Thursday, January 28, 2010

DVC - Hilton Head Resort

We're looking at a vacation to this resort in Hilton Head. It looks like it could be a fun trip. The resort itself has the standard DVC style accomodations: studios with queen bed and pull out sleeper (our likely choice), one and two bedroom villas, and of course the 3 bedroom Grand Villa.

In the area, besides the Disney hospitality and activity that I suppose the resort will offer, we can do the beach, take a tour to Savannah or of Beaufort, or go on a dolphin cruise. Actually I sort of relish the idea of maybe just spending some time lounging by the pool or at the beach, eating leisurely (as opposed to rushing from attraction to dining reservation back to attraction), and generally kicking back and relaxing. That's something we haven't done on vacation too much - just relax. Who knows? We might enjoy it!

If we book this, we'd be going at their busiest season. And right now it's looking more like we'll be going than not. It isn't a visit to Disney immersion, but it's a little Disney with a little culture and history and a little nature. Works for me.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wrapping up the Theme Park series

Okay, so now I've basically reinvented the wheel. I've talked about different categories of attractions we might use in a theme park. I've talked about the secondary things we might see if we can incorporate, detail oriented stuff. I've talked about circulation patterns. And all of it in much less depth than I'm sure you can find elsewhere, especially a site like Themed

It's fun to think about this stuff, and you have to walk before you run. You have to crawl before you walk. And you have to open your eyes and wave your arms before you crawl. I suppose one could say that all the previous posts fall in the "opening the eyes and waving the arms" stage.

I have some ideas, but I would need a lot of help putting them into tangible form. Mostly I need help on the concept art. I try to draw stuff, but my drawings just don't convey the excitement I visualize. Maybe it's because I can't draw people for the life of me.

Anyway, I have pretty much exhausted my thoughts on the topic for now. So for the time being, no more posts on the subject(s). From time to time, however, I will probably post something on theme park design when something catches my fancy or bubbles up to the surface in my thoughts. I'm still thinking on this, and I really would like to do it someday.

So...back to Disney. We're considering two trips this year - one to DVC's Hilton Head resort, and the other to WDW, possibly over Thanksgiving. Our last Disney vacation was one year ago (we were in the air at this time last year - the Saturday before Martin Luther King Day), and we did spend a couple of days at the California parks in April. I'm ready to go back.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Circulation Patterns

An important subject to consider when laying out our park is the way the guests are going to walk through it. Is it too early to start thinking about this? Heck, we haven't even discussed what the theme of the park is. (And I'm not entirely sure we will..)

Well, I don't think it is too early to at least consider the circulation patterns of the park, at least superficially. It was one of the first things Walt thought about, whether he did it consciously or not. We all probably remember seeing images of the "back of the envelope" sketches Walt did of a possible park near his studio, and then of course as the project grew, the sketches did also, with added level of detail and thought going into them.

Disney, of course, settled on a "hub and spoke" pattern, where people enter the park, walk toward the central hub down the "spoke" that extends to the entrance/exit of the park, and finally end up in that area, where they can make choices on where to visit first. Along the outside edge, it's sort of an incomplete wheel. You can enter into Adventureland, and you can make your way to Frontierland from there. You can then go into Liberty Square, then into Fantasyland, then finally into Tomorrowland. The soon-to-be removed Toontown is a sort of dead end, though there is a train station down at that end. From Tomorrowland or Adventureland, it's back to the hub.

Six Flags Great America uses a loop, of sorts. You come to their carousel, then you either go left or right. You traverse the loop in either direction. There are some cross-connections, but generally speaking, you have to walk all the way around the loop to get to attractions located on the opposite side.

Epcot has sort of a hub in Futureworld, with its spokes extending to Futureworlds East and West (right directions?), and to the loop that makes up World Showcase. Animal Kingdom is a bit more complicated. I think it's basically a hub and spoke design, but because of the vegetation, it's hard to visualize it. DHS is also hub and spoke, with less connections between the areas. You can't get from the Tower of Terror to the Pixarland without going back through the hub.

