Disneyland and the Exceptional, Acceptable, or Regrettable Part 2

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney, Samland

Tagged: ,


Published on April 25, 2013 at 3:01 am with 57 Comments

Last week I decided to apply a tool I use at my day job to give me a reason to spout out a bunch of opinions about the state of the Disneyland Resort (Exceptional, Acceptable, or Regrettable Part 1).

How do you get people to evaluate and document what they see and how they feel within the environments that they live, work, and play? That is a question I am frequently asked during my day job. After facilitating something north of 750 community meetings and charrettes, I have come to learn that a process built on curiosity, clarity, creativity, will generally gain the confidence of the people and they will feel the magic (when apprehension turns into awe and delight) and work toward a great big beautiful tomorrow. Given the chance, the right tools, and the right strategy, community stakeholders tend to make good choices. Amazing, eh? Like I said, it’s my day job.

Do you have to go to school to learn what are the proper elements that make up spaces that are alive, functional, and beautiful? No. Inside, everybody knows what is right. Most of the time they just do not know how to articulate what they are feeling. My experience has shown me that the best places are those that share these three elements in abundance; quality, variety, and surprise. Places that have a higher degree of life tend to be filled with such moments. Isn’t that why we go back to the parks so often and fight to keep them whole?  Although each of these elements may seem subjective, ask enough people and you will be amazed how common their wants and desires are.

When you look at a specific place, I try to keep this in mind. Every act of construction should be an opportunity to either repair, enhance or embellish the public realm. If not, just leave it alone. Kind of like the theory that people are less critical when rides change at the parks as long as they are being replaced by something superior.

With all of that said, you cannot manage something you cannot measure. So we have to find some sort of a ranking system. I suggest you see and what you experience as exceptional, acceptable or regrettable. It is a fun game and if you will indulge me, I would like to give it a try as it applies to the Disneyland Resort.

I hope you will play along with your comments.

EXCEPTIONAL: Ellis Island Boys


If you are a fan of jazz from the 1920s as performed by bands bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers then I have a suggestion on where you need to eat lunch or dinner at DCA. Head for the Paradise Pier Gardens, grab a table underneath the trees, and prepare to be entertained. This is a case where the music and theme mesh perfectly. The band fits the era of the beer garden. They are incredibly talented and have a rather broad repertoire.

As for the venue, this is another home run from the DCA remodel. With an intimate sunken dining area protected by a canopy of trees. It is easy to scoot around tables and chairs to fit your needs. And there are solid dining choices – Greek skewers and Italian food. Plus, if you ever need a reminder of how tacky DCA 1.0 was, just go into the bathrooms. They are leftover from the grand opening.

Exceptional, Acceptable and Regrettable: Carsland Gateways 

There are three ways to enter Carsland. Which one best embodies the elements of quality, variety, and surprise? There is quite a bit of difference if you are trying to make a good first impression

For those in the know, the exceptional way to enter this new land is through the Monterey Bay food court. The rock arch perfectly frames the Zen view. There is a sense of depth and grander that is due to the use of color and the sheer size of the structure. You get a peek at the cars racing through the bunny hills and plenty of places to sit to enjoy the view. The Acceptable entry is up Radiator Spring’s Main Street. It is exceptionally pretty at night.  The wienie (view terminus) of the mountains behind the fire station is effective. If you stare at the flashing traffic signal you may discover that the third blink really is a bit longer. The regrettable entrance is the one from A Bug’s Land. It is obvious this is merely a service entrance until Carsland expands in this area, which it surely will.


ACCEPTABLE: Silly Symphony Swings

TIme to get hyper-picky. The Silly Symphony Swings is just a simple carnival ride dressed up a bit. Taking the swings out of the orange peel was a good thing. Oddly, this is one of my wife’s favorite rides at DCA. It is called the Silly Symphony Swings but it stars Mickey Mouse and is themed to his The Band Concert. That was not a Silly Symphony but an entire different Disney series. Okay being picky but I know I am not alone.

EXCEPTIONAL: The Retiring of the Colors Ceremony on Main Street

The day I wrote this, it was 30 years to the day that the Vietnam war ended. I can think of no better day to honor those that have served our country in the armed forces. Walt Disney understood that Disneyland was an American weapon in the Cold War. Because of the free enterprise system, only in America could somebody conceive of such a place as Disneyland.

