Dueling Disney – Main Street versus Main Street

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Keith Gluck, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 30, 2013 at 4:03 am with 35 Comments

Welcome to the second installment of Dueling Disney. In our first column, we got a lot of good responses to our initial topic of RESORT SIZE. We asked to know how you felt, and you certainly told us! We got a lot of great comments, supporting both sides of the argument, and got a pretty good idea about which one wins.

We have also decided that due to the number of topics we believe can cover, while still maintaining a level of quality, that we are going to try to make this column a bi-weekly endeavor instead of monthly (thanks for the push folks).

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s move onto this week’s topic, and see who comes out victorious: Keith (representing Disneyland) or Jeff (representing Magic Kingdom). . .

Topic 2: MAIN STREET, U.S.A.

Jeff: I might have to pull a Keith, and concede to his win right off the bat on this one. However, there are some simply fabulous things about Main Street, U.S.A. at Walt Disney World that I absolutely enjoy. For starters, the moment you pass under the railroad and onto Main Street, you immediately feel like you’re in another world. Magic Kingdom doesn’t waste any time with starting the show for you, and the old town square atmosphere hits you right off the bat. Now, granted, this “small town” may be a bit scaled up compared to most, but I do get a nice feeling of nostalgia from it.

Keith: KGFTW already? Nice!

Well, “Jeff.” It is “Jeff,” isn’t it? I like to think that our Main Street at Disneyland greets you with a dose of nostalgia as well. Whether it be from the turn of the 20th century architecture, the wonderful ambient music, or the ride vehicles that Disney Imagineering Legend Bob Gurr designed (and in most cases personally drove to Disneyland), we’ve got nostalgia covered. Oh, poor Jeff. You’re gonna lose big on this one, bud.

Jeff: I do have to say, yours definitely has a distinct advantage over mine. Disneyland was the original (OG, if you will), and truly shows its colors. But, allow me to step into the time machine of your choice for a moment (because it’s a time machine, and we can come back to this exact second, duh), and talk about Walt Disney World’s Main Street, circa the mid-1980s, to when I feel MY Main Street was at its heyday. Though they don’t exist anymore (well, one side does), West Center Street and East Center street (which ran across Main Street) created an extra ounce of authenticity to the world that was created. Here, you could shop at the Flower Market (which I have a very vivid recollection of, if only for that time when two singers whose names I can’t recall sang in it during a special on TV), wander the street, and hear the citizens of Main Street living their lives from the windows above. I know the tap and piano lessons can still be heard, but some of the other small stuff is now gone.

Keith: I see your Doctor Who and raise you a Doc Brown. My DeLorean takes me back to a resplendent Main Street bursting with both charisma and commerce. Need to visit one of the only banks in the country open on Sunday? Why, pop on over to the Bank of Main Street, where you can not only cash checks, but open an account. Care for a magic show? I recommend a visit to the Magic Shop, where a young Steve Martin will dazzle you with acts of sorcery and prestidigitation. In the market for a darling Brassiere? Hollywood-Maxwell’s Intimate Apparel shop (also known as the Wizard of Bras) has just what you’re looking for! Over the years Main Street in Disneyland has featured all sorts of timely and timeless merchants that have catered to a wide array of guest needs. And coming back to present day, you can enjoy a wonderful meal at the Carnation Cafe, peruse the fantastic pieces of art in the Disney Gallery, or take in a little show that Walt himself worked on called “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Oh, and Jeff? Our Main Street Cinema shows movies.

Jeff: Great Scott, you’re right! But then again, our cinema showed movies as well, up until a few years ago. Granted, it no longer does, but a lot of things we’re discussing now are no longer in existence. But still, the Main Streets of Yesterland do, without a doubt, beat out the Main Streets of today. I think we can both agree on that.

One of the things I dislike about both Main Street’s is that they have essentially become a shopping mecca. The stores have taken over, and every square inch is for your shopping needs. Now, granted, both try to readjust their theme so it makes sense, but some of the small town charm we just spoke of is no longer evident in some places.

Keith: We do agree on that. Back in the day, store windows on Main Street in Disneyland were actual set dressings. They were not wall to wall displays of whichever “merch” was being pushed at the time. However, as stated above, we do have some free pleasures to enjoy. In addition to everything listed, you can also visit the very spot in which Walt Disney dedicated the opening of the park that started it all.

Jeff: Either way, even without some of the original stuff, I still enjoy my version of Main Street. We still have the windows dedicated to some of the greatest Imagineers (and yes, I know they are not the originals), some great streetmosphere characters, and a little bit of charm left. Even though I said earlier that I’d concede to you, I take it back…I only kind of concede.

