Can Disney's DisneylandForward project actually happen?

The DisneylandForward project would be a big expansion for Disneyland but the history of failed project shows it can be a big risk.
Disneyland Resort in California welcomes a year of good fortune with Lunar New Year celebrations at
Disneyland Resort in California welcomes a year of good fortune with Lunar New Year celebrations at /

This week, Disneyland took a big step toward a huge expansion as the Anaheim City Council released a Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report on the proposed DisneylandForward proposal. This would expand the areas allowed for Disney to construct on their property. 

This came with a concept drawing that promised a much broader Disneyland. However, what can truly be built there, and how does it connect to past attempts to expand Disneyland? 

The Disneyland space quandary

It’s often forgotten just what a huge risk Disneyland was. While Walt Disney’s fame as a movie maker was certain, trying to build a theme park was something else. Walt had to fight tooth and nail for funding for what became Disneyland, which is why he couldn’t get anywhere near the land he wanted. 

As soon as Disneyland became a hit, the surrounding areas were soon snatched up by hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. Walt always hated that, feeling it robbed some of the illusion of Disneyland as an exotic spot where visitors could see the outside world so closely. It’s why he created Walt Disney World, to have more than enough space for his dreams.

A famous story is that when Walt’s brother Roy argued about buying more land in Florida, Walt would simply point out the window in Anaheim and ask, “What if we have even 5,000 more acres here?” and Roy would agree. Thus, as much as Disney would love to expand Disneyland, the space issues with so many hotels and such is a problem. That’s without the failed attempts of the past. 

The great wasted potential of WestCOT

Imagine that rather than California Adventure, Anaheim residents could visit a terrific replica of the classic EPCOT Center. That was WestCOT, the proposed second park announced in 1991. It obviously would have been a replica of Epcot with a Future World dominated by a version of Spaceship Earth and the intriguing idea of a shuttle taking guests from the entrance to the center of the park to sell how they would start their adventure there. 

Plans included updated pavilions of Journey Into Imagination, Horizons, World of Motion and others. The World Showcase would have been grouped into regions rather than separate pavilions, so you had Europe, Asia, and South America. Planned attractions would have been a boat ride with AA of Renaissance artists, a steel roller coaster in Asia, and a white water raft ride for the Africa section. 

It would have been a great area, but sadly, it was hit by various issues, including the local residents not happy about the vast construction involved and complaining the planned 300-foot SuperSpaceship Earth would have been an eyesore. The fact it would have been estimated at $3 billion and likely far more was a challenge given Disney had some financial issues in the early 90s thanks to so much in Disney World and economic problems of the time. Also, the fact the original Epcot got rid of many of those old pavilions would have aged the area fast. 

So, Disney went for what ended up being California Adventure and even Michael Eisner admits they “cheapened out.” However, the conflict shows how tough it is expanding in California and that’s without considering how much more expensive the state has become in the last few decades. Thus, how much can be built in this DisneylandForward is up in the air.

What does Disney have planned for this expansion?

So, let’s look at how Disney is planning to expand the park. The concept drawings are rather vague for now but showcase how Disney would spread this expansion to effectively surround Downtown Disney and the three hotels. Obviously, construction would be tricky around those areas for guests, although Disney has experience, given the California Lodge is partly located inside California Adventure. 

It appears the plan is for each park to extend across parking lots and Downtown Disney to some themed areas. The website has put forth speculative ideas, which include a replica of the World of Frozen attraction at Shanghai Disneyland with a version of the Frozen Ever After boat ride, a Rapunzel boat ride, and the return of the old Peter Pan “Skull Rock” that used to be a Fantasyland mainstay. 

The California Adventure side would connect to a take on the Zootopia land for Shanghai Disneyland and the Tron Lightcycle Run. On top of that is a possible revamp of Downtown Disney into a take on Disney Springs. There even appear to be plans for a take on the Skyliner to transport guests around easier.

This all sounds great, but as WestCOT proved, Disney has the issue in California that they lack the space they have in Florida to expand, not to mention a lot more problems with locals. Not to mention, there are literally books written on all the great planned Disney attractions that never came to be. 

So it’s fun to imagine Disneyland expanding like this with such top attractions, but fans should be wary as reality has a hard way of undoing a lot of Disney dreams.