences from the film; you can learn more about the attraction and the reason for its demise in Koenig’s article.

The attraction would later be considered for use in Disneyland Paris, and most famously as a key element of the Animal Kingdom’s heavily promoted land of mythical creatures. That’s four parks, at least, that it’s been considered for, so don’t count Fantasia Gardens out. It might just pop up again someday.

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