In an outdoor park, I think the hub and spoke design is likely the best, but I think a loop with lots of cross connections could work well too. I suppose if you cross connect things enough, it almost becomes a hub and spoke layout. In an indoor park, I was thinking of something that I'll call the "butterfly" design. Basically this is a central area with loops on either side. It gives the guests choices on where to go, and then brings them to their choices in a pretty ordered pattern. It would work pretty well in a limited space.

I was thinking about malls in relation to this, thinking that they might be good models for circulation patterns in an indoor park. Our local mall is sort of a linear mall, with anchor stores at either end of the line, and four branches off this main drag. Two of those branches have anchor stores at the end of them, and two exit to the parking lots. A layout like this isn't bad. Take away one of the anchors, and make that your park entrance/exit. Then have your lands at the ends of those branches. This wouldn't be terrible for an outdoor park. In fact, it's almost a hub and spoke design!

Another is sort of like a tree. You come up the trunk of the tree, and the branches (paths) fan out from that trunk. In the back of the park it's quite wide, and a lot of stuff could fit back there. As you go out the branches, they sort of circle across the "top" of the tree and the left paths end up joining to the right paths. Of course, you can always go back down the center. Again, if the trunk is thought of as the hub, the branches as the spokes, it's not that much different.

All of these designs assume a single entrance/exit. On Themed, there's an article discussing a meeting between some of Walt's representatives and some amusement park bigwigs, back in the 50's. They suggested that you'd need multiple exits for any park, but Walt and most every big amusement park since proved them wrong. Would it be a bad thing to have multiple entrances? I think it could be a good thing for a larger outdoor park. For an indoor park, one way in and out is sufficient, it would seem. I don't know what Walt's reasoning was, to limit it to one way in and out, except that it gave them a level of control for the least amount of money.

When we're sketching the layout of the various attractions in our park, we'll probably try that "butterfly" approach first. And see where we go from there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mix of Attractions

When I think of various theme parks, I notice that attractions seem to fall into a few different categories. Now I personally haven't been to all that many different theme parks, but I've read descriptions of the sorts of rides that some of them have. I thought that I'd maybe consider the types of attractions that various parks have, especially Disney, since it's my "gold standard".

The first category would be the thrill rides. If you talk about a place like Six Flags Great America, or I'm sure, any of the Six Flags parks, you're talking about the big coasters. There's the regular sort, where you ride in a car. There's the sort where you sit and your feet hang. There are the stand up ones, and the ones where you sort of ride on your stomach to pretend that you're flying. Most of them attribute their entertainment value to the size of the thrills that they provide - the drops, the loops, the corkscrews, the dips and whirls.

Disney's family of coasters depends less on the thrills they provide, and more on the theming of the ride. Something like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is fun, but it doesn't rank up there in intensity with the coasters at the thrill parks. It's extremely entertaining, however, because in addition to the thrills it does provide, it has plenty of "show" to go with it.

Rides at Disney that fall into the thrill ride category would probably include Tower Of Terror, Rock'n'Roller Coaster, Space Mountain, Test Track, Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and in California, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Grizzly River Run, California Screamin', and their Indiana Jones ride.

The next type of ride is the so-called "Dark Ride". These types of rides might not be exclusive to Disney, but that's the place I've experienced them most. I'd put most of those Fantasyland rides like Peter Pan, Snow White, Pooh, and Pinocchio (in California) in this category, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, it's a small world, Nemo and Friends, the Great Movie Ride, Journey into Your Imagination, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and a couple of World Showcase rides, Maelstrom and The Gran Fiesta ride in Mexico. I have also ridden something similar in Legoland Schaumburg, a dark ride through a set made of Legos. These rides are unique in that thrills are secondary to the level of detail along the way. Sure, Maelstrom has that backward drop for thrills, and Pirates has a drop (or two, depending on which you're riding), but mostly you're on these to watch the sets and the animatronic show.

