Sunday, December 20, 2015

Disneyland Trip Report and Ideas!

This time, were going to talk Disneyland.

Last week, I made my first trip to Disneyland and spent nearly 5 days at the parks. I knew going in that it was widely considered to be the best resort but I was still a little surprised at just how amazing and superior it was to any other theme park I’ve visited.

In general terms, almost every attraction, land and restaurant at Disneyland is better than its Disney World counterpart. There are exceptions, which I will note along with the true highlights of the resort. I also know a lot of readers here are most familiar with Disneyland Paris, so I’ll give comparisons there too when appropriate. So Ill go through each park land by land with some thoughts that are part trip report, part design ideas, and wrap up with some overall comments.

Disneyland is just about the perfect park. The history is all around you and its age has allowed it to evolve and improve into a practically flawless park. I don’t think that is a crazy or unheard of statement. If there is any major problem with the park, it is predominately not the attractions or design, but the crowd flow and infrastructure, which is being stressed by the ever growing crowds. I’ll come back to this issue as we go.

Main Street is smaller in total proportion, but really doesn’t seem like it. The scale seems natural. That’s going to be a common observation of this park. The proportions and scales all seem innately correct and perfect, making a much more naturally charming park. The castle is smaller, but now that I have seen it in person, suddenly Cinderella’s Castle in Orlando looks too big. Same with the Main Street Buildings. The scale feels like it is what it was always meant to be. I also very much appreciate that this Main Street still has divided shops that sell unique-ish items. So much better than the endless Emporiums of Orlando and Paris.

Main Street also has some great attractions that don’t get a lot of mention. I specifically mean Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Main Street Vehicles. Lincoln’s actual show is well put together and impressive, but the better part is the preshow rooms filled with Disneyland art, a large model of opening day Disneyland, and the adjacent Disney Gallery store, filled with incredible art for sale. I liked these spaces because they demonstrated the real history and evolution of the parks, something that Disneyland is much more willing to acknowledge than the other resorts. The Main Street Vehicles were also fantastic for their kinetic contributions. There were always multiple vehicles on the street throughout the day, and it really made it feel like a real lively city. I’m a fan of any transportation based ride, and these are among the best, even if often overlooked. These are the kinds of little un-obvious attractions that separate an amusement parks from a themed space like Disneyland.

I was never able to see the Main Street Bypasses that were opened earlier this year, but I can see how they are needed. Main Street was a little narrow and was difficult to travel at peak times. As crowds grow, those bypasses may become more important, and maybe a permanent arcade like Paris one at least one side might be a better solution.

Last for Main Street, I’ve got to say that big trees are a nice change. The tree density throughout the park adds more than you could ever expect, especially in Fantasyland, where both Orlando and Paris are lacking in full grown forest.

Adventureland was probably my favorite land and I don’t feel the need to change much of anything because it is complete as it is. Classic Tiki Room with a Dole Whip, the Jungle (or Jingle) Cruise, and the Treehouse, even if with Tarzan, are all great attractions. The jungle vegetation was incredibly dense and convincing and really made you forget you were in a city.

I found new appreciation for the Tiki Room while watching others during the show. To me and other knowledgeable in theme parks, the Tiki Room may be a little basic and unexciting compared to more modern attractions. But to the average guest, the singing birds and plants were something they had never seen and captured their interest. Kids and adults sat amazed at the songs above. Maybe everything doesn’t need to be exciting and technological. Also, I had the pleasure of having Tiki Maynard as the Cast Member host, and that was quite a show (look him up if you don’t know who he is).

The Tarzan overlay to the Treehouse also wasn’t as bad as expected. Even though it was an animated property outside of Fantasyland, which I normally oppose on principle, it perfectly fit into the tone of the land and was not a thematic contradiction or distraction from the environment. Maybe my animated property philosophy needs reconsideration.

