What if Disneyland Arrived 60 Years Too Late?

Try to imagine, just for a moment, a giant space monster punching Father Time right in the teeth.

A punch hard enough to jar loose sixty years. A half-dozen meaningless decades. A skip on the record player of history.

Now imagine that this cataclysmic punch occurred in 1901.

History shrugs it off. Life finds a way. And everything remains almost exactly the same.


Then in 1961, during a snowy December evening in Chicago, IL, a young man named Walter Elias Disney is born.

This Walt would grow up in the land of free love and civil rights. Drive ambulances in Vietnam. Create psychedelic ads in Kansas City. Head to Hollywood during the era of Serpico and The Godfather.

Mickey Mouse would debut just days after the election of Bush ’41. The Three Little Pigs during Clinton’s first year in office. Titanic would hold the box office record for only one year before ceding it to Snow White.

There would be goodwill tours to the Middle East (“Saludos Habibis!”). A dark period of Gulf War propaganda films. The first Disney live-action movies would appear about the same time as the iPad.

And Walt—who never backed down from new technology—might have launched his weekly television show on YouTube.

Then he would build a theme park.

Main Street, U.S.A.

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past. And here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” –Disneyland Dedication Plaque, July 17, 2015

Here is a country in transition, from the Nifty Fifties to the Swinging Sixties. The charming storefronts of yesteryear beckon you with bold logos and neon signs, promising the comforting service you’ve come to expect from JC Penney’s, Montgomery Ward, and Rexall Drugs.

In Town Square, you just might catch a show from the Main Street cheerleaders as they pump up the crowd for the weekend’s big football game. Or take in a performance by the resident rock-n-roll band on the grassy field surrounding the gazebo.

This is the age of yester-year. The era of Walt Disney’s cherished childhood. This is Main Street U.S.A.

The Main Street Vehicles – Hop aboard a high-fin Cadillac, a Greyhound bus, or even a trippy hippy van for a one-way journey up Main Street. Nighttime is especially magical, when the neon comes on and the vehicles go into “Cruisin’” mode.

Main Street Cinema – Step inside the air-conditioned confines of this vintage precursor to the modern home theater, where classic movies play continually on eight screens. You’ll thrill to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, fall in love with Marilyn Monroe, or laugh hysterically at everyone’s favorite neurotic, Woody Allen.

The Disneyland Interstate Highway – The crown jewel of Main Street is the On-Ramp to the Disneyland Interstate, which offers you a grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom, with exits at several lands along the way. This loving recreation of the Interstate Era comes straight from the childhood of Walt Disney himself, who once spent a formative summer as a roadside salesman, hawking encyclopedias to housewives along the brand new highway system of the United States.

Town Hall – Information, Guide Maps, Dining Reservations, Storage Lockers, Charging Stations. Civic protests performed daily.


“A wonderland of nature’s own design from the True-Life Adventures Brain Trust.” – Disneyland Podcast Episode 1

Adventureland takes its cue from a revolutionary form of storytelling pioneered by the visionary imagination of Walt Disney!

Step across the bridge from Main Street and you’ll find yourself inside one of the interconnected tales of Phase 1 and 2 of the Disney True-Life Adventures Cinematic Universe.

Disney True-Life Adventures Assemble: Vanishing Prairie Cruise – Guests board colorful launches for a scenic trip down river, accompanied by wisecracking, pop-culture savvy skippers. Come face to face with the sharp-toothed citizens of Beaver Valley as they team up with The African Lion and Perri the squirrel to conquer the evil genius known as The Living Desert. Featuring a script by Joss Whedon.

Adventureland BazaarDisney True-Life Adventures comic books, action figures, costumes, memorabilia. Note: Due to previous licensing agreements with other media companies, merchandise featuring Seal Island and White Wilderness is not available in Disneyland.


“Frontierland! Tall tales and true from the burned out fragments of dystopian society.”—Disney Parks Blog Metadata

Every era has its craze. The 1950s had Westerns on every screen, big and small. Now today’s most popular story setting springs to life off page and screen, ushering you into a gray and dismal world, where every day is a fight for survival among oppressed teenagers.

