In 1990, the Walt Disney Co. announced plans for a Port Disney in Long Beach. The plan called for a marine-themed amusement park, a marina, a speciality retail and entertainment area and hotel accommodations.
Crucially, a cruise port was part of the 443-acre plan. And this was four years before Disney announced it was getting into the cruise business.
Disney had acquired the site, which included the Queen Mary cruise ship and the Howard Hughes-built Spruce Goose, the plane with the largest wingspan ever to fly, in an acquisition of the Wrather Corp. in 1989.
The cruise port would have had five berths with ships going to Mexico, Seattle and San Diego, among other destinations.
Five resort hotels would have been built as part of the development, along with a monorail connecting Queensway with downtown Long Beach. The centrepiece of the plan was DisneySea, an aquatic-themed amusement park and education centre, which would have picked up where the recently-closed Marineland of the Pacific, in Palos Verdes, left off.
Long Beach had a history as an amusement centre. A waterfront area known as the Pike was the site of the Cyclone Racer, the largest seaside wooden roller coaster in the country until it was torn down in 1968.
As part of the Wrather Corp. deal, Disney had also acquired a hotel across the street from Disneyland, which could now be expanded. Disney set up a competition between Anaheim and Long Beach to see which was more enthusiastic about gaining a new Disney park.
Concerns arose in Long Beach about environmental issues, traffic, local hiring and other factors. In late 1991, Port Disney was cancelled in favour of WestCOT, a Disneyland version of Disney World’s EPCOT centre.
WestCOT was never built. The land would eventually become Disney’s California Adventure. Disney sold its leases on the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose Dome. Ten years later, in 2001, the new leaseholder arranged for Carnival to use part of the dome as a terminal starting in 2003.
By that time, Disney Cruise Line was up and running out of Port Canaveral in Florida, an hour from Disney World. But it was a decade too late for Disney’s chance to sail from a custom-built home in Long Beach.
When Disney Cruise Line moved the Disney Magic ship to California in 2005 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, it had to sail for the summer out of the Port of Los Angeles.
It’s fascinating to think what the possibilities would have been if only Disney had been a little more persistent in Long Beach.