Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Disneyland Paris Park Plan

I had the great pleasure to visit Disneyland Paris for a day last spring, my first visit to a Disney Park outside of Orlando. I don’t know how familiar you all are with this resort, so I’ll share some general thoughts. First, since we only had a single day, we only visited Disneyland Park. I really wish I could have seen the state of the Studios Park just so I could understand how it didn’t work, but I didn’t want to use valuable time to park hop. I was expecting a well-designed park after seeing the incredible concept art and photos in the Disneyland Paris: Sketch to Reality book and it lived up to my high expectations.

This park is a prime example of the concept of making the park itself the best attraction. I’ve somewhat adopted this idea from SW Wilson at Ideal Buildout, who says the park should be an E Ticket. This park absolutely is the best execution of this idea that I’ve seen. It’s a beautiful park, filled with detail and out of the way spots that bring it to life. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom and this park was like a bizarre but fantastic alternate version of what I know. Each land is a beautifully developed full world with more attention to detail than you can possibly comprehend at once. It’s hard to say how much I loved the design and style of this park without just saying the same things over and over so I’m going to move on.

As for the attractions in the park, I would say that overall it is a small step down from the Magic Kingdom as a total experience, but has vastly superior versions of many individual attractions. Paris’ Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates, and Space Mountain are all the best versions I have experienced. I had no complaints with any ride in the park. It just needs a few more of them, especially attractions that deepen the rich detail of the park.

I also want to quickly acknowledge a particular attraction. La Tanière du Dragon, a simple single room walkthrough, safely became a Top 10 Disney attraction for me. It’s simple, just an animatronic dragon figure that periodically comes to life. But it was one of the most immersive and magical experiences I’ve ever had in a theme park. I think we stopped in there 4 times in a single day just to watch for a while. It’s a true highlight of the park because it’s a little touch that adds life to a rich environment. Fantastic.

My long term expansion plan ended up being focused on the creation of 4 sublands to the existing lands, which was not intentional. I realized that this speaks to the thematic strength of the existing lands, that they really don’t need much fixing, just expansion. The exception is in Discoveryland, where my changes restore the original theme that has been diluted over the years.

Frontierland is an incredible land, among the best designed in Disney Parks because of its rich backstory. The main section of Thunder Mesa between Phantom Manor and the path connecting to Adventureland is beautiful and active, while the outskirts of the land towards the empty Chaparral Theater and Train Station were almost completely empty during my visit. There is just nothing there to draw guests back, especially with the theater currently empty.

This area is redeveloped as a Critter Country type area with an American National Park design. However, the Park is operated by a colorful collection of forest animals and owned by the Country Bears. They have opened up a park to all their animal friends from around the world as a vacation retreat, so this land can thematically include the large catalog of animal based Disney properties. The setting and style is decisively North American with architecture based on the Yellowstone Lodge style.

The main addition is a traditional dark ride led by the Country Bears and featuring a large cast of original animal characters in a musical tour of the Park. Across the path is a rethemed version of Junkyard Jamboree where guests are whipped around behind the Park’s fleet of jeeps. The Chaparral Theater is enclosed to host exclusively animal based shows. This park has had problems in the past with placing shows that do not fit in Frontierland in this theater, so that should be avoided. Possibilities include a live Country Bear Revue show with appearances by characters from Disney films such as Bambi and Pocohantas. Cowboy Cookout Barbecue is absorbed and rethemed as a Redwoods forest dining lodge.

In Adventureland, the western section is redeveloped. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, a basic themed coaster, is removed in favor of a South American jungle with the Indiana Jones Adventure and a new indoor Jungle Cruise. The existing Adventureland represents Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, so this area should have a distinctly different style. The EMV Indiana Jones attraction is the same ride system and track as the existing versions but with an original storyline in a Mayan temple. I considered a new attraction, but the EMV Indiana Jones ride is still a solid attraction that would be unique to the continent.

