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The Who, Where, When, What, and Why? An introduction to Utilidork and me Who am I ? My name is Justin. I am a former Walt Disney Wo...

Monday, October 1, 2018

Building a Better Main Street

Several months ago, I wrote at length about the problems with the Magic Kingdom's Main Street USA, and how they can be fixed. One of my throwaway suggestions was to scrap it and rebuild it from scratch. At the time, I hadn't given that idea much thought, but as I was writing my last blog about a potential new American park, I was seriously brainstorming ideas of how to differentiate it from the other castle parks, and actually came up with (what I believe is) the perfect way to do a "traditional" Main Street for mid-21st Century America.

First, we must examine what makes Main Street Main Street. As described by Disneyland's park opening announcements in 1956, Main Street is "a typical American town at the turn of the [20th] century." The primary reason for this very time period is because Walt Disney wanted the opening land of his park to remind him of the downtown he grew up in, Marceline, Missouri (although, actual architectural inspiration apparently came more from Harper Goff's hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado). Walt was born in 1901, so making the cutoff near that year ensured nothing would be anachronistic — on the surface, at least.

Disneyland opened in 1955, so most of the grandparents and many of the parents probably recognized Main Street as similar to their own. It was a seemingly perfect tribute… in the mid-20th Century. But as nostalgic as the land is, to anyone visiting the Disney Parks today, it is an arbitrary nostalgia, brought on by period movies and TV rather than any actual memories of days past.

Tokyo's World Bazaar sort of addressed this issue by incorporating elements from the '20s and '40s, but even that's ancient history by now. Shanghai doesn't even have a Main Street, opting instead for an amalgamation of diverse early 20th century  architecture for their unique Mickey Avenue.

This works in our favor. You see, in my last blog, I placed my third North American Disney Resort near Chicago. In order to differentiate it from its cousins in Anaheim and Orlando, I changed up a few familiar characteristics in order to warrant its existence. Being so close to Walt's birthplace, I decided Main Street in Disneyland Chicago would take inspiration from Walt's own life, progressing temporally as the guests progress geographically towards the castle.

Follow me, won't you?

We enter our new park as we do any other: under the train tracks, passing through a train station. This station will be inspired by the ones built in that region during the late 19th century.

We then enter a Town Square from right around 1900. City Hall, Exposition Hall, and the firehouse would be dated no later than mid-aughts. The first row of storefronts facing the entrance, including the Emporium, would all be based on buildings from 1910 and into the teens. As you walk down the street, the buildings on either side would start to resemble the '20s.

Disneyland has two side streets at this corner (Magic Kingdom used to, but one side was closed up to extend the Emporium). DCHI (I'm pronouncing that "dee-chee") would too, but the castle-facing sides of both streets would have a 1930s vibe, with the entrance-facing side being more '40s themed. While the 1950s line fa├žades of upper Main Street, the final row of buildings, adjacent to the Hub, would be straight out of the '60s, maybe with a classic steel diner for Casey's Corner.

Why stop at the '60s, you ask? A few reasons. As I've said before, Main Street is about nostalgia, and the 1960s is the least recent decade most adults are nostalgic about. Secondly, too much later, and we risk losing that retro atmosphere, and becoming too modern.

The third reason is directly inspired by the hypothetical park's proximity to Walt Disney's former home. Walt lived from 1901 to 1966. This places Main Street USA somewhere within his lifetime at all times. Whether the hometown corner store from his childhood, or the roadside diner where he might have bought his weenies, everything on Main Street should look familiar to Walt Disney himself.

Everything would modernize as you walked right down the middle, from gas lamps turning into electric streetlights. The signs would go from hand carved, to stenciled, to mass produced. Even the businesses could modernize, with old-timey offerings like the barbershop and chapeau nearest Town Square, and plastic toys and home media closest to the Hub.

Perhaps Disneyland's never built Edison Square could branch off the west side street, leading to a refurbished Carousel of Progress. This walkway could lead to another walkway into the 1800s-themed Frontierland (or whatever period locale exists in that area).

The East side could house a modern recreation of the Carousel's futuristic sequel, Horizons, and let guests out in Tomorrowland (or whatever future-based area would be present). This creates a clear passage of time in both directions.

