Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Year in Review and What's Ahead

To finish up the year, I want to look back on some of what happened here and in the theme park world in 2016 and briefly look ahead to 2017.

This post therefore comes in three parts:

Part 1. The Year in Imagineerland

This was the first full year of the website, and some big projects were posted. Since many of you may have joined along during the year, you may have missed them along the way, so I want to give a quick recap. Go back and check them out, leave a comment on what you like if you want. I'd be happy to go back and discuss anything from the past year with you.


In attraction plans, the year started with the first of two plans for Tangled dark rides, this one for the Magic Kingdom to replace Peter Pan's Flight.

Later, I followed up with a Fantasyland Expansion plan for Disneyland that included a Frozen boat ride and the second Frozen ride, this time trackless.



I also posted a concept for a fake "trackless" suspended dark ride with UP for the Animal Kingdom.


I also posted multiple major park plans this year. We started with my first non Disney project ever, with a new expansion plan for Islands of Adventure. This is a plan that I will definitely be revisiting with an update in the future, but I am happy with this first version.



The middle of the year, I posted a huge 9 part series for the complete expansion of the Disneyland Resort, inspired by my first trip there last December. In the project, I set up a phased expansion plan for the resort, transportation, and parks, adding two hotels, a lot of parking, and dozens of attractions to the parks. I am really happy about how this turned out.

And most recently, and the post that brought a lot of you here, is my second version of the Disney Studios Paris park, where I proposed a huge expansion to the park, basically tripling the size and number of attractions.




I also started producing essays about various themed design topics this year.

I posted three entries in a sporadic series I am doing on the environmental design elements of theme parks: The Urban Plan, Visual Sequence, and Physical Paths. These are my attempt at reconciling my architecture and urban planning background with the design of the parks in order to discover the rules that make great themed spaces. More of this later.

I also had some standalone essays. I wrote one comparing Disneyland, The Magic Kingdom, and Disneyland Paris, the three castle parks I have been to.

Another essay set up my personal rules for using IPs in the theme parks. Spoiler: I think Star Wars is ok, but Guardians of the Galaxy is bad placement. I really try to stick to these rules in all my work.

Soon after, I wrote an analysis to try to find the meaning of the theme of Disneyland, which was a bit of a follow up to the previous essay. My real goal was to personally decide if Star Wars fit in the theme and organizational structure of the park.


I also have posted some progress updates on the Third Gate plan I am slowly working on. More on that in the next year. I am finally making significant progress there.


I am pretty happy with the amount of content I have put out this year and plan to keep up the pace in 2017! More attraction plans, probably more existing park expansion plans and updates, and definitely at least one completely new park, the third gate for Disneyland. Maybe even more!


Part 2. The Year in Theme Parks

This was also a big year in theme parks, and I realized that I never really talked about many of the additions and new items. Now this isn't the time for full reviews, but I want to share some quick thoughts related to some particularly interesting new items.

The big development was obviously Shanghai Disneyland. This is a mixed bag, but I'm not going to pretend that I don't definitely want to visit. The successes seem to be some of the new innovative attractions, specifically Pirates and Tron. Also of note is the incredibly thorough detailing and design of some of the lands, like Adventure Island, which features that incredible mountain, waterfalls and rivers, and the super cool ropes course attraction that weaves through it all. Tomorrowland also looks great, especially at night with the lighting package. Those two lands should be a model for all design going forward. One of the issues that I see, which may be less of an issue in real life, is the huge scale of the public spaces and the buildings, which makes them a little less personal and intimate in favor of crowd flow and impressive architecture. Its the opposite of the charm of the scale of original Disneyland. But again, I should experience it before more heavy judgement.

The other biggest resort opening was the complex of parks that just opened this month in Dubai. I have to give them credit for the ambition to open 3 parks at once and their goal to disrupt the market. I haven't seen a huge amount from the parks yet and a lot of it isn't quite open yet, so I look forward to seeing more before full judgement. The dark rides that were open looked a little rough, especially that Ghostbusters one, but some areas and rides looked like solid average themed design. And I am pretty interested in the idea and execution of the Bollywood park. That's a theme that is totally foreign to me, and it looks pretty well done. It will definitely be interesting to continue to watch the developments of Dubai parks in the future, since they will continually be opening new stuff over the next few years.

Back in Orlando, this was meant to be the year for Animal Kingdom to finally break the half day stigma, but things didn't go well with the indefinite delay of Rivers of Light. This makes me sad, because I have always loved the park and wished that people appreciated its detail and beauty more. The park appears to be beautiful at night and the added minor entertainment is great, but it needs the full experience with the show to really work. I really appreciate the mature and realistic style and tone of the Tree of Life Awakens shows and what we have seen of Rivers of Light and hope that sticks. Its important in my mind to use this realistic style to differentiate the park and support its more noble message. The reviews of Rivers of Light sound like exactly what I want, a artistic and impactful show, but I understand that they want it to be a little more exciting and story based, so I hope they can fix it soon and get everything going in the park. Plus, then we will have Pandora and its own night time environmental experience. So maybe next year will really be the year of Animal Kingdom.

At Universal, the big addition of the year was Kong. I have not ridden it yet, but from the videos it seems to be a good but not great attraction. I just wish there was more innovation past the Hollywood version. I definitely appreciate the queue and the ride vehicle tech and the exterior place making scenes, but it would have been such a better ride if there was more than just the same video in the middle. Still, solid addition to a resort that is constantly adding at this point. Related to this, if it is true that The Fast and the Furious attraction is also a Hollywood copy with the same video tunnel scene, that will be particularly disappointing because the original experience is inferior to Kong and it will just seem lazy to build the same ride system back to back. The Fast and the Furious could be used for so much more, something with a lot of movement and speed like the test track system, so a stationary video tunnel is just an unfortunate choice if they have full freedom.

