Thursday, January 12, 2023

Universal Beijing - Reimagined

   Universal Studios hasn't built an actual studios park since 1990 in Orlando.  Their newer parks have a nominal Hollywood theme, typically in the Boulevard entrance and a movie-making show or feature, but are generally IP parks.   This template is what we can expect to see from Disney & Universal for the foreseeable future.

   With similar Hollywood areas already existing in Osaka & Singapore, I've opted to do something different with this re-imagining.   And with no Production & no Hollywood, I've dropped the Studios from name.  The park here is called "Universal Beijing," and is a closer cousin to Islands of Adventure than to 1990s Universal Studios Florida.  



  While the hotel is part of the jettisoned Hollywood theme, I've kept it in this Buildout because it's a solid overall design (especially compared to all the recent, abysmal-looking "themed hotels" by Disney & Universal, e.g. Riviera, Sapphire Falls, Fantasy Springs, etc.). 

  One aspect I would fix, not visible in this plan, is its window treatment.  These latest hotels that are supposed to invoke traditional themes/styles (in this case Spanish Colonial Revival) typically use very modern, pane-less windows with no sashes and no muntins (which separate panes), as you might find at a suburban office park.  This subverts the overall intent of the design (Classic Hollywood; historic) and lessens the beauty/interest/authenticity of the building:



   Disney has successfully built a few variations on the Main Street concept across its castle parks, and here I've opted for Universal Beijing to have its own unique variant on a Universal's best-park-opener, IoA's Port of Entry.  

  The "town square" equivalent here would have some Spanish/Caribbean influence as a transition from the Grand Hotel and an "Adventure Globe" fountain at its center.  Typical things like Guest Services & the park's Emporium are in this area.  

While Disney & Universal have a lamentable tendency to copy & paste their big-budget "Immersive lands", dropping them into different parks with few if any alterations (Star Wars, Potter, Nintendo, etc.).   In this park, rather than directly clone lands from other parks, I explore the possibilities of taking the same theme and doing new & original things with it.   Everything in this Port of Entry is unique from Orlando and customized for this park, though the idea is the same.  

A signature restaurant sits on the central lagoon, as does the stepped Fountain of Wonders and boat dock.  



 In this concept plan, I've relocated the entire indoor Panda land to the seven o'clock position, giving it frontage on what you will find is a much larger central lagoon.   The dramatic change to the land takes place before one goes indoors: what was/is a pretty visible warehouse (see below) is now completely disguised behind layers of mountain rockwork, waterfalls, trees and an undulating river valley dotted with Chinese architecture. 

   I imagine the new outdoor coaster to have Chinese dragon (KungFu Panda 2) themed trains and be similar in scope to DLP's Casey Jr..   It is a terrain following track, mostly below main path level and has no lifthills (self-powered) to obstruct the mountain vista.    


  Both Pandaland and Metrobase are first-of-their-kind areas in a Universal park and are therefore the least altered in my idealized re-imagining.   If the former is a cousin of TDS' Mermaid Lagoon, the latter is a proxy for Tomorrowland.

   The major change I've illustrated is taking the well-done and intriguing rockwork at the existing entry area and making it the dominant visual feature and connecting thread throughout the land and its structures.   This would make the visitor feel more like they are in an environment on the planet Cybertron or one of its colonial outposts.   I would also have the boilerplate Transformers scoop ride individualized for this park, maybe reflecting that it is no longer Earth-based.  



 Across the wide lagoon, the park's landmark volcano rises above the park - a much larger edifice than the existing mountain, larger than TDS' Mount Prometheus.  And like Prometheus, hidden within it are several rides on multiple levels as well as guest passageway connecting to two sides of the land: west & east.  My goal here was to remove the big-lightly-themed-box factor that pervades the extant land (and park), but to keep some of its original features.  You still have the land's thrill ride, Jurassic World Adventure, entered through the Visitor Center, but here the showbuilding is invisible behind the mountain.  Like magic, a key to great theme parks is to keep the eye/mind in the dark about the Where & the How.

The Masosaur lagoon is like Aninal Kingdom's river otter habitat on steroids: shadows projected on the water surface hint at the presence of the leviathan as you walk down the ramp into a cavern with subsurface glass "windows" to view the giant sea dino as it appears in & out of the murky lagoon.   

The extant park has a small, indoor play area, but here Camp Jurassic is taken out of the Aviary and given a much larger, leafier exploration area, similar to IOA, at the base of the volcano, featuring things like treehouses, rope bridges & amber caverns.  

Inside the glass-domed Aviary one can view dino exhibits, grab a bite or queue for Pteradon Tours, which is a Soarin' like experience over the island's farthest reaches.   

 Another headline ride is the Gyrosphere Dino Safari that, like the movie, puts guests into glass vehicles for a screen-less tour of Jurassic World from the volcano's heights (switchback queue up the mountainside to the loading building) to the lagoon home of giant brachiosaurs - a zippy, closeup experience of life-like dinosaurs in their natural habitats.


  Replacing the existing Minions Land with its midway pier containing a spinner & kiddie coaster, this land is re-designed as a cheerful, quirky City environment and themed to all the Illumination properties that smoothly fit within this world.  