There are so many other time-based themes that could be played with. The Main Street Arcade, located in the southeast building, could have vintage penny machines up front for looks, with pinball machines in the middle, classics like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong would be hidden in the back, with typical modern Disney Resort arcade offerings like Mario Kart, Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution (no, Exceed does not count) lining the back walls.

The Emporium could offer more era-appropriate products near the entrance, like clothing and kitchenware, and near the castle end, guests could find movie, music, and video game media, and more recent Disney acquisition merchandise like Star Wars and Marvel.

You get the idea. It's a little high-concept, I admit, and probably difficult to maintain, especially as the park adapts and evolves. But this is just me dreaming out loud, which — let's be honest — is what built the Disney Parks in the first place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Plea to Disney: Start Thinking of "US"

Why, How, and Where to Build

a Third Disney Resort in North America

As I've previously mentioned, I live in Upstate New York. This is terribly far from Walt Disney World. About 1100 miles. A two-day drive, or a 3-4 hour direct flight. Far enough and long enough that any trip there pretty much has to be a week-long vacation or else it isn't worth the time, money, or effort.

"This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States…" — image source: Shadow & Substance and ©CBS
Disneyland is a much bigger trip — almost 2800 miles. To drive there would take about four or five days. To fly would take about six hours directly… but no direct flight from Upstate to Anaheim exists, so you're pretty much looking at a full day of travel and layovers, and probably a two-hour bus ride from LAX to Disneyland. With only two parks and very little auxiliary entertainment on property, this means traveling to and from would be at least as long (and expensive) as the actual time spent there — which, by the way, is why I've never been. Of course, I'm not the only one with this problem. Residents of the northern midwest and pretty much anywhere in Canada are days from Disney.

Why is this a problem? A Disney vacation is a privilege, after all. And it's a unique experience that can only be had in a handful of places around the world. And I don't think any of us want to see the Disney Park experience turned into Six Flags.

Before I answer my own question, let's crunch a few more numbers. The US has two Disney resorts, one on each coast near the southernmost tip. They are almost exactly 2500 miles from each other, and roughly 1000-1500 miles from any of the northern border states. Disneyland Paris is about 2000 miles from both Moscow and Hammerfest, Europe's easternmost and northernmost cities, respectively; and no less than 4500 miles from its nearest Disney neighbor in Florida.

Now let's examine Asia…

In 1983, Disney opened their first park outside of the US in Tokyo, Japan. 22 years later, and about 1800 miles away, their fifth resort destination opened in Hong Kong. But wait… a dozen years after that, Disney opened another resort in Shanghai, only ~1000 miles from Tokyo and ~750 miles from Hong Kong!

All three Asian Disney castles from (left to right) Shanghai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong — image source: TDR Explorer
That's three, count'em three Disney Resorts within 1800 miles, approximately two-thirds the distance from Anaheim to Orlando! What's more, there are rumors now that Disney are scouting locations in mainland China for a fourth DisnAsia! (I just made that up: "DisnAsia" ©2018 Utilidork. It's mine now!) That means in slightly more than the distance someone from Disney-less Bismarck or Minneapolis has to travel to get to one Disney Resort, someone from Tokyo can visit three.

THREE.

I just want to drive that point home for you all. There are three Disney Resorts on the eastern coast of Asia wherein the two farthest from each other are closer than Disneyland is to Walt Disney World.

Locations of every Disney Park and Resort worldwide — image source: Disney Parks Blog

That's a problem.

While it is true that Disney's influence and appeal transcends geography and culture, I feel it's unfair to the natives of Disney's home country (both man and company) that while we suffer through ever-increasing wait times and busier seasons, Disney (company) would be continuing to invest so much time and money not only expanding (and in the case of Hong Kong, bailing out) the Asian theme parks, not only building more parks in Asia, but building entirely new resorts midway between the two closest resorts in the world.

Shanghai Disneyland looks amazing, albeit lacking in attraction quantity, and although I would love to visit there someday, I know it is just as unlikely as visiting either of the two other Asian Disney Resorts. Which is why when I heard the rumors of the TRON Light Cycle coaster coming to the Florida property, I was enthusiastic. Add to that Paris' Ratatouille ride coming to Epcot, and we're finally getting a few international exclusives over in the States.

