The World that Never Was: Genesis Gardens of Animal Kingdom

by Josh Taylor

When Joe Rohde, executive designer and vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering, was put in charge of Walt Disney World’s newest theme park in the 1990s, he decided the Animal Kingdom needed to stand out immediately for park guests. That is why a number of different concepts were tossed around for the entrance to the park. Yes, The Oasis wasn’t the only choice for the Animal Kingdom park. In fact, I would say The Oasis is by far the most boring of these ideas. One of the more impressive ideas for the entrance was to built a giant Noah’s Ark that people would walk through into the first land which was Genesis Gardens.

The ark itself would have a number of animal displays when first entering the park, moving the story of the kingdom right along. The ark, and essentially its biblical tie-in, would state that animals are important, and were saved by Noah. Just an early reminder that animals still need to be saved, tying in with the overall conservation message that Disney always wanted for the park. From an architectural point, this boat sitting at the front of Animal Kingdom would be absolutely massive. It would be big enough for several hundred people to walk through at one time, hiding all of the lush forest and landscape that sat behind it, making the reveal of the lands a grand surprise.

The Genesis Gardens would be the first land you would encounter, like The Oasis. The Gardens would lack in  animal displays, but would be a very lush and tropical land, similar to that of Eden. (Again, another biblical tie-in.) The land may have had several experts showing off smaller animals, much like they have now, but for the most part, Genesis Gardens would be a great spot to stop and smell some tropical flowers. No doubt, it would have been a great spot for pictures at the beginning or ending of your day. It is unclear if Genesis Garden would lead to Discovery Island, or if this concept was long before the Tree of Life idea. It could have led right over to Dinoland U.S.A or Beastly Kingdom. I prefer the entrance land as it is now, to lead to Discovery Island. I like that this land of Eden would reveal a much larger picture in Discovery Island, plus I can’t imagine the biblical tales of Eden blending into either dark lands with dragons or dinosaurs.

There were other ideas for the entrance to Animal Kingdom as well including a wastleland area, with a large pterosaur perched up on a rock overlooking guests as they walked in; however the dinosaur tie-in seemed a bit too early for guests expecting tigers and lions. Another concept was to have a more caged-zoo type of feel, although the conservation message wouldn’t have flown over as well, and this was a very early concept before Imagineers recognized that they wanted more natural habitats for Animal Kingdom. The Noah’s Ark story made it quite far incorporating a large portion of land, making up the entrance way and the first land you come across as you enter the park. It was grand and unconventional just as Joe Rohde wanted, so why was it never built?

Despite the lack of excitement the Oasis and typical entrance have to offer, they are the least offensive to the general public.  Sure, some people would absolutely love the Noah’s Ark and Eden themes, and those who do not believe in Noah would likely understand and recognize the overall message they would get when entering the park; however, as the biggest tourist destination in the world, Disney has to look out for the masses and their feelings. It is quite possible some guests would never even visit the park based on religious beliefs, and they would miss out on everything the park had to offer, not just the entrance area and accompanying land. So, what we got was The Oasis. Nothing overly exciting, but it does its job to unveil the Tree of Life as you come to the end of the land.

What are your thoughts on Genesis Gardens and the Noah’s Ark entrance? Do you agree with Disney’s choice not to add it to its newest park at Walt Disney World? Do you have any other ideas for the entrance to the park that would be grand in nature? Leave your thoughts and let me know?