Monday, March 27, 2017

A Weekend at Walt Disney World without Visiting the Parks: A Quick Trip Report

Last weekend, I spent 3 days at the Walt Disney World Resort and I never stepped foot in a theme park. However, I still had a full and eventful weekend, including some significant Disney events, so I decided to write a quick trip report to share some thoughts.

If you follow me on Twitter (and you should!), I tweeted all weekend about what I was doing, so this is going to be an expansion of that.

So if I wasn't there for the theme parks, what was I there for? Well it actually happened to be a complete coincidence. Aside from my interest in theme parks, I am also a baseball fan, specifically the Braves. And the Braves just happen to play their Spring Training games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. And it worked out that this year, I could go spend a weekend watching some Spring Training Games. So that led me to a weekend in Orlando with no plans to go into the parks, because my days were all busy at the games.

But the two nights I had in Orlando let me do a few cool Disney things that I want to mention and share some thoughts about.

So this quick trip report/thoughts from places comes in 4 parts: ESPN Wide World of Sports, Disney Springs, the Polynesian, and Celebration Florida.

I start with ESPN Wide World of Sports (which I will now call EWWoS since its shorter) since it was the real reason to be there for the weekend. I've been to WDW 6 or 7 times before this and never visited EWWoS before because, well, if your not there for a sports event, there's not much of a draw. However, it is much nicer that I anticipated and really enjoyed the days spent there. So some thoughts below.

First, it is a surprisingly huge complex. I already knew that since I love looking at maps, but it was still impressive to be there. The vista of full soccer fields made EPCOT look small in comparison. Ok not really, but you get the idea. And its only getting bigger with the addition of the huge multisport gym they are building. That thing looks massive, which is has to be if it is in fact going to replace the Indy Arena for Cheer leading events. That place is only going to bring more youth groups in. Which is my next point.

For a place that previously I and most Disney fans have never visited, it was pretty crowded. Yes, it was a weekend in the Spring Break period and each day had a Spring Training game, but I was impressed with the draw. A lot of youth teams, a lot of fans, a good diversity of types of guests that I didn't exactly expect for EWWoS. In trips in my youth, we always stayed at the All Stars, where a lot of the youth teams stayed, but this definitely looked like even more of them. They could probably do a whole hotel for youth teams at this point to be honest. (Side thought: why have they not actually done that and placed it on the EWWoS grounds? I'm positive that place would be popular.)

And it makes sense because my last point is that EWWoS is actually a really nice and well maintained place that is obviously top tier for organized sports complexes. Where the function of the complex could have existed without any kind of style or theme, the existing buildings all shared a nice coastal Floridian/Spanish style that unified it clearly. Spanish tile roofs, tile accents, open breezeways, and a lot of yellow stucco. Design wise, the entry corridor into the central square of the complex had a great symmetry and sequence that I really appreciated. The three major buildings have similarly structured facades with the fourth side open to the vista over the fields so it really feels like the heart of the complex. Everything is happening here. It's obvious standing in the center that similar levels of thought as the theme parks were put into the design of this complex. I have doubts looking at the rendering of the new arena that it will match, but its a ways outside of the center, so that may be ok. The one restaurant was passable for Disney and conveniently used the the puck ordering and deliver to table method, which was cool. Also, it was incredibly impressive how many cast members were staffed here. Remind you that Disney is a huge place past the parks.

Overall, EWWoS is a nice place. I wouldn't visit if I wasn't there for an event, but if you have a reason to go, do it and experience a bit of outside the park Disney.

Next is the main thing to discuss. This was my first visit to Disney Springs. Last time I was there was before construction had started and before it was even going to be Hyperion Wharf I think. So I was excited to see so much change. Overall, just like EWWoS, I loved it.

There were so many more people than I ever saw at Downtown Disney and so much outdoor activity. Again, it was Spring Break time, but this was obviously the place to be, and the place I would come to regularly if I was a nearby local. It was so crowded that the garages were even full, so we had to park at the post modern icon that is Team Disney and cross the bridge. Immediately entering, we saw a group performing and saw 4 or 5 more over the night, which added a lot to the environment.

The goal of the night was mainly to explore all the additions that I had never seen and eat dinner. Out of the dozens of options, we went with Homecoming (or Homecomin' but that name just seems weird). Recommend the fried chicken sandwich or the Hamilton burger. Definitely enjoyed the meal and I have a list of 4 or 5 more places that I wish I could have tried.

With respect to the design, there were some positives and some things I was confused about. I'll go district by district.

