Earlier this year, I reached the milestone of having set foot in every Disney theme park. I've explored every Adventureland, taken a spin on every tea set, zoomed around on every trackless ride. OK, so it's not like I won "The Amazing Race" or anything. Still, conquering 11 Disney parks in five resorts on three continents is meaningful personal achievement (at least until theme park #12 opens in Shanghai next year).
Reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses, the differences and similarities of these parks stirred my imagination. Could a single Disney park showcase the best attractions from parks around the world? Might one imaginary park be able to house all of my favorite experiences? After visiting all 11 parks – and before the newest, most-advanced one opens – would I be able to create a "Disney Dream Park"?
Well, let's see.
Next, I can only draw from lands, attractions, etc. that are currently in operation. Sorry, Horizons fans (as well as the hordes who remain devoted of Dick Tracy's "Diamond Double-Cross"). If it's not there now, it can't make the cut.
Also, as is the case with the most successful Disney parks, my Dream Park must stay committed to theme as much as possible. Some great rides and restaurants will be square pegs in this round hole (mmm... doughnut dream park – stay focused, Bryan!). To an extent, some parks, such as Disney's Animal Kingdom, will go under-represented because of their more distinct qualities. As they say, all's fair in love and pretend theme parks.
One last thing. Although I consulted Theme Park Insider ratings and even the ultimate Insider, Robert Niles, when I got stuck on a tough call, the final decision was mine. As such, this is my Dream Park, not one that reflects the whole of TPI or the opinion of its editor – who already wants my head because (spoiler alert!) I axed Tom Sawyer Island. So, hopefully, this will inspire some passionate debate.
That said, shall we take a tour?
Stepping off the monorail, we see the grand, Italian port city-inspired facade of Tokyo DisneySea's Hotel MiraCosta, which serves as the gateway to the Dream Park, as well as its entrance land, TDS's Mediterranean Harbor. This majestic area retains its visual splendor and impressive scope, although it contains a few alterations for the Dream Park.
Mediterranean Harbor (TDS)
The most obvious change is the park's "weenie" (or the big, cool-looking thing that draws every visitor forward). Straight ahead, perched on a hill beyond the harbor, is Disney's most ornate castle, Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, from Disneyland Paris. With the introduction of the castle, Mediterranean Harbor now transitions from the Italian coast to the French. Don't worry, TDS's amazing Mount Prometheus is still present, it's just been relocated to the far right corner of the harbor lagoon (where Fortress Explorations and Magellan's sit), with the peak placed similar to where the Matterhorn is in Disneyland. More on that later.
Another addition to the harbor comes in the form of the Disneyland Railroad, which joins the area with a nod to Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort. Where the monorail runs through that hotel's lobby, the railroad will run through a portion of the MiraCosta, bringing hotel guests even closer to the park. As already mentioned, the choose-your-own-adventure excitement of Fortress Explorations sits on the far right side of the land. Rounding out the attractions are the Venetian Gondolas, in the mini-Venice portion of Mediterranean Harbor.
The best of the Disney parks' Italian and Mediterranean options converge here, from Neapolitan pizzas out of Epcot's Italy pavilion (Via Napoli), to counter service skewers straight from Disney's California Adventure (Paradise Garden Grill). And we couldn't leave out the fine American dining of Magellan's, along with its sumptuous surroundings.
American Waterfront (TDS)
The outstanding theming of DisneySea lands another one of its ports of call in the Dream Park. Guest enter the American Waterfront by heading left from Mediterranean Harbor (just as it is in TDS), although this version consists solely of the vintage New York section, with detailed brownstones, McDuck's Department Store and S.S. Columbia lingering in the distance. We save a little room by eliminating the less-impressive New England portion – and, as a welcome result, Duffy!
The Hightower Hotel stands tall above Gotham, keeping a place for Society of Explorers and Adventurers member Harrison Hightower and his "buddy," Shiriki Untundu. As much as I love "The Twilight Zone" version of Tower of Terror, it's hard to argue with the thematic unity and clever preshow of this edition. The endlessly rideable Toy Story Mania remains in the Coney Island-like section of the land, while Epcot's stirring (and animatronically impressive) American Adventure show takes over for Big Band Beat in the Broadway Music Theatre. Those cool elevated tracks and transit station, made for the DisneySea Electric Railway, serve as the perfect conveyance for the Disneyland Railroad as it makes its way around the Dream Park.
There's plenty of Japan in this American land, as eateries from both Tokyo parks dominate here. Tokyo Disneyland's elegant Crystal Palace, with its character dining, joins TDS gems like the S.S. Columbia Dining Room and Teddy Roosevelt Lounge (both located inside the massive ocean liner). Sample succulent scallops in the elegant dining room before getting a cocktail in the cozy confines of Teddy's bar. Those looking for something more casual can pop by the New York Deli or Epcot's Lotus Blossom Cafe (taking over for Restaurant Sakura because New York needs a Chinatown). We've also got one of Tokyo Disney's best ideas represented here (and throughout the remainder of the park): flavored popcorn! What's more American than corn-flavored corn?
