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Rhine River Cruise Mysteries

Plans for a boat ride called Rhine River Cruise in EPCOT Center’s Germany Pavilion were shelved sometime shortly after the park opened in 1982. Few details about the ride have ever surfaced. Let’s dive in and see what we can find.

What we know.

"The future River Ride promises to be as enjoyable as it is informative. An early concept has guests boarding a "cruise boat" for a simulated ride down the Rhine and other rivers, the trip affording a visual impression in miniature of the cultural heritage of Germany's past and highlights of its present. Among the detailed models envision are scenes in the Black Forest, the Oktoberfest, Heidelberg, the industrial Ruhr Valley... the possibilities are limited only by the planners' imaginations." –"Walt Disney's EPCOT Center" by Richard Beard

According to the Walt Disney Company's 1976 annual report, the Rhine River Cruise was to be "... a cruise down Germany's most famous rivers– the Rhine, the Tauber, the Ruhr and the Isar. Detailed miniatures of famous landmarks will also be seen, including one of the Cologne Cathedral."

Other accounts claim that the ride would have also feature the country’s more modern achievements much like Norway’s Maelstrom boat ride includes that country’s more recent industrial efforts. These most likely would have stood in the Ruhr Valley portion of the ride.

How much of the ride was built?

For years I was under the understanding that the show building for the river ride was built. It’s widely mentioned online and in at least one book that the the full show building was built and still stands today.

As it turns out, this is false. Or at least partially false. But how can this be? I’ve walked through the show building a number of times. A piece of the show building, attached to the rest of the pavilion, was built and still stands today. But the majority of the show building was never constructed. You’ll notice on our map above that the load area and the unload area are all that could have fit in the existing building.

It is often pointed out that the large castle-like building behind the clock tower is the Rhine River Cruise show building. The tallest, most prominent castle architecture you see to the left is, however, the Biergarten restaurant building. Shorter castle architecture to the right is the queue/load building.

Claims have been made that trenches were built into the foundation of these parts of the building. If true, they’ve since been filled.

Was the rest of the show building built then torn down? It was not. Let’s look at these EPCOT Center construction photos. We see that the rest of the show building was never built. (Additional World Showcase construction photos here.)


What remains today?

In the early 80’s large wooden doors stood at what was to be the entrance to the Rhine River Cruise queue. They were later covered with a wall and this mural. 

Photo from fan of the blog, Varsenik Wilson.

Photo from fan of the blog, Todd Shirley.

Photo from fan of the blog, Varsenik Wilson.

I am guessing the doors were removed and the mural went in within the first five years. It could have went in much earlier. The inside of the Germany Pavilion archways tend to show up very dark in old photos and video footage. We know by 1987 (at the latest) the doors were gone and the mural was up. This is based on a souvenir book published in 1987 with a clear view of the mural.

Were the wooden doors placed right where the mural is today? Were there additional doors in the archway? Was the whole foyer area west of the Biergarten entrance blocked off? We see from this early early photo (most likely from a pre-opening preview day) that a wooden door or wall appears. It’s difficult to determine if its under the archway itself or further back against the wall.

My guess: This wooden door/wall was up against the archway. Let’s compare it to the left archway in the same photo It appears that nothing as far back as the back wall would be visible in this photo.

Why would the “wooden door” matter?

It was evidence of the unbuilt attraction visible to guests. Could concept art or some sort of “coming soon” signage have appeared on or near the door? If so, such a sign most likely would have been seen by guests for a very short time. The company stopped mentioning the Rhine River Cruise in1982 at some point. Perhaps before a single guest entered EPCOT Centers’ gates.

Why would a door blocking traffic through the archway be important? Could this foyer area have been designed to incorporate the first Rhine River Cruise scenery? Blueprints don’t indicate a separation between the Rhine River side and Biergarten side of the foyer but could a separation have been planned? A queue/load area like the one in this concept art might require some of the foyer real-estate.

Starboard-facing passengers.

It is my conclusion that passengers aboard the boats were to sit facing out the starboard (right) side of the boats. This is based on the layout of the water flume and what we can see in the above artwork. The water loop does not appear to accommodate show scenery on both sides of the water.

If passengers faced one direction, all show scenes would appear directly in front of the passengers and a dark wall would stand behind them. This increases visibly, show designers ensure that their audience sees what they intend them to see, and space is saved. This is much like the Disneyland Railroad benches facing right, toward the inside of the park.