On the West Side, I really liked the look of the "highline" elements, but really really really wished they were more expansive and accessible. That corridor was packed and a second level could have done so much, plus the views would be awesome. The food truck park looks to be a much better use of that area than just grass, so I like that addition. And it was just a little sad to see Disney Quest basically abandoned down at the end of the street. Good memories from that place, but it should have closed a while ago. Replacing it with NBA City makes no sense to me. Its a large area, and with the expansion areas past the Cirque theater, I could imagine this would be the prime area for a final phase of expansion. Just seems like something better could go there. Overall, the brightness and compactness of this area gives it a pretty consistent urban character that contrasts nicely with the other districts, but I think it could use more to refine this character. Still, good area.

The Landing I think is the best and most consistent area. The design is eclectic and includes a lot of different kinds of locations, but it makes sense as a put together urban district that organically grew around the spring. This area also has the strongest collection of food locations on the entire property I think, so that is impressive. This would be the area I would spend time in. 

The Town Center however is the area I was most confused by, but that might just be because it reminds me a lot of a mall back in my home town. I understand the Spanish revival inspired architecture ties into the story, but the generic European architecture is kind of the trend in mall style right now, and the corridors seemed so overly formal and planned compared to the organic Landing, so it definitely felt like a fake mall. This makes sense though. The Landing was built around a lot of existing buildings and the Town Center was all new. It is still a super nice mall, but feels like a mall. In comparison, the market hall entrance area by Planet Hollywood seemed much more organic and real. Speaking of Planet Hollywood. I don't hate it, but really wish it could look more like a planetarium. It needs more than a grey dome and a lot of lights. I think it could be a super cool icon of the whole Springs if a little more exterior theme was applied. Like add something to the tower. Hope that happens eventually.

One thought about the combined area of the Landing and Town Center. It was totally confusing to walk around and stay oriented. I have a good sense or direction and knew the expansion already, but I could get lost momentarily, so I'm sure new visitors would get completely lost. Compare it to the other two districts. Both are really just a single path, with stores on either side and there is no way to get lost. At first, approaching this from the theme park design ideology, it doesn't make any sense. In a park, you want people to be able to find their way around. But if you think about encouraging shopping and spending, this actually makes sense, so I'll go with it. And it seemed to distribute crowds much better than the single path districts, which were packed. Interesting planning theory really.

Anyway, to complete the Springs, the Marketplace seemed to me to be basically the same as last time I was there, though I appreciated the new bridge that completed the loop. The architecture in this area always was pretty consistent to start, so it still works well. 

Here, I stop for my only comment about the actual shopping at Disney Springs. The favorite shop was the Marketplace Co-op and Twenty Eight and Main because of their awesome collection of parks related products that are actually understated and wearable. So much of the mainstream stuff is so loud and overtly Disney, so I loved all the shirts and home goods that are subtly based on the parks. Though I almost bought a bunch of things, I left with just one purchase: the monorail socks. Couldn't pass up Disney selling nostalgia. Also, I can't believe they managed to make World of Disney bigger than it already was. How is that store possible. 

Anyway, overall I think Disney Springs is an infinite improvement over Downtown Disney and its the kind of place I would definitely visit repeatedly. 

Next is a shorter part. Even though we were not going to the parks, there was a suggestion if we could find a way to see fireworks. I realized that the perfect option was to go watch Wishes at the Polynesian. My point here is just to let you know how cool of an option this is. The beach ended up being pretty packed with people, and the music is played and the view is pretty great. Nice to see Wishes one last time after years and years of seeing it at the parks. 

Also, about the Polynesian interior, since that is such as big subject. I don't think I ever saw the original, so I can't compare, but I like what is there now. Yeah the statue could be a bit bigger I guess but its nice. And I really like the light fixtures above. Those are perfect for the theme. 

I like the Polynesian. Nice place to visit to relax and see fireworks, regardless of what your doing in Orlando. 

And last, Celebration Florida. If you do not know what that is, Celebration is a planned community originally built by the Disney Company just south of the resort, during the time that Michael Eisner was a major patron of modern and experimental architecture. Now it is not connected to Disney in any way but is still a large and active little planned community. Another place I had never been, but it is actually a slightly frequently mentioned design in the architecture and planning industry, so I wanted to see it.

I was impressed by the small town idealism. It seriously reminded me of the Truman Show but in a good way because its obvious that this would be a great place to live if you could afford it. The downtown district by the lake is a great place to walk around if you have some free time. Look at the architecture, stop by one of the restaurants, like the Market Street Cafe, which looked like a diner inside, and appreciate just how sophisticated (and expensive) all the houses must be.

So I had a nice weekend at Walt Disney World without the parks but still had some cool Disney experiences. And those were just a few of the many similar things there at the resort, like all the other hotels, all the other restaurants, and the other outdoor recreation places. Really reminds you how big the resort really is. 

