Many years ago, fabled Imagineer Marc Davis drew up plans for a cutting-edge animatronics-based attraction for Disney World. This attraction, the Western River Expedition, was to be the showpiece of Florida's Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, it was sidetracked when Disney management realized that they could make a stripped-down copy of Pirates of the Caribbean for a lot less money, not only saving themselves a bundle but also quieting the large pro-pirate lobby that was then gaining power in the country (and which eventually went on to form Napster).
Davis' plans were filed away, but not forgotten. Now that Disney California Adventure guests have made clear that some kind of large, family-friendly attraction is needed in the park, the plans have been resurrected. The Western Gold Rush Expedition, Davis' Western River Expedition rethemed to the California gold rush and with a few other changes to make it fit modern sensibilities, will be the largest, most complex attraction ever built by Disney. It will be so large that the Disneyland railroad will actually pass through the attraction. The show building itself will be visible from the moon.
The Western Gold Rush Expedition attraction's building will be decorated like desert mesas (much as Big Thunder Mountain is decorated), and it will house several interconnected attractions. Namely:
First Californians Village: An authentic Indian village nestled within the mesas, with everything from a dance circle to copious opportunities to purchase hand-crafted merchandise. Every 15 minutes, a short film will tell the story of California's natives, how they remain bitter over their enslavement by Spanish missionaries, and why they want their land back.
Rush for the Gold: A "runaway mine train" ride set atop the show building. Some may think that this attraction is just a ripoff of Big Thunder Mountain, but although it is true that the ride's entire layout will be identical to that of its brother on the other side of the resort, Rush for the Gold will be significantly different because some of the rocks guests pass during their ride will be painted like gold nuggets.
Sutter's Mill and Grill: An expensive, five-star, reservations-only restaurant with a spectacular view of the park, serving authentic sourdough-miner grub.
The Western Gold Rush Expedition: This is the expansion's showcase, and will be largely unchanged from Marc Davis' original plans (with the exception of a change to a gold-rush focus and a shortening of ride length to 45 minutes). In the style of Pirates of the Caribbean, the Western Gold Rush Expedition takes boatloads of guests past scenes of stereotypical-to-just-this-side-of-offensive Western characters in a variety of humorous and exciting scenes. Guests will even be held up at gunpoint by animatronic banditos (which will incidentally help defray the cost of the attraction).
Stinky Pete's Playhouse: California Adventure needs more standard Disney characters to keep the kids happy, and this play area -- themed like the camp of quasi-evil prospector Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2 -- fits the bill. Kids will be able to rent real picks and shovels for the opportunity to break big rocks into little ones and maybe even find some "gold" (which may be taken home as a souvenir for a "small" price). Watch out for the dynamite shack playhouse that really explodes every fifteen minutes!
Miner's Mall: A gigantic shopping area. If Disneyland's Emporium is a tuna, this is a whale. Guests may hire "old prospector" guides to help them find specific merchandise, exits, and restrooms.
In another departure from Davis' original design (and to make the expansion better fit the rest of the park), all attractions will exit into themed shopping areas, and larger shopping areas will exit into smaller ones, which will exit near vending carts, after which convenient vending machines stand ready to suck up any remaining loose change. Paths will be widened to afford room for additional outdoor vending, and the Western Gold Rush Expedition vehicles will slow at several points to allow guests to purchase churros and bottled water from themed "storefronts" as they pass.
The budget for the Western Gold Rush Expedition area is enormous and has yet to be approved by Disney's upper management. Should it be rejected, the fallback plan calls for an off-the-shelf water-themed kiddy ride to be painted with a mining theme to replace the more elaborate attractions. Shopping areas would be largely unaffected.