Tuesday, December 29, 2015

MK: Dreaming

Over the past six months I’ve drawn a number of Illustrative Plans for patrons (anyone reading this can potentially have their own customized, hi-res digital map – email (in “About Me”) for a quote).   I’ve enjoyed these because they are often very blue-sky versions of the existing parks.   For this post, however, I’ve taken a step back from blue-sky and created a MK Illustrative that addresses what I think would semi-realistically improve the park over the next decade.

If you know IdealBuildout, you know my mission statement: “The park is the E-ticket.”  This happens when everything is rendered at an extremely high-level, and the whole place "clicks" – for lack of a better word.  It is when just wandering the park - taking in the details, the visuals, sounds, smells and atmosphere - becomes worth the (high) price of admission.  It is an extremely rare quality that only a handful of theme parks have reached over the course of their existences. 

While a major portion of this greatness is achieved in the Micro (how the park is operated; merchandising; the myriad of design details, such as materials, lighting, menus and graphics; architectural execution building-by-building, space-by-space; etc.), some of it is comes in the Macro (e.g., attraction program (menu); theme cohesiveness; transitions; sightlines; landscape), and the Macro can be communicated via the Illustrative Plan. 

So here is a land-by-land look at some changes that I think would take the MK to a higher level.  The plan is not really about adding to the attraction count but making the most of the already-developed space so the park as whole 'clicks' into an E-ticket.


Things visible in the Plan:
-    Big shade trees return to the inner rings of the recently-expanded hub and town square.  Castle show/fireworks viewing is secondary.  A shady, park-like environment for most of the day trumps unobstructed viewing, as does the critical “curtain effect” a tree-filled hub provides.
-    The major change is the addition of a turn-of-the-century, glass-roofed arcade with access to shops and attractions.  It is an elaborately-themed, climate-controlled bypass to Main St., replacing the lightly-dressed backstage walkway currently in use.   Includes gas lamps and an upper level with wrought-iron spiral staircases (like before EPCOT’s Plume et Palette was cut-off from access).

-    Being a dreamer, my favorite places in the parks have often been the preview centers/galleries filled with artwork and models of past, future or never-built parks and attractions.  Here, a permanent One Man’s Dream-style pavilion would take up residence in the sizable Town Square Expo Hall now used for character greeting.   Film, models, previews, art galleries, recreations, etc. can be seen here.
-    Return of the Flower Market street (usurped by an expansion of the Emporium).
-    Re-curbing the inner hub.  Flattening/faking the curbs just looks and feels wrong.

Things not visible in the Plan (which apply to every land):

-    As much as practicable, technology must defer to the time-period being presented in each environment.  This means no Starbucks digital menu boards, nor any modern pics of food photo-shopped onto any menu, big or small (save possibly Tomorrowland where such tech would exist - although I find the practice of showing photos of food on menus anywhere very off-putting).  Exit signs should be done in period style (cases) and fonts.  No modern slat-wall shelving for merch – instead use period shelving.   Have historic lighting dominate (no track-lighting) so as to take attention away from what modern lighting is necessary. 

-    Period window displays facing the sidewalks and indoor arcade.
-    Rather than be one big, generic Disney Store outlet with many gingerbread facades, Main Street can become a much more atmospheric and transportative themed land.  Individual turn-of-the-century shops (e.g., book shop, magic shop, pharmacy, photography, bank, clock, etc.) and small attractions (Penny Arcade, Nickelodeon) with Citizens helping to create a unique, bygone environment.  Immerse the visitor in a place romanticized, yet authentic, and very far away from what they experience every day outside the park.
-    Sell theme-appropriate merch.  
-    High-quality, tailored costuming.  Broadway/film-level uniforms/costumes cast can be proud to wear.

-    Character meeting changes dramatically in this dream version of the park.  The new hub viewing gardens will be used for random appearances, interaction and photos.
-    Wood and iron park benches added all over the hub and town square.   


Things visible in the Plan:
-    The welcome addition of the Skipper Canteen is shown.  
-    I removed the Magic Carpets attraction, and in its place is a small Rapa Nui Garden (which I sketched below) with interactive Easter Island heads and a new Bazaar environment that will give a winding-narrow-streets-overflowing-with-exotic-goods feel akin to the short-lived, but awesome, bazaar that opened with EuroDisneyland.  The idea is to show that unique merchandise locations can enhance over-all theme & show (and profits) rather than detract (as most generic/modern shops do).