  The Secret Life of Pets darkride is lifted from Universal Hollywood, as that one is the currently the only of its kind I don't mind cloning it once.   On the other hand, Minion Mayhem has been built in the majority of Uni parks, so I've opted for an original, screen-less Despicable Me attraction, a shooter darkride in the vein of Monsters Ride & Go Seek.   The exterior is themed to the Villains Lair, based on the reverse pyramid design that is actually used in a Uni Bejing dining venue (see below).   

The large theater could be 3-D or live (or both) and a natural first run would be based on the Sing films.  The Dumbo ride would feature characters from multiple Illumination franchises.   The lagoon-front dining venue is desert-based and themed to a giant gumball machine.    There is also a city park with a bandstand and accessible lawn.


As with the actual park, I've left a sizable plot for a future seventh land.   I added a temporary Preview Center in this area, featuring art & models of potential coming attractions.   I always loved these future-is-bright-and-hopeful types of exhibits that one would find at the Blue Sky Cellar, Disney Gallery, Walt Disney Story or Universal Studios (previewing IOA).


  One of the disappointing aspects of this current era of theme parks is the direct copy&pasting of some of the popular new lands at Universal & Disney parks around the world, as opposed to taking a unique approach to the same theme (e.g. Adventureland Anaheim vs. Paris).  WW-Hogsmeade has been cloned 4 times, each time failing to address its biggest fault - the massively-visible, unthemed show-building of Forbidden Journey - a problem which was exacerbated in Beijing despite having plenty of real estate.   So here I had fun imagining & drawing a Wizarding World that fixes both of these issues (over-cloned, visible showbuilding), while retaining the style (i.e., Stuart Craig's production design) of the template land.

  The cliff-topping Hogwarts School dominates everything, so we'll start there.   In my version of the land, Hogwarts is much larger, both in scale and completeness.   It needs to be, because "within" the School are not one, but three major features.   The first is the land's E-ticket family ride, which I imagined as an elaborately-themed omnimover in the tradition of the evergreen classic Haunted Mansion.   A narrated, atmospheric tour, with small buggies (2-4 passengers) passing by the various classrooms, chambers & characters of Hogwarts, complete with an array of time-tested and new special effects (e.g. Pepper's Ghost effect for the castle ghosts, AAs for Felch & his cat, etc.), would be the most engaging way to experience this world.   There could be various seasonal overlays as well.  For me, Forbidden Journey was jarring in its screen-to-set transitions and too chaotic to take in, so this would be a refreshing new approach: a ride so filled with details and set decoration that new discoveries would be made on repeated rides.

  The 2nd feature inside the school is the Great Hall, which replicates the famous room from the films as a signature entertainment dining venue (e.g., announcements by professors (actors), broom or owl fly-bys, and other things happening on the dais intermittently.   The 3rd Hogwarts feature is an indoor stunt show similar in scale to the Pirates show at Shanghai Disneyland.   This could center around the Tri-Wizard Tournament as the queue begins in the hedge maze before entering the castle's Grand Auditorium.   Since Waterworld is gone from this park, this stunt show helps fill that category.

   Approaching the land from the south, the vista would be awe-inspiring, with the impressively-massive Hogwarts rising in the distance across the Lagoon and above the village roofs (no visible showbuildings in this plan).  The winding lakeside path would be used for viewing the popular night-time Hogwarts projection shows or relaxing during the day.   One enters Hogsmeade Village, which is in the same style as the others but unique in its layout.   The Hogs Head Tavern and Three Broomsticks are now separate venues on opposite ends of the land.     

  Down a street to the right is the train station, where the Hogwarts Express simulator awaits, inspired by the CircleVision bullet train concept once rumored for the Japan pavilion at EPCOT Center.  Instead of the train windows being screens as in Orlando, here the they are glass and train enters a tunnel to the theater where the action & scenery play out on a seemless360 screen.  If a second gate in Beijing gets Diagon Alley, this area could eventually be converted to the Orlando-style park-to-park attraction.


  Replacing the Flight of Hippogriff coaster at the center of the land is a heavily-themed Huss Troika II or Tristar ride:  The Whomping Willow, which strikes me as the perfect system for this type of "Disneyfied" midway ride where disguised  mechanical tree "limbs" fling ride vehicles about.  

  The only major attraction in this land that can be found at any other park (only one other) is the Hagrid's Magical Motorbike Adventure coaster, though this version is a somewhat plussed/lengthened version of it.  The drop building is themed as additional moss-covered abbey ruins, rather than the painted-on trees of Orlando, and there is an added show sequence that enters a Hungarian Horntail's cave.


  I design, plan and experience parks under one principle: The Park is the E-ticket.  For me, the attractions are only half of the appeal of any great theme park.   Soaking in the atmosphere, exploring the side pathways, discovering hidden nooks, enjoying grand & artfully-arranged wide vistas and endless minute details, all the while being inspired, imaginatively and intellectually - that is the other half.  Only a small handful of theme parks have ever achieved greatness and this has been my exercise in bringing the latest Universal park concept into that league.






Saturday, March 19, 2022


  This is another exploration of "what could have been" for the 2nd Gate plot at Disneyland Paris.   This plan has the park stretching out to the circular perimeter road, even though a significant part of the plot has in actuality been given over to the Val d'Europe suburban development project.   I also wanted to switch up from the current trend of 'random IP-lands plopped together park' and create a unique variation of WDW's Animal Kingdom, with its more focused overarching theme.