Here we see a rendering of the load area and a boat much wider than they were planned to really be. Isn't the atmosphere is oh so nice?

An exit with a view.

Blueprints show an area between the unload are and the exit called “Viewing Area”. This box-shaped area faces the Biergarten stage. Today this area is used for buffet service. I reckon guests leaving the ride would have been able to step off the exit path onto a porch for a view of the restaurant and its live entertainment. The smells of German food might have enticed them to dine at the pavilion. Unlike in the Mexico Pavilion, boat passenger and restaurant guests would not have had a great view of what the others were doing. This viewing area would have at least connected the two in a small way.

Added bonus.

Does it not look like there's a little piece of a boat in the archway of this Germany Pavilion logo?


Other info needed.

If you have other information about the Rhine River Cruise plans, please let us know.

Special thanks to:

Foxxfur from Passport to Dreams.
Michael Crawford from Progress City, U.S.A
Hoot Gibson from Mesa Verde Times
Mike Lee from Widen Your World 
Epcot Explorium
Epcot Encyclopedia
Varsenik Wilson and Todd Shirley for the mural photos.
Various printed resources from The Walt Disney Company.


Related posts:

EPCOT Construction from the Air
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 1]
Mural-Removin' Season at Disney
EPCOT Center Graphics
Disneyland Meets EPCOT Center
Walt's Wife Talks About EPCOT Center
Carolwood Pacific and Other Backyard Railroads
Frito Kid Mysteries Continue

Reader Comments (22)

Your Germany Pavilion map at the top is awesome.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Maletic

FANTASTIC! Very nice. Love your artwork and congratulations on - at long, long last - uncovering a picture of the fabled "wooden door".

I love how the boats in the concept art seem to be modular; it appears that each group would receive their own "segment" of the boat. I assume this would allow a longer boat to make tight, dark-ride turns. Very neat.

It's also worth noting that the one, single piece of Rhine River concept art is from an earlier iteration of World Showcase and never connected directly with the current pavilion. That could account for discrepancies in the depiction of the loading area.

Have I mentioned I really, really, REALLY wish they'd build this?

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Crawford

Come on, Germany. You're the wealthiest nation in Europe. Sponsor this pavilion, and get this ride built already!!! If Mexico can afford it, Germany surely can (I know, don't call you Surely). Sheesh, Germany. Show some national pride!

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLe Cram

Amazing post. But I wonder if there's more to this story. I've been in the catwalks inside the Biergarten building and the ceiling in the restaurant is a false ceiling hung by wires inside the building. In other words, the building is just a huge shell, with the Biergarten taking up only a smaller portion, with nothing overhead. So the building was NOT designed for the Biergarten, as it appears today, anyway. So I always assumed something much bigger was originally destined for that building (and I assumed it was the attraction.) Any idea? (PS, it's possible I'm mis-remembering the layout. It gets disorienting in those area since there's no points of reference.)

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhl

The Germans can´t afford it, they´re sending development aid to China, so they need all their money... (this is no joke! I mean, imagine that - the Chinese don´t know what to do with all their money, except maybe bying the US wholesale - and they are receiving development aid!)

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClark

Wow! Last year I went to WDW and ate at the Germany Pavilion. I noticed the mural but, for me, it felt like an entrance... now I know why! Excellent post, I love your blog.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Martin

THANKS everyone.

Michael- Is this rendering of the load meant for the early round building World Showcase concept? If so, the large queue area would fit that concept far better than this one.

hl- There is much more to this story indeed. I would love to see earlier plans for the space if they are out there. It's interesting that almost no info exists amongst the fans and with many Disney employees.

Le Cram- "If Mexico can afford it, Germany surely can." Hahaha.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Great stuff. Seeing unbuilt and/or modified rides in this way is exactly what we fans love to see. Many of us visit these locations with minimal knowledge about what "was to be". Now we can visit with more specific "where it was to be" knowledge.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTahitianTimmy

Mitch - The piece of art dates to at least 1976, which means it was not created with Harper Goff's "individual themed buildings" World Showcase in mind. It was either for the semi-circular Showcase separate gate design, or if it's from 1976 when Future World and World Showcase had already been combined but Showcase was still a semi-circle of wedge-shaped modern buildings with the pavilions inside.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Crawford

