Time to dive into a little theme park irony. The big reason why Walt Disney bought all that land in Central Florida for what become the Walt Disney World Resort is so that the company would have the space it needed to develop all the ideas Walt and his team had — space that they did not have at the original Disneyland park in Anaheim.
Now, more than 50 years after Walt's passing, the Walt Disney World Resort has become the world's leading theme park destination, welcoming tens of millions of guests each year to dozens of hotels, four theme parks, and two water parks. Back in California, Disneyland has done well, too, with The Walt Disney Company buying land around the park and designing efficiently in order to recreate that park as a multi-gate resort with two theme parks and three hotels.
But it's still nowhere near the size of the Florida Project.
And yet, every once in a while, something happens to illustrate why bigger isn't always better when it comes to attraction and resort design. Sometimes, the "blessing of size" can be a curse, and limitations inspire better design.
Take the recent announcement that Disneyland will also build an installation of Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway for a 2022 debut in the park's Toontown land. That means that the original Disneyland will be getting two of the big-name developments also coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort: Runaway Railway and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
But let's consider how they two parks redesigned to accommodate those new attractions. Here are the attractions that Disney removed for them at Disney's Hollywood Studios:
And here are the rides and shows that went away at Disneyland:
Okay, Disneyland did have to reroute the Rivers of America. And Disney's Hollywood Studios did also clear space for its Toy Story Land by eliminating the Studio Backlot Tour. But Disneyland found a way to add three new rides to its parks without having to close other attractions — something that Walt Disney World could not, or would not, do.
Frankly, Walt Disney World could have built its new Star Wars land outside the old footprint of Hollywood Studios, perhaps over where it is building that new Star Wars hotel. But it chose to lay waste to the southern half of its park instead. The designers and management team decided to self-impose site restrictions that they did not have. And years from now... Disney's guests will thank them for that.
Hard truth: Size enables sprawl in development. (Been to Houston recently?) If Disney had built Galaxy's Edge outside Hollywood Studios' footprint, it would have established a precedent that years down the road could have left the park a thematic and logistical mess, with fans having to walk past long-played out and ignored "attractions" such as the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground and a wheezing old auto stunt show to get to the "good" stuff far behind them.
Better to take this opportunity for addition by subtraction and cull several attractions that had either failed or appeared on their way to failing the test of time. Among the attractions lost to Galaxy's Edge, only the loss of the holiday light show really gutted fans. But that was hardly a uniquely "Disney" experience.
At Disneyland, the culling has been happening for decades. A far more mature park, Disneyland has few attractions that the public would not miss. The lack of the "blessing of size" meant that Disneyland has been making hard decisions about what to keep and what to replace for years. What expendable and substantial facilities remained at the park were pretty much all backstage. So that's where Disneyland has been cutting, sending away anything that can be relocated offsite.
With Project Stardust, Disney has been optimizing available space within the park, creating a new foundation to support the expansion of its attendance for the next decade. That should allow Disney to address the few remaining holes in Disneyland, such as those in Tomorrowland, without overwhelming the rest of the park. But again, it's the limitation of available space that demands efficiency in content and design.
Now looking beyond Galaxy's Edge and toward Runaway Railway, I think that time will treat Disney World's decisions less kindly. The Disneyland Toontown installation likely will yield a more thematically appropriate facade for the ride than the Chinese Theater Disney World is using. Disney's recent purchase of Fox gave Disney what would have been more than enough great IP for a needed freshening of The Great Movie Ride. In hindsight, gutting the Animation Courtyard and replacing it with an east coast version of Toontown, anchored by Runaway Railway, would have been the better move for the park in the long run.
But overall, Disney is building a better future for Disney's Hollywood Studios by treating it like it exists in space-constrained California than on an expansive site in Florida. Because, regardless of the amount of space you have to work with, smart designers and managers should treat every square foot of a property as precious real estate, to be used with the best intent.Tweet
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