Keith: Haha, fair enough. I was saving my trump card for the end anyway, which will basically crush any points you may have mentioned thus far, up to and including your partial conceding. Let me tell you a little bit about Walt Disney’s private apartment. Residing above the Main Street Fire Department, Walt’s little hideaway was beautifully decorated in the Victorian style by Disney’s Academy Award-winning set decorator Emile Kuri. Some of Kuri’s career highlights include winning an Oscar for 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and supervising the decoration of Disney’s groundbreaking exhibits for the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. Now, the apartment wasn’t just a place for Walt to retreat to for a breather during a hot Disneyland afternoon. He spent many nights there, often interacting with overnight workers, or treating the morning crew to fresh coffee on Main Street. So between the Disney Gallery, Main Street Cinema, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Walt Disney’s private apartment, I’m afraid I am going to have to declare myself the overwhelming winner of this round, Jeff!

How about you good folks? Think Keith is right? Or was Jeff right to only partially concede, and Florida’s Main Street actually surpasses California’s? We’ll let you be the judge of this debate. Let us know what you think below!

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  • Malin

    When the Imagineers had a chance to re create Main Street for Hong Kong Disneyland. It picked the Disneyland version. The atsmophere and scale all feel much more intimate at Disneyland. It also has that sense that Walt Disney himself oversaw the project. It still holds his original Apartment, Train Station, Lincoln and is home to Carnation Cafe one of the most enjoyable table service restaurants inside the Park. Disneyland wins this round hands down. Although credit to WDW that it still has charm and warmth and the same goes for the Paris Main Street. The worst designed version has to be at Tokyo Disneyland where your left with the impression of standing under a shopping mall.

    • indianajack

      I agree that Tokyo’s Main St. is just awful with that completely unsubtle and hideously ugly roof. The shops also feel a bit spartan, and Main St. closes the same time as the rest of the park! That makes no sense, since many people would like to shop at the end of the day so they don’t have to carry bags around. One really good thing in Tokyo is the penny arcade which has an amazing collection of vintage machines to play.

      • lighttragic

        The reason Tokyos Main street and The shops in disney sea close right at park closing is the trains and buses around the tokyo disney resort only run till a certain time. They need to make sure everyone including the cast members get home in time.

  • tofubeast

    While I agree Disneyland has the edge with Lincoln, a working cinema, more moving cards, and Walt’s apartment— I absolutely *adore* the face characters at the Magic Kingdom. Mayor Weaver and his wife are such a joy to chat with as are the suffragettes and Fire Chief. I also LOVE the Harmony Barber shop. It’s where my daughter had her first hair cut. For $18, she got a haircut, “my first haircut” ears, a pouch with her first cut lock of hair, and lots of pixie dust. These elements all add a nice spark of life and uniqueness to MK’s Main Street.

    • jcruise86

      Yes, Jeff’s failure to mention WDW’s barbershop was epic!

      And I’d add that the view FROM WDW’s Main Street is breathtaking, while Disneyland’s castle is cute, historic and comforting. WDW’s new president, George K., could be seen as heroic if he got the Main Street cinemas to go from a shopping space to an animation tribute like Disneyland’s.

      Let’s get international. The roof above Tokyo’s is a frustrating view blocker.

      And the 1920s Main Street in Paris is different and cool, as is is its view of the castle at night. I think that castle looks much better at night than it does in the day.

  • Park Hopper

    Disneyland’s Main Street definitely has more charm to it. The warm colors the smaller scale of the buildings, the vehicles, which run pretty much throughout the day, all add to this. It has the feeling of one of those scale toy villages that model railroad enthusiasts set up around their model train tacks—which is essentially what it is, only built to a scale large enough where people can actually walk around inside it.

    The Magic Kingdom’s Main Street is built to a larger scale, to go with the larger size of the castle and is much more ornate, giving it a grand and somewhat imposing atmosphere. It saddens me that the Main Street Vehicles only run for a little while towards the beginning of the day and then are not seen again. And that the area is now pretty much wall to wall retail without a break.

    Disneyland still has penny arcade machines in the Penny Arcade (even though it’s primarily a candy shop), still has movies in the Main Street Cinema. The Disney Gallery, although primarily a retail location, does still have exhibition space in the back. And of course, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, still plays where it has since 1965 when Walt opened it there.

    At the end of the day, Disneyland’s Main Street makes me want to linger, while The Magic Kingdom’s has no such effect.