The bigger addition is the Jungle Cruise, which I consider the quintessential Adventureland experience. It was not included originally because of weather and snow concerns as far as I know, so that’s why this must be indoors. Near a cliffside temple, a series of temporary canvas and wood structures have been erected, home to a scientific exploration. Like Small World across the park, it loads outside and can follow a covered path into the show building. However it also has an alternate uncovered route when weather isn’t an issue. The guided boats take a quick trip through the jungle, passing through a cave, and then into the temple. The covered path stays below a series of rigged canvas tarps, leading into the temple. Inside the large show building is an artificial jungle with similar show scenes to the classic Jungle Cruise. However, the controlled environment allows for more sophisticated figures and special effects, creating exciting new scenes like a whirlpool that causes the boat to temporarily travel backwards. Because of the train tracks, the building is in two segments and boats travel under the train tracks.

In Fantasyland, there are two small additions as well as a subland. In the open expansion plot in the east courtyard building, a meet and greet center is added, like those recently added to other parks. It’s not the ideal solution, but logistically makes sense because this is a fairly small open space and there is increasing demand for these meet and greets. Also, on the east side of the land, a theater is added. Fantasyland needs a theater and I’ve heard rumors that one is coming soon. This seemed like a suitable space for it. Stylistically, it follows the language of Small World across the path. A large entrance plaza and tower on the north side welcomes guests into the theater that could hold Broadway caliber revue shows, like the Golden Mickey’s.

The big addition in the north expansion plot of the land is Arendelle. Meet Mickey Mouse is removed and the train station is redesigned as the entrance hall to the Kingdom of Arendelle. Across the tracks is the gate and main courtyard of the land with a small village area to the right on the path to Storybook Land. Inside the palace of Arendelle is a table service restaurant, a large sleigh ride trip to Elsa’s ice castle, and the opportunity to ice skate in the grand hall of the palace, just like Anna and Elsa do in the film. The village area is entirely retail space for the highly popular Frozen product line.

Discoveryland sees the most change to restore it to its original concept. First, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast is removed because of a new Toy Story based shooting attraction in the studios park. It is replaced with The Time Machine, the same attraction proposed in my Magic Kingdom plan. The Videopolis Theater is also removed because it has been unoccupied for years. It is replaced by a suspended dark ride loosely based on Around the World in 80 Days, which is already the basis of the counter service in the building. The interior space is reshaped to create a dining room for the Café Hyperion with the balloon loading and track traveling above before entering the main show scene space of the building. Across the land, the current Les Mysteres du Nautilus walk through, which was fantastic but seemed unpopular, becomes the queue to a new attraction. This honestly was an attempt to bring more prominence to the wonderfully designed Nautilus interior sets. The attraction is a Circumotion Theater attraction by Falcon’s Treehouse. Guests load into one of the two Nemo designed observation submarines for an exciting trip to the bottom of the sea.

The last and most significant addition to the park is the Star Wars Spaceport. Because this is totally different thematically from the rest of Discoveryland, it has to be a distinct subland. It begins along the train tracks in front of Star Tours. With an exterior that fits into the rest of Discoveryland, the covered spaceport interior acts as the entryway to the area. The indoor concourse advertises different galactic locations guests can travel to, tying in to the existing Star Tours storyline. To the right of the spaceport, a path leads to Coruscant, the main area of the land. The Captain EO Theater is demolished for this expansion. The city includes the Millennium Falcon in dock, a shopping market, a large counter service cantina, and the Jedi Training Academy. Nearby is a X Wing Fighter, marking the entrance to an extreme spinner ride. The main attraction is a kuka based X Wing flight, including the iconic trench run. There is also a table service restaurant looking over the city of Coruscant. To the left of Star Tours is a large expansion plot for a future Star Wars world.

This week’s question:

What are your thoughts about the strategy of creating unique versions of classic rides vs reusing the same designs over and over?

