Opposite Attractions: A Theme Park Design Show

A comedy design challenge podcast about creating theme parks that are 'technically possible'.

Disney's Wonderlands (Part 3: Layouts Matter)

Layouts Matter

In thinking of how exactly I was going to lay out the attractions in Wonderlands, I started to ask myself what exactly I wanted to accomplish with the story and whether or not any of it really mattered in the long run. The short answer is "Yes it matters" as you can tell by the name of this post. The long answer is where things get a little weird.

Every Disneyland-like park (Anahiem, Orlando, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris) uses a hub-and-spoke layout where guests walk down a spoke from the entrance to a central hub, and then can branch out to different areas of the park from that central point. Many other Disney parks have tended to ditch this layout, or at least modify it well beyond it's intended use. There may be some form of straightaway from the entrance that might go to a hub, but what happens then can be just about anything.

There are, though, other types of layouts out there. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando are both in affect circles around water, forcing you to walk through everything if you wish to get to the back. This is the same for Epcot's World Showcase and is the main reason for the American Adventure to have it's place at the far end of the park, forcing the patriotic American fans to visit as many other countries as possible instead of staying in a red, white, and blue comfort zone anywhere else (note: the original plan was to have it as the entrance to the showcase, between Canada and Mexico). I do not consider these layouts to be bad, but they do have their disadvantages (it reminds me of supermarkets putting their milk as far from the front as possible so you have to walk by everything else to get it) but not enough for me to simply push them aside.

There is also the style of parks like Busch Gardens, which tend to be circles if they were drawn by someone who just drank a twelve pack of Busch (so it is probably some kind of subliminal marketing) or something like Cedar Point, which is pretty close to being just a straight line with seventy two different giant roller coasters on either side of it. That is not the kind of thing I want for Wonderlands.

Let's jump back to Disney's other two Florida parks. Hollywood Studios was originally built to be a thirty-one hour tram tour with a stunt show and some Muppets thrown around amongst the mandatory gift shops and restaurants. Once the tour fell apart, they had to improvise and what happened was essentially a total clustermouse of a theme park. I'm not saying it is difficult to get around in (though the construction walls don't currently help its case), but I am saying that if you are not exactly sure where you are going you might end up in the same pit they dumped the pieces to the Golden Girls house on the outskirts of Galaxy's Edge. Unless your goal is to spend all day around the Hollywood Tower Hotel, you might as well hire a sherpa from the Animal Kingdom. Speaking of, Animal Kingdom has quite a similar lay of the land as Universal Studios, being a fairly straight forward main pathway to one area with a circular path around a body of water jammed onto the side of it. Once again you feel that feeling of "I have to walk around a lot of water to get where I want to go" which again is not a dealbreaker and fairly easy to navigate, that is unless you are trying to find the non-Fastpass line to a waterfront nighttime show with floating flowers and water screens (ahem).

I don't hate the big lakes with attractions around them. I really don't. They are easy to navigate. That's great when you are on your fifth day of a theme park vacation and can barely remember where your nose is on your face. That being said I must fall back to Epcot's layout to find something satisfying for use in Wonderlands.

I call it the "H-O" layout and wonder how anyone can possibly get lost (though as a former Future World Cast Member I will tell you people can quite easily get lost) when the front of the park is a giant H (minus the turnstiles/Spaceship Earth section) and the back of the park is a giant "O" (minus the pathways linking the two together). Granted, it is hard to call the front an "H" as with all the construction and closures the path is more of a sideways "T" until the Guardians move in. Still, it should be impossible to get lost and this is how I want to lay out the S.E.A.'s headquarters at the front of my park.

Instead of Spaceship Earth, though, you get a more Main Street USA vibe as you walk into the park through high walled gates and into a courtyard somewhat reminiscent of Innoventions Plaza. Blocking your view of the titular wonderlands at the back of the park would be the main headquarters structure, which would not exactly envelope the entire area but still shield you everything that wasn't the front. There would be paths to the right and left to take you off to other S.E.A.-based attractions, restaurants, and shops that would again have the back half of the park as walled off from view as possible. I'm not going to talk here about what these attractions and such are, as those will be later posts, but just now that when guests feel they are ready they will walk through breezeways to paths leading to the "O" at the rear of the park, a lake not unlike World Showcase Lagoon, around which would be the so-called lands of wonder based around various Disney IPs that, again, I'm going to not mention right here.

My goal is to surround guests with the world of the S.E.A. as much as possible up front to at least try to give a storyline reason for why --redacted-- would ever be next to --redacted-- and still make any sense. Keeping the front half of the park themed to one thing (with variations based on characters housed in various attractions) fits my style of design more than trying to figure out what a bunch of flying carpets are doing next to a three week jungle boat cruise and a temple of some sort full of magic talking birds. And don't even get me started about whatever the heck is going on in Tomorrowland. Barbie in World Showcase makes more sense at this point.

Stay tuned as part four will begin a deeper dive into the HQ of the S.E.A., starting with the entrance area and moving into that main courtyard. Will there be a weenie? I'm not even sure yet (p.s. there will probably be a weenie).