  • Susan Hughes

    Here’s my opinion. Obviously Walt built Main Street at Disneyland. So it was designed the way “he” wanted. It’s cozy, comfortable and warm.
    Walt died in 1966, well before construction began on Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. In many ways Main Street, and the whole park in general, give me the impression that it’s “Roy’s” park. And it feels like Roy wanted “his” park to be bigger than his brothers.
    As I visited Magic Kingdom, it was a little strange. It seemed familiar, yet different. It’s as if they took Disneyland and pumped it with steroids. And for me, that just didn’t have the same feeling of warmth.
    Over the past couple of years many of my “online” Walt Disney World friends have traveled to California for their first visit to Disneyland. After the initial shock of how much smaller it is, they’ve all come to the same conclusion; they love Disneyland much better. They feel Walt’s presence, and because of that, size becomes irrelevant. It’s the experience, the magic. And it’s there in abundance.

    • DisneySam

      There is a wonderful book about Roy Disney called “Building a Company, Roy Disney and the creation of an entertainment empire”. The chapters that pertain to Roy completing WDW after his brother’s death maintain that he was building the park/resort as a tribute to his brother’s legacy and ideas. Roy was building everything according to Walt’s plans (or at least what he believed were Walt’s plans). I think that nothing about Walt Disney World represents as Roy’s park but a loving tribute of a man by his brother. Having said that I love Main Street at WDW. I can wander through for hours and marvel at all the details. Is it mostly a shopping mecca now? Yes, but it still retains a lot of charm. I love Tony’s Town Square restaurant which is another thing that the “dueler” failed to mention that sets the two apart. Also, for all those that reference Walt’s apartment at Disneyland being a difference maker. How does that affect the guest’s experience of Main Street? You can’t visit it. Just knowing its there is certainly pretty cool but that makes no difference to the average visitor. I do miss the Penny Arcade very much though. I loved all the old time entertainment devices and games you could see and use.

      • Dapper Dan

        A couple of them are still in the Main Street train station. I know there’s a couple of the nickelodeons, but there might still be game or two.

      • Susan Hughes

        You CAN visit Walt’s apartment. It’s part of the “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps” tour. And that’s another thing that sets Disneyland apart from all the other Disney parks around the world. They can’t have a tour where you can do that…walk in Walt’s footsteps.

    • Dapper Dan

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Roy was more than content to stay out of the spotlight. In fact, he would duck it whenever possible. Walt wanted to name the company Disney Bros. and Roy said, “No, it’s all yours.” The statue of Roy on Main Street in the magic kingdom is a fitting tribute to his personality, sitting in town square way off to one side where most people probably don’t even notice it.

      Roy was not competitive at all with Walt which is part of the reason why they were such an effective team. If you listen to interviews where Walt talks about the company he will often try to give Roy his due. It was usually, “My brother and I” when he spoke of the company’s origins. Walt wanted people to know how vital Roy was to the company. It was Roy that didn’t want the attention. There’s one piece of footage that sums it up perfectly. There’s an old film that shows a group of animators playing baseball during their lunch break at the studio. The camera pans to the right a bit to pick up Roy watching the game. The second he notices he is being filmed, he can’t get out of the shot fast enough. The guy was never trying to out-do anyone, certainly not his brother.

      Also remember that Walt Died in December of 66 and Phase One of Walt Disney World opened in 71. Five years isn’t that long when it comes to planning and completing something on the scale of The Magic Kingdom, Transportation & Ticket Center, 2 resorts, The Seven Seas Lagoon and The Fort Wilderness Campground. It would be foolish to think that Walt had absolutely nothing to do with how that area turned out.

  • Trumpet

    Great Article Guys

    I am going to side with Keith this week, as Disneyland’s Main Street USA. It has alot of charm, and retains history from Walt’s past, such as his apartment. For me, that is an important factor for the entrance to the original park.

    Thanks Again Guys


  • tomjmoses

    Sorry, Jeff, the OG Main Street wins out on this one. I would note, however, that WDW’s “weinie” (the Cinderella Castle) is bigger than DL’s, so if that helps you any…..

  • Monoautorail

    The singers you mention were Air Supply singing for the WDW 15th anniversary special in 1987.

  • jcruise86

    I forgot to mention, good article! Thanks, Jeff and Keith!

    Do you remember the two shocking machine at WDW’s Penny Arcade in the 1970s? There was one where you pulled the two bars together if you could endure the shock,
    and my favorite where you held on to two door knob sized knobs for as long as you could take it. We would have a group holding hands with one masochist on each end holding a knob and whole group would suffer. Even as a kid I recognized that a company using intense physical pain as a form of entertainment was amazingly irresponsible and stupid, but we loved it.