My experience with that ride at Legoland Schaumburg tells me that while anyone can offer this "dark ride" experience, not everyone can do it, or even tries to do it, at the Disney level of entertainment. I think it's an experience that could be offered, however, if one is willing to do it "right".

The next type of attraction would be the motion simulator. At Disney, the most famous motion simulators are their Star Tours rides, Mission: Space, and Soarin' Over California. At other locations, motion simulator type rides would include the motion theater that Ripley's Believe It Or Not runs at Niagara Falls, where a film is shown and the very chairs you are seated in provide the synchronized motion. (This wasn't great, but wasn't terrible either.) At the CN Tower in Toronto, there was a motion simulator ride where you were on a log as it was cut and begins rushing through the flumes and down rivers and over falls. This one was more like the Star Wars thing. I've also been in a flight simulator at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and I know there are motion simulator rides at Navy Pier in Chicago, and at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. These sorts of rides are widespread. They must not be terribly expensive, but they can be very effective, as Disney shows.

Which brings us to the "show". Shows at Disney can be live stage shows (like Nemo at the Animal Kingdom, or the Little Mermaid or Playhouse Disney at Hollywood Studios), or movies, like the Canada, France and China films. They can be something like Carousel of Progress, or Country Bears Jamboree. They can be the Enchanted Tiki Room, or the "It's Tough To Be A Bug" 4D experience (or the "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" show at Epcot). Others include the Muppets 3D movie and the street performances at Hollywood Studios. Disney uses shows pervasively throughout their resort.

Six Flags Great America does offer one show in their Hometown USA section but I haven't seen it since I was pretty young. It was pretty good back then, but I don't know if I'd feel the same today. Legoland Schaumburg has a 3D movie in their mix of attractions. This also feels like a relatively inexpensive type of attraction.

And finally, the latest addition to the attractions mix is the interactive adventure ride. At Disney, it's Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story Midway Mania. It's a ride, but you have to do something as you ride. They're addictive and fun, and popular. I have been on something similar at Indiana Beach Amusement Park, where you ride through a treasure hunt town shooting at targets. Also very fun, though again, nowhere near the level of detail that Disney uses. I could see something like a "Ghostbusters" type ride being developed in this mode, if it fit a theme.

There are a few other attractions at Disney that could fall into some of these, or be more or less on their own. I'm thinking of the Autopia/Indy Speedway rides, and the People Mover. And of course, there are the carnival rides like the Carousels, the Spinning Teacups, stuff like this.

Somewhere in that mix of attractions is the group that would work for whatever theme we (I?) select for our park...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Musings on theme

I've been reading over the notes I've taken both from internet and book sources and from my own thinking over the last couple years as I've pipe-dreamed about developing a theme park.

Theme is one of the more difficult things to figure out as I try to come up with concepts for this facet of the park. On "Themed", one of the links shows the reader a letter from a young man to ex-Imagineer Eddie Sotto, where the writer describes his theme park as "The Secret World". Elsewhere, I found a blogger with a desire to develop his own theme park, one called "Alternate Realities". But what do these titles tell us about the theme ideas of their park designs?

Not much. The possibilities are, well, maybe not "endless", but pretty broad. As I opined in my last post, the theme needs to be focused enough to allow for a cohesiveness in the attractions of the park, but broad enough to allow the designer to come up with interesting attractions and to have room to change, grow, expand.

The previously mentioned site "Themed Attractions" had one post (I couldn't find it today upon quick perusal) that talked about developing theme by scripting the guest experience from the moment they exit their vehicle in the parking lot to when they enter the park. (And beyond that, of course, but I think this part goes a bit into giving you the designer an insight into how your theme would work practically.)