And now I get to the Indiana Jones Adventure. This is the best theme park attraction I have ever experienced. Spiderman at IOA is a close second. Indiana Jones is a total attraction from queue to end. One of the best queues I have seen, a fully themed environment (even the disabled elevators were fully themed), an innovative ride system, and a super detailed attraction interior. The main room filled with flames was the highlight, and I especially liked it because of the visibility of multiple vehicles at the same time and the kinetic action all around. Even with the last third of the attraction in weird darkness and flat blacklight paint, this attraction was an incredibly fun ride. I rode it three times, and could do for even more. A refurb to reimagine those last dark rooms could really elevate this even higher.

Next, Frontierland was good but lighter on content that the other comparable parks, and it will only get smaller with Star Wars. Big Thunder is the same as Orlando and lesser than Paris, but still good as the primary element of this land. 

The best part of Frontierland though is the river and all its traffic. Just like in every other case that I have already mentioned, moving elements make this land feel alive and much larger than it is. I hope that this is not too affected when the changes come next year. 

New Orleans Square is next, and another land that could never need any changes. Pirates is a classic, the land is immersive, the food is great, and it has fantastic atmosphere. I only had two problems. First, I wish I could have seen the original Haunted Mansion, not Haunted Mansion Holiday, even though this is one of the attractions that many consider to be better at Disney World. The Holiday version was entertaining, but I think I would have enjoyed the original more.

The other problem with this land is crowd flow. This land appeared to have the narrowest walkways and the most bottleneck points, so it became chaotic to get through the land. Specifically, the path past Haunted Mansion towards Critter Country was nearly impossible. This might be a challenge to fix, but I think it needs to happen. Crowds are growing, and it’s becoming miserable and nearly dangerous to move through some of these areas. The intersections with Adventureland and New Orleans Square was also bad because of the entrance to Pirates.

So therefore, I never made it to Critter Country, so I don’t have much a comment. I wasn’t upset by this, because it was too cold to ride Splash Mountain and I wasn’t interested in Winnie the Pooh. I passed it by train at least. I do hope that pathways can be reconfigured so that this area is no longer as isolated.

Going back to Fantasyland. This was a large land with a lot of good and classic attractions. I didn’t anticipate how lush and spread out this land was compared to the other Fantasylands I have seen. It was as sprawling as Paris but a fully grown forest, which made so big of an environmental difference. It also meant each little area couldn’t see the rest of the land, which kept the reveal of a sight like the Small World façade really controlled and more effective.

I got to ride some classic dark rides that I had never seen before, such as Toad, and ride familiar favorites like Snow White. My favorite of the five however was Alice in Wonderland, just because of how unique it was with the outdoor section. It was also fascinating to see the evolution of the dark ride, from the painted flats in Toad, to full sets in Pinnochio, and then new projection aided environments in Alice. I only wish that the projection face figures had actually made their way into the dark rides.

The problem with Fantasyland is just like those before. Its pathways cause a lot of congestion, but specifically at Parade time. The main cross path from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland intersects the parade path and causes traffic chaos with people trying to get from the left to the right side of the park. This might be a place to look into a traffic flow solution. I also think Fantasyland could do with an expansion of one or two more rides, possibly in place of the Fantasyland Theater or into Toontown.

Toontown is another land I did not spend much time in because of crowds and cold. Plus I wasn’t interested in the Meet and Greets or houses, so I just made a quick walk through the land to see the architecture. It seems to be a perfectly nice and well themed land that fulfills its purpose. If needed for expansion, I don’t think it would be a big loss, but if it survives, it works as a solid land in the park.

Last, we move onto the land with the most problems, but the currently most popular attraction of the resort. Tomorrowland has some good parts, but a lot of things that need adjustment and the potential for three or four or more new attractions. Whereas the rest of the lands in the park seem to have this innate history and resolved masterplan and organization, Tomorrowland feels messy and temporary. I don’t want to be harsh, it is a good land at times, but is far behind Paris, the best version of this type of land, and Orlando, where there is a bit more organization. So I’m going to try to do a lot to this land.

I should also talk about the Star Wars stuff too, specifically Hyperspace Mountain. Wow that was cool and is a great example for the draw of a Star Wars attraction. It consistently had the longest lines and I never heard someone come off it disappointed. A permanent, well themed Star Wars land is needed fast. And now that I have seen The Force Awakens, I see a lot of potential and am very excited for where the these lands are going. I’m also very glad for the decision to let Star Wars create its own land and not overlay Tomorrowland.

