Space - the final frontier for theme park attractions

June 20, 2019, 4:09 PM · Allow me to dive a bit deeper into the reason why Disneyland is messing around with the Main Street Cinema, to try to drive more traffic into that attraction. Some readers have asked why Disneyland can't just leave it alone — preserving the cinema as a cool, dark, uncrowded space where people can wind down for a few moments with some classic Mickey Mouse cartoons.

That's nice if you are one of those people inside the theater. But space allocation has become a zero-sum game inside the Disneyland Resort. There simply isn't enough remaining free space anywhere for the new attractions and services that Disneyland needs to continue growing its attendance. So anything new must come at the expense of something old.

Disneyland's Project Stardust, in part, represents management's attempt to maximize available space inside Walt's original park by clearing or repurposing poorly or under-utilized space. Even though the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land that inspire its name is now open, the project is not complete. Work remains on the east side of the Hub... and there's a mess of opportunities to use space better within Tomorrowland, as well.

Park officials stress that they want to preserve and improve the guest experience, and part of that includes the enjoyment of cool, dark, uncrowded spaces. But giving several extra yards of unoccupied space to one family necessarily requires smushing other families together elsewhere. The only way to preserve, much less improve, the guest experience for all is to pursue a more efficient use of space everywhere inside the park, distributing people from overcrowded spaces into ones that can handle more.

This is the same approach that Disneyland is taking with its operating calendar. Over the past decade, Disney has been changing its annual pass program, tweaking blockout calendars, and implementing date-specific pricing on one-day tickets, all to try to move visitors from previously over-crowded days to previously less-crowded ones.

And it's been working. Well, at least from Disneyland's perspective. The "off season" is all but gone now, yet it's rare to see the park filled to the point where Disney has to close the front gates. (The parking garage is another story, in which reduced capacity due to the construction of a companion garage next door plays a large role.)

Cutting curbs and trimming planters are relatively easy ways to ease guest flow through the park. But a greater return comes from giving people a wider range of destinations within the park — more places to go to, encouraging people to spread out rather than clog the pathways to a handful of locations.

To do that, Disney needs to find new things to draw people toward places they currently aren't flocking to visit. Replacing a bunch of backstage facilities with Galaxy's Edge was Disneyland's biggest play to do that. The installation of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway will swap more backstage space for an on-stage attraction, but that's about the extent of what Disney can do north of the park. So it must look next to fill available nooks within.

Installing the Tropical Hideaway in the old Aladdin's Oasis drew a lot Dole Whip fans away from crowded Adventureland bridge into a rarely occupied space. At some point, Disneyland surely will need to do something more substantial with the old Carousel of Progress building than using half of it for the now mostly ignored Star Wars Launch Bay. But at the front the park, Disneyland would feel a little less congested if only more people stepped into the Main Street Cinema now and then.

That's why Disney put up a sandwich board on the sidewalk outside the theater and some merchandise racks within. And why it will keep trying things to lure visitors into the theater in the weeks ahead. Because Disneyland managers would like to find a quick, easy, relatively inexpensive solution that preserves this location as a theater devoted to the birth of the Walt Disney Company, rather than concede that the public does not care and that the space would be better used repurposed.

Nostalgia remains an essential part of Disneyland's appeal. The park can't just start whacking old stuff to make way for the new without endangering that. But it does need to clear space, so that forces management into thinking mathematically about the appeal of the park's older attractions. What's the current-use value of a location versus its potential value as something new? It's not enough that people like the idea of the Main Street Cinema. They actually have to visit it for Disneyland to account for its value. The park will protect nostalgia for it by preserving the old stuff that people actually still visit... while quietly transforming that which the public does not.

So think about the (relatively) empty space you've seen in Disneyland recently. That's where Disneyland will look to make changes. If you don't want one of those locations to change, then please visit more often — and bring friends. Don't bother with petitions or social media campaigns. Just show up. That's what Disney values most.

And if you're okay with a location changing, well, staying away gives Disneyland the green light to make that change. Ultimately, like with most things in life, what anyone says does not matter nearly as much as what we do.

Replies (9)

June 21, 2019 at 9:47 AM

I think space optimization in a park like Disneyland is all about finding balance within the park. Galaxy's Edge is a good first step by giving crowds something more interesting on the north side of the park. Right now, the longest lines in Disneyland are Space Mountain and Indy, so the highest concentration of people tends to be in those general areas and nearby attractions. When the standby lines for those are too long, guests are grabbing FPs but are typically not going very far to enjoy something nearby while they wait for their return time. This not only makes the space immediately around these headliners extremely crowded, but the paths leading to adjacent attractions (like Star Tours, Jungle Cruise, and others) get congested. By adding another "must-do" attraction far away from these two, it helps to pull some of the crowds away, and my guess is that both will see noticeable reductions in their standby waits once guests can enter Galaxy's Edge without a reservation. MMRR will be another draw on the north side of the park that will also help to draw guests away from the congested Tomorrowland and Adventureland areas, but I think Disney could still do more to better balance the park. Fantasyland is massively congested, but Disney would be roundly criticized if they made any major modifications like eliminating the Storybook Canal/Casey Jr. or Autopia, which are attractions that simply don't give Disney much bang for their buck in terms of space they take up versus the number of guests they can accommodate. The Fantasyland Theater is another space that could use a redesign with a more critical eye, particularly since its location in the middle of the land makes it difficult to create any legitimate backstage areas for CMs and performers. Robert would probably cry, but Tom Sawyer's Island and the boats to reach it are similarly very low on the throughput versus footprint ratio compared to most other attractions in the park, though it's buoyed by Fantasmic!.