   It would have been ideal to have a landmark resort at the front of a 2nd gate that complimented the DLP Hotel in scale, height, execution, detail, luxuriousness, etc., but with a very different theme.   Dreams & visions like this are necessary now more than ever, as we are currently in the Dark Age of themed hotels, with only a few decent among many pedestrian eyesores getting designed, approved and built across the world.  Nothing remotely approaching stem-to-stern architectural quality & placemaking of a MiraCosta has gone up since 2001.  While the DLP Hotel & MiraCosta are exemplars of themed hotel architecture - two of the very best ever built - the king is South Africa's Palace of the Lost City.   The hotel I have envisioned at the front of this Wild Animal Kingdom park is influenced by it and by some art released by Legacy for an Asian park (see below), which in turn borrows from India's Laxmi Vilas Palace.   The bespoke design would weave nature/animal motifs & statuary into everything, as the Palace of the Lost City does so brilliantly.


  I am grateful that Legacy Entertainment released a lot of artwork by former WDI concept artists, including all-time greats like John Horny & Christopher Smith, for a proposed 'Forest Kingdom' park.  That artwork inspired a few features of this conceptual plan, including the Court of the Titans (see below) on the park-side of the hotel.   Rather than have a "wild" jungle Oasis with small animal exhibits as at Orlando's DAK, I imagined the approach to echo Disneyland Paris: centered on a monumental hotel with turnstiles on the ground level beneath the building.   Guests emerge from the hotel into a wide circular courtyard surrounded by giant rockwork-animals, with the elephant fountain (see below) at the center.  Other giant carvings I've included are a polar bear, lion, bison, walrus, condor & triceratops.

  An expansive, tiered viewing area for unique daytime & nighttime lagoon shows wends down to the water's edge.   Here, the park would utilize a submerged high-powered water cannon platform, so that Bellagio/Burj Khalifa/World of Color-style dancing fountains, along with projections, lasers, floats, actors, etc. could be utilized to wow audiences with a Mythica-level daytime show and a jaw-dropping, IllumiNations-level go-home show.



 The approach to this land is marked by a unique version of the 'Oldengate Bridge' with its reconstructed Brachiosaurus-skeleton.  The first attraction encountered is the Crocodilia Caverns, a live animal trail with an indoor cavern section.  In the center of the eastern land is a hillock and terrain-following, swinging coaster modeled on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster: a different version of the originally-planned Excavator.   Continuing this Active Dig Site theme is the Boneyard Jamboree: a re-theme of the Mater's Junkyard flatride from DCA.   The general feel I imagined for these areas as well as the surrounding restaurants & shop sections is that of a 1930s-50s paleontology-find Boomtown with a Southwest  or Australian outback-style, somewhat-ramshackle Research Station aesthetic.

 The backdrop of the eastern half of the land is a monumental rockwork facade in the shape of a herd of wooly mammoths.  The plantings change to a more Boreal/Steppe environment.   Inside the mammoth painted caverns, I imagine a classic Disney style family-ride: long, comedic, narrated, musical omnimover with Marc Davis-inspired scenes involving Pleistocene animals (e.g. sloths, glyptodonts, sabretooths) and their interaction with cavemen (as seen in the Davis art from the World's Fair, below). 


  The western half of the land is dominated by another mountainous facade.  It houses Dinoland's second E-ticket and the park's largest indoor ride: an elaborate river cruise into the Triassic era, with dozens of high-tech, life-like AA dinosaurs presented in both peaceful and frightening vignettes.  The attraction has a distinctly more serious tone than the Mammoth ride, with minor visceral thrills in PotC-scale drops.  A Shanghai Pirates-style, full motion boat could be a model ride system.   Integrated into the attraction, with an elevated view of one of the largest, herbivore-filled show scenes, would be an "Observatory" - a slowly-rotating 360 degree restaurant.  The last opening day attraction is the Tar Pits, a Boneyard-style explore zone.  


 Just as the Castle parks have unique versions of the same concept (a fairytale castle) as their centerpiece, this land is a "different-but-the-same" take on DAK's Discovery Island.   Both feature the park's Icon, shops & dining buildings in a Tropical/Animal Motif-style and a live animal trail that winds around the carved roots and beneath the boughs of its somewhat unique, great Tree of Life.   I imagine a unique & non-IP Wonders of Nature-type show could go underneath the Tree, though a copy of Bugs makes sense too.

 Adding on to what can be found in Orlando, I placed a wild animal-themed (e.g. carousel in this area as well as the Theater-in-the-Wild, where musical shows, maybe based on Disney animal films that don't fit in the other lands, could be staged.


 The approach to this land of fantasy animals combines the best of the DLP Chateau and Diagon Alley dragons: not only does the huge animatronic occasionally spew fire over the heads of guests, but it is fully "alive", not static.  Its main movements would be kept to small twists of the head, eye movements, snorts, shake of tail and wings, as it casually observes the small humans below its rock.  Intermittently, it would do something wild, such as spread its wings, roar, and/or spew fire in an arc over the pathway.  Some backstory could connect it to its relative/rival under the DLP castle.

dragron rock model by Michael Weisheim Beresin 
  The land's attractions would be associated with different geographies of Europe: England (Merlin's Menagerie, an LPS family darkride), Scotland (Loch Ness Landing restaurant, the only direct carryover from the Orlando proposal, with appearances by Nessie in the water), France (a glen featuring animatronic Unicorns and other fantasy creatures) & Germany (the Dragon-based wooden coaster that would feature an indoor "near-incineration" scene).  The architecture of each area would be a fantasy-medieval take on each of these countries unique building styles.   

