In the annals of Disney theme park history, one chapter remains unwritten – the story of the Port Disney Resort. Envisioned as a maritime-themed paradise, this ambitious project was slated to grace the shores of Long Beach, California.
What Was Port Disney?
The Port Disney Resort was poised to be a groundbreaking addition to the Disney portfolio. Unfortunately, though, it never came to fruition.
In the early 1990s, the Walt Disney Company set its sights on expanding its West Coast presence beyond its current Disneyland Resort.
The brainchild of then-CEO Michael Eisner, the Port Disney concept was revolutionary: a waterfront complex that blended a theme park, hotels, an entertainment district (like Disney Springs), and a working port that the Disney Cruise Line would use.
The DisneySea Theme Park
At the heart of this ambitious venture was DisneySea, a new theme park celebrating maritime heritage from various areas of the world. DisneySea promised to be a one-of-a-kind experience, immersing visitors in a meticulously crafted world of nautical wonders.
From Mediterranean harbors to Arabian ports, Disney’s signature attention to detail would transport guests to far-flung corners of the globe, all without leaving the California coast.
Like many Disney theme parks, it would have contained a variety of themed lands, each set to its own story, world, and heritage.
At the heart of the theme park would have stood the Oceana complex. In the original plans by Disney, it was set to serve as one of the main educational components of the park. The structure would have been an immense oceanarium where guests could experience recreations of marine habitats. Disney guests could also smell, touch, feel, and hear the world of water.
Within Oceana would have been a working meeting center called the Future Research Center for oceanographic researchers and an educational “library of the sea” named The Ocean Outreach Center.
This park section would have been themed to the lost City of Atlantis. The plans included a Pirate Island and Nemo’s Lava Cruiser attractions.
This land would have explored stories of heroism on the high seas. It would have incorporated the stories of Sinbad.
Boardwalk and Fleets of Fantasy
A boardwalk was to be reminiscent of The Pike in Long Beach. This section would have been constructed near Fleets of Fantasy, a harbor featuring rides and dining onboard historical replica ships.
(Elements of these lands were later incorporated into Tokyo DisneySea).
This park section would have included smaller areas such as a Grecian village, an Asian water market, and a Caribbean-themed lagoon.
A Working Cruise Port
Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the Port Disney Resort was the operational port itself. Designed to accommodate cruise ships (including Disney Cruise Line), cargo vessels, and even the occasional naval ship, it was poised to be a fully functional maritime hub.
This dynamic feature would have allowed guests to experience the ebb and flow of a working port, offering a rare glimpse into the world of maritime commerce.
The Entertainment District
Adjacent to DisneySea, the Entertainment District would have offered an array of dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Imagine strolling along the waterfront, taking in the sights and sounds of street performers, boutique shops, and a diverse range of restaurants.
The district would have been a lively hub, inviting guests to linger and savor the unique atmosphere.
It would have likely been an area similar to Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort or Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Port Disney Resort would have also included five waterfront hotels that would have all been connected by a monorail, which would also transport guests into the DisneySea theme park.
These hotels would have been the Marina Hotel, Tidelands Hotel, Shoreline Hotel, Port Hotel, and Canal Hotel. The map below shows the layout of the resort in its entirety.
The Shoreline Hotel would have encompassed the entertainment district. The Queen Mary would have also been another place to stay and visit at Port Disney. For those unfamiliar, the Queen Mary was and is a cruise ship that is also a functioning hotel and tourist attraction in the Long Beach area.
A ferry boat would also have transported guests across the waterway.
Why Was it Cancelled?
Regrettably, the Port Disney Resort never came to fruition. The project faced a perfect storm of challenges, including environmental concerns, regulatory hurdles, and financial obstacles. The complexities of transforming an industrial waterfront into a family-friendly destination proved more daunting than even Disney’s renowned Imagineers could surmount.
The proposed site for the DisneySea theme park would have required the addition of new fill land. Similar to what was done in the swamps of Florida decades ago, the Walt Disney Company would have to reshape the natural landscape to build what they envisioned.
This caused many environmental concerns as it would disrupt the water levels and ecosystems in the area and would require offsetting restoration somewhere else in California.
The development of the resort faced numerous regulatory hurdles and zoning issues. Navigating through the legal framework, especially in a region with strict environmental regulations, proved formidable. Whenever a new Disney park or resort is proposed, there is always some form of pushback from local residents and politicians.
There were concerns over changes in traffic (both on the road and in the water).
The Port Disney Resort was a colossal undertaking that required substantial financial investment. The costs of transforming the site, constructing the park, and building the necessary infrastructure, including a functional port, presented a significant financial challenge.
This was also on the heels of the Walt Disney Company’s new EuroDisney park not meeting expectations.
Shift in Priorities
During the development phase of the Port Disney Resort, the Walt Disney Company was simultaneously engaged in other significant projects, including the expansion of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the launch of Disney Cruise Line.
These projects demanded substantial resources and attention, potentially diverting resources away from the Port Disney endeavor. As such, many resources allocated for Port Disney were then focused on WestCOT, which would eventually become Disney California Adventure Park.
Port Disney Lives On
Although the Port Disney Resort itself was never built, some elements of the initial concept eventually found their way into other Disney ventures. For example, Tokyo DisneySea in Japan, which opened in 2001, shares a similar maritime theme with the proposed Port Disney Resort.
In addition, certain elements did make their way over to Disney California Adventure, such as a boardwalk-themed pier.
But who knows? Maybe if they decided to build a fifth park at Walt Disney World Resort, DisneySea could be it!
One can dream…