Disney Stuck on the Drawing Board: Project Gemini

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When we look at the Disney Resorts around the world, it is sometimes hard to wonder what might have been. What could we have seen in the late 1990s other than an empty 20,000 Leagues Lagoon? How different might Sunset Boulevard look if all of the aspects of the Disney Decade came true? Oftentimes Disney guests hear a little piece of the story, or none of the story, leaving rumors to abound and speculation to ensue. In the coming months, my Stuck on the Drawing Board series intends to dig into the facts about these plans, and why stayed on the drawing board.

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Project Gemini

In the early 2000s, the Walt Disney Company began looking into ways to revitalize a few of the parks that were either under-performing, had not aged extremely well, or weren’t succeeding with guests. One such park that was moved toward the front of this list was EPCOT. Looking at the park as a whole in the 2000s, a few things stand out: The Living Seas had not yet had any major refurbishment; Horizons had just closed and was in the process of being demolished and replaced by Mission:Space; and the Wonders of Life Pavilion was still operating, but soon to be reduced to seasonal operation. There was a definite need for a major overhaul of Future World– but what?

The simple refurbishment of Future World turned into a major overhaul, complete with a name that would befit even Walt Disney himself: Project Gemini. This concept would completely revitalize the area of Future World, and bring it back to the original edutainment concept for the park. Guests would immediately notice a change in the signage and the overall theme of the land. The Future World name would be replaced with Discoveryland. Imagineering believed that the name Future World placed immense pressure on them to keep coming up with concepts, attractions and technology that was believed to be futuristic. With a name change, Imagineers thought there would be less pressure on them to continue pushing the envelope.

As soon as you walked into EPCOT, you would immediately see the change in the land: trees and shrubbery would replace the vast openness that the park has been known for (as well as the heat exhaustion from lack of shade). The first noticeable change in the setup of the land would be the inability to walk by Spaceship Earth on the left side. This was because of an addition that Imagineers called Time Racers.

Time Racers was to be a thrill ride located within the Spaceship Earth geosphere, based on the theme of time travel. The attraction, sponsored by Microsoft, would essentially be a dark roller coaster attraction with projection screens whizzing past guests. At the time, the former AT&T Global Neighborhood post-show would remain, but that could be due to the lack of a completed plan for the attraction. The closing of the left side walkway of Spaceship Earth was due to the addition of a pre-show and queue lines that would be indoors. Time Racers would essentially spell the end of the iconic omnimover dark ride made famous by Walter Kronkite and Jeremy Irons.

The Discoveryland plan continued with Living Seas being refurbished and themed around The Little Mermaid. This concept seemingly had a place within the pavilion, what with its connection to the sea and its immense popularity even in the mid 2000s. There was also a plan to close and refurbish the Imagination Pavilion to fit the project’s new theme. This was another in a long line of plans for refurbishment that never truly made it past early planning.

One of the more solid plans that was a Junior Autopia in front of Test Track, update the theme of Test Track itself, and add Soarin’ to the park in a pavilion built between the Land and the Living Seas. Soarin’ would have a Florida-themed film. The Innoventions buildings would have been broken up into six different buildings. On one side would be a building themed around expanding technology called Leading Edge,  a futuristic restaurant (likely where Electric Umbrella is), and a “future mart” which would replace MouseGear. The other side would feature an Internet cafe, a location for buying futuristic consumer goods, and a “house of the future.” These plans would have seen structural changes as well as pathway changes–much of what we see today surrounding the Fountain of Nations would be redesigned.

What happened to this plan? Why is it not in place today? The answer is money. Money became a serious issue. Rumors persist that after the Project Gemini concept was pitched, it was shot down quickly and sent back to the drawing board with the directions to cut costs. It seems the most expensive piece to the project lied in the redesigned Spaceship Earth, and many Imagineers even wondered if the structure could hold the weight and torque of a roller coaster. Also, there was the issue of logistics– it would be difficult to move construction into the geosphere.