As I mentioned, Disneyland Paris has fantastically unique versions of multiple classic Magic Kingdom attractions. Big Thunder Mountain is on an island, Pirates features a unique open layout and an uphill waterfall, Space Mountain is as extreme as Rockin Roller Coaster, and Phantom Manor is as original as a take on a classic as you can get. Unfortunately, Disneyland Paris is the nearly the only example of this. Disneyland and Disneyworld are generally the same, Tokyo wanted exact copies of the American versions, and Hong Kong used copies for economic reasons, though this has been reversed in the last few years. Shanghai however, seems to be going almost all original, which is great.

If the design goal was to give Disneyland Paris a unique identity, then I believe it succeeded and I wish that each resort around the world did the same thing. The attractions in their unique versions are successful and able to stand alone, but can be appreciated even deeper when you are able to compare versions across the world.

Additionally, an important reason that unique versions of attractions are successful is because they allow world building. Image a Disneyland Frontierland that was forced to use the same Haunted Mansion. It just wouldn’t be the same because it would destroy the detailed story and design aesthetic of the land. The ability of the park to use original takes on classics is one of the reasons the park is so strong. I’m absolutely sure the attractions in Tokyo Disneyland are fantastic and I would enjoy them, but I would know it’s basically the same attraction in a different place. This I believe is one of Disneyland Paris’ triumphs. It was a whole new bizarre fantastic experience.

So my thoughts on unique attractions: I wish it was done more. Copying the same attraction around the world may be easy and may make sense, but unique designs make the best park.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Magic Kingdom Park Plan

This first post starts us off in the place that first inspired my love of theme parks. It is also a plan that many of you may be familiar with if you followed along with my previous blog. There are only a few content changes but I did evolve the graphic style a bit with realistic tree canopies and roof lines.

Below is a short descriptive walk through of the changes I propose to the Magic Kingdom and why.

Transportation to and from the entrance of the park has become a major issue at park open and close. Steps have already been taken to solve this problem including the expanded bus stops and extra ferry docks. Other steps I propose in this plan are to lengthen the Monorail stations to handle a train with an extra passenger car and to run both Express and Resort service trains on the resort beam during peak times. These small additions would not solve the problem, but would start to make a difference. Also in this plan are an added queue space on the north side of the station for the long queue that forms at park close time and a second Express queue ramp on the south side for when trains are running both Express and Resort on the same beam.

Starting in Main Street USA, the first change is the addition of a fully themed East side street, themed to turn of the century London. The addition of this bypass or street allows for better crowd flow during busy portions of the day such as parades, fireworks, and park close. At the intersection of this east street and Center Street is a new Mary Poppins dark ride. Guests board a carousel that literally unravels on a musical journey through Mary Poppins Jolly Holliday, riding through highlights from the film like “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

Continuing on to the Hub, the only significant change is the renovation of the Tomorrowland Noodle Station into Walt’s, a fine dining restaurant that tells the story of Walt and the creation of the park, much like Walt’s Restaurant in Disneyland Paris. The dining rooms are themed to different lands and periods of Disney history with the highlight being the large central rotunda dining space with prime views to Cinderella’s Castle.

In Adventureland, there are a few major additions. Next to the Swiss Family Treehouse, an indoor theater is constructed, the Deep Jungle Theater, themed as a large canvas expedition tent, hidden away in the dense vegetation. Inside is a high energy musical performance of Tarzan, featuring Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics and a live band performing a rock influenced score. This is an important addition to the park because it expands the theater capacity of the park, something that is currently lacking. The Flying Carpets of Aladdin are removed to open up the walking space of the land. A new expanded dock is also built for the Jungle Cruise for dedicated wheelchair and disabled loading, preventing delays at the main dock and creating a more effective Scene 1.

The main expansion pad to the south of Pirates of the Caribbean is utilized to create a new mini-land for Adventureland. A smoldering volcano looms over the deep jungle and a path between the Jungle Cruise and the Pirates fort leads right to it. Guests enter a dark cave opening to find themselves inside the large cavern of the volcano, home to an early 19th century scientific mining operation. The main attraction of this area is a Journey to the Center of the Earth coaster/dark ride hybrid that takes guests to the depths of the volcano before escaping back to the surface. The cavern is full of kinetic motion as the Jungle Cruise, the Train, and the drilling car ride vehicles for the attraction all pass through it. On the water’s edge is a new table service restaurant, Vulcania Market Table, serving Caribbean cuisine, and the eating area for the Expedition Food Truck, serving snacks and drinks. This dark, mysterious, and heavily themed cavern fully builds out Adventureland.