This was also the year of Frozen finally getting permanent representation in the parks, and the equal reduction of all the temporary special event things. Frozen Ever After is a really good Fantasyland dark ride in a really bad location. I know realistically that World Showcase can't avoid IPs, but can't they at least keep it to properties from real countries that reflect something about the culture of the pavilion? Frozen also came in musical form to California, replacing the super good Aladdin musical. Sad to see Aladdin go, but at least Frozen looks well done. With these new attractions, Frozen has coincidentally begun to be less of a focus in the parks, with the weird Frozen Summer stuff over and the dominance over every night time show apparently ended. I mean we got 3 new Christmas shows this year, all without Frozen. These are good things. Let Frozen be just a good regular property in the landscape of the overall parks, not the overused main draw.

Ok this is a very minor development of the year, but something I feel strongly about: the upcharge additions of cabanas and express transportation. I've never complained about upcharges before and honestly they normally don't bother me much because they are usually extra things that only minorly impact the experience of the guest. That's not universally true, but nothing before has bothered me as much as these two because of how they fundamentally change how the theme parks are experienced. For the cabanas, the complaint is the huge amount of public space that is permanently dedicated to these areas that only some guests experience. If rumor is true that these will go in to all the parks and greatly expand the size and numbers, then suddenly huge portions of the theme parks are inaccessible, and odds are creating these isolated areas is going to cause sightlines, crowd flow, and theme issues since the parks were not designed for these huge spaces. Maybe it will work in new construction at least. And for the express transportation, the idea of boarding buses backstage and then arriving midway into a park is horrible to me because of the destruction of theme and sequence. I'm sure there's no second thought for most if transportation can be faster, but the parks were originally designed to be experienced in one primary entry sequence that builds anticipation and immersion, transporting you slowly into the final themed environments deep in the park. A bus that drops you off at the back just undoes all that process based design, and accidentally shows you a huge amount of the backstage that the parks so carefully try to hide at the same time. I hate it, especially because it unfortunately is convenient and fixes the problems Disney has with their transportation system, meaning its going to be popular and stick around.

Just this month, the first real Marvel theme park ride finally opened, after way too many years. Its a simple ride with an old ride system, but I like it because it effectively tells its story and is the first step to the larger Marvel land of the park. Not every ride needs to reinvent the ride system or push boundaries. Standards are reused because they work if done well, and I think this was done well. The bigger issue for me is why we had to wait 7 years from purchase to the first real Marvel ride. That's just too long and we are still years away from it showing up in Disneyland. Its an instant money maker, give it the opportunity to draw a crowd. Should have showed up in DCA years ago.

And the last thing I want to mention is the Hong Kong and Shanghai expansion plans. Toy Story Land for Shanghai, Frozen land, Marvel land, and a new castle for Hong Kong. So I both think these are mostly good things because of the hopeful innovation and additions of capacity, and at the same time somewhat concerning things because of the trend in theme. These are all single property lands that are large and immersive and multi attraction. Now that has been done well before and seems to be a good thing, but it is concerning if that is all that is built from now on for a couple reasons. The single property lands often do not blend and transition as well as more general lands that hold many properties because they are more specific, making the organization of parks more difficult and likely less clean and logical. Single property lands also by definition deny original designs and concepts which I obviously disagree with. If its all just IP lands, its all just a movie park to me. But the biggest issue to me is just that single property lands like these take up a lot of space for just one film, which logically means that were going to end up with less variety of themed spaces and films. The space for the future Frozen land in Hong Kong could have been 2 or 3 films, and the future Toy Story Land in Orlando could have been 3 or 4 Pixar movies. I understand the single property land for the big impactful things, like Harry Potter and Star Wars and even Marvel, but not everything needs this treatment. Just my personal opinion at this time, maybe it will change.


And Part 3. What's Next?

2017 is going to bring some changes to Imagineerland, but overall, its going to be the same goal and the same approach to themed design. New posts roughly once or twice a month, with a mix of design projects and essays, and potentially some new kinds of content. If you have any suggestions, I'm open to hearing them. Long time readers will know that I have attempted to promise schedules many times and never can really keep them, so I'm going to avoid commitment. The projects take too much time and are too dependent on when inspiration and free time coincide, making it difficult for me to keep a promised schedule. But definitely count on me to be back with something every couple weeks, at least once a month. And follow on twitter, where I immediately post when a new project goes up, so you can stay up to date.

Also, at the start of the year, there is going to be a big graphics update to the website so watch out for that, and ignore any weird formatting changes that happen in the next week or so. Along with the graphics change will be another change or two, but I will mention those later on. Over time, all the past projects will slowly be updated to the new graphics standard, but for now, there will be a bit of a mish mash when you look back in time.

In the next year, I also have the serious goal of growing both the audience of Imagineerland and the engagement with those of you who already are fans. There has been a lot of progress just in the past few months based on great reception to some projects, so its obvious to me the best way to do this is to bring great content. But it will always help for you all to share Imagineerland however you see fit and comment with whatever ideas, suggestions, comments, or complaints you have. I'm happy to talk about the theme parks as much as you want.

The first big post will be out at the start of the second week of January and its a good one with a major attraction from my Disney Studios Paris plan. So check back then to see the new post starting out the great new year! Thanks for reading!

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