The flag ceremony is one of the oldest traditions in the Park and a daily reminder of what Disneyland has stood for for almost 60 years. The show is tweaked now and again. On that day, the Dapper Dans sang, the Disneyland Band played, and veterans and active duty personnel were invited to come together around the flagpole in Town Square in a touching ceremony that is not to be missed.


REGRETTABLE: The Vinylmation Invasion


Have you ever been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure? One of the things I was most impressed with is how the shops and restaurant helped to reinforce the theme for that particular area. This was an innovation first developed for Disneyland. A trip down Main Street was both a shopping and dining experience as well as an opportunity to step back in time and visit an old-fashioned pharmacy and grocery store. Needed that cool plastic helmet? You could only find that in Tomorrowland. Or a coonskin cap? Better hurry over to Frontierland because that was the only place you could buy one.

This seems to be a lost art at Disney these days. Now the merchandise machine makes sure that everything is available at every single store regardless of theme. Why Jack Skellington is in Adventureland at Disneyland is beyond me when you can walk a couple of hundred feet to New Orleans Square to a store dedicated to the guy.

This lack of consistency strikes right to the heart of the Disney park experience. This was a quality that used to set them apart from the competition. In many respects, the real breakthrough at the Disney theme parks with regards to physical design is was what John Hench and Marty Sklar call the “lack of visual contradictions”. John Hench, who spent more than 60 years working for The Walt Disney Company, stated that the goal of the theme park designer is different than that of the urban planner. He said that the job of designing theme parks is to successfully eliminate visual contradictions. Visual contradictions are the active clutter that you see in the real world, which creates mixed messages, sets up conflicts, creates tension, and may even feel threatening. Marty Sklar, another long time Walt Disney Company executive, describes the process as the “architecture of reassurance.”

Not to offend those who collect Vinylmation characters but do we need to have one store in every single land at both parks in California carrying the same product, merchandised in the same manner, regardless of theme? The only lands in Disneyland that do not carry the stuff are Fantasyland and Critter Country. But Main Street makes up for that with 2 locations.

Score points for Universal and subtract some magic from Disney. I fear that we will soon be overrun with Duffy or those little Mouseketeer hats or something else in the very near future. There was something to be said for creating a sense of urgency with exclusive merchandise.

Now it’s your turn. Give me something Exceptional, something Acceptable and Something Regrettable at Disneyland.


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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • clewandowski

    It’s always interesting to read other peoples opinions on theme parks. Being from Buffalo, New York myself, I have never had the opportunity to go to Disneyland. I do however frequent to Disney World. I would love to read your feelings on the “exceptional, acceptable, or regrettable” iIn all four Disney World parks! I know there are PLENTY of amazing things each park offers. Unfortunately there are quite a few unpleasant as well! That would be something I’d absolutely look forward to reading each week! P.S. – love your blogs!!

    Best Regards,

  • ti2gr

    I agree with the merchandising comment. Used to be that each shop was different and Main Street was full of cute little shops, the one in the Magic Kingdom even had an actual Hallmark shop, a small book store, watch shop and silhouette shop that was so small that you could probably extend your arms out and touch each wall. Today they have filled the west side of Center street with an addition to the Emporium and every single shop in the Magic Kingdom sells the exact same thing.

    One of the ideas for fastpass was to get the people out of the lines and into the shops and restaurants, then what did they do, made all the shops sell the same merchandise and the only thing counter service restaurants seem to serve is burgers, chicken fingers and bad microwaved pizza. The urgency to buy that cool coonskin hat isn’t there anymore in Fronteirland because now you can get it in Tomorrowland or MainStreet, or even at Epcot or Downtown Disney. Why should anybody buy anything in the park and lug it around all day. They could just take a couple of hours, head to Downtown Disney’s World of Disney store and buy everything at once. That eliminates wasting time shopping in the parks, and lugging it all around.

    • DobbysCloset

      I agree with you one hundred percent. In fact, Souvenir Shopping at Disneyland can actually now be made into its own event — have a couple glasses of exquisite wine at Napa Rose and hit the shops!

      • ChrisNJ

        So agree. I used to go to the parks to find unique items now I have to go on Ebay and hope to find vintage souvenirs as the modern stuff mostly stinks.

    • Will G

      Of course, if I overcome the urge to buy the coon skin cap in Frontierland because I can get it at the Main Street Emporium on my way out at the end of the night, I’ll probably just skip it all together when the time comes because I’ll forget or look at the crowds in the store and just decied I don’t need it after all.

      But I guess I’m not a typical customer, because they must be making money.