Left: Pirate Game by Ray Cadd; Right: Easter Island Garden by me.

Things not visible in the Plan:
-    Above I discussed syncing with setting-appropriate technology (i.e., analog, not digital, wait time indicators in every land but Tomorrowland).  Here I'll discuss another improvement that goes for the whole park as well: the elimination of “over-lawyer-eering.”  What this means – and I know it's a crazy pipe dream – is if something operated safely from the 1970s through the 1990s, it doesn’t need to be changed in order to avoid litigation today.  The PotC queue can go back to being really dark.  Building roofs don’t require un-themed, out-of-scale fall protection all over them.  Rocks can rumble above Big Thunder's tracks.  Pathways don’t need glaring roof-top floodlights thrown on them at night.  Curbs aren’t going to kill anybody.  Selling wooden toy pirate/cowboy guns is okay.  No need for frisking or metal-detecting at entry.  Trees are allowed to grow big and overhang walkways and ride paths.  Surveillance cameras: make them invisible (miniature), theme-them or do away with them. 
-    Also changed out would be the Sunglass Hut, which is the antithesis of the unique, interesting, well-themed retail spaces I’m dreaming of here.


Things not visible in the Plan:
-    I don’t think these two lands need any changes to the current site plan.  Just re-open facilities that have been shuttered: the Explorer Canoes, Aunt Polly’s and a Western vaudeville show for the Diamond Horseshoe. 
-    Improvements can be made in areas mentioned already: Making sure the little things are done right (e.g. staying period-appropriate where one can (and did in the past) (i.e., not installing Digital TV menus in the Old West restaurants)).  Staying on top of maintenance so Show is always top notch.   Keeping the park experience as classy and sophisticated as possible.



-    Fantasyland sees the most changes/expansion in the Plan: the key one being the removal of all the flat fiberglass tournament facades in favor of a Storybook Village look similar to that of Paris, Anaheim, and soon-to-be Shanghai.
-    Small World is removed.  A new Tangled sub-area takes its place, but is moved slightly north, opening up this currently-congested area for better crowd flow.  The village facades continue the style that started with the Tangled bathrooms.  There is a Snuggly Duckling Tavern, complete with a giant (fake) tree growing out of it.  There are a few shops.
-    From this new village, the major D/E-ticket attraction is hidden behind rockwork.  As in the film, guests pass through a cave and emerge into a Hidden Valley, at the rear of which sits Rapunzel’s Tower (the smaller scale Tower is removed from its current location where it intrudes on Liberty Square sightlines).   The queue path winds down the lush valley, over a stream, past the Tower base and into a cavern where pre-show and boarding are located for a fun family Flynn Rider/Rapunzel ride.
-    Across from Rapunzel, Peter Pan gets a new Edwardian storybook façade/queue.
-    Both the Princess M&G Hall and Mickey’s PhilharMagic are gutted for new C-ticket darkrides based on European set animated classics.   Robin Hood’s facade (replacing PhilharMagic) is based on the town of Nottingham with Prince John’s Castle adorning the upper portions of the showbuilding.    Sleeping Beauty takes the place of the lost Snow White darkride while adding Village themed façade/queue. 
-    The next changes come near the Tomorrowland border.  Since Tomorrowland will be losing the remnants of its original low, featureless, angular architecture, it’s fitting that Cosmic Ray’s be removed.  In its place is a lush outdoor Fantasy Garden, a cousin to the one in Hong Kong DL, where M&G activities are centralized under four themed gazebos, with a wide array of rotating characters.   This, combined with the dedicated M&G locations in Storybook Circus and Fantasy Forest, fulfills the park’s stationary M&G needs.
-    Around the Teacups there is a new Wonderland sub-area.  The big addition is “Alicetopia”: a fanciful version of Aquatopia that takes the place of the Tomorrowland Speedway.  Also added is a rockwork edifice to conceal the Dumbo tent, and built into it, a Queen of Heart’s Observatory (similar to her castle in Paris), which guests can climb for dramatic elevated views of Fantasyland and the rest of the park.