So, in the end, the only piece  of Project Gemini that EPCOT received was Soarin’. The attraction was cloned and placed within the Land Pavilion. It did not get its own pavilion, nor did it receive a Florida-themed film. Siemens became the sponsor of Spaceship Earth, not Microsoft, and the attraction stayed somewhat the same, with only minor changes. The Living Seas received a Finding Nemo update, not Little Mermaid, and Innoventions stayed the same. The Imagination Pavilion is scheduled for refurbishment in early 2014, and many believe that some type of Phineas and Ferb attraction will be added.

Though Project Gemini stayed mostly on the drawing board, it is good to look back at this planned-but-never-created idea. Though it may be in the archives, we may never know when Project Gemini, or pieces of it, could come out of the archives.

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About the author

Joe Notaro

Joe has been traveling to Walt Disney World since 1992 as a 7 year old youngster. Ever since that point he has been fascinated with not only the parks but also the inner workings of the Walt Disney Company. Many of Joe's trips have included varieties of experiences and memories.

9 Comments

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  • Phineas & Ferb WILL NOT be added to the Imagination pavilion! That's just a rumor that has since been debunked!

  • I have mixed feelings about Project Gemini. I would not have enjoyed the change to Spaceship Earth. Even though the current version isn't as good as the Cronkite or Irons rides, its first half remains very strong. On the other hand, the overall project would have infused a lot more into the park and not put it in the unfortunate state where it rests today. I think 9/11 and the subsequent lower crowds played a big role in the lack of investments in EPCOT and the other parks.

    • Epcot was ruined long before 9/11. The "imagineers" imagined gift shops at every exit – and; hence – incorporated characters into attractions that were supposed to encompass real life themes. Replacing Horizons; which I enjoyed with my family (God bless my Grandfather and Grandmother) was a wondrous thing; replacing it with a Gravitron that moves to a screen was a disgrace (yes; I've sky-dived; I'm 32 and have been on Kingda Ka at Great Adventure and Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Fair – so I've been on the world's tallest and close-to fastest rides – but "Mission Space" has actually made me ill) – that the parks will never live down. Once Nemo moved into the Living Seas I think it was time we all realized – Epcot will never be respected by the internal forces at Disney; so why should we respect it? A great first decade has led to two more of heart-aches. It's a giant overpriced restaurant and gift shop that has actually taken the time and moneys to intentionally downplay it's only true creations – Figment and Dreamfinder. Created exclusively for the park; Disney has single-handedly turned them into nothing but memories for those who are willing to invest in expensive "pins".

      • Very well said. EPCOT was Horizons, Figment & Dreamfinder … and to a lesser extent Buzzy & General Knowledge; and the powers that be have succeeded in destroying 2 of them … and almost got away with destroying Figment as well. I make it a point to ask every time I visit … "Is there any plan to build a new Horizons?" Long may it live at horizons1.com.

  • Hey I am fairly new to these boards but I actually know quite a bit about Epcot and its history. If you think this project was interesting then you should see some of the original ideas for Epcot in the beginning. The thing morphed obviously through planning, but the main idea for Spaceship Earth was to be what it is today. The "Time Racers" coaster was planned, but like it was stated in the article, the difficulties of trying to operate and built a ride like that completely outweighed the benefits. The Hub was going to be the place where really cool technology was going to be shown. Innovations was still going to be there still but with constant updated technology. Have you ever noticed why the roof was so high in the Innovations building? That is because a people mover type ride was planned for the building. There was also going to be a futuristic type library and many other cool tech things. Sadly there is not a lot of detail about what all was originally planned for this spot. The Seas was going to be by far the coolest of all the pavilions. There as going to be a ride where you ride in a bubble type vehicle and ride through different scenes. You were going to follow the adventures of seven sailors. The ride would end by going through a glass tube and riding through the real sea area. When you get off there was going to be Sea Base but a much more different look. It was going to be a cave like structure where you felt like you were in underground caves almost. A show was also planned that involved the king of the sea. Technology issues kept the show and pavilion from seeing the light of day. The transportation pavilion was going to have a much more elaborate and detailed world of motion ride. There was also some sort of thrill ride rumored to be along the lines of Test Track but little detail was ever released about it. Little was known about the Space pavilion except for the fact that it was going to be where the Land is now. The ride was going to use tech that took people through the history of space exploration. The land was going to be made up of huge glass domes and be where Misson:Space is. Guest could walk through each glass dome and explore different bioms. They also could ride a balloon type ride through the pavilion. I think I will stop but just interesting facts about Epcot. Sorry if that was long. =)