      Oh, and I didn’t forget that Disney wants to refer to me as a guest so I feel like a guest. But all the merch and the “hard sell” (for Disneyland, it’s a hard sell) – all of that certainly reminds me that I am, in fact, a customer.

      so much for pixie dust.
      (which, I’m surprised they don’t sell)

    • xboxtravis7992

      Not to mention Disney Parks has an online merchandise store now… You don’t even have to go to Disneyland to buy merchandise.

    • disneyland255

      I couldn’t agree with your more on the non-diversity and theme in the shops. I miss the day so having to rush to Critter Country to get the item that was ONLY sold there.

  • Monorail Man

    As a whole:

    Regrettable: Merchandising

    As a whole, the state of merchandising at the resort is really bad, and it’s due to Florida. From the window issues on Buena Vista Street at DCA, to “The Vinylmation Invasion” that Sam talks about here, I think that it’s getting to the point where the merchandise at Disneyland just isn’t refined enough for the California audience. We’re stuck with Florida designed merchandise, that’s designed to aim at the “once every 10 years” visitor to WDW, and not the bi-annual (or more frequent) Disneyland guest.

    It also seems that the new DCA commands a more refined merchandise as well, something that hasn’t really been delivered on. While we got some great early merchandise, more adult merchandise and more lines are needed to celebrate DCA’s uniqueness. The Cars Land specific merchandise is selling, and I wonder if that was due to Lasseter’s push for better merchandise. The new Haunted Mansion merchandise is selling as well, but I get a feeling that if merchandise doesn’t get any traction in Florida – it’s killed here. There’s too much dependance on Florida’s sales – since they manage merchandising now.

    Instead of new merchandising lines and options, unique merchandise, and more items for the Disneyland set – we instead see the merchandising mentality of “Well, Pillow Pals are selling, let’s put them everywhere!” (seriously, these things are everywhere now), and ripping out of the WDI-designed windows. I can understand duplicating high-selling merchandise, but as I walk around the park – I just get the feeling that the park sells so little things – so I don’t buy anything.

    • I agree. What works for Florida does NOT always work for California. Especially merchandise.

  • rstar

    I agree with Monorail Man, I think the “One Disney” idea is killing mercandising in the parks. It was the extreme theming and since of urgancy “if I don’t buy this now, I’ll never have another chance”. I don’t know how Disney could stray so far off course with this one.

    Love your articles Sam!

  • troyer

    Does anyone know when the the retiring of the Colors Ceremony on Main Street occurred?

    • Geezer

      Used to always be just before sundown……..and, each day, City Hall could give you the exact time for the ceremony. I imagine it’s still the same.

      • danielz6

        Ya its every day…4:30 pm last time I checked.

    • Carl West


    • LoveStallion

      Before sundown, as it is verboten to fly the American flag at night without it being illuminated. I remember Boy Scouts quite well. :)

    • Disneyland Limited

      Just as a heads-up…I think you may be reading this incorrectly (because I did the same thing): The Colors Ceremony hasn’t been retired. The Exceptional item is the “Retiring of the Colors” Ceremony, and as a non-veteran with immense respect for those who served, it is truly beyond exceptional. Considering how many changes the parks have gone through over the years, Disneyland should be proud for continuing this ceremony.

  • Herc

    Love this article. It is so true that Disney does things so well and then drops the ball with the ordinary.
    I completely agree with the merchandising aspect of how Disney is ruining experiences inside the parks. When Beanbag Plush (the Vinylmation of the late 1990s/early 2000s) were so popular, you could only find certain ones in certain lands. Song of the South were only available by Splash Mountain. Astronaut Donald was only in Tomorrowland, etc. Disney should go back to the “thrill of the hunt” shopping experience. Make one vinylmation store in each park (theming is essential though to pull it off). Same with the pin invasion. Make one huge shop in each park, but put themed pins in each land where they can only be found.

    I was also disappointed to see that the restrooms at Paradise Pier were not rethemed. Seriously, two restaurants were completely renovated and built but the restrooms couldn’t be done?

    I am hoping Disney comes to their senses and re-evaluates what is going on with their theme parks. Being an east-coaster, I have frequented WDW on an annual basis or multiple trips a year. We ventured out to DL/DCA last year and fell in love. Giving WDW another chance we went this past February and found the parks deteriorating, food not so good, cutback in services, and everything costing more. We left WDW not in a happy place. We are going to DL/DCA again this summer after a unanimous family vote of approval. We hope the magic is still there.