Now across the Resort, we come to California Adventure. I followed the expansions closely and was excited to see what exactly this park had become. I was happily surprised by the total park experience and really enjoyed my short time there. I say short because even with the additions, I still could feel that this park hasn’t reached its potential. The new additions were noticeably great but revealed just how much more work is needed to the unchanged areas. Paradise Pier and parts of Hollywood need help next. Still, a relatively solid park that is far better than Disney Studios Paris and a bit ahead of Hollywood Studios. Also, I should say that there are much less traffic flow issues here, likely because it was designed as a modern park with wide pathways and no real bottlenecks.

Buena Vista Street is a very well designed entrance to the park and a good companion to Main Street. I really enjoy the architecture and tone of this time period, so I always knew I would like this street. Again, it was nice to have the kinetics of the working Red Car Trolley and the various performing groups. Somehow my entrances were timed so that I saw Five and Dime perform about 6 times over a day and a half.

One strange comment about the land. I had the opportunity to talk to a design professional and brought up how nice this land was. He mentioned that the land actually looks a lot like many of the large outdoor malls in southern California, like the Grove. The owner of the malls was a fan of Disneyland and themed architecture, so his malls ended up being Main Street-esque with a turn of the century Hollywood theme. And now, Buena Vista Street was designed with the same theme, so consequently looks like a local mall. How odd.

On to Hollywoodland, which has some really great parts and some great potential for new additions. First, I love the architecture of the main street, even with the fake street end mural. Next, I love the Aladdin Musical and it is a crime that were losing it for more Frozen. Last, this version of the Animation building is by far the best, especially because of the central room with the projected montages.

Besides those things, this land has a lot of room for future change, mostly in the northern backlot style area. Monsters Inc. is a fairly good ride that can stay if thematically appropriate, but besides that, there is a lot of room here and three or four large soundstage showbuildings for additions. I think this half of the land is the prime spot for the next major addition to the resort.

A Bug’s Land, right between Hollywood and Carsland is another nicely themed but low substance land. I understand its purpose was a speedy addition of kid friendly rides to the thrill heavy park. I was actually surprised at how nice and thorough the theming was, especially at night when the land glows. Even so, this is a land that I would not have a problem with losing for the sake of expansion to another land.

Carsland was highly anticipated and is obviously the high point of the park, as it was always the most crowded. I’m not sure how I felt about the land though. I might have built it up too much and it couldn’t have delivered. That doesn’t mean its not good. The street was faithfully recreated from the movie and really detailed and clever. The rockwork was breathtaking and looked impossible. Radiator Springs Racers was fun, even if short, and had the most impressive and source accurate animatronic figures I have ever seen (specifically Mater – wow). But it still felt lacking as a total themed environment. Maybe my best comment is that I distinctly heard many say “wow, it looks just like the movie,” meaning its always going to just be a derivative from the source movie, not a land with its own life.

The exception here is when the neon comes on and the sun goes down. Then there is a whole new life to the land, and it is much more kinetic, engaging, and interesting. Again, I don’t want to be overly critical. It’s a good land and a great ride, but not a great headlining land that it is built up to be.

Paradise Pier is the other land that has some flaws and potential to grow. The only real problem here is that it is still mostly carnival style rides that are not as unique as the rest of the park. Toy Story is a good addition, and California Screamin is a fantastic coaster, but the land could use one or two more non-spinner attractions. Expansion may be possible underneath the coaster or on the west side, by the spinner rides.

Another interesting observation in this land is based on Toy Story Midway Mania and The Little Mermaid dark ride. Both of these are clones with attractions in Orlando and were both developed for both resorts at the same time. Interestingly, both attractions were far better in California and seemed to fit their surroundings infinitely better. Toy Story is themed as a Midway game and set right in the middle of a Midway. Mr. Potato Head is designed as a barker and here is actually placed as a barker. Little Mermaid was designed as a basic but charming C or D ticket dark ride with a façade and queue that doesn’t oversell it as the centerpiece of a huge expansion. It’s almost like these attractions were designed for Disneyland and then just cloned over to Orlando and stuck in where they fit the closest.