The bottom line is Project Stardust is about trying to squeeze blood from a rock, and reclaiming every square inch of underutilized space to facilitate the flow of guests around the park. However, what Disney really needs to do is to make the tough decisions to completely redesign/relocate lands and attractions that will likely upset many guests. Disney needs to be honest with itself, and realize that if they want to get more people into and around the park (the only way to generate more revenue aside from constantly increasing prices), they have to look critically at attractions that take up a lot of space but cannot accommodate a lot of people. If attractions are consistently under-performing or taking up huge swaths of valuable space to entertain a comparatively small number of guests, Disney has to consider a replacement or re-imagining of the attraction to increase throughput.

June 21, 2019 at 10:01 AM

Agree with most of your points on a larger scale, but getting an extra 12-15 people off of Main Street isn't going to move the needle.

June 21, 2019 at 10:51 AM

Just had an idea, inspired by a colleague's FB post on this article that noted Lincoln's not exacting pulling in the crowds, either. But, like with the Mickey films, I would hate to lose that, too.

So how about this? Move the Lincoln animatronic to the Main Street Cinema for an edited, animatronic-only Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show there. Then refurb the Main Street Opera House into an attraction that celebrates the history of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. Plus up the entry displays, including showing the original cartoons on a loop, then Imagineer a new theater show starring Mickey and the gang.

June 21, 2019 at 10:54 AM

Well, apparently the negative publicity combined with the added benches worked, because last night at 8:00pm the Main Street Cinema was full of people.

EDIT: Maybe Disney just needs to threaten to remove old attractions every year in order to boost attendance.

June 21, 2019 at 11:47 AM

Also, I'd like to mention that while I understand people love to overuse the fake Walt Disney quote, "Disneyland was never meant to be a museum" (Walt never said this), I think portions of Disneyland merit such historical importance in the lexicon of American cultural dialogue and technology that they should be preserved as is. I for one, think many of the buildings in the original park at this point deserve historical landmark status, whether that interferes with the Disney corporations ability to maximize profits or not.

June 21, 2019 at 11:56 AM

On a similar topic and it is only a RUMOR at this point, why not create the RUMORED Woody's Round-up show inside the Diamond Horseshoe and leave the Country Bears alone. OR - as it has been suggested in the past, remove the theater seats in the CBJ theater and expand the dining room from Pecos Bill into the theater? The show could run full shows perhaps every two hours, and then every 20 minutes or so individual acts could run. All of this while people are enjoying a meal. The lobby could also be converted into a merchandise location.

June 21, 2019 at 4:14 PM

I've always thought there could (or should) be a a dedicated space in the park that could highlight it's past....basically a museum of "Disneyland Past"

Last year, there was an exhibit titled "That's From Disneyland" in Los Angeles that had a curated collection of Disneyland items, including things that are no longer there & it was huge hit (There were lines everyday & Disney employees from the lot even took a special trip)

It was a really cool trip down memory lane for those who remember those attractions & fun for those who never experienced them.

If there was a place in Disneyland where items or elements form "older" attractions could be placed, I think many guest would be a little more forgiving of "out with the old" if the old found a home or relevance someone else.

Imagine a place where you could sit in the old "People Mover" or Rocket Rods & take photos. Or take a photo with the Country Bears Jamoree. Basically make an actual "attraction" out of former Disneyland attractions & house them all in one space.

Obviously space is already an issue inside the park, (there's always Downtown Disney) but I feel like nostalgic guest wouldn't be as "outraged" over the incident with the cinema if they knew that the former attractions are still be acknowledged or viewable at a different location.

June 22, 2019 at 12:31 PM

I know it'd cost a fortune, but as the saying goes "everyone has a price", right?

Looking at Google Maps, it seems they could offer Magic Mouse Townhouses/Anaheim Sunset Vacation Condos a truckload of money to sell. Bulldoze those for a new parking structure, and then transform the Downtown Disney Self-Parking lot into a new land to the west of Haunted Mansion.

Not practical, of course. And perhaps impossible. But if enough money was thrown at those condos' way, they could potentially sell, making way for quite a lot more real estate with which to work.

If nothing else, I'd love to see all of the parking lots turned into 4-story parking structures, which would let them park 4x as many cars on the same land, allowing much of the existing parking lot area to become useable space.

June 24, 2019 at 1:51 PM

Rob - CBJ was removed from Disneyland years ago, and Diamond Horseshoe only exists at Disney World.

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