And that's the end. But let me know your thoughts about any of those 3 topics, or if you've done some other cool thing in the resort outside the parks. And follow on twitter so you can keep up with any other trips or events. 

Next post, next month, will be back to a design post, specifically a land and attraction in my version of Disneyland. Going to be a good one. Check back soon! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Disneyland Paris Park Plan v2

Just over 2 years ago, I posted an expansion plan for Disneyland Park Park, where I proposed a few major hypothetical changes to the already great park. And now today I have a version 2.0 that improves on that design.

In the original post, I discussed how much I love the existing park. I was only there a day, but that day left an impression. Frontierland has one of the best overall stories and themes of any land I've been to, Fantasyland is by far the most beautiful example of the type, Main Street is impeccably detailed and lifelike, Adventureland has one of my favorite exploratory areas, and the original Discoveryland aesthetic and concept is just the best ever. More discussion about why the park is great in the original post.

So with an expansion plan like this, the idea is not really to fix the existing park, but to add more to it that hopefully complements whats already there. There are really only a few places that this park can expand, so this plan is a little similar to the previous one. A few of the additions from last time are retained, and the rest of them are replaced with a new idea. So now we will talk a walk through the park, pointing out my proposals.

Just like last time, Main Street is completely unchanged. No way to improve that. Special plug for the great Arcades. Go explore those if your there.

The main area of Frontierland is also unchanged. Its great that the land has recently gotten some attention with the refurb of Big Thunder Railroad and the Rivers of America.

The area farther along the River, by the existing theater, is the first area I changed. When I visited, this area was completely empty because there really was no draw, so I feel like it could benefit from some permanent additions.

My proposal is an American National Park setting, similar in a way to the Camp Woodchuck additions to Tokyo Disneyland, but as a whole land that specifically features the Country Bears. The Bears own and operate the park as a vacation retreat for all their animal friends, 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 rustic redwood camp setting transitions as we pass through a denser forest just past the Big Thunder load building. Straight ahead through the brush is a sprawling fort in front the gentle stream. The fort, which is based on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail from DCA, is accessed to the left, where there is also the existing canoe dock, themed to fit in the land. The fort top offers the best view over the river and the land below.

Crossing the stream leads to the rest of the land. To the left is a version of Junkyard Jamboree, nestled along the river. The vehicles are ranger jeeps that have been repurposed into the thrilling attraction. Adjacent is the existing theater, where animal specific themed shows are presented. Something like Forest of Enchantment with a bit of a Country Bear National Park plot frame would be perfect for the area. The Cowboy Cookout building remains but is redressed as the rustic Camp Mess Hall and the interior and menu are adjusted to match. And finally, next to the train station, is the main attraction, a mid-scale musical dark ride. The building through the trees is a Park Lodge where we set off on a tour of the National Park, guides by the Country Bears themselves. This would be a musical adventure through a world of animals and plants, reflecting the adventure of the great outdoors. This is the same attraction I proposed for DCA.

The next change is up in the expansion area of Adventureland. Again, the main part of Adventureland is unchanged, except the Indiana Jones coaster is removed in favor of my proposed Indiana Jones ride in the Studios park. Replacing this and the expansion pad are two attractions, completing the loop back to the Pirates area. This area is all themed as an African jungle as opposed to the Caribbean and Arabian areas in the rest of the land.

The first is a concept for an indoor replacement for the Jungle Cruise idea. Last time, I tried an actual indoor Jungle Cruise, but I don't think that really works. So instead, here I am suggesting an indoor jeep exploration attraction that uses the Test Track/Radiator Springs ride system. That would allow for both slow attraction show scenes, passing similar gags as the Jungle Cruise, and more fast paced and rough exploration moments through the dangers of the jungle. It would be entirely indoors, unlike the other versions of this system. The load is in an open cave facing out into the land. Additionally, the train would look into the jungle for a quick moment on the back side of the show building, seeing the jeeps pass by.

The other attraction is a Tarzan themed family coaster, something lacking from this park. The two existing coasters are pretty intense, so I felt like something tamed down but still fun would be a good option. The entrance is at the base of a second fake treehouse for the land, this one much smaller, not explorable, and directly based on the ship built treehouse from Tarzan. Ship wreck fragments surround the area, as well as a series of canvas tents, left over from the events of the movie. We load on the upper level of the main tent, and then swiftly speed into the show building. First there are a series of show scenes through the world of Tarzan, Jane, and Turk, and then the coaster portion, which is mostly outside.

The other change to Adventureland is less of a change and more of a return to the original: The Pizza Outpost once again gets talking animatronic birds in the dining rooms, creating a facsimile of the Tiki Room.