Magic Kingdom's upcoming TRON Lightcycle Power Run — image source: Disney Parks Blog

But two rides hardly solve the problems of overcrowding and inconvenience we have here. With Pandora: World of Avatar still seeing wait times in the range of 3-5 hours, Toy Story Land opening last month to equally outrageous lines, and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opening next year with the likelihood of a similar situation, it's not getting any better. While six new parks and two new resorts have sprung up all around the world in the past two decades, North America hasn't seen a new park, or even hotel, in fifteen years (with the single exception of Disney's Art of Animation, which replaced the scrapped Pop Century Legendary Years resort and was technically under construction in 2003). The American parks continue to break attendance records almost annually, but little has been done to relieve them of overcrowding.

Unrealistic as it may sound, the best solution may be to build a third resort in the US — but where? Somewhere in Texas might seem logical. It's warm year round, it's about halfway between Florida and California, and Dallas in particular is the fourth most populous city in the nation. But that doesn't help me, or anyone else in the northern states or Canada, who already have to travel long distances and endure unbearable heat to visit the Mouse.

No, somewhere up north would do more to benefit guests who can't afford to travel to the deep south or far west. What about the weather, you say? The northern US has snow — lots of it in some places. There are ways around that. Paris and Tokyo are not strangers to major snowfalls, and while they are far less frequent than in, say, Michigan, for example, Disney could easily apply their climate-coping methods. A Victorian glass canopy, similar to Tokyo's, could cover Main Street. Heck, they could probably cover most of the major thoroughfares. More indoor attractions, and canopies over the smaller outdoor attractions, will assure that most attractions will stay open during inclement weather.

Paris' Phantom Manor — image source: Disneyland Paris News
A third American Resort could also be a great place to import some of the attractions that have previously been exclusive to international parks. Attractions like Paris' Phantom Manor or Hong Kong's Mystic Manor, Tokyo's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Shanghai's technologically impressive reimagining of Pirates of the Caribbean (although, I would rather have the one from Paris, personally).

Fantasyland could host improved versions of a few of the classic dark rides that have been lost or neglected over time. Bring back Mr. Toad and Snow White, spruce up Peter Pan like some of the newer Disneylands have. Winnie the Pooh could be the trackless version from Tokyo. "it's a small world" could be the redesigned Paris version (to differentiate it from the other two nearly identical ones already available in the U.S.). Hey, Fantasyland could also be a perfect location for a new and improved remake of Journey into Imagination!

Tomorrowland could take one of a few forms. There will be a Space Mountain, of course, but with Paris' track layout, and themed to an intergalactic spaceport like Florida's used to be. Retro-futurism works well for the land, and steampunk is in right now, so modeling it after Paris' Discoveryland could work, and maybe they could incorporate a few of Tony Baxter's original ideas. They could also try something unique instead, and incorporate elements of '80s cyberpunk, complete with an ENCOM building and a TRON-inspired shooting game to replace the now-obiquitous Buzz Lightyear ride. They could design it to resemble the Tomorrowland from the criminally underrated 2012 film, which would give them a perfect excuse to relocate the stagnant Carousel of Progress and give it the update it is overdue for. Or… they could scrap the ever-problematic land altogether and replace it with a new Star Wars land, unique to the resort.

Western River Expedition model — source: MouseSteps / JWL Media
Frontierland could be host to the long-delayed Western River Expedition (slightly modified to remove any racist depictions of Native Americans, of course). Another Big Thunder Mountain would be redundant, so maybe they could recreate Disneyland's old Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland on top of the WRE show building, but incorporate more Jungle Cruise-style comedy elements (because a northern park might be too cold for outdoor water rides anyway).

Speaking of the Jungle Cruise, Adventureland could be tricky. Kinda hard to emulate a tropical paradise in a climate with average highs in the mid-70s. Maybe eliminate the land altogether and replace it with something more appropriate. Hong Kong and Paris are each getting an Arandelle land that might work. Or better yet, Marvel! Most Marvel properties take place in and around New York City anyway. Theme the land around Manhattan and build some new and unique Marvel rides, along with Hong Kong's Iron Man ride. Marvel could also be a decent replacement for Tomorrowland, theming the land as the World's Fair inspired Stark Expo.

As for Main Street USA, I have a few ideas that I'm going to save for a future mini-blog to tie in with my previous, Main Street related blog.

So where would this mythical northern Magic Kingdom potentially be located? Well, let's look at our criteria:
• roughly equidistant from Orlando and Anaheim
• but far enough that they don't cannibalize each other's business
• close enough for northerners
• near an already well-populated area
• near other pre-existing tourist destinations
Frankly, there is only one place I can possibly think of that would suit a northern Disneyland…

Chicago, Illinois — image source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago, Illinois.