  • The current version of Spaceship Earth is emotionless and not up to the prior standards of prior versions I agree. But time racers? Not a good idea in my opinion. Spaceship Earth has so much potential so re-record it with a voice that has passion and resonance and eliminate some of the poor wording and improve the original vision of the classic.

  • This project sounds like such an amazing idea. The only thing I don't really care for is the Time Racers concept. Sure, let Microsoft be the new sponsor of Spaceship Earth, but I don't think a roller coaster would be a very good idea right in the middle of the park, even less built into the icon of the park. Microsoft could've done a much better job than Siemens is doing now. Innoventions has needed an update for quite some time, and The Little Mermaid would attract to both audiences-kids and adults-and not feel like they're dumbing everything down like it is with Nemo. I would love to see this project take action and give Epcot the update that it needs.

  • The thing I like most about the described Project Gemini is that it is a BOLD VISION — the underlying theme of EPCOT … Bold vision, hope, inspiration (one little spark…), hard work, achievement, advancement. And yet, it falls flat for me.

    I agree that Soarin' should have gotten its own pavilion. It's cramped where it's at now. And WHY is a California film playing in Florida?

    Imagination has been lost since they got rid of Figment's buddy, Dreamfinder. Phineas & Ferb would be an AMAZING add … perfect fit. I hope they do it.

    The Seas with Nemo … a boring underachievement that I always ride anyway, because I want it to be more so badly.

    Ellen is a naturally entertaining lady, but shoe-horning her into Universe of Energy is ridiculous. That ride should BE energy. I didn't see anything about refurbishing that. Why not?

    Wonders of Life deserved better than to atrophy into cold convention space. It's a ride area. The spirit of its architecture says so; and it should be re-developed. The blending-into-the-background, warehouse-like Millenium building would be a perfect fit for on-again off-again usage.

    Odyssey … Why not have another restaurant? There are so few in Future World right now, and it offers a great opportunity to add to the motif by creating a futuristic environment in which people can relax & eat. Speaking of which, the apparently unused second floor space in Imagination — formerly extra Image Works space — would make a great restaurant. Eating under a pyramid of skylights? Who wouldn't?

    And Horizons? I actually feel pangs of how much I miss it every time I look at Mission Space.

    The Time Racers idea sounds great, but why MUST it involve — yet again — the demolishing another EPCOT classic? It's high time there was some investing in another pavilion or two … in World Showcase (The Outpost is embarrassing. Turn that space into a country already.) AND Future World (How are Imagineers feeling pressure to keep it futuristic, yet it hasn't been futuristic in decades and doesn't seem to care? Don't change its name. Change it to actually being about the future. Roy had the right idea, even though Walt's was — in my opinion — cooler & better.)

    So, good start, but please keep Imagineering. Please save our EPCOT Center the way it should be done. More looking true forward. More ideas. More imagination, magic and inspiration. That's the EPCOT way.

    • That seems to be the overall consensus from many people… The idea of Time Racers is excellent, but why try to force it into Spaceship Earth…? Was Microsoft intent on wanting the icon of the park…? This I'm not sure of… But we are still seeing a small part of the Project Gemini concept still being placed… Like taking a small piece of the pie… Look at the recent designs and changes at innoventions…

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