  Additional attractions include a Griffin-themed aerial carousel (Dumbo) and a MagiQuest-style interactive game through a forest of mythical animals.



  This land, like the WDW original, features distinct geographic representations.  The largest sub-area is India, with centerpiece swing spinner and a Jungle Book (animated) family musical boatride - one of the park's few IP-based attractions.   An even larger complex of temples being reclaimed by nature houses an E-ticket inspired by Legacy's artwork (see below) for a flume that incorporates live tigers and other regional animal habitats (Splash Mountain meets Maharajah Jungle Trek).  

panda trail art by Senen Iglesias
  Adventuring guests are drawn to the deepest part of the park by its tallest weenie: Expedition Everest, one of the park's only near-clones from WDW, with a re-engineered, fully-functioning Yeti.

  Moving on from Nepal, the environment transitions to China, with a live animal trail featuring Giant Pandas, red pandas, snub-nosed monkeys, etc.


  The visual landmark of this land - enhancing wide vistas from most areas - is a full-scale version of Pride Rock, behind which is a family dark ride based on the animated film.  

  The anchor attraction is a live-animal boat safari, akin to the Tiger River Run that was never built in Orlando, but here themed to East Africa.  The key to the attraction is the wild, apparently-free-roaming, no-visible-manmade-barriers imagineering that made Kilimanjaro Safaris so unique and special in its early years.  I also envisioned a semi-thrill finale, as KS had, which could involve a flash flood through a Hyena Cavern (Animatronics, in this sole case) and hot geysers.   

gorilla trail art by Senen Iglesias


  The carryover from WDW is a Gorilla Falls animal trail that features spindly rope bridges over the Maasai River that might give an acrophobe pause.  There is an amphitheater for original, non-IP musical productions.  An element from the aforementioned Legacy park that helped inspire this illustration is the Hippopotamus Lagoon restaurant (see art above).



Current Expansion


This Park




  The future, seventh land could be any number of things: Pandora, Arctic, South America, Oceans (I feel that Rivers of the Far West and the Grand Canyon Diorama in DLP give a representation of North America), or something not yet proffered up.   I may return to it some day.


The End.

Monday, January 10, 2022


An end to America's decades-long new (Tier I) park drought is on the horizon.

My drawing is an amalgamation of the artwork, plans & models that have surfaced on the internet, with some personal flourishes.   The two major influences - the key artwork above and the Drainage Plan - differ somewhat, so I've had to select elements from each for this drawing.


Feel free to comment any thoughts or corrections on what is what.


The curvy pathways and water features that form the spine of the park seem to have a SciFi-Victorian (i.e., Discoveryland) style which looks appealing in the artwork.  Here's hoping reality measures up to the feeling conjured by the art.   Kudos to the designers for creating a unique path/park layout - it's something different than anything that has come before.

The Helios Grand Hotel will dominate the park, so many of the important vistas will live or die on the hotel's design & execution.   It would be great if Universal can buck the current trend and create an architecturally-great hotel building (last one was 2001's Mira Costa).

Another cool aspect of the overall park is that there are plans for similarly-shaped-but-appropriately-themed "Spire-Portals" at the entrance of each land (all but the Wizarding World one are visible in the art).  Each seems to have a silhouette echoing a castle:




The art shows that the third Wizarding World in Orlando is planned to look like classic Paris.  With London & New York already represented in the Universal Studios, it makes sense to tackle a 3rd Great City of the World in this park. 

Clearly, the original plan was based on the Fantastic Beasts series being a creative & commercial home-run.  Since that hasn't been the case, will Universal cut bait on the Fantastic Beasts connection (as I wish Disney had done with the Abrams trilogy) or change the timeframe & locale of this wizarding world entirely?  It already appears the rumored "Broomstick simulator" is in limbo.

The key art reflects that the Paris of Grindelwald didn't feature much in the way of highly-stylized locales such as Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade.  I wonder if Universal Creative and WB Art Directors take it upon themselves to invent a slanting, "wizarded"-version of the streets of Paris?


Over the years I've drawn a number of Classic Monster lands for various Uni illustrative plans, so I'm excited that one is finally coming to fruition.  The artwork, plan and model found on the web show somewhat varying takes for this land.   For this drawing I went with the enclosed theater in the south.  I've seen a stunt show or a return of Graveyard Revue speculated.   I was thinking a Biergarten-type entertainment/dining venue could be a part of the village.

The art and model show the center of the land will have a Camp Jurassic/TSI style explore area, with rope bridges, caves and such.



The version of this area that I've drawn is a near clone of the Osaka park's land, slightly-reconfigured.  There is a little more space to the land in Orlando which allowed me to add flourishes in the form of Bowser's Airship near his castle and a temple-themed light dining venue in Kong Country.  


Perplexingly, the key art shows a markedly different (City) theme to the area than Japan's Mushroom Kingdom.  The key art & my plan also include a Spire Portal that is much more elaborate than the Osaka entrance.  An artificial hillside conceals the showbuilding from the hub.