Frontierland and Liberty Square see infrastructure and pathway changes with a new permanent bridge across the Rivers of America, resolving the bottleneck by Big Thunder Mountain and allowing access to the new expansion pads to the north. Therefore the Liberty Belle Riverboat will cease operations. This decision was difficult, but one that will eventually be necessary for crowd flow and safety. Movement is maintained on the river however with the return of a fleet of modified keelboats which can pass under the new bridges as well as the rafts which will continue operation even though the islands are accessible by path.

The Frontierland addition in the north expansion area is a massive stagecoach motion base ride. At the north end of the river, reached by path through the Island or by keelboat, is a small abandoned sheriff’s office. It begins a path that leads through the woods to a rocky cliffside, covering the train tracks and hiding a smugglers camp. Inside, just after passing under the train tracks, guests find themselves back outside at twilight in an abandoned western town. The sheriff has invited us to go out on patrol with him in search of the smugglers that used the cave as a base, leading us on a fast paced adventure through the dangers of the old west.

Between Liberty Square and this new Frontierland addition is a new land, New Orleans Harbor. A geographical and chronological transition piece between the New England of Liberty Square and the Old West of Frontierland, the land includes the permanently docked Liberty Belle Riverboat, a bakery, a table service recreation of Tiana’s Restaurant, and the Bayou Theater, home of a live musical production based on Princess and the Frog. The show uses a mix of puppetry and illusion to tell a condensed version of the musical, accompanied by a live jazz band. The highly atmospheric land comes alive with musicians and artists during the day and a bayou of simulated glistening fireflies at night.

The only addition to Liberty Square is the permanently docked and fully explorable sailing ship HMS Columbia. This ship functions as a dynamic icon for the land while also acting as a visual barrier separating Fantasyland and Frontierland, specifically blocking the view of Rapunzel’s tower from Frontierland.

Continuing to Fantasyland, there are some big additions. First Peter Pan’s Flight is replaced by A Tangled Tale, completing the Tangled inspired area. This classic dark ride tells a condensed version of the film, featuring all the musical highlights including a major “I Have a Dream” segment filled with singing thugs. Next door, Mickey’s Philharmagic is relocated to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and replaced by a large interactive trackless dark ride through the world of Frozen. This film’s instant and massive popularity makes it an easy choice for this large open spot in Fantasyland. Though it does reduce theater capacity in the park, it is a necessary sacrifice. If Frozen maintains its massive popularity, it could alternately warrant a full mini-land in the near future, possibly replacing or adjacent to Storybook Circus.

Moving on to Fantasyland Forest, some of the recent additions are expanded. Story Time with Belle is adapted into a full scale animatronic experience with the addition of two small rooms after the libraries, small enough to not impede the utilidor access area, bringing the total number of scenes in this experience to five from mirror room to exit. The focus of each room moves to animatronic heavy storytelling instead of meet and greet. The existing Wardrobe converses with new Babette and Mrs. Potts figures to set up the story. The libraries are redressed as the dining room and new figures of Cogsworth and many supporting characters are added for a large scale production of Be Our Guest. In the following new rooms, guests pass through the library where they meet Belle and listen to her and the enchanted objects discuss becoming human again. Guests then exit on the south side of the cottage.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is also expanded with an additional indoor mine scene on the east side, creating a longer ride. The track is reconfigured so there is still a significant outdoor portion above the new indoor scenes. This is a complex addition logistically, but could realistically be added during a major track replacement refurbishment after many years of operation to refresh the ride experience. Storybook Circus also gets a new major ride, an LPS dark ride through Mickey’s circus featuring animated characters from the entire Disney cannon placed into circus situations.

