Imagining… Fantasmic! – 30 Years Ago at Disneyland

In planning, this blog entry was to be the first of two parts, spanning October to November. In execution, it is one bog entry, appearing at the end of November. In my defense, it is a pretty big subject.

While that Afternoon Avenue promotion was dominating the east side of Disneyland, over on the west side there were some other big changes being made. These, however, were taking place in secrecy, behind one of the largest construction fences Disneyland had seen in a very long time. The Rivers of America had been drained, and a large billboard in front of the landing dock for the Mark Twain and Columbia now heralded a new… show? Water ride? Outdoor movie?

The same sign, in smaller form, could be found placed at intervals along the fence that blocked off the entire waterfront, from Frontierland to Critter Country.

While this billboard looked pretty intriguing from the stairs and landings in the Swiss Family Treehouse, it was very impressive up close!

Experience the Wonder!
Watch in Amazement!

Unsurpassed Extravaganza!
A Fantasy Beyond Your Imagination!

And (more prosaically): Coming Spring ’92.

But what was it? Early publicity called it Imagination. And that’s what it did say at the base of the sign. But when new signs were added with additional details, a new name was revealed: Fantasmic!

Having established that it was possible to see over the fence from the treehouse, I looked for as many angles as I could possibly find. It was shocking to see the entire end of Tom Sawyer Island truncated, and no sign of the venerable mill and the water stage.


Equally disturbing was the sight of the Mark Twain and Columbia, sitting in the dry riverbed

Of course, the treehouse offered only so many angles on what could be seen. For ground level views, there were open areas at the end of the construction fence, and some very good views (if you knew when and where to look) from the steam train.

California was in the middle of a record drought about this time, so maybe this shouldn’t have been quite so unexpected looking.

Looking toward New Orleans Square it was possible to see the track for the sailing ships, as well as just how shallow the river was along the Frontierland waterfront.


Some views were taken through the fence, so to speak. I mean, if there was a gap…

I will write more a little later about that magnolia tree in the tub.

Meanwhile, further out in the wilderness, there was more dry riverbed and dirt to look at.

The last one in this group revealed some shocking truths about the “rapids” and rocks that the canoes would negotiate during wetter days.


This is a steam train view back toward the Hungry Bear outdoor seating area. If you look closely you can also see the top of Chickapin Hill.

Again, take a close look and you will see the original burning settler’s cabin.

It was not only the river itself that was going through major changes. To clear the sight lines for the new show, the New Orleans Square waterfront was being cleared, including the removal of all the mature trees that had been establishing themselves since the 1969 opening of the themed land. (That’s where that tubbed magnolia tree came from.)

Some things never change, however. In the midst of all the construction, renovation, and removal, you could count on the Disneyland ducks to find at least a puddle for splashing about. Little did they (or we) know what was in store in 1992 along the water front!

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Doug Marsh

Doug Marsh

Doug Marsh is a Disney historian, guru, and all around nice guy. He first came to California and became a Disneyland Annual Passholder in 1990. Since then, he has been a fixture at the happiest place on Earth! He is the writer of 30 Years Ago in Disneyland for DAPS MAGIC.

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