This is a strange one.
In 1987 The Walt Disney Company released a brochure to promote “Euro Disneyland”, their newly-planned resort complex near Paris. Since the design of the project itself was still in its early phases, a simple conceptual layout was the only piece of original artwork contained in the publication. The rest of the concept art, which purported to show the delights soon to arrive on the Gallic shore, was culled from the Imagineering vaults and consisted of pieces originally created for Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland.
Many of them are familiar; there’s the mandatory Ryman painting of Cinderella castle, as well as his concept for the hub in Tokyo. There are pirates by Davis, Tomorrowland by Hench, and even Walt Disney World’s planned but never built Persian hotel. It might be a surprise to find them in this particular place, but to the savvy fan they’re nothing new. All of them, that is, except for this one.
I’d never seen this before. In fact, it took me a second to realize what I was looking at. In all the conceptual art for pre-opening Walt Disney World that I’ve seen, this vintage illustration was never included. But here it is, showing up years later as a depiction of what resort opportunities awaited guests at Euro Disneyland.
The scene is inviting – there’s the old world charm in the background, the swooping line of the monorail track, and the building to the right that looks like one of those mod Welcome Centers that promised innumerable adventures (and free juice!) to excited interstate travelers of the era. And Coleman coolers always mean fun is in the offing.
It’s a little bit disorienting at first. But what makes this piece really special is that depicts two – yes, two – Never-Neverworld concepts in one.
The first is probably the most familiar. Thanks to the internet, Walt Disney World fans who weren’t around in the early 1970s now know that there were five hotels originally planned for the Florida resort. By around 1975, the Asian, Venetian and Persian hotels would have joined the Polynesian and Contemporary around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. Due to a number of factors this didn’t happen, but these Neverworld resorts still loom large in Walt Disney World legend.
So the campanile tower (which would appear in altered form years later in EPCOT Center’s Italy pavilion) seen in our mystery rendering comes from the planned Venetian hotel, which would have been located between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Contemporary’s water bridge.
The second, and less obvious, element of this piece of artwork is in the foreground, where happy families enjoy a tasty picnic and some of the recreational amenities provided in the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
This is Fort Wilderness. No, not the Fort Wilderness we now know. It wasn’t even called Fort Wilderness at this point. But a campground was in the plans for Walt Disney World, located roughly where the Wilderness Lodge is today. Here’s an overview from 1969 – the planned Polynesian high rise is on the left, the Asian is at the top where the Grand Floridian would later be built, and the campground is at the bottom, adjacent to the Venetian.
So that is the site of our mystery rendering. A long way from Paris, perhaps, but a nice place for a picnic!