District Twain – The mournful whistle of this floating prison camp welcomes you aboard for a “ten year sentence” down the irradiated Rivers of America. You’ll drift among the poisoned fog banks, explore the holographic Logger-Jammer Forest, and overthrow The Over-Chancellor during this 15-minute leisure cruise.

Maze Run Through Nature’s Wonderland – Every teetering rock formation means danger. Every erupting geyser hides a secret. And supplies are running out. As junior members of the scrappy “Mountain Lion Gang,” guests don tight-fitting, impractical jumpsuits to try and outwit the infamous Rainbow Ridge Consortium.

Convergent – Guests participate in an interactive personality survey before being sorted into one of three Tribes: Conestoga, Pack Mule, or Stagecoach. What happens next is up to you! Will you break down the societal barriers meant to inhibit cooperation? Or will the Supreme Benefactor keep you enslaved under his mutated thumb?

The Golden Horseshoe Arena – 10 lucky guests (ages 9-15) will be selected to compete in a fight to the death for the right to be crowned Frontierland Champion. See Times Guide for showtimes.


“#Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and #younginheart. To those who believe that when you#wishuponastar, your dreams come true.” –@RetlawYensid (Walt Disney’s Personal Twitter Account)

Over the drawbridge and through the castle gates lies Fantasyland, home to all the wonderful stories you’ve come to love from Walt Disney Studios. The happiest kingdom of them all for children of all ages, but especially for the very young!

Drowsy Castle – At the end of Main Street U.S.A stand the fairy tale spires of Drowsy Castle, from Walt Disney’s upcoming animated hit, Drowsy. The story follows the timeless tale of the spunky princess who overcame a bad case of narcolepsy and the schemes of an evil fairy to rescue her mother and father, save a helpless but handsome prince from his controlling father, and awaken a kingdom to the beauty within it – all while pursuing her dream of a becoming a fashion designer with help from a magic spinning wheel. Drowsy Castle offers spa services, where young princesses-in-training (and moms too!) can pamper themselves with Drowsy Massages and pedicures.

Soarin’ Over Neverland with Peter Pan and Friends – Don a pair of pixie dust goggles and strap yourself into an authentic Lost Boy hang-glider for a thrilling flight over Neverland in this motion simulator attraction. Dodge cannonballs from the Jolly Roger, swoop over Skull Rock, and come face to face with the nefarious Captain Hook. Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Wild Ride Through England ~ The Adventures of Walt Disney’s Mr. Toad and Friends – Design your own motorcar, snap on your 3-D driving goggles, then step behind the wheel for a zany jaunt through London, where your vehicle will go onroad, offroad, and nowhere in particular on this high-speed turbulent adventure. Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures Featuring the Seven Dwarfs – Step aboard this revolutionary trackless robo-arm contraption built by the Seven Dwarfs, which will send you careening through a seamless forest of practical sets and video mapping technology, in an effort to escape the wicked Queen—all brought to life through the magic of your 3-D “diamond spectacles.” Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Walt Disney and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Tea Party Starring YOU! – You’ll scream “off (with) your head” as you twirl in a death-defying loop high above Fantasyland! This mega-thrill ride – the tallest in Disneyland at nearly 200 feet – is not for the faint of heart (or Queens of Hearts). 3-D “tea glasses” required. Minimum Height 48 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Dumbo’s Nursery – Everyone will enjoy this themed waiting area, decorated with static props from Walt Disney’s timeless live-action classic, Dumbo. Children must be accompanied by an expectant mother.


“Promise of thing[s] to come, in part or in whole, to be defined at such time as is mutually agreed upon.” – Joint Press Release, The Walt Disney Company and IBM

The future beckons from the gleaming spires of Tomorrowland, showcase of the strategic corporate partnerships of The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiary holdings.

Here guests can enjoy just-in-time delivery of entertainment-based initiatives through the magic of brand penetration, while leveraging best-in-class assets to synergistically monetize the client-centric vacation experience.

Dronetopia Sponsored by Amazon – Guests young and old take control of a remote aircraft, piloting an Amazon Prime shipment through a challenging wooded course through Tomorrowland.