While the available art does not indicate the towering rock spires that the define the island in the movies, in this plan, upon emerging from the Portal into the land, you would to see the two carved statues on the water in the foreground framing the main spire on the far side, beyond the viking ships and village, as in the artwork below:


The building on which I've placed the main spire is a question mark.   The footprint of the building and the existence of only one other eatery of any size near the Splash Battle would indicate that this facility has to be a major indoor dining venue, which is what I've labeled.  However, there are rumors this is some kind of simulator ride, such as the vertical 4-bay simulator as seen in the above art.  This might account for the small footprint and give a need for the tall rockwork spire I've included, but likely wishful thinking.  

The land has an assortment of other attractions: a skyfly, a splash battle, an explore zone, and a coaster.   At the bottom of the land, I added as second landmark spire (and other smaller ones) atop the large theater building that supposedly will house a headliner show featuring giant puppet dragons & special FX.  


Rumors from site OrlandoParkStop suggest plans are already in flux from the original ones they first presented.  So it will be interesting to revisit this drawing when construction is at a midpoint and the opening day menu is set in stone.  Regarding my filling in the large expansion pads... that will be also be a future effort.  Some vague IP lands have occurred to me (LotR, Zelda, Kung Fu Panda, etc.) and I have seen others' suggestions (Jurassic World, Classic Universal, Pokemon, Illumination, etc.).   I encourage readers to imagine & draw their own expansions.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Mega Kingdom

I enjoy imagining and drawing riffs on the Castle park template.   And out of the scores of them I've drawn, this is one of the larger examples.  The on-show park area of this park is larger than any of the existing castle parks at buildout.   Here I've gathered Best Practice elements among the existing castle parks (e.g. Paris' hotel at the gate and indoor main street arcade; WDW's long-distance, lake-front approach and (former) rolling, river-encircled hub, etc.).   This park's setting would be a large, idyllic resort property with plenty of water and natural  acreage.   A few parks and several unique resort hotels would be connected via monorails, boats and esplanade paths, as the plan shows:


The Dan Goozee mural below inspired me to create a Frederick Law Olmstead-style park outside of the theme  park.   Like a Boston Common or Central Park, the very large park (only a portion is visible in this plan) would have picnic lawns, fountains, band shells, rowboat ponds, wildlife areas, etc.   


The Fantasia Gardens park and the hotel are heavily-inspired by Paris, though somewhat unique in layout and design.  There is a Victorian monorail station & water ferry dock to match the hotel.  

As noted, in this super-sized castle park, Main Street gets extended by an extra block added to the typical two.  This extra space allowed me to explore some very cool early concepts for the land.   I was inspired by the early Dale Hennesy & Harper Goff artwork for a suburban street with Victorian mansions, including one very spooky, dilapidated one...  I also placed a church on this street - an essential element of any turn-of-the-century American townscape.  


A large, non-haunted Victorian mansion houses "Walt's" the park's signature dining venue, which could be either a museum-like decor dedicated to Disney's life or follow a more fictionalized path, in which "Walt Disney" becomes a character and this his house of secrets, magic and wonders (a la Kingdom Keepers).

As always, this Main Street features all the little non-commercial things that made it interesting and special to begin with (and that the Company has seen fit to do away with in favor of generic merch space).   The west side houses a two story Grand Arcade with a glass & iron roof.   It could feature some exhibits and nods to the original Edison Square concept.  

Approaching from the Hub, the land is marked by Roaring Falls and the ropes course that goes with it.   The land's entrance and center features the traditional exotic jungle and early 20th Century Pulp/Adventurer vibe.   The center of the land is filled with scattered ruins of an ancient temple complex reclaimed by the rainforest.  Around and through these ruins, an E-ticket terrain-following launch coaster traverses, mostly below path grade.  The coaster would enter temples for certain show scenes or animal AA interactions before launching forward or falling backward (akin to HKDL's grizzly mountain).  The land has a shooting gallery appropriate to the theme and an Explorers Club restaurant modeled on WDW's Adventurers Club interior decor.


The land's 2nd distinct geographic area is an Arabian cityscape where Aladdin finally gets a long overdue darkride.  The last geographic areas transitions away from the tropics and the desert to the location of a lost Byzantine city for a new version of the Indiana Jones Adventure EMV ride.


For this park I took a different tack for the typical central castle and fantasyland.  Rather than use the typical French/German-inspired chateau and fairytale area behind it, I decided to have the main castle modeled on Hampton Court Palace with its Tudor style, red brick and octagonal towers.  It would still be theatricized somewhat for a theme park setting.   Behind it is a dense, urban London square with a trio of darkrides set in the Edwardian Period: Mary Poppins (the unbuilt Tony Baxter ride), Peter Pan (tweaked & upgraded version of the classic) & Mr. Toad (the Magic Kingdom's extinct dual track version). 

 There would be a Puppet or Pantomime Theater that could feature non-film-based comedic short plays.  Dining and retail venues befit this London setting: a regal restaurant, a traditional public house, a Dalmatian furrier, etc...


This land is dedicated to Machine Age exploration & adventure and may be reached via the indoor Grand Arcade of Main Street.   The first visual landmark would be a large, explorable Airship preparing for departure.    The Lost World Dino Cruise has guests boarding tramp steamers for a voyage through a primeval jungle of giant animatronic beasts.   Climactic and frightening SFX show scenes take place inside the smoking landmark volcano and caverns.