For example, were I talking about a park called "Alternate Realities", I might look at how I could integrate these various realities. One of the better books I've read on time travel and changing realities was Isaac Asimov's .The End Of Eternity . In this story "eternals" travel through a sort of temporal elevator, stopping at various centuries and making changes that they deem desirable to the "present" and observing how those changes play out. Maybe something like this could form the basis of this park. I would then "script" exactly what the guest would see as he/she approached the park from the parking lot. What sort of building? What do the doors look like? What's off to the right? Left? Where are the ticket booths? Entry gates? Once they go through the doors, what do these temporal elevators look like? How many are there? How does a guest choose which temporal elevator (as the themed portals to this concept) to use to enter the park? Then what? Etc., etc.

Is this idea broad enough to support an entire park? I think it might be; the possibilities for attractions in various realities are pretty vast. Is it focused enough? I think it is that, is pretty specific about how these realities come to exist, and how you get from one to another. This is someone else's concept, though, and that's about as far as I'd want to go with these thoughts...

I had an idea, that I've more or less dismissed (for now), for a similar theme - one where these time travelers, also called (by Asimov) "Eternals", collect by copying or by directly importing various important constructions and such throughout history, to their own futuristic "museum". Maybe the Taj Mahal is there, or something like it. Maybe the pyramids from Egypt are there, or maybe the Mayan structures. Perhaps a portion of the great wall of China is present. How do we get to this future? Well, we don't - it's come to us through some sort of accident, where instead of them grabbing structures from our past, present and future, they've managed to send one of their cities to our present time. One complete with this "museum" to our own architectural triumphs, but also with a large part of their futuristic metropolis intact.

(shrug) It's just off the top of the head sort of rambling. But I think it's sort of fun to muse about these sorts of ideas. Blue sky. Pipe dreaming

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tale of two music theme parks

Two music themed parks were being discussed over the last couple years. One was the Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This park actually opened in the spring of 2008, then was hit hard by the recession. It closed for that season a month early, as the company went into bankruptcy, and the park was sold off to another theme park company which reopened it as Freestyle Music Park

The rides were themed to various rock songs and bands. For example there was a Led Zeppelin roller coaster, which had input from the surviving members of Zep. There was a dark ride called "Nights in White Satin" themed to the Moody Blues song from my own youth. Six areas of the park were themed to various rock eras like "British Invasion" and "Born In The USA."

Another proposed theme park was to be made in Eloy, Arizona, between Phoenix and Tuscon, and it was to be called Decades Music Theme Park. As you can see from the link (if you find it interesting to look, that is), not much has been posted on this since 2008. I looked around and couldn't find any confirmation that it is either being built, or has been cancelled. The last thing I was able to find was a message board post that suggested that it wouldn't happen in Eloy, and if it happened at all, it would be closer to Phoenix, which is now the fourth or fifth biggest metropolitan area in the United States. The park was originally slated to open in 2012, but that looks to be unlikely as far as I can tell.

Music as a theme for the park is, in my opinion, sort of thin. It's like saying "Superheroes" are the theme then putting a Batman coaster, and a Superman Coaster, and maybe a Spiderman coaster around the park. Neither of these lends itself to an overriding story or environment. (Well, I could probably come up with something for the "superheroes" idea, but music is harder. I used the "superheroes" idea because that's sort of what Six Flags Great America does - just sticks coasters here and there with a "superhero' label on them, whether or not they fit any overriding theme.)

In my view, you can't just say "we're a Music theme park" and hope for the best. You have to get more specific. Maybe your guests are entering a futuristic record label, where you can "meet" various acts and experience something about their lives and their music via an attraction, be it a thrill ride, a dark ride, or a show. But it's hard to force the theme into the attraction when it is mismatched. Disney never really tried to force something just because it sounded good. They thought it through. I know some will disagree, saying that attractions like Test Track and The Seas With Nemo are forced into the overall theme of Epcot, and I'd have to agree except to say that Epcot's pull is strong enough and the attractions are good enough to overcome that limitation to a degree. They aren't the best, but they still entertain guests.