Pixar Land (DCA/WDSP)
OK, so this is a bit of a cheat. While Pixar Land is not a current land in any Disney park, the Dream Park version is a combination of ones that exist... well, mostly. To enter the land from American Waterfront, we have to walk into the bottom level of the S.S. Columbia (where Turtle Talk with Crush is housed in TDS). That area opens up into a small "underwater" (indoor, like TDS's Mermaid Lagoon) "Finding Nemo" area with another passage that leads to Animal Kingdom's knockout show Finding Nemo – The Musical. An exit that points to the back of the park and looks like a mountain tunnel on the other side, lands us on the main drag of Radiator Springs. After cruising the strip, a right turn lands you in a "Ratatouille" mini-land, straight out of Walt Disney Studios Paris (and reason alone for that park's existence).
We've already discussed the "Nemo" attractions. Most of Cars Land makes an appearance here, with the exception of the (dearly?) departed Luigi's Flying Tires. As in DCA, Radiator Springs Racers and Ornament Valley provide an exciting E-ticket as well as a stunning backdrop for the Dream Park's back-left boundary. A detour into Paris a la Pixar means the inclusion of Disney's newest trackless ride, and altogether charming experience – Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remy.
To avoid any uneasiness about eating Nemo (after all, we've just found him!), that portion of Pixar Land only offers Sea Salt popcorn. But in Radiator Springs, you certainly can get your grub on, whether you prefer a Chili Cone Queso (at the Cozy Cone) or Coca-Cola barbecue ribs (at Flo's). Those seeking haute cuisine and perfection in a confection should head directly for Paris – just like in the real world. You can dine like a mouse-sized king at Bistrot Chez Remy (perhaps the best meal I've ever been served in a theme park) and get something sweet for later at Epcot's Les Halles Boulangerie.
Grizzly Gulch (HKDL)
If guests turn right from the close end of Radiator Springs (opposite Mater's Junkyard Jamboree), they transition to the similarly arid environs of Grizzly Gulch. Hong Kong Disneyland's fantastically detailed mini-land remains small for the Dream Park, increasing just a bit to incorporate some Frontierland stand-outs. The land revolves around its E-ticket twin peaks (not a reference to David Lynch, who could turn the Dream Park into a nightmare). If you pretend you're looking at a map, Grizzly Gulch sits to the left of the castle, the right of Pixar Land and "above" American Waterfront.
In choosing Big Grizzly over Big Thunder (and, to an extent, the Gulch over Frontierland), the Dream Park is favoring whimsy and storytelling over thrills and tradition. Plus, an outpost overrun by critters is the perfect setting for the zip-a-dee-doo-dah-singin' animals of Splash Mountain – even if "Song of the South" has to relocate just a little bit west. If visitors didn't get soaked enough on Splash, they can always get drenched in Geyser Gulch, the best-looking water-play area in any theme park. And, for a little old-timey charm, you can always burn off a few quarters at the Frontierland Shootin' Exposition (which might need to adapt its title, just slightly).
With all of the grizzlies running around, food is a tad scarce in the Gulch, although we can take our chances with the simple snacks of the Lucky Nugget and the Tex-Mex offerings at Pecos Bill's.
The Dream Park draws from Disneyland Paris's version of Adventureland, which sprawls over much of the back-left portion of the park. With winding walkways, top-notch theming and a variety of locales seamlessly integrated into one land, Paris's rendition is the ultimate version of a Disneyland classic. With Adventure Isle (plus Skull Rock) at its center, and with passageways twisting around exotic vegetation throughout, the entire land almost feels like a free-play area. Of course, the Dream Park version ups the ante in the attractions column, too...
Moving right from the Ratatouille area of Pixar Land, a French connection is forged with the appearance of Pirates of the Caribbean. Quick note, the Dream Park version features DLP's massive castle-like queue but preserves the running order of the Disneyland version. As we circle clockwise around Adventure Isle at the center, we transition to a Central American portion, with TDS's impressively maintained and Aztec-themed Indiana Jones Adventure. Continuing around is the Middle-Eastern/African area, featuring another TDS stand-out, the irresistible Sindbad dark ride, as well as Hong Kong's slightly superior "Lion King" show. Meanwhile, the original Tiki Room takes the place of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, because Adventureland just isn't complete without Jose and the gang – not to mention Dole Whips, which brings us to...
The worldly nature of the Dream Park's Adventureland comes across in its food options, which range from French/Cajun (Blue Bayou, the best restaurant inside an attraction) to North African (Epcot's Tangierine Cafe) to grab-and-go Chinese (TDL's delectable pair with impeccable flair, Boiler Room Bites and China Voyageur). And if that Dole Whip didn't quite refresh you, pick up a honey lemon Tipo Torta at Tropic Al's. Outstanding.
Moving to the right from Adventureland, Sindbad's Storybook Voyage's provides an easy transition into the dark ride nirvana that is Fantasyland. Disneyland's first (well, updated) rendition of the land is the blueprint here, with an endless array of fairy tale experiences and detail. Aesthetically, the biggest change might be the loss of a carousel, which is replaced by the more Disney-centric Dumbo.