-    As with every time I draw this park, the Deco Tech design finally takes over the back 2/3 of the land.   This means more jagged rockwork is placed around the land, the metallic fins are added to the entire Peoplemover track, both Buzz Lightyear and a Space Mountain get new entrances/marquees in a style that fits into this aesthetic. 
-    With Cosmic Ray’s gone, a new quick service venue is built where the temporary-looking DJ Dance Party Stage currently stands.
-    Tomorrowland Noodle Station is removed for the brand new, table-service, heavily-themed Astronomer’s Club.  It has some outdoor, upper-level seating for fireworks viewing.
-    Monsters Inc has always been an ill-fitting IP for a land themed as a Retro-Future spaceport, so its characters are ousted and a new Alien/Robot Comedy/Nightclub is installed. 
-    Stitch also gets the boot for a Guardians of the Galaxy re-make of the old Alien Encounter SFX show.
-    Space Mountain, while retaining its iconic look and feel, could see new & improved queue/pre-show/vehicles/tracks/fx/audio/etc., something befitting the flagship attraction of the world’s most popular theme park.
-    Finally, since Carousel of Progress doesn’t mesh with this land’s sci-fi theme, its building gets gutted, re-skinned and used as the queue/pre-show for a new, original E-ticket, which takes up most of the parking lot/former theater space.  Nods to the carousel could be seen in the exhibits in the Thomas Edison Arcade (running parallel to Main St.).



Felipe Zahtariam said...

GREAT! GREAT! GREAT! Wonderful park improvements! I loved your ideias related to Fantasy Garden, Alicetopia and the whole Tomorrowland redesign. Well done!

Anonymous said...

The whole concept is terrific. I especially like the Robin Hood dark
ride concept, and the shadier park hub. Why are guys like you and I and many others conceiving of all this stuff, instead of Robert Iger
and his employees. The whole thing is a big money-grab now.
All of your ideas make wonderful sense.

Over in Anaheim, I am not happy about putting a huge Star Wars land
behind Frontierland, of all places.

I sorely miss Walt.

Jared Long said...

Fantastic! Your concepts clean the park up considerably and simply make it gel. Nice work.

mark russell said...

Top marks for the Robin Hood ride. Depending on how well Zootopia does, I'd like to see Robin Hood get more promotional material as Disney's other good animal comedy (we don't speak of Chicken Little), and a dark ride would work well. On the other hand, Brave is probably more popular than old Robin, even if he was original archer.

NerdManReturns said...

It's nice to see your back, although I would still love to be able to see all the old posts again which don't seem to be available anymore.

Anonymous said...

Is there any way you could bring the old posts back? You had some wonderful ideas that can no longer be viewed.

Chris A said...

Awesome.. been waiting patiently for this new one and you more than made up for the wait with this new design. All of your ideas are spot on and like others the Robin Hood attraction is a great idea. (I'm stealing it for my RCT3 Disney park I'm doing). I also love the Alien Comedy Club, and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride..It's a great concept to change over Stitch but I think I'd miss Stitch so I'm torn on that idea. I'd also question the idea of removing the timeless classic that is Smallworld.. Even though your new area is 10x better and I never thought Small world fit the theme of Fantasyland.. It's still sort of a staple of Disney in my opinion.

Hopefully you won't make us wait to long before the next blog. Maybe while we're waiting for the next big one, you could flesh out a few more details on things fromt his one. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

In your opinion which handful of theme parks have that extreme rare quality of being "The park is the E-ticket"?

SWW said...

Thanks for the comments and Happy New Year!

Working on a way to make formerly-presented plans/write-ups available.


"In your opinion which handful of theme parks have that extreme rare quality of being "The park is the E-ticket"?"

Excellent question. The answer is complex due to a number of factors, including (a)the subjectivity of the question,(b) things can never be 100% perfect, (c) the huge number of component parts that comprise the whole park. I think analysis is also split between (1) how the park is Designed and Executed (implementation), and (2) how the park is Operated. Complicating things is the fact that both of these continually vary over time.

If I had to make a list of the best parks - ones that have that extremely rare quality, I would need to include a rough period of time in which it achieved it for me (a few examples):

Tokyo DisneySea, circa 2001: (original in-theme merch & menus that quickly gave way to homogenous Disney-Japanese stuff that the Japanese wanted).
Tokyo DisneySea, circa 2006: (Raging Spirits and Tower of Terror filled out park attraction roster. Original Sinbad's Seven Voyages still intact. No Jasmine carpets. No toonification of Med Harbor shops. No character M&Gs taking over formerly non-toon areas).

EPCOT Center, circa 1982-1996: (Mind-blowing & overwhelming in concept and scale. Future World coherent in theme & presentation. No characters in World Showcase. Great music. Inspirational. Original IllumaNations with classical music. A sophisticated, edu-taining park. Shaped my young imagination. My favorite all-time theme park experience).