Last land, Grizzly Peak and the surrounding areas are a really cool and really environmental land, again because of the trees and landscaping. Trees and density are lacking in the rest of the park, but they make this land. One problem here is the lack of attractions since there are really only two of them, one when it is too cold for rafting, and then zero since Soarin is a direct clone. This could do with another attraction to flesh out the national park environment. However, I don’t believe there is much room.

Now that I’ve talked through both parks quickly, I have some final comments comparing the resorts.

First, I have to mention the food. Disneyland food, from snacks and counter service to table service, blows Disney World and Paris food away. It is shocking how much better and how much more variety there is. Burgers and chicken are not required to be on every menu apparently. Standout meals were the sundried tomato and pesto chicken pasta at Paradise Pizza and Pasta, and the ribs in Flo’s V8 Café. Both were counter service, served on real plates, and reasonably priced. Table service was great too. I ate at Café Orleans and Carthay Circle and both were great food for a theme park setting.

Another interesting comparison is the crowd distribution in the resort. So I visited during a very busy time, not quite as bad as it will be at Christmas, but pretty bad. But the actual queue times were not as bad as an average day at Disney World. From what I can tell, this is both because there are significantly more attractions to spread crowds, and less attractions that use Fastpass, which usually always makes lines longer. This made a much better park experience and it really makes sense. More rides equals shorter lines, and this is one of Disneylands best strengths.

Last, the quality of the rides are almost universally better at Disneyland. The rides are usually longer, like Pirates and Small World, have more detailed sets and special effects, like Space Mountain and Buzz, and better maintained, like many of the classic dark rides. Also, like I mentioned, modern clones seem to make more sense there than at other resorts. The only exception to this rule is Tower of Terror, which lacks a 4th dimension room, and Haunted Mansion, which is shorter and less maintained.

Shows, including both the nighttime entertainment and the traditional performances, are also much better. Part of this is just because many shows are relatively new for the 60th and are often refreshed. Mickey and the Magical Map was superior to any Orlando or Paris show just because there was actually a cast of multiple live singers and a musician, instead of just one or two. Aladdin was full Broadway quality and overshadowed any other theme park performance. The street entertainment was varied and impressive. Both World of Colors were technically impressive and pretty good with content. Fantasmic had better scenes, was much closer and more intimate, and an overall more impressive experience. And last, Paint the Night was a truly modern response to the classic light parade typology. (I never saw Disneyland Forever, so no comment there. It was cancelled every night I tried to see it, or 4 of the 5 nights I was there.)

So in just about every way, Disneyland is a better resort.

So I immensely enjoyed both parks and don’t think there is a huge amount of things that need to be changed. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. I will be starting on a site plan soon, and will work on it through the next weeks and months until I am happy with it.

For Disneyland, the main focuses are going to be infrastructure and traffic flow changes throughout the park, a complete reworking of Tomorrowland, and smaller additions in Fantasyland, Frontierland, and maybe Critter Country. For Tomorrowland, a new consistent story and theme will be an important first step. I would like to start it out original, without an IP basis, but there are one or two IPs that I think could have a place in this land, specifically Tron, one of my favorite fallbacks.

DCA needs more work, but doesn’t need any infrastructure changes. The main addition I want to bring to DCA is a more structured park identity that explains and supports the existing lands and suggests more additions. For instance, I want to restructure the existing lands as manifestations of the California spirits of adventure, creation, and fun (as in Grizzly Peak, Hollywood and Cars Land and Marvel, and Paradise Pier). So with this new identity, I am going to look into moderate additions in Grizzly Peak and Paradise Pier to flesh out their themes, and major additions of Marvel and Pixar and possibly more to the creation areas. This park has a lot of potential that I look forward to figuring out.
Im excited to start work on this resort and excited to share my ideas later this year. I’ll keep you updated as I put it together.

In the meantime, I’m still working on a new post for an original attraction in EPCOT to be posted sometime in the next few weeks. And then next year, we will continue with a new post a month.