  • OrangeFlash

    * Haunted Mansion “Nightmare Before Christmas” Overlay — it just works!
    * Five and Dime — never miss them!
    * Flo’s — my new “home from home.”
    * Carthay Circle Restaurant — when I’m in the mood to be pampered, they know how!
    * Trader Sam’s, DIsneyland Hotel — That’s entertainment!

    * Princess Fantasy Faire — always nice to sit in the shade and watch a show.
    * Mad T Party — if I have the energy to dance that late in the day, I’m in.
    * Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe — I miss the Zephyr, but the espresso is better.

    * The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure — all this hoopla for a C ticket ride, in a world where rides like “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” and “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” exist?
    * Merchandising messing with the Imagineer-designed windows on Buena Vista Street. Fools!
    * The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh — Now that I know that it was based on “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” in Tokyo, only 80% less cool, I’m even more annoyed!

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pooh%27s_Hunny_Hunt )

    • LoveStallion

      Yeah… I take people on Pooh when I want to demonstrate to them how awful it is to raze classic attractions and put in stop-gap nonsense.

      Or to wonder what it’s like to drop acid.

    • xboxtravis7992

      I don’t completely understand the Mermaid hate. C-Tickets make up the some of the best of Disney parks, and I think Mermaid is comparable to the original Fantasyland dark rides. I wonder if it was a bad idea to open Mermaid in 2011 with the much more solid Star Tours 2.0 opening the same time, and the exceptional Cars Land only a year away.

      • disney4me2001

        I 100% agree with you! I LOVE Mermaid- in fact, it’s my second favorite DCA attraction behind Racers. I think it was very well done. My only complaint with it is with the pacing- everything from the “Kiss the Girl” scene to the end seemed rushed compared with the rest of the ride. So the only thing I find “regrettable” with that attraction is that it should have been a bit longer.

        I sort of wonder the same thing though- what if it had been able to open in 2010 with World of Color? That might have been a better time. I feel like that would have made for a more solid 1-2 punch moreso than opening it with Star Tours, which is huge as a standalone attraction.

  • eicarr

    I won’t know about Harry potter mercandise till it opens but I can 100% tell the WDW “Disney Park” junk they’re selling.

    I love the little mermaid and ride it 2-3 times with its wick line. Monsters inc… Now that’s a turkey. The boring ride about a dull city and sushi resturaunt should be raised.

    • DobbysCloset

      HARRYHAUSEN sushi. Last time I was at DL I rode it three times just to pay homage.

  • DannyB

    Re: Disneyland Railroad Stations

    EXCEPTIONAL: Main Street & New Orleans Square
    The displays inside the Main Street station, and the building itself, are remarkable, and the sense of place at the New Orleans Square station make it (and the surrounding area) one of my favorite places in the whole park.

    ACCEPTABLE: Toontown station
    The whimsical architecture of the station itself is wonderful, but the boring, oversized Fantasyland Theater tent next door detracts from this and clashes.

    REGRETTABLE: Tomorrowland station. Very little theme, and at night you can even see the signal lights on Harbor Blvd. shining through the foliage on a berm that is almost non-existent there. Hmm, what if they re-did that whole station with rockwork, making the station itself in a cave (kind of like a smaller version of the Radiator Springs Racers loading area, but themed to Tomorrowland); not sure if that would be feasible with the monorail overhead, but it sure would be cool!

  • SFDave

    As for merchandising, when they started selling park merchandise on their website that you used to only be able to get in the parks, I knew the end was nearing for unique items, as well as how, and where to sell them.

    • Monorail Man

      I’m actually okay with this, SFDave. There’s lots of ‘reseller’ websites which were doing the same but making a profit off Disney’s merchandise. This helps cut out that middle-man. Also, Disney has had DeliverEARS for forever, so this is just extending that online.

    • disneyland255

      I agree with this too. It now takes the magic away of getting exclusive park items. It kind of goes with the “Disney Parks” Brand. :(

  • Wendygirl

    Great article and I agree with all your observations.