So when we think about our overall theme, we need to think about it either in terms of some strong overriding story (think of Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter) or in terms of a really interesting and fun environment (think the Old West, or the city of Tomorrow...). We're not looking to re-create the Magic Kingdom, but something original. But let's take the lessons from these apparently failed theme parks and from Disney's success when we determine what it is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some ideas on stuff to fill a park...

When you think of Disney parks you usually think of the big attractions - or the iconic attractions...stuff like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, or maybe Tower of Terror or Soarin'. Or maybe you think of the iconic architectural and design features - Main Street USA, the Tree of Life, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty Castle, or Spaceship Earth.

But you don't usually think of the little things. Oh, this is not to say that you don't notice them, or that the crazed Disney blogger doesn't think of this level of detail (because many of them do), just that when a casual or even not-so-casual fan thinks of Florida's theme parks, or of the Anaheim parks, the attractions and big stuff is what comes to mind.

And you need the big stuff - it's the trademark, the "weenie" as Walt would call it. But there is so much little detail in these parks that people will pay to look at, to enjoy, to make a part of the overall experience, and I don't have to tell this to a major Disney fan. They know it. They know where the stuff is, what it does, maybe some of the history of the details.

Some of it is Disney-specific, like the windows. Those names in the windows, along with the business they "advertise", that's Disney history. Only at a Disney park will you see something like that. But there are some details, some "smaller" things, that might translate to a smaller theme park.

I've always loved trains. There's a little train set-up back near the Germany pavilion in World Showcase that is always fun for me to look at for a few minutes (at least). Around Christmas my family usually goes to the John Hancock building in Chicago at least once to look at their model train set-up,and we stand there and stare at the trains and also at the other pieces that are in motion. And Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has one of the biggest train set-ups in the world. There are always people crowded around these displays, studying the trains and the buildings and the details incorporated into the set-ups. The MSI's train setup tells us a story, that of transportation between Chicago and Seattle. The story includes the features of the lands between the two cities, as well as trying to represent the people and the towns between them.

I've often thought that those Department 56 village collections are cut from the same cloth. The level of detail you can incorporate in your village is limited only by your imagination and your artistic skill. The buildings are very fun to collect and put together in a representation of the town of your dreams.

Has anyone ever heard of a "Cabinet of Curiosities"? These were the forebears to our museums of natural history and collections. The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin is sort of a "cabinet of curiosities", in that it presents collections of stuff that, while not authenticated or curated in a rigorous manner, give the viewer plenty to look at and wonder over. Douglas Preston and Lee Child used this phrase as the title of one of their Pendergast novels, and gave their readers a little historical insight into the existence of these collections. There is plenty to be curious about, and collecting and displaying this sort of stuff could be a lot of fun, for both the collector and one experiencing the collections.

I've always been interested in the technology that goes into rock concert stage shows. You know what I mean, we've been watching things explode up on stage there for years. Some cutting edge video technology is used nowadays. Sound system technology is very advanced. The instruments even get into the act. Could an exhibit like this be used in some sort of themed exhibition? Or maybe a "Rock Band" or "Band Hero" type of attraction?

I like the idea of a micro-zoo or a micro-botanical garden also. (I like the idea of a bigger version of both of these types of attractions, but we're talking about something that will fit within a theme park.) Depending on what the theme is, some sort of exhibit featuring animal life, or using plant life to give a lush-ness to the surroundings is highly desirable.

There is a big old device at the Museum of Science and Industry, I think it's called Jolly-Ball or something like that. It follows the progress of a ball through a big vertical board, where the ball rides down tracks, through troughs, through spirals, up elevators, in miniature streetcars, through a boat, and more. It takes about 5 minutes to complete its journey, and I've never seen it without a bunch of kids standing there watching it, or waiting for it to begin. My kids are usually right there in the front. It's hypnotic, to stand there and watch the thing.

Stuff like this is the sort of stuff I could see using in a themed environment to give the guests plenty to look at besides experiencing whatever would be the signature attractions of the park. More thinking out loud coming...I think...