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.
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.
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.
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
Varsenik Wilson and Todd Shirley for the mural photos.
Various printed resources from The Walt Disney Company.
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