Although the Dream Park's version of Fantasyland is rooted in Anaheim, it includes the best attractions from all five Fantasylands around the world. Firmly enshrined paragons (the teacups, Peter Pan, small world) rub shoulders with newer additions (DLP's kooky labyrinth, MK's mine train and TDL's marvelous – and trackless – Pooh's Hunny Hunt). Hong Kong's Fantasy Gardens is a lovely character meeting area that doubles as a welcome green space, and any castle should be required to keep a dozing dragon in the basement. On top of all that, MK's updated Haunted Mansion makes an appearance, because if Tokyo Disneyland can put theirs in Fantasyland, so can we.
Long ago I was sternly warned, "Never eat in Fantasyland." But that's changed at some Disney parks, including this Dream Park. Between character dining amidst traditional French cuisine (Auberge de Cendrillon), a cafeteria that's more like a wonderland (Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall) and the gem of all Fantasyland establishments (Be Our Guest Restaurant), discerning gourmands can do pretty well here. And of course the honey popcorn cart is located in Pooh corner.
Mysterious Island (TDS)
Continuing our grand circle tour from Fantasyland, we arrive at Mysterious Island, with the transition softened by the mysterious – yet fantastical – Mystic Manor, which sits on the lower slope of the volcano. Mysterious Island was a lock for this park. It might be the most immersive and stunning portion of Tokyo DisneySea (represented yet again in the Dream Park, for good reason). The Jules Verne-inspired land makes for a nice segue to the final land on our journey, too.
Mysterious Island is short on rides, but what rides these are! The freewheeling ingenuity of Mystic Manor. The otherworldly excitement of Journey to the Center of the Earth. The magical exploration of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In addition, we've plussed TDS's cove-docked Nautilus with DLP's superior walk-through.
Mysterious Island's original eateries remain with the land because they are either so awesome-looking (the cave-like buffeteria, Vulcania Restaurant) or serve such delicious food (the gyoza and gyoza dogs at Refreshment Station – a moniker so generic it might as well be called "Food Place"). The big addition is Le Cellier. Why is it here? Beer Cheese Soup... and because Jules Verne is French and so is the name, which means "the cellar," so why not "the cellar" of a volcano? OK, mostly the Beer Cheese Soup.
Tomorrowland/Future World (MK/Ep)
Finding our way out of the steam-punk volcano, we wander into the retro-futurism of Tomorrowland, derived from the roomy WDW version and a touch of Epcot's Future World (mostly those cool fountains). Moving clockwise through the park, Tomorrowland connects back to Mediterranean Harbor near the front-right edge of its central lagoon (where a wall forces TDS guests to take a sharp left up a gradual incline).
Contained within is a greatest hits array of Tomorrowland. Star Tours comes by way of Tokyo not just because C-3PO is adorable when he speaks Japanese, but because the queue features an extra, high-def video wall that makes the "Star Wars" experience that much more immersive. Tokyo also delivers the wonderful "Monsters, Inc." ride, while Hong Kong contributes its flying saucer take on the Orbitron. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority makes an appearance because it's fun to look inside Space Mountain (either in the dark or with the lights on). Speaking of that ride, we have the Disneyland version here because a score by Michael Giacchino's makes the ride that much better. Last, but not least is Soarin', which indeed soars through a loophole of a precedent set by If You Had Wings. Plus, I like the idea of a flight attendant Patrick Warburton and a droid Patrick Warburton occupying the same land. High five.
The Sci-Fi Dine In Theater Restaurant is the only contribution from Disney's Hollywood Studios (although it boasts similar attractions to the Dream Park's versions of Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania and Star Tours). Regardless, the drive-in-esque eatery is here because of its cool theme. So are the other two restaurants (Pan Galactic Pizza Port for its wacky alien "pizza cook" and Cafe Hyperion for that cool blimp). Perhaps the person who warned me about food in Fantasyland never even bothered with Tomorrowland. Step it up, chefs of the future!
Shows, Parades and Fireworks:
We round out our tour of this Disney Dream Park with a handful of daily shows and parades. The Jedi Training Academy show remains a force to be reckoned with in Tomorrowland, while the scale and beauty of Tokyo Disneyland's daytime parade, Happiness is Here, warrants its inclusion. Although Tokyo DisneySea's Mediterranean Harbor hosts its own, solidly entertaining, version of Fantasmic!, the Dream Park favors the original Disneyland version (although a "pirate ship" might have to be borrowed from Fortress Explorations for the "Peter Pan" portion). The rest of the evening entertainment – the nighttime parade Paint the Night and fireworks display Disneyland Forever – also has a Disneyland connection, although the clever and colorful Paint the Night debuted (and still runs) in Hong Kong.
Break out the cartoon gloves and cue the lullaby renditions of Disney tunes: now it's time to say goodbye to my Disney Dream Park. I hope you enjoyed the tour of the happiest place in my imagination. But, before you skedaddle, I'd love to hear about what you'd consider for your version. Which additions, subtractions and drastic overhauls would you make? What does your ultimate Disney theme park look like?Tweet
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