As I am putting together my schedule for posts, I want to hear what kinds of projects you want to see. I have a few posts started, including attractions based on Indiana Jones, UP, The Incredibles, and Tangled, but want your suggestions. Original attractions? Overlays? Park expansions? New Parks? Any particular properties? Let me know in the comments, and I will take your ideas into consideration. 


  1. Currently in Disney World and using an iPhone, but I will say this makes me interested in going to Disneyland. I'm curious if this will result in you redoing your WDW maps and updating them with ideas from this park.

    1. Also, would I would like it if possible if you could do your own take on IdealBuildout's Mythica fifth WDW park and versions of your Universal Studios parks.

    2. I definitely think a trip to Disneyland is worth it for a theme park fan. Even if you disagree about one resort being better than the other, it's still a enlightening and fun experience. And again, I want to say that my new views of Disneyland don't make me think that Disney World is bad, just that the comparison has made me realize alot of areas where one might be better than the other.

      Reworking the WDW parks is a possibility, but I may not do it at a total park scale like what I first posted. I may do alternate plans for specific lands, like an alternate Fantasyland expansion or Tomorrowland, and let the original park plans stand as my comprehensive design.

      I will add the Mythica to the possibilities list, though I will admit I dont have much knowledge in that kind of source material. Maybe a land somewhere instead. I'll think about it.

      Yes Universal Orlando is on the list, but will have to be a little later this year. It takes a good bit of time to draw the existing park plans that I then edit. Disneyland resort is first priority and then Universal Orlando. But I definitely want to make a plan for that soon!

      Have fun at Disney World!

  2. If you need help with the Mythica park concept, I'd love to help. I've actually got quite a bit of ideas, some based on IdealBuildouts, some my own. Also something I'd like to see you do is Beastly Kingdom considering that after visiting the park two days ago, it's glaringly obvious to me that Pandora simply does not fit from a thematic standpoint, especially since most people I've meet forget Avatar existed, despite being at this time(and unlikely to keep being so if Star Wars keeps going as it is) the highest grossing movie of all time. Beastly Kingdom at least fits with the parks theming.

    1. Even though its not perfect, I think Avatar is going to work. Just based on the environmental design, not the story or anything. If that is good enough, no one is going to care about the movie or remember it once it fades away.

      But yeah, something better could go there. I'm always hesitant to go after Beastly Kingdom, at least as it was originally imagined, because it has such a defined legend and other designers interpretations are frankly better than I could do.

      So my current thought is to come at it from your suggested Mythica theme actually, so that it has its own identity separate from the legend of Beastly Kingdom. Some of the same concepts as the original really. But defined as Mythological Creatures instead of Fantastic Creatures.

      I think that could be really interesting. I'll put that towards the top of the list.

    2. Personally, Mythica makes more sense to me as it's own theme park rather than a land, but that's just me. It just feels like a natural idea for a fifth WDW Theme Park. I'd almost make it like Epcot, for Myths. If one wants to use Disney properties, it's not hard to do as Disney already has properties for Hercules(Greek/Roman Myths), Atlantis(Atlantis Myth), Thor(Norse Myths), Mulan, or though more with Mushu(Chinese Myths), and Sword in the Stone(King Arthur/British Myths). In fact the only thing that doesn't have a Disney property that is somewhat related to it is Eygptian Mythology, though they did appear in the old Hercules animated series. And like I said earlier, you really don't need the properties, just explore the myths.

      As for Beastly Kingdom, to be honest, from what little I remember of the concept, there was indead a Mythological part to it, as in some of the concept of it, the far left side seemed to be devoted to Mythological based creatures(with what looked to be some kind of Mount Olympus ride or the like), while the right was fantasy based creatures, and the very bottom of the area was entire the Fantasia Gardens. The thing is there is no map that I know of for Beastly Kingdom.

  3. I'd love to see some new theme park ideas! Hope you enjoyed your trip and cant wait to see new posts

    1. I can definitely do that! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. New post coming soon (like maybe this week if I can finish the text)!

  4. When you said that Soarin' was a direct clone, I was confused, because California Adventure had it before Epcot. That's why all of the scenes in the film take place in California.