  • eicarr

    This question will be interesting a couple years from now after the big Main Street expansion at DL. But the arcade works well at Disneyland Paris and the current design team’s jaw dropping detail at Cars Land, buena Vista Street and Fantasy Faire gives me hope.

    • Susan Hughes

      I wouldn’t worry about the expansion to Disneyland’s Main Street. All the work will take place behind the stores along the east side of the street. They’re going to create an early 20th century back alley. Not as junky as it sounds though. It should be quite charming and will fit into the theme of Main Street.
      It’s main purpose is to allow an alternate exit route for people during the crowded times. They already do this now during crowded times after the fireworks and Fantasmic, where park guests walk “backstage” behind the stores on the west side of the street. It’s convenient, but not very interesting. You see lockers, bottles of water, Jungle Cruise boats, etc.

  • StevenW

    I have to say Disneyland’s Main Street is the best; however, I am biased as I live in the area and I went to the Magic Kingdom twice, not enough to sufficiently compare the two.

    Despite the attempt to turn Disneyland’s Main Street into a mall as in every other park, it still retains the small town feel. This is evident from the small scale that helps. The Magic Kingdom Main Street is just too large to keep that same feeling.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I’m going to shock some people. I really like Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. There is something impressive about it. The scale is large, the detail ornate, and looming above it all a big impressive castle.

    Sadly, Disney World management has eaten away at the underlying charm of the street over the years. The loss of half of Center Street. The removal of the Arcade and Movie Palace. And the overall turning of the entire street into a mall have eaten away at something which was once very special.

    Therefore, while I may have thought Disney World’s Magic Kingdom had the best Main Street in the 70′s, today, it’s just a memory.

    I’ll give the win to Disneyland.

  • Rongo

    I’m glum that Disneyland’s Main Street is no longer as it was when I was a kid – filled with different shops with different, appropriate merchandise. But even as the mall of homogenized Disney products, it is still better than the WDW version for one reason: when I stepped onto WDW’s Main Street, it was so loud and screeching that I thought I was in a Best Buy. Not quite sure if it was the different crowd demographics or the overly loud background music, but it was really quite unpleasant. Rolly Crump’s quote from the first installment of this great series definitely holds true: “Disneyland hugs you. Walt Disney World just made way for all the strollers.”

  • gboiler1

    I’m enjoying the new column but really I’m wondering if WDW can actually claim anything better than DL, but I’ll wait for more column’s to see if/when it does happen. I’ve been able to enjoy both parks equally over the years so I do have some basis for my thoughts. I remember always wanting to go to the magic shop in DL. Perhaps at some point they can mix attractions and commerce and return a portion of the shops to those one might have found on an old time Main Street much like Universal has done with Hogsmeade. Ollivander’s is a good idea of mixing show and sales.
    Looking forward to the next debate!

  • ScottOlsen

    “I’m enjoying the new column but really I’m wondering if WDW can actually claim anything better than DL….”

    Yes, Tomorrowland is better at WDW, but I’m sure they’ll get to that.

    • Park Hopper

      It used to be. But that kinda got ruined by Monsters and Stitch. Of course Magic Kingdom still has the people mover and that helps. And they have that great architecture at the front by the hub entrance. Too bad they never finished redoing the area over by the Tomorrowland Speedway and Cosmic Ray’s. It looks kind of weird with half the land redone and the other half still pretty much the way it’s been since 1971. Incidentally, I will take Disneyland’s Autopia over Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Speedway any day of the week. And then there were all those great gadgets that were installed with the Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland redo that are now broken or missing. Then there’s the perennial empty stage. Disneyland has a better Buzz Lightyear and a better Space Mountain. As for the Carrousel Theater, I think Disneyland’s Innoventions and Magic Kingdom’s Carrousel of Progress could have a compition to see which one gets fewer visitors. Of course Innoventions is scheduled for demolition very soon. And once the Iron Man attraction opens in California… slam dunk Disneyland!

  • http://thedisneyproject.com Keith Gluck

    Thanks so much to everyone who’s commented so far! This is a fun column to write, and we’d do it weekly if we could. I did want to say that looking over the list of topics we have prepared, Walt Disney World is definitely going to be victorious in more than one battle, despite my best efforts to defend my Home Resort! I just love the fact that neither of us are really “wrong.” Well, except Jeff sometimes is.