The next area is a romanticized version of Monterey's Cannery Row or the San Francisco industrial waterfront of the late 1800s.  Here is a Fireworks Factory restaurant and an 'Around the World in 80 Days' suspended darkride.


Deep in the land one arrives at Captain Nemo's Base, a sub-area featuring an explorable Nautilus submarine (as in DLP), a table service restaurant that takes place in a Victorian "undersea" aquarium, and a unique version of TDS's dry-for-wet ride.


 Leaving the cityscape of London Square behind, one transitions to the village facades, green countryside and forest that makes up the 2nd half of what one could consider 'greater fantasyland'.   Some of the attractions are familiar (e.g., SDMT, Labyrinth, teacups).  Others offer a new ride system for an existing IP (e.g., a Frozen traditional darkride; a more elaborate LPS ride for Little Mermaid, as drawn by Helen McCarthy below).  The music and characters of 'Robin Hood' are applied to the popular whip flatride.  

The area's landmark E-ticket is a Splash Mountain-scale flume inspired by The Black Cauldron.  The queue and pre-show (featuring an AA Henwen and Dallben) take place in the Caer Dallben farmstead.   After experiencing numerous AA- and FX-laden showscenes and minor drops, the boats climb to the heights of the Horned King's castle for the final plummet.   

Note that the towers and parapets of Horned King's castle align with the park's central axis, as does the lower-massed Tudor Court Palace.   When viewed from Main Street or town square, this would play a trick on the eye of these two being a single tall, unusual, castle.


This park’s version hearkens back to the original theme of the land: Real World, Optimistic, Techno-Futurism.  No movie tie-ins, characters or alien creatures.  Everything is grounded in a plausible future for mankind.   The aesthetic is sleek, curvy & monumental.   Space Mountain - of the same scale as Magic Kingdom’s but with updated fx, soundtrack, etc. - dominates the vista at the end of the land.   Water features, flowerbeds and a hidden railroad tunnel front it.  At the exit/entry areas there is a homage to the MK’s waterfall pylons.  Nearby is the Peoplemover plinth, and above that on the 3rd level is a spire-centered version of the Jetpacks – feet would dangle much further off the ground level than in Shanghai.


Horizons was, to me, a lightning-in-the-bottle classic on the same level as Haunted Mansion and PotC and epitomized the spirit of Tomorrowland/Future World.   Here it is re-born with upgrades (e.g., to film footage, simulator finale tech) but keeping the general experience intact.  Other attractions could include an new take on the old Adventures thru Inner Space concept (maybe making it a nanotech shooter omnimover), a seamless CircleVision experience and an interactive walkthrough experience that would draw from CommuniCore, House of the Future, TransCenter, etc.   


This is yet another unique planet and unique set of rides for a Star Wars land.  This time the locale is Malastare Spaceport with a unique flora, flauna and geology marked by crystalline rockwork formations.  

I considered the idea of Star Tours being accessible from both Tomorrowland and the Outpost (queue/exit & 2-3 sims for each direction) with one-way flights ending up in the other locale.  Sort of like the Hogwarts Express.   There are story problems with this idea as Tomorrowland and Star Wars exist within very different universes, times & tones, so maybe-not.  The layout allows for this idea, however.

The center of this land features a bazaar marketplace with numerous shops and quick service dining.  A billowing crystal canopy partially covers it.   One (of two) E tickets in the land is a Radiator Springs Racers-style ride where landspeeders or podracers experience indoor show-scenes (e.g., an AA Hutt Clan gangster and his protocol translator attempting pre-race bribery) before exploding into a high speed outdoor race to the finish line.

A crashed Blockade Runner, approx full-scale, dominates one side of the land and marks – and serves as queue for – a major ride where visitors choose to be on the side of the Sith or the Jedi.  Kuka vehicles, which seem ideal for getting thrown around by a force-weilding Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda or Emperor, take teams of Rebel or Imperial volunteers to face down their enemies.

My take on this tropical, coastal themed area was to divide the main draw – PotC - into both a kid-friendly, stylized (see art below), musical darkride (C/D-ticket) as well an epic E+ motion-based boat ride that would be more intense & feature more scare/jump-moments (e.g., a sudden shark attack that rocks the boat sideways) than a typical PotC attraction.   Both rides would present a unique sequence of settings, characters & events, with some familiar elements as well.  



The land has an indoor stunt theater and four explore zones: Swiss Family Treehouse, Skull Island, a pirate ship, and the ruins of a Mayan temple.  The interactive map/treasure hunt game from MK’s Adventureland would make use of these areas (and other nooks of the land).  Most lands in the park would benefit from a similar type of exploration/engagment feature.


This supersized version of Frontierland combines some familiar elements with some never-built ride concepts.    From the hub, guests enter a forest with an Indian camp before crossing a bridge into the explorable Fort Hancock.  Beyond, there is an extensive townscape filled with lots of small, individual artisan shops and places to wet one’s whistle, as one might find in a Western town: a gun shop, leather shop, blacksmith, general store, woodworker, miracle medicines wagon, etc.  There is a vaudeville theater and riverboat dock in town.  

Outside of town is Canyon Country where one would find Lil’ Thunder Mountain kiddie coaster (see art below), the loading station to island-based Big Thunder and the massive Western River Expedition mesa.  The queue to this PotC-like musical ride winds along the Riverside going behind waterfalls.



