The gaps that spell future – Part 1: Disneyland Park

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

Ever since cutting ribbon in 1955, Disney has always kept a clairvoyant eye on the future with their parks. What started off as a small day event in the California countryside has grown into a theme park empire of 6 resorts and hundreds of attractions spanning the globe over 6 decades.

World domination may not have been on Walt’s mind, but he and his team at WED knew that to keep guests coming back to their magic kingdom, new experiences will need to be imagined and brought in regularly. As such, the original Disneyland was planned with future attractions and lands in mind. It wasn’t perfect, and lead to layout and thematic questions, but it was a start.

As the Disney park world grew and evolved, spanning the east coast and then the world, Imagineers developed a better grasp on how to appropriately lay out a park for future expansion. By the time Disneyland Paris rolled around in 1992, they had it down to a tee.

Dubbed “expansion pads” within Disney and the fan community, these usually large, vacant spaces are literal placeholders for future attractions. A geographic post-it note reminding management to “build here later”. You may not know it, but both Disneyland Park full of these expansion pads, most of which reserved for a dream future Michael Eisner’s management unfortunately never got.

The most well known of these pads can be found in Paris’ Fantasyland, a land already rich in its own individuality, layout and history. That hilly patch oppose Bella Notte may look like just a pretty injection of greenery, but once upon a time there were plans for it to play venue to a unique dark ride of The Little Mermaid. If memory serves me right mention of the cancelled project even made its way to the UK VHS of the film!

Ariel wasn’t the only princess to be shunned their own ride to balance the books. After the huge success of the animation, original plans for Disneyland Paris saw that of a Beauty and the Beast attraction to formulate in the future years, taking pride and place in the land’s centre – somewhere between Bella Notte and Mad Hatter’s Teacups. It may not seem like the most roomy of zones in the park, but a look into Google Maps shows there is a surprising amount of grassy banks among the concrete jungle of backstage. The perfect spot for a show building and entrance.

DLP’s celebratory land of fairy tales isn’t the only spot to find relics of a lost past. Long ago, before Doctor Jones pitched his tent to explore the Temple of Peril, something much bigger was planned for that spot. Many stories have flew around over the years what exactly was on Imagineer’s minds. The Jungle Cruise has been thrown around, as has the now legendary rumour of Splash Mountain, but according to the ’92 concept map things would have taken a similar approach to what we have but on a bigger scale. The map depicts a mine train style coaster in the same vein as Peril, but with a huge, almost Mayain like temple taking front and center.

Unfortunately, whatever WDI had in mind back then is likely long off the table. Temple of Peril’s original temporary conception meant that it was plonked down with little thought given to the future. After all, when you’re in a rush to get a thrill ride in you plan to remove once Space Mountain opens, the footprint doesn’t matter all that much. As the years went by and Indy became more a part of Disneyland Park for good, it seemed less and less likely it would be uprooted for a future mega experience. The 2014 refurbishment that looked to “permanentise” the temple structure was the final nail in the coffin. The closest we can get to confirmation that the plans of old are gone.

That’s not to mean there isn’t room lurking in the trees of Adventureland. That open, empty space has more than enough room for a future attraction, future restaurant or – as I would love – and entire mini land! If Temple of Peril could be incorporated into a future expansion of the area (such as with an Indiana Jones land) it would turn a windy, boring pathway and open space to the entrance of a DLP star.

Speaking of stars and space, our old discovery friend has a few secrets hidden in its close corners. While many will know the story of Videopolis’ circular windows and what was planned, less can recite the forgotten attractions once planned for the edges of Discoveryland.

By Star Tours, there is a surprisingly vast amount space and greenery that currently makes up a criminally underused smoking area. This was yet another expansion pad that never saw its potential realised and should have played host to a junior coaster named Spark Gap. You can read more about the attraction itself in a previous article of mine. I happened to spend some time in this area in my last trip and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of forgotten history there. The size of the pad does seem perfect for an attraction of its scale, and I would go as far as to theorise the current Discoveryland Station queue may have once been planned to be Spark Gap’s, at least in part.

Elsewhere in Discoveryland, one more expansion pad can be found. By the land’s entrance and oppose Buzz we find yet another conveniently placed hill cleverly hiding the open space beyond it. Much like Adventureland, this pad seems to have some debate as to its intentions with both a restaurant and something titled “Rainbow Wars” suggested for the spot at one point or another. Now, it is possible Rainbow Wars was the working title for a space themed restaurant, but I’m hedging more towards a dark ride experience to fit that name.

Be sure to join me in part 2 of this series as I look the Disney capital of expansion pads; Walt Disney Studios Park.

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