Animal Kingdom, circa 2006: (Everest with working Yeti makes park feel most complete since opening. No Wild Africa Trek bringing roads, clutter and chain link fences to KS. KS story/finale intact. Since-lost FX in rides like Kali and Dinosaur still present. Tree of Life Paths open).
Animal Kingdom, circa 2017 -hopefully: (Tasteful expansion to Africa and Disc Island thus far. Pandora should be a vast improvement over Camp MinnieMickey).

Disney-MGM Studios, circa 1995: (Sunset Blvd opens with one of the world's best park attractions, Tower of Terror. Still relevant as a working film/tv/animation studio. Still relatively fresh).

California Adventure, circa 2012: (While still needing to address some major issues, the finished revamp brings the park into the upper echelon).


I think you get the idea. Basically, every Disney & Universal Park - with the notable exception of Walt Disney Studios Paris - has had "It" to some degree and at some point in their history - some much more so than others. These are the only two companies that build Tier I parks. Uni's parks overall have never had "It" to as high a degree as Disney's best work. Places like Busch Gardens, Sea World and Europa are Tier II (a different class that doesn't aim for the transportative, theatrical effect that a Tier I does).

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I love what you've done, especially replacing Aladdin's Magic Carpets with the Rapa Nui garden. Now there's only one spinner ride (and it's the good one), and Adventureland has a beautiful and much needed place to relax. I think that Alicetopia is interesting, but I've wondered how a Port Discovery-ish subland would work there, possibly bringing back 20,000 Leagues and building an 80 Day Cafe. This could lead into a London-themed area of Fantasyland, featuring Alice, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and Winnie the Pooh. (An Admiral Boom restaurant and a glass-topped teacup area, like the one in Paris, could help transition.) Finally, I agree that Small World should be relocated, but not completely removed; how would it work on Main Street (like a Worlds Fair)?

SWW said...

^ I like what you're describing... A Discoveryland + A London Square would take over the entire northeast quarter of the park, replacing the Circus, Speedway and maybe going beyond the tracks. Mr. Toad, as well. You ought to commission a customized map for yourself...

IASW: maybe in a dedicated annex near World Showcase... replacing Odyssey complex?

Anonymous said...

^ I think the idea of bringing Small World over to the Odyssey area would make sense, especially since TDO seems to want to make Epcot more appealing to kids. It certainly would make more thematic sense than adding Frozen to Norway. You could create a mini-pavilion and bring IASW's exterior back to a more World's Fair-ish look.

Also, is there any chance you would consider doing another charrette like the one done about a year ago for the Anaheim 3rd gate? I'm not sure how much work it is for you, but I'm sure that you would get lots of participation and great ideas.

Jr. Williams said...

how much are shamu stuffed animals at sea world?

Lonnie said...

Hey Sam, great to read ya again. Love the new ideas for MK, the park definitely needs a more 'uniform' look in its improvements.

As to the new attractions, I for one would love to see a Robin Hood dark ride as it's one of my first Disney movie experiences. Also the re-re vamped Fantasyland could also be doable with the inclusion of more storybook characters so that it becomes almost a 'world' unto itself. Ironically, I think TL is probably the only place a SW land would actually work seeing how as there's more space between attractions to expand the theming (GP becomes Starspeeders, TT becomes Mos Eisley, CoP becomes an AA Jedi Academy with each stage showing a different Jedi training technique in detail.

Also, I've actually been thinking lately that MK should've had a Lost World area from day one. This could be home to a Lost World dark ride similar to TDL's railroad/Primeval World attraction, and a new 20K simulator that was proposed way back in the '80s.

Well, as always keep up the great work, there's still lots of ideas out there. Peace.

protojimbo said...

Hey! Great to see the new post! Glad to hear you've been working commissions. Sorry it's been a while, but I'll be emailing you soon!
I like that you kept it very do-able and solved some long standing issues while plus-ing the park as a whole. Bold move to pull Small World! I always just assume there's a story/reasoning behind the design choice. In Florida, that attraction would be great as the center-piece of Epcot's World Showcase area!
You also drew a line in the sand over what used to be the speedway; you used some interesting attractions to do it. The body of water is welcome on that side of the park. TL is encapsulated nicely here and has a good number of nicely balanced attractions.
I like how you kept the idea of Tangled theme-ing - instead of backing off on it, you doubled down and did that area right! I also enjoy how that balances the production quality with the other side of FL.
Everything is very well executed, including your solution for the Main St by-pass, and very within reach.
Thanks for keeping us entertained!