For a few very good reasons. For starters, it fits all of the aforementioned criteria. It is about 1000 miles from Walt Disney World, and under 2000 miles from Disneyland. I realize this is a significant discrepancy, but if you consider the population density between those parts of the country, it's actually pretty fair. Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States, and already has a decent tourism industry.

The Walt Disney Company and the state of Illinois have a history already. Granted, it was over half-a-century ago, but Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was originally the attraction of the state's pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1964-5. I realize a lot can change in that amount of time, and a lot has, in fact; but perhaps Disney can entice them to help subsidize the Resort with a Lincoln Square sub-land, and a recreation of that legendary attraction. They could even dig some of Eisner's old America park ideas out of the mothballs and utilize them.

Of course, it doesn't have to be Chicago. St. Louis has most of the benefits of Chicago, but with a milder climate; and again, Dallas has them without the disadvantage of winter whatsoever. But one of the best reasons for Chicago over any other more temperate central location?

It's the birthplace of Walt Disney. What better place could there be for a third American Disney Resort? All of those exhibits from the former One Man's Dream attraction could be relocated here. A house on Main Street could replicate his actual home.

Walt Disney's first home — image source: The Walt Disney Birthplace
But even without all the blatant references to the man himself, Chicago is a prime location for a northern Disney park. It is roughly the same latitude as Paris, and only slightly farther north than Tokyo; and while snow is more prevalent in Chicago than the other two locations, it still isn't major, totaling on average about three feet per year, only a foot more than Paris. (To some people, a foot of snow is major, but to people living in the Great Lakes region, it's typical for any month ending with "-ber" or "-ary".) Higher than normal berms and smartly positioned buildings can help keep the wind chill to a minimum, every interior location would have central heat and air-conditioning, and winter would have reduced operating hours, and maybe even close on certain days in the winter.

Snowfall at Tokyo Disneyland — image source: Disney Parks Blog
Okay, so maybe this isn't the most practical or profitable idea, but something must be done. The American parks simply cannot continue on their current course. A new ride here, a new land there, and special deals for off-season visitors has done little to fix the ever-growing overcrowding issue brought on by about three generations of population growth.

Walt Disney World can't logistically add a fifth park without drastically increasing vacation costs. A fifth park means another day added to park tickets, resort stays, food expenses, as well as incidentals and additional options (like a rental car, for example), not to mention whatever missed work is necessary. This may benefit Disney in theory, but in practice, it results in increasingly unhappy guests.

The Florida property is already plagued by an overwhelming amount of stuff to do. During our 8-day vacation this past February, my family just barely had time to enjoy most of the attractions in the four parks, notably missing the Jungle Cruise, Toy Story Mania, all of Dinoland U.S.A., and most of World Showcase's stationary entertainment. We never even set foot in Disney Springs, and we swam in our pool a total of twice.

Bear in mind, this was February, the slow season, and the parks were still too crowded to see everything in eight days. That never used to be the case. Even a decade ago when I was still a cast member, the longest waits in February were rarely more than 30 minutes, maybe 50 or 60 for the hot, new rides. I can't recall what the wait times were when we were there in June of '16, but I remember not going on much that we didn't already have a FastPass for, unless it was one of the "sleeper" attractions.

This is a problem, and one that is only going to get worse as time passes, the population increases, and more generations are exposed to the irresistible magic of Disney Resorts. A third domestic resort is needed, somewhere, to lighten the loads of the other two, and to bring new and more diverse experiences to our shores. Hopefully Disney already has plans to address it. Hopefully, they plan something close to Central New York while they're at it, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

Hey, anybody know of a star I could use?

image source: Oh My Disney and ©Walt Disney Pictures

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Resolutions
We've Just Begun to Dream!

New Years Eve fireworks at Epcot — Source: DisneyParks.com

Happy new year, fellow utilidorks!


My New Year's resolution is to make this the best source of Disney World and Disney Parks information, entertainment, and opinions that I can.

Upcoming projects will include vlogs, podcasts, and multimedia, as well as monthly blog posts.

Follow Utilidork on all platforms by clicking the links on the left sidebar. All posts to this page will be shared on my social media accounts, as always.