July 1955 – September 1955
Fantasyland – The Canal Boats of the World were located in the rear of Fantasyland, between Tomorrowland and the Autopia track. It’s re-themed replacement, the Storybook Land Canal Boats, occupies the exact same location today.
The Canal Boats were part of one of the very first ride concepts for Walt’s future park. Originally, Walt wanted to create a miniature city, and the Canal Boats would travel through the waterways, catching glimpses of tiny animatronic residents. But Walt’s vision was ahead of its time, and technological limitations made this feat impossible. So instead, Walt decided to have the boats travel through the whole world, visiting famous landmarks, buildings, and landscapes.
After a few months of construction, the Canal Boats made their debut on Opening Day in 1955. However, the attraction wasn’t really ready when it opened, so the landscaping was minimal at best. Guests didn’t get to see any miniatures, and the mounds of dirt along the waterfront were less than ideal for a park that prides itself on its meticulous attention to detail. As a result, the Canal Boats weren’t exactly a fan favorite, and opened to mixed reviews from visitors.
Guests loaded into the boats from the Fantasyland dock, setting off on a 5 minute ride through Fantasyland’s hills. Disney intended for the boats to be the attraction, so guests would take a quiet, peaceful journey through the river, with the bustling Casey Jr. Circus Train above. At the end of the trip, guests would loop back to the dock, where they would disembark at the path between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.
Source: Disney History Institute
The Canal Boats’ lack of landscaping wasn’t just an aesthetic problem; any moisture turned the dirt hills into mud banks, which slide right into the water. To make matters worse, the motors on the boats overheated constantly, forcing cast members to pull the boats through the attraction by hand. After just two months of operation, disappointed riders and frustrated cast members were happy to see the Canal Boats of the world dock for good. The attraction underwent extensive refurbishment and construction for almost a year, and reopened as the Storybook Land Canal Boats in June 1956.
The miniature land Walt originally wanted the boats to travel through was to be called “Lilliputian Land”, inspired by Madurodam in the Netherlands.