SEO Hall of Fame Sponsored by Google – Advancements in the breathtaking field of search engine optimization and deep indexing are on display in this interactive kiosk adventure.

PRC Marsliner Rocket – Topping out at nearly 190 feet, this full-scale replica of a top-secret space craft is a testament to the continuing emergence of China in the global market, and a stark warning to America’s previously dominant space program. The Marsliner sets the stage for the thrilling Flight to Mars simulator attraction, where guests race against the clock to stave off economic collapse in the face of rising national debt, all while watching another country win the race to Mars.

Circarama Theater Sponsored by Siemens– This 360-degree IMAX theater is currently home to the stirring and powerful film, Innovironmentions. This spectacle of corporate responsibility raises awareness of the very real struggle faced by companies in today’s political climate, highlighting diversity efforts and green initiatives in response to a groundswell of public support for environmental factors in the marketplace.

Tomorrowland Gallery Sponsored by Brad Bird – View lifeless pictures of props from the latest box office flops in this temporary placeholder attraction. Also serves slushies.


Bold New Worlds – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Yesterday I posted about how strange it is for frequent guests to suddenly have new experiences to enjoy. The Seven Dwarfs mountain has been isolated in the middle of New Fantasyland for what feels like a decade. We all remember when it was just a wee bump of steel in the middle of a dirt pit. And now suddenly here it is with a date to the prom and a tennis scholarship to State U.

Like the rest of New Fantasyland (except Storybook Circus), it is exceedingly pretty. And while I found the coaster to be rather disjointed, the ride is not without its moments.

The dark ride section is pretty great. It has one of those quintessential Disney moments, when Doc starts to call Heigh-Ho and the train creeps ever-so-off-kilter up the lift hill, with the music swelling, and Dwarf shadows marching beside you. That’s the kind of thing that Disney does best. It can give you goosebumps when done properly, and this moment is a bonafide goosebump moment. What Disney Magic used to mean, before the term became so watered down.

The ride is not meant to be a major E-ticket attraction, and in fact it is a little jarring to go from nicely themed kiddie-coaster to amazing dark ride to nicely themed kiddie coaster again. The lines should settle down after the initial newness wears off. In spite of some initial trepidation about the project (back when it was mostly Dumbo and princess greets), I’m a fan of New Fantasyland. I think both Seven Dwarfs and Little Mermaid are worthy additions to the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is a much needed improvement, and though I don’t care for Story Hour with Princesses, the cottage is at least pretty and well rendered. Storybook Circus is not cream of the crop, but at least it’s an upgrade over Toontown. On the whole, this new area significantly improves the ambience of the Magic Kingdom — especially compared to the medieval tournament tents of original Fantasyland. I’m anxious to see where the Magic Kingdom goes from here.

I had the benefit of exploring these Bold New Worlds almost back to back. As strange as it sounds, I probably enjoyed the initial Harambe Theater District experience more. Harambe offered not just a surprising new set of buildings and landscaping to explore, but it gave me a different view of the old stuff — the view back towards Africa, the return of the geyser rocks, that white access bridge beyond which lies Pandora. But this new, fresh glimpse of Disney World from a different angle will soon fade, and I suspect the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will have the staying power.

As a parkeologist, I was delighted to discover something in the Mine Train queue which I’m sure went unnoticed by practically everyone else standing in the Florida heat with me. Back in the 90s, I bought a collectible CD of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Soundtrack. It contained two songs on it–scratch tracks of deleted songs from the movie. While listening to the instrumental background music in the queue, I was startled to hear renditions of both “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old To Be Young” mixed in with “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It shows a welcome attention to the history of the landmark film that inspired the ride.

The Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs




The Great Iconic Food Race

I have a love-hate relationship with Universal Studios. By which I mean, I love to hate them. For an entire decade and a half, they deserved all the hate and then some. Universal Studios Florida was a masterpiece of ugly when it opened. Islands of Adventure left so many opportunities on the table. They were such a source of perpetual disappointment, they might as well have called themselves the Knicks.