The final additions to Fantasyland create an urban environment for this side of the land. Behind a fantasy inspired London facade, a new E Ticket version of Peter Pan’s Flight is constructed, where larger capacity flying ships take guests through a longer and more detailed version of this classic attraction, complete with sophisticated animatronic figures and modern effects. Attached to the ride is a meet and greet with Tinkerbell, set inside the drawer in the Darlings’ house, filled with oversized objects. Nearby, an Alice in Wonderland area is created with the addition of Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and a retheme of Cosmic Rays Starlight Café as the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall. To complete the land, a new walkthrough nearby takes guests into the Dragon’s Crypt, home to a slumbering dragon, similar to the amazing experience at Disneyland Paris.

Between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland is the second new land of the park, Discoveryland, built on the site of the Speedway. This is a transitional space, designed as a fantasy-future steampunk environment, home to just one attraction. The docked Nautilus marks the entrance to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a simulator attraction that dives to the depths of the sea for an adventure with Captain Nemo. A counter service location themed to Around the World in 80 Days sits in the hangar for the iconic Hyperion balloon, forming the border between this land and Tomorrowland.

In Tomorrowland, the tone of the land is refined into an intergalactic world fair. Stitch’s Great Escape is replaced with a redeveloped version of Alien Encounter and the Laugh Floor is replaced with a motion base/3D-movie hybrid of the Time Machine where guests board an experimental machine for a disastrous trip through time. The existing round theater space is reconfigured into four individual simulator rooms with a preshow space in the center and uses a mix of projection mapping on physical sets and HD 3D projections along with a vehicle on a motion base to create a dynamic travel experience. The Carousel of Progress is replaced with an E Ticket Tron attraction on the first floor, expanding into a new showbuilding behind, and a transportation restaurant on the second floor. The ride takes us onto the grid where guests must evade the evil programs and find a way back home. Tomorrowland comes alive at night with kinetic motion and neon, creating the future we have always imagined.

Back in the Hub, a new fountain and projections package is installed for use during a new nightly castle show.

Now I want to quickly do something a little different. As I keep on saying, I want this to be more than just a place I share my work. I want to use these projects to prompt quick and informative discussions about themed design. So with each post I'm going to share some thoughts about a particular subject related to the project, and I encourage you to comment with your views. This will probably start pretty slow since the website is just starting up, but that is ok.

For the Magic Kingdom, I originally wanted to discuss the complex and controversial debate about IP placement in the park, but I think I will save that for later. Instead, I've decided on debating the value of the walk through attraction. In the above plan I've proposed, I added two standard walk through attractions (The Labyrinth and the Dragon's Crypt), increased access to Tom Sawyer's Island, and turned a meet and greet into an animatronic based walk through. I personally like what walk throughs do for a park because they add a deeper layer of experience that reinforces the entire park as an attraction, not just the rides. All good walk throughs supplement a thematic experience of a land or area and allow the guest to travel one step deeper into that themed world.

The best application of walk throughs in a theme park is definitely Disneyland Paris Park, which has 5 distinct and wonderfully designed walking experiences. I visited the park last year and I have no trouble saying that some of these attractions, namely the Dragon's Crypt and Alice's Labyrinth, were among the highlights of an already great park. As much as I enjoyed them, they were also very lightly attended. Many times, my group were the only guests in them.

From some research, it seems that the common design thought is that walk throughs don’t work. Theme Park University has a story about the failure of the Goddard Group designed Baltimore Power Plant project and highlights the failure of the walk through as a reason for its closure. Environments that depend on a walk through as the main draw do not succeed for some reason. My best guess is that guests feel like a theme park is for attractions, not walking and looking. This is a problematic thought to a designer, because it suggests that in a sense the whole park walk through experience is unimportant when compared to the attractions in the park.

Overall however, I see place making value in the walk through attraction even with its attendance and capacity issues. It's never going to be the big draw or even hold a line, but it invaluably supports the thematic design strategy of the park. Not every guest will figure out its value, but it just makes a park that much more special to those who do.

What are your thoughts about walk through attractions in theme parks? Do you enjoy them and do they add to your overall experience or are they just something you skip? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!