Disney World in Louisiana? A Missed Opportunity That Almost Happened

In a tale of missed opportunities and 'what-ifs,' it has come to light that the famous Walt Disney once considered bringing his dream theme park to Louisiana. The story begins on a fateful day, November 22, 1963, when Disney arrived in New Orleans, unaware that it was the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Yes, Disney had set his sights on the New Orleans area as a potential location for what we now know as the Walt Disney World Resort according to Nola.com. While this might sound like folklore, it's a story passed down through the years.

The curiosity surrounding this story led a Metairie resident, Jimmie Papia, to investigate its authenticity. He inquired whether there was any truth to the tale. Papia's inquiry was rooted in the fact that Disney had a fondness for New Orleans, as demonstrated by his creation of "New Orleans Square" at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

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For answers, one would have to turn to former Slidell Mayor, Sam Caruso. Caruso had a secondhand account from a reliable source - Walt Disney's chief architect, George Rester. In the mid-1980s, while Caruso was mayor, Rester was revisiting the area, exploring the potential for a smaller Disney project.

As Caruso recalls, during a car ride, Rester pointed out an area on the Northshore, indicating that it was where Disney World was meant to be. Disney and Rester were indeed considering the New Orleans metropolitan area as a possible location for their ambitious project. However, their plans were disrupted by the tragic assassination of President Kennedy, which occurred on the day they were holding a city hall meeting with local officials.

The aftermath of the assassination and the ensuing weekend marked a turning point. Rester recounted how Walt Disney suddenly decided to pack up and return to California. The reason for this abrupt change was, quite astonishingly, a compliment to Caruso: he was the first Louisiana public official who had spent extended time with Rester without ever asking for a bribe.

While this account does not imply that all Louisiana politicians were corrupt, it is a glimpse into the intricate world of politics and deals. This 'what-if' story leaves us to ponder the fascinating possibility of having a Disney World in Louisiana. What could have been remains a question mark, as Disney ultimately chose Florida as the home for his iconic Walt Disney World Resort, which opened its doors on October 1, 1971.

The city of New Orleans had always been an inspiration for Disney, as demonstrated by the addition of New Orleans Square at Disneyland in 1966. Mayor Caruso reflects on the missed opportunity and envisions how it might have reshaped the city and state. Disney World in Louisiana could have been a game-changer, combining the unique charm of the city with the magic of Disney.

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Gallery Credit: Jacklyn Krol

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