I believe the defining concept in theme parks is ‘place’ (which is inclusive of the often-used term ‘story’). The best themed parks, lands and attractions take us to places that are beyond our everyday circumstance. Generally, the better the sense-of-place communicated (via everything from architecture & landscape to audio & aroma), the better the park/land/attraction experience (and the more popular).
One of the key problems - often recognized – with the original DCA was that this sense of place was lacking. To their credit, the leaders at TWDC understood this was part of the problem when they went forward with the unprecedented re-tooling of the park. But as I follow the progress in these final months, the park’s great Achilles Heel, specifically for Paradise Pier, is brought into focus: the lack of a berm and the visual intrusions this allows.
Creating a romantic, bygone, clean, turn-of-the-century Boardwalk environment, if done right, can fill the requirements of Place in a Tier I theme park.
Most everything Disney has done in Paradise Pier on the ground level for this project has moved the land in the right direction (Toy Story Mania exterior, new Games facades, Paradise Gardens, removal of spaceshot, Mermaid façade, etc.). Good on them. However, the two elephants in the room are the omnipresent hotel backdrops:
It’s one thing to catch a temporary glimpse of a theme-breaking, outside visual intrusion from an elevated moving ride vehicle or from out-of-the-way areas. But as the constant backdrop to a land that is ostensibly taking you back to another time and place, these two things – the Paradise Pier Hotel and the Grand Californian DVC wing – are theme-killers.
Despite the color-coordination and waves attached to the top of the PPH, it remains a modernist/International-style mid-rise directly out of the late 70s/early 80s… the kind of throwaway architecture one might have found between Newark Airport and the Jersey Turnpike, subsequently demolished for something a little cleaner but still as mundane. This hotel is antithetical to the Jazz Age seaside environment that Paradise Pier is trying to evoke.
DISNEY’S GRAND BOARDWALK PALACE RESORT (AND SPA)
So I went about conceptualizing a replacement for the PPH that would form a thematic backdrop to the land, similar to what the MiraCosta does for DisneySea.
I wanted the hotel to be sprawling (to block out as much of the outside world as possible) and be visually stunning & interesting with respect to both height & depth (the opposite of the PPH's vertical block). I looked at a bunch of the great turn-of-the-century resorts for inspiration:
Like these old beauties, the hotel I drew features tall chimneys, an irregular layout, lots of dormers and plenty of towers, spires and parapets, some with gold & copper domes. The hotel reflects the architecture of the PP boardwalk, but on a grander scale. In the center of the resort I put a Stormalong Bay-like “tidal pool” comlex and, naturally, there would be a pedestrian bridge to give the guests of the deluxe hotel direct access to the theme park.
HIDING THE DVC
The next vista-issue to solve is the Grand Californian DVC wing. While the original GC was well integrated into the Grizzly Peak area of the park, the DVC wing only makes the backdrop to Paradise Pier even more incongruous. Here I drew in a new set of “Seaside Amusement Pavilions” of a similar style to the ones Mermaid’s showbuilding was based on:
Since the funhouse is a staple of classic boardwalks, I thought the new ride here could be themed to that (scary/funny), maybe based on Gustav Tinkerschmidt backstory created for the land. The ride’s footprint would have to be fairly unique (wide but not deep, with some significant height to block out the DVC). Maybe a ride system similar to Crush Coaster in WDSP could be adapted to the space available. I put a mechanical statue/fountain of top-hatted Tinkerschmidt in the plaza out front.
In order to ease congestion and add greenery to the area in front of this new ride, I moved the Jumpin Jellyfish to the Helix of Screamin, as was shown in the PP model (although I kept the shorter, kid-friendly ones). Also, as was done in the model, I gave the Fun Wheel a period-appropriate queue cover.
For Paradise Pier to finally work within a top quality park, it has to play by the same rules regarding visual intrusions as the other well-themed lands do. Imagine wandering through Adventureland or Fantasyland with an out-of-theme hotel as the backdrop. Paradise Pier doesn't get an exemption.