Written by David "Indy" Graham
Recently the UDN staff was talking about all the new rides that are coming to the Central Florida theme parks this year as well as in the near future and how we can't wait until they open so we can experience them. This got me thinking with new theme parks like Dream Island (Russia), Genting Theme Park at Genting Highlands Resort (formerly 20th Century Fox World in Malaysia), The London Resort project as well as Universal building Beijing and Epic Universe, how would I build my dream park if I could.
First let's take a quick look at the two giants when most people think theme parks locally. When you think about the Magic Kingdom and Universal they market to different age groups really. Sure one could argue that they offer a little something for everyone, however let's take a look a little deeper. A lot of people go back to the Magic Kingdom as it's a nostalgic trip for them, as well as they have more rides for the younger generation (in addition, to someone of a larger build they have more that can be ridden based on their ride designs). Universal knows that Disney has the younger kids on lock down for now and they even had a commercial a while back called "kids grow up" and poked fun at Disney and how they out grow them for more thrilling rides. It's a fact that Universal does have more teen and adult driven rides. This is apparent just by looking at the height requirements in their ride portfolio. Both parks know how to brand market themselves and do it quite well for who they are targeting. As time goes on with new lands and hopefully parks, we will see that those lines start to overlap more on attractions and branding.
As for park layouts, it is without saying that Walt Disney had a great design with what is referred to as the Hub and Spoke model that Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom use. You have the Main Street/Entrance that lead out to the different lands and then they connect to each other through themed portals to the others lands. For any great park, having each land themed to set up the illusion and experience that you are really there- with the goal being to leave you in awe and possibly touch you emotionally each time you visit them. (As a side note to this I witnessed this many times when I worked for Universal as I saw many Harry Potter fans cry when they entered Diagon Alley). Universal set the standard when they opened The Wizarding World at Islands of Adventures and again with Diagon Alley where you are immersed completely in them and away from the outside world. These lands complete the experience by offering everything from not only amazing ride experiences but themed food, exclusive drinks and exclusive shops to complete the story. Disney in return to this new standard built Avatar, Toy Story and Star Wars lands based on now what people want and expect from theme parks. Come 2023, assuming everything Universal is rumored to do with Epic Universe, they will take that idea and move it to the next level with a free Main Street entrance (think Citywalk 2.0) area and then each land will have it's own turnstile entrance making each land an exclusive and immersive experience. Based on the concept art Universal has previously released each land currently looks to only have one way in and out, making it unique as Universal could sell discounted tickets to just a themed land and have tier pricing based on how many lands you want to visit.
Now with those ideas I think a well blended park would have a little of both Universal and Disney in them for the perfect family experience. Taking the rumored layout for Epic Universe with the immersive lands I would still find a way to use the same Hub and Spoke model as used with the Magic Kingdoms connecting the different lands, but would figure out a well hidden themed turnstile area between the lands. I believe this would help with possible crowd control issues at the more popular lands as well as provide the option to still sell individual lands (making the assumption that Universal does this). And much like Universal does in each Harry Potter land with the Hogwarts Express, have places to upsell the guest with a multi-land experience. For land ideas I think it's important as Universal and Disney have proven picking the right IP for a land is important to not only get the people in the park but to keep them coming back. Not to say with the right attractions in a land, it won't keep the people from wanting to visit. Space Mountain is a great E-ticket ride at Disney, but when Disney opened Tomorrowland within no time the land was outdated. For this reason Disney slowly moved to more of a sci-fi feel for the land so they weren't having to try to update it every couple years.
This hopefully gets you thinking about what your theme park would look like and what possible layout idea you would go with. Would you want a Hub and Spoke, or more like Epcot or Universal Studios, and have a lake in the middle to go around that could also double for a night time show. Stay tuned for part 2 when we talk about thoughts on ride selection for each land.
Share your thoughts with us and comment below!