Robert's rules for the perfect theme park
Published: December 24, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Let's talk about the perfect theme park!
Now that's a weenie! If Tokyo DisneySea isn't perfect, it was your selection as the Theme Park Insider Award winner for world's best theme park in 2012.
What are the qualities, features and characteristics that would make a theme park "perfect"? Conversely, what are the elements that, when missing, cause a theme park to fall short of its potential?
I'm going to offer some suggestions about physical elements, but if you'd like to add your own thoughts about other elements that go into the theme park experience, please, feel welcomed to do so!
So let's get to it. Here is my list of qualities of a perfect theme park. (In most cases, I've listed a few examples of parks that display that quality, though there usually are others, too.)
The perfect theme park should be easily accessible - not just by car, but it should be tied into the local community's mass-transit system as well. Ideally, the park should have its own regional train station in the resort, so people don't have to drive to reach it. (Examples: Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland)
The perfect theme park should be part of a walkable development, with not just the train station, but also the parking garages, hotels and any other assorted shops and development within walking distance. For things beyond a short walk away, the park should provide boats, monorails and other forms of out-of-the-ordinary transport to reach them (in other words, not just buses). Once you arrive at the park, you should never need your car again. (Examples: Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Singapore)
When you enter the perfect theme park, you should pass through some physical element that marks a defined transition from outside the park to inside. This helps reinforce the idea that you've entered a special place, different from your everyday life. (Examples: Walking under the train station at Disneyland, or under the Disneyland Hotel in Paris)
Once inside, the perfect theme park eases your transition into a fantasy world by starting with a "real" themed environment. This should be a recreation of a place that is or was once real - appealing to your senses of nostalgia, romance or adventure. (Examples: Main Street USA, Buena Vista Street)
This initial themed land leads you into the park, where you see some magnificent edifice in the distance, visually drawing you deeper into the park. (Walt Disney famously called this the "weenie.") Along the way into the park, comfortable diversions distract you: benches, seating areas, cafes, shops, character meet and greets. Despite that weenie in the distance, you want to hang out here, in a nostalgic place where you long to be (again). (Examples: Buena Vista Street, Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea)
Once you approach the weenie in the center of the park, your other options appear. It's here that you finally transition from the real to the fantastic, as some of the themed lands you'll see here represent places that never did - and never could - exist. Only after you enter the various lands, do the individual attractions appear. (Examples: the hubs in the Magic Kingdoms)
The perfect theme park hides the outside world from view. Sure, you might be able to see surrounding forest, ocean. mountains or a river (I do like the view of the James from atop Apollo's Chariot), but you won't find developed reminders of that outside world you've left.
Inside the perfect theme park, all back-of-house functionality also is hidden from your view.
You'll find different menus in each land throughout the perfect theme park, themed to that land. No lands share the same food items. Even the snacks - popcorn, ice cream and churros, feature different flavors in each land. (Examples: Wizarding World of Harry Potter, flavored popcorn in Tokyo Disneyland)
Every themed land in the perfect theme park has its own flora - trees, plants, flowers - that are unique and themed to the land. You'll find different pavement and architecture in each land, too.
The perfect theme park doesn't offer any flat, blank surfaces - anywhere. Every surface in the perfect theme park offers visual (and, usually, physical) texture. The perfect theme park is built with high-quality surface material that can stand up to touch, sunlight and rain, without fading or wearing. (Examples: Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Tokyo DisneySea)
So what elements would you add to the perfect theme park? As you (hopefully!) celebrate a perfect holiday, let's talk about our vision of a perfect place, as well. Merry Christmas and best wishes to all!