The area that transitions to Treasure Cove has a Spanish Southwest/Mexican influence.  The rivers stay busy with two paddlewheelers (stern and side-wheeled), keelboats, rafts to Tom Sawyer Island and Davy Crockett Canoes accessible on the Island.  The final ride brings back an old concept for Disneyland: a horse simulator (see art above).  Real horses could make appearances in the corral outside the building.   I imagine legendary characters of the Old West (Zorro, Tonto, Lone Ranger, Annie Oakley, etc.) could make cameos in the simulated bounty hunt within mini dome simulators.  The footage would be slot-machine style (like Star Tours 2), with many variations on the experience.

This land (and all lands) could feature live streetmosphere situations – e.g., a bank robbery, a speech by a Railroad Baron, a stagecoach arrival, Zorro jumping from roof to roof, as used to happen in Disneyland, etc.  


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Fifth Gate - Mythica Revisited

When imagining a fifth theme park, I typically use it as an occasion to address several problems that I see at WDW.

Problem 1: Overdevelopment of WDW & Orlando - Sprawl at the expense of greenspace.

    When you recall (or see photos/video of, particularly aerials) WDW and its immediate surroundings from the 1980s, un- or lightly-developed land stretched in every direction to the far horizon.  This insulating factor was an absolute key to making the place feel like a world apart.  For me, WDW began feeling overdeveloped when things like the sprawling Value Resorts, the Town of Celebration, Wide World of Sports, etc., came into being in the 1990s.   That was decades ago.  Since then, rampant, unchecked development inside and outside WDW has snowballed, most of it is very, very average American suburban sprawl.  Today, most elevated vistas are filled with development, near & far.  The famous Walt Disney quote about the "blessing of size" and a place "that can hold all the ideas & plans we can possibly imagine" is sadly no longer applicable.
    Because of this, most of the Fifth Gate park plans I've imagined and drawn for WDW replace an existing development, usually areas where unremarkable hotels stand.  In these wishful-thinking scenarios, I like to incorporate properties not technically part of WDW but touching on the bubble: e.g the Bonnet Creek hotels; the Waldorf and its neighbor; the Grand Cypress golf club; Celebration; or in this case, the Official WDW Hotel Plaza and Hyatt Regency north of Disney Springs.

Problem 2: Eyesore Hotel Buildings.
    Replacing a cacophony of 1970s hotel mid-rises with a forested greenbelt and the visual icons of a top tier theme park is a win-win.  Idealbuildout parks are designed to inspire awe from both within and without the park - no un-themed backsides of mountain ranges or giant showbuildings would be overly-conspicuous, even from outside the parks.  Beautiful & monumental 360-degree landmarks are the best kind of advertising billboards. 


Problem 3: All parks trending towards IP.  

    The parks are on a steady path from Theme Parks to IP Parks, where guests experience a random assortment of popular films in person and ride the movies, without overall rhyme or reason.  While not fully homogenized yet, they've been inching closer every year.  WDW was never better than when each of its parks felt like a completely unique experience.   In my opinion, the parks should take their original dedication statements to heart.  
    This fifth gate bucks the trend by eschewing IP.  The source material here is World Mythology that has already been adapted into countless films, but all the art direction and attraction/character design here would be originated for the park.  New slants.  That said, if one were inclined to have Disney IP, it is easy to imagine switching out attraction content throughout this park for its film-based interpretation. 


Problem 4: Less focus on Edutainment - a staple of classic parks.

    Going hand in hand with the above (no IP), a truly great theme park doesn't just entertain & divert, it illuminates and inspires.  I think this fifth gate can garner its own unique identity by taking a different approach to edutainment than EPCOT does (did), focusing on experiencing Worldwide Myths & Legends firsthand.  Via atmospheric rides & heart-pounding thrills, as well as walkthroughs and shows, the park's aim is to educate without the visitor even realizing it.  Passive infotainment.   This works via architecture (well-researched and executed recreations of historic buildings, though still romanticized and theatricized) and queue props, details & displays, pre-shows, pre-recorded spiels, etc.  Nothing should feel like an academic lecture, but for those who want to look deeper, the details and story elements should stand up to scrutiny.  Plenty of great attractions that most do not consider edutainment still contain aspects of history, culture and knowledge (thus providing illumination) in their execution and such would be the case here (things like Dinosaur, Tom Sawyer Island, Fortress Explorations, the new TDS Soarin' queue are a few examples).


    The first land is based on myths & folklore from the British Isles and contains the most 'modern' areas of the park in terms of theme (19th century), as well as the new deluxe in-park hotel.  It has three sub-areas.  The entry area is a welcoming, charming English country town inspired by places like Chester, with its assorted old buildings, shopping, dining and services.  The central landmark wonder of this sub-area is a hill inspired by Stonehenge.  


   Crossing a bridge to the left is the grander, more urban section based on Victorian Oxford and Cambridge, with the sprawling gothic Royal Oxbridge Hotel sits with its countless spires and chimneys.  There is a large darkride here set in a lord's manor house and a SFX theatrical show set in a building inspired by the Radcliffe Camera.

    On the opposite side of Cheshire, visitors go back to England's medieval times & legends.  There is a Sherwood Forest explore zone and a major attraction marked by the tall towers of Camelot castle.  This is an elaborate indoor atmospheric boatride that explores the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

   There is viewing for the nightly lagoon spectacular where myths & legends from different cultures have an epic battle on the water via lasers, fireworks, projections, floats, submerged watercannons, etc.