Fantasyland has a few additions. The Frozen subland to the north that I proposed last time remains (attraction post here!) as well as the addition of a meet ans greet center in the open spots on the east side of the castle. Around the corner from Small World are two new dark rides.

I has a lot of internal debate for the theme of the first, using the plot across the parade path. But my decision came by realizing I should maintain the geographic distribution of Fantasyland. If you have not noticed, all the existing buildings are grouped by region, which makes a lot of sense for architectural consistency. British Tudor area to the far west, Germany on the west of the castle courtyard, France to the east, Scandinavia with my Frozen addition to the north, and Italian on the far east side, where my addition is. The Pizzeria Bella Notte is definitely a group of Italian styles. Unfortunately, there are no Italian Disney IPs. So I adapted to Mediterranean and decided to propose a Hercules dark ride. That's a property that is under utilized in the parks, so I decided it would be a great idea. The facade would be a Greek Marketplace, attempting to echo the Italian style across in any way possible. Inside is a very traditional musical dark ride, guided by the Muses.

And finally, I am proposing another dark ride in the expansion area outside the berm, anchored by a tall and spindly green beanstalk spanning over the train track. This is obviously a dark ride for the future film Gigantic. This film is based in Spain, also a Mediterranean locale, so I am hoping this could be a complementary style to the area. The entrance path leads under the stalk and the train track to a small village facade and the attraction inside. This would be a much larger dark ride, potentially trackless, through the world of the film. Since it is not out yet and we don't know much, that's as specific as I can be.

The last land, Discoveryland, might have the most changes, but again, not to change the original vision, but to restore it. The concept of the future as imagined by the past is such a cool and unique idea, but like all Tomorrowlands, it is too easy to melt away. I proposed Star Wars for the Studios park intentionally so that I could remove it from this park and go back to the Jules Verne inspired idea.

So first, Buzz Lightyear is removed because it clashes theme and style and replaced by a Time Machine inspired dark ride, using the same Omnimover track. The idea would be to present a fun and colorful journey through some significant times and settings of Europe.

Next, inside the Videopolis, a dark ride is added to align with the theme of the Cafe Hyperion. The bulk of the theater is converted to show space and there is a bit of an addition to the north, all holding a suspended dark ride telling the story of Around the World in 80 Days. Part of the theater remains as the seating for the restaurant, and the balloons load and float along above the seating before starting the adventure.

Space Mountain becomes its original concept and the Autopia is unchanged. Across the land, the current Les Mysteres du Nautilus walk through, which was fantastic but seemed unpopular, becomes the queue to a new attraction. The attraction is a Circumotion Theater attraction by Falcon’s Treehouse, which is a theater in the round simulator under a domed projection screen. Guests load into one of the two Nemo designed observation submarines for an exciting trip to the bottom of the sea. Above, we have a fantastic view into the wonder of the ocean before our required squid attack that jostles us around.

Last, the far east expansion area across the train track is used for another sub land that's a bit different from the rest of the land. Space travel is a common Tomrrowland/Discoveryland theme, but not exploring another planet, so I thought that could be an interesting area.

The existing simulator attraction, currently Star Tours, becomes the launch station of a fictional Verne inspired space agency. Maintaining the style of the rest of the land but a bit more modern, the simulator attraction launches us from Discoveryland straight to a base on Mars, which is the rest of the land. The exit of the ride takes us into a the interior of a futuristic but still Verne inspired base. This is a bit of a fantasy version of how we would travel to and live on Mars, so it matches the adventurous spirit and fun of the rest of the land. There is also a second entrance to the land behind Space Mountain.

Outside the domed buildings is the main area of the land, an enclosed red and rocky valley. Outside in the valley is a Jetpack spinner, like the one in Shanghai and a couple other buildings built into the landscape of the planet. The other main building across the valley is the entrance to the main new attraction, a rover attraction on the surface of Mars. The attraction would use a similar system to the EMVs of Indiana Jones, so that it could travel up and down elevations, drive over rough terrain, and have a relatively hidden track ahead. It would be a completely different vehicle modeled on real Mars rovers. The trip would start simple with exploration across the rough terrain, then journey into a lava tube and down into a undiscovered cave. Since this is a fantasy take on the concept, we ultimately encounter what appears to be an alien civilization underneath the planet.

Last, there is a final time travel show scene for the train, transitioning from the Discoveryland aesthetic back to Main Street.

And back to Main Street, and that is everything I have!

So that is my second version of Disneyland Paris Park. I think it is an improvement from the last version and I am glad that I got to try some things out.

Let me know what you think with a comment! And follow me on Twitter to keep up with progress. I tweeted a few quick polls during designing this to get quick feedback, so follow so you can catch those next time!

Not sure what will be next up for either the text post later this month or next months design post, but maybe I'll let you know soon.