For almost 60 years, Disney has been setting the gold standard for how a theme park should operate, and everyone else is forced to copy them or die trying. Other parks could be counted on for the occasional ride vehicle innovation (floorless suspended standing coaster!) or record-setting coaster arms race (tallest wooden looping coaster!) — but these were just variations on the same thing. The real game changers (themed environments, onsite resorts, ride reservation systems, integrated infrastructure, gift shop exits) either came out of Disney or were perfected by them.

Somehow in the last 5 years, Universal has managed to steal a huge slumbering dragon treasure straight out from Disney’s nose (or under it, if you want to be less gross — but the metaphors stay mixed)

Yes, yes, the so-called “mini-parks” are all well and good (SeaWorld just opened their own copycat this past weekend). But mini-park is just a different branding of the typical Disney land (as in Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc.), and no different than the kind of mega-themed experiences that Disney has been doing pretty much since Eisenhower was in office. But with Wizarding World of Harry Potter and now the upcoming Simpsons area of USF, Universal has discovered the gift that keeps on giving: highly recognizable unique food items.

How Disney missed this one, I’m not sure. They are usually so far ahead of the game when it comes to making a buck that it is stunning just how this little market has exploded in the last half-decade, and it’s all thanks to Universal. They wisely recognized that every kid and adult in the country who has ever read a Harry Potter book (which is probably every kid and adult in the country) is not only familiar with butterbeer, but would love the opportunity to try some. So they mixed up a cream-soda concoction and sold them that exact experience at its one-of-a-kind theme park destination.

"My, this is delicious! Now who's up for another ride on the Hippogriff?"

“My, this is delicious! Now who’s up for another ride on the Hippogriff?”

Don’t think Butterbeer is a big deal? All you have to do is look at the competition. Disney wasted no time rolling out their own weird marshmallow drink at New Fantasyland, called LeFou’s Brew, highlighting it in the marketing materials. And SeaWorld promptly rolled out a South Pole Chill “infused with Vanilla flavor.” Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know. Turn out the lights and it’ll glow.

There’s just one problem with LeFou’s Brew and South Pole Chill: Nobody has any idea what the frick those things are.

Butterbeer has an audience primed to desire it. They’ve been desiring it for years, and never had anybody bother to offer it to them. Universal saw that market and it quickly became one of their biggest success stories. It was so popular, they couldn’t make it fast enough. Not so the frothy concoction named after a very minor character in a 20-year old movie, who never had any association with any beverage anyway, other than as a prop in a song and dance number for the villain. It’s not a must-have drink. No kid is popping in the DVD of Beauty and the Beast and salivating over that time LeFou spilled some foam on Gaston.

I don't know about you, but I take one look at this picture and see dollar signsWhat I find fascinating is that Universal has already spotted a second opportunity to do the same thing, and again it’s sheer brilliance. Duff Beer will be served at Simpsons-land. The fake refreshment that launched a thousand pop-culture t-shirts now lands at Universal, again in a one-of-a-kind unique tasting extravaganza. I predict their sales will be huge.

Especially if they can get Hillary Duff to promote it.

Especially if they can get Hillary Duff to promote it.

I commend Universal for coming up with these pre-made markets and incorporating them into their parks. It’s the kind of opportunity the Mouse dreams about: Not just getting people into their parks with a slick entertainment offering, but finding something they are not only willing to pay for, but pleading to pay for. You expect the Harry Potter ride to be included in your admission, but not a single person would ever think that Butterbeer should be gratis. We’re conditioned to pay for food. If you’re not a raccoon, it ain’t free.

Disney keeps trying to find a unique food item. Carsland brought us the Cones (Chili cone queso, etc.) I’m sure Avatar will bring about Pandoraberry Plunge or something. But they keep bumping into the same trap of making the food an extension of the existing theme, rather than finding something that can be a focal point. I’m wondering if they even have any food items at their disposal that they can capitalize on. Is there anything in the entire Disney pantheon as iconic as Butterbeer or Duff’s Beer?

Let me know if you can think of anything. The best I’ve come up with is Poison Apples and Flubber, neither of which sound all that appetizing. Maybe Pooh’s Hunny Ice Cream or something (served in a plastic Hunny pot). It has to be better than Old Yeller Jerky though.