In a theme park based on world mythology, Ancient Greek mythology would get  a major presence.   


Rising above the center of the park, a rocky mount topped with a temple complex is inspired by the Acropolis.  Reached via an inclined path, it features walkthrough experiences and a dining venue with elevated lagoon views.   In the cavern below the Acropolis a monstrous AA hydra threatens boat passengers traversing the lagoon.

The famous Minotaur's Labyrinth may be experienced in this land via a maze and darkride where riders try to escape alive from the pursuing half-bull monster.  A sunken theater hosts live shows.  The land features a couple spinner B-tickets.   The E+-ticket here is a giant flume mountain, with numerous show scenes, animatronics and special FX bringing to life the pantheon of Olympian gods, demi-gods & heroes of classical mythology. 


The park's Chinese myth-based land.  There is a grand imperial palace complex modeled on the ancient seats of the Chinese emperors.   A mountain-based spinning coaster, a major kuka-based attraction (see art below) and a junk version of Aquatopia round out the areas rides.   Walkthrough attractions supplement.

This large, central land contains some of the park's most important landmarks or weenies.   The very tall Pharos or Lighthouse of Alexandria would serve as the park's castle.  It would feature explorable rooms across multiple levels, as would the Great Library complex nearby.  The Library has a dining element, as well.  All such "explore zones" in this park are not just static museum exhibits or playgrounds: they feature memorable elements, such as special fx/projections, triggered audio narration, secret doors and passageways and interactive features & puzzles, as you might find in Fortress Explorations or games such as Jewels of the Seven Seas or Uncharted. 


Naturally, a land themed to Egypt would get a monumental attraction housed in the Pyramids of Giza and based on the legends hidden in the depths of those wonders.  In this case, a darkride/coaster hybrid is the ride system.  The Sphinx also houses a major attraction, featuring scarab like vehicles and the Egyptian pantheon of gods.   The land features a dense, urban network of flat-roofed dwellings, shops and quick dining.  Streetmosphere also. 

Passing under an archway, visitors transition from the dusty, clay-brick streets of Memphis to wood and thatch viking villages scattered among dark nordic forests.  The land brings Norse mythology to life so people can learn what inspired things like the popular MCU characters.   A central landmark World Tree is also a swing ride.  There is a terrain coaster through and around snowy, mountainous terrain, at a similar scale to Big Thunder.  A vertical drop dark ride rises in a far corner of the land.



This drawing leaves some area for future lands.  My initial thoughts are for an Atlantean area to connect Helios and Aegyptus.   I think a Mayan or Aztec inspired mythology would work well in the far western forested area.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Parallel TDL

  Here is a version of TDL I drew before the recently completed changes.   



  World Bazaar is transformed into a romanticized, open-air urban boulevard.  For variety's sake, this land is slightly different from a typical Main Street USA: a little taller and a little more grandiose.  The added height (rather than being faux 2-3 stories, it would be faux 3-5 stories) gives it a bit more urban feel of an Eastern city (Boston, Philly, New York) at the height of the Gilded Age (1890s).   Indoor cover is provided by 2-storey arcades in all four quadrants.  


  The central plaza is transformed to accommodate the horse trolley and a new castle stage and approach, as seen in this Erik Van der Palen concept:



   This is just carving out the existing sub-section of Adventureland and changing the name for symmetry purposes (you'll see in Part 2).



   Here the costuming building gets replaced with a mountain ride inspired by some more Van der Palen concept art:



No real change here except to not include the duck camp.  


A perfectly-done miniland as is, so no changes.


No major changes.

   This area is based on the aerial birdseye art that pre-dated the actual New Fantasyland project.    Live character shows are popular in Tokyo, so the current Philharmagic Theater gets repurposed.  The new castle forecourt stage would also host outdoor musical performances.  Of course, the original Castle Mystery Tour is back and all the 70s Tournament Tent facades are replaced by appropriate storybook architecture.   Haunted Mansion gets a gothic European re-theme and becomes Vampire Palace.


    Everything else in the land is my interpretation of the above artwork.  A new IASW is built near Tomorrowland and its old spot is filled by a major Wonderland darkride.  Dumbo moves over towards the parade route.  Some kid of fairy tale village, which I'm assuming was a meet & greet, is near the hub bridge.  The rest of the area is Beauty & the Beast, though my guesswork was different than what was actually built.   I drew the castle marking a Be Our Guest restaurant and the darkride reached by queuing through Maurice's cottage. 


   The land is given a sleeker, more sci-fi aesthetic while keeping its iconic waterfall towers and Space Mountain.   I replaced Buzz with a GotG re-theme and had the nearby restaurant become The Collector's.   Star Tours has a new facade featuring a Starspeeder on a rooftop launch platform that raises and lowers. 


 The new district is an Atom Punk retrofuture with a PeopleMover, AstroOrbitor and a new original E-ticket omnimover ride called Amazing Tales of Tomorrow!.  I'm imagining something that hearkens back to the lost Future World classics like Horizons and World of Motion: long, music-backed, pre-recorded narration, featuring Animatronic vignettes out of the pages of pulp magazines showing comedic moments of life in the retro future.


   The final mini-land balances New Orleans Square and includes rides, features and dining based on Monsters Inc (existing), Up, Wall-E and The Incredibles.