    My exceptional is the entertainment groups, Billy Hill and the Hillbillies being at the top. What is regrettable is the fact that management is moving them around. They belong in the Golden Horseshoe. Even the crowds that come to see them versus Laughing Stock attest to this. Unfortunately they will be moving back up the trail for the Summer Season to Big Thunder Round-up. What is good is they will be going back to seven days a week.
    My other exceptional entertainment groups (in no particular order) are Bootstrapper Pirate Band, Laughing Stock (in spite of what I said above), Scott Bruce, and the new story show over in Fantasy Faire. That show is much better than I expected; very well done. I enjoy the Tangled show slightly better than Beauty and the Beast only because Tangled lends itself to the humor a bit more. And of course our long time entertainment groups – Dapper Dans, Coke Corner Pianist, and the Disneyland Band (and sub groups of them). And that only covers Disneyland!

  • Big D

    Exceptional: Atmosphere
    Disneyland still has the absolute best landscaping department in the world, and even people who really could care less about plants and flowers (like myself) can’t help but be impressed when we go to Disneyland. Also, the house bands there are top-of-the-line. My personal favorite is the Side Street Strutters in New Orleans Square. When I worked in ODV, my favorite wagon to work on was the popcorn wagon in New Orleans Square because I knew I’d get to see them perform 5 or 6 times. I was also a big fan of the Laughing Stock Co. that performed in front of the Golden Horseshoe (don’t know if they’re still there anymore), and of course the Trashcan Trio in Tomorrowland was outstanding as well.

    Acceptable: Restaurants
    Disney has slowly been renovating all of the menus at Disneyland, and there are some exceptional restaurants like the Blue Bayou, Cafe Orleans, Plaza Inn, Carnation Cafe, Bengal Barbeque and Jolly Holiday Bakery. They have some acceptable ones like the Tomorrowland Terrace, Pizza Port, French Market, and Village Haus (and I’m told Hungry Bear, haven’t been there since they re-did it). But they still have some truly regrettable restaurants as well, starting with Rancho del Zocalo. Also the River Belle Terrace is regrettable only because the selection of food is too limited for such a great location. How on earth Disney hasn’t turned this into a premier table service restaurant with Fantasmic Dining is beyond me. The Big Thunder Barbeque also falls into the category only because it is so insanely overpriced that there is no chance I will ever eat there, even though the food may be exceptional.

    Regrettable: Tomorrowland
    Because I don’t have kids, when I go to Disneyland, I spend almost all of my time on the west side of the park. Other than Star Tours and Space Mountain, there is nothing of interest for me in Tomorrowland, including the restaurants, gift shops, and entertainment at the Tomorrowland Terrace. The build your own lightsaber and droid is unique, and I appreciate that even though I’m not going to buy them myself, but otherwise it’s all pretty forgettable. Frontierland does still have a pretty cool shop with western items in it, Adventureland has two really good shops, New Orleans Square has a bunch, and all of the best restaurants are on that side of the park as well. Often times I won’t even go on a single ride and I know I’ll have a great time on the west side of Disneyland. If I don’t go on Star Tours or Space Mountain, I won’t really have much fun in Tomorrowland. (Since I don’t have kids, I give Fantasyland and Toontown a pass for not being interesting to me).

  • Disneylandfan85

    In terms of the ride being called Silly Symphony Swings and yet being themed to a Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Band Concert” (which is not a Silly Symphony cartoon), I think there might be one connection between the two: namely, Donald Duck. His first cartoon, “The Wise Little Hen”, was a Silly Symphony cartoon, and he steals the show (or at least tries to) in “The Band Concert”.

  • waymire01

    The Disney shops have always been one of my favorite things about the parks (both east and west coast).. and I agree wholeheartedly that they have taken a real turn for the worse. I love to shop.. and any “hobby shopper” will tell you the hunt is the most exciting part of the experience. Finding those unique and interesting items.. the thrill of “catching” a product themed to your favorite obscure character. Now it’s all the same everywhere you look. Definitely a serious blow to the immersion of theme as well. When I go to Tomorrowland (or any other area) I want to be surrounded by the theme, and merchandising plays a huge part when it is everywhere you look… especially the gift shops attached to attractions. If you want me to take the time to browse you need to offer interesting unique items I have not already seen five times today. A separate but even more troubling development is the removal of the hand crafts.. glassblowers, artists, personalization, one of a kind limited run treasures. These places were attractions of their own for me. There is nothing magical about a Disney themed Walmart.. and we seem to be heading that direction, if we are not there already.

  • LoveStallion


    Star Tours 2 – It is not perfect, but when faced with updating an attraction from 1987, I call this an exceptional job. Sure, they could have totally gutted the queue and done a bit more with it, but the ride experience now – even podracing – is exceptional.


    Corn dogs on Main St. They were once exceptional, and I still love them, but they