Loved this article. This has always been one of my favorite WDW mysteries --next to WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITION. In October I looked through WDI document control aperture cards ( a 35mm architectural slide) of the German pavilion .There are drawings listed for a "German ride" but they do not appear in the aperture cards --they need to be pulled and I didn't have a work number that would allow that. Anyway, I'm wondering if the River Cruise was canceled early on.....WED was trying to entice a river cruise company /travel bureau to sponsor the attraction..........HOWEVER a presentation done for Disneyland costuming by WED to gear up costuming concepts for EPCOT (All park costumes were designed at Disneyland through Disneyland Paris' opening) Tom Peirce who designed these costumes has slides for the Biergarten that are well known art concepts, BUT, for the attraction the slide is of AIR BALLOONS with guest flying over Neuschwanstein Castle and the German country side. The balloons feature German beer names on each. Tom could not recall what the concept was but that a sponsor hadn't been found at that point. I've got the slide on me and I can get you a image copy. Anyway, it looks like at some later point in time--much later than the River Rhine Cruise renderings there was contemplation of these miniatures being viewed overhead from balloons.

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cozart

Mike- WOW. This is the first I've heard of the balloon concept. YES, I'd love to see an image copy.

Canceling plans for the River Cruise early on makes sense. Since writing this post I've discovered, thanks to site plans from a generous reader, that my layout comes from August 1979. This means there were as many as three years for changes before the park opened. Perhaps they changed *everything* about the Germany ride. It sounds like the boat idea might have been left behind before the "wooden door" ever showed up. Before the pavilion even broke ground.

Sound like it's time for a post update.

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

I guess we should also mention the 2nd unbuilt aspect of the pavilion - the tourism bureau which was to be installed where the crystal shop is now. I'm sure that was the incentive to pull in a sponsor - they get their name on the ride, and they get to book vacation packages out of the tourism office.

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Crawford

Aloha Mitch,
Great research, a killer map, and a wonderfull story to share with us! But... Let me propose something for you to think about... you may have the locations switched! The attraction would be in the show building on the left and a longer and smaller biergarten behind the unload area behind the "wooden doors" on the right. Compare with Mexico and Norways buildings. The food service buildings are half as high as the show buildings and are about the same mass. Also note the comment from above where the cast member talks about the false ceiling.
I think we have a facility footprint and envelope that was already designed and it's use was changed at the last moment when they realized that the boat tour was deleted. What do you think?

My Best,
Mark Hickson

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Hickson

Mark- Great thought. I can see that happening although I don't think it was a last minute change. This plan dates back to at least summer of 1979. And it matches the structure that stands today. Your theory about the different placement of the Biergarten could have been true before that. I'd love to know. I wish I had more site plans to study.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

I'm starting to believe most last moment decisions were made before construction began. We know the decision to not build the whole building was made prior to construction. I almost think the wooden door(s) weren't even installed to hide the ride entrance. Because there was no ride to hide. Maybe they were there only long enough for them to add the mural.

If the doors blocked traffic at the arch (and not the back wall) there's a chance the scenic elements inside that part of the arch were not ready. The decorative paint work and some finish work was not complete even on the prominent outer clock tower before the first guests entered. There's a good chance inside portions (ie the mural) were not ready.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Just for your info: I spoke to a former Imagineer friend who briefly worked on Germany and the cruise. I asked what happened and he said simply the project died when the sponsorship fell through. Mercedes Benz had agreed and signed the contract and it was a done deal. However General Motors had signed an exclusive deal tha said no other automobile company could be represented at EPCOT. I guess World of Motion was more important than the cruise.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Roe

Possibly my favorite post of all time.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

your post could really side, and also awareness and ideas could spread quickly throghout the particular visitore.

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHouse decorating ideas

This blog is one of the best documented I have ever seen! bravo! it’s rrally wonderful! I wish I could participate to one of these beautiful period costumes events! 90s costumes

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKamrul Islam

Mitch! This was an AWESOME post! PLEASE do a similar one for Epcot Japan. What was in that show building and what in there now is such a mystery to so many people. To have someone like you to clear it all up would be priceless... Thanks!

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMikeT

Take a closer look at the zoomed in image of the boat; it is actually a train of four smaller boats! This allows the feel of a large boat while allowing it to snake through the tight track curves.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDamon

I agree the map you created is awesome. Do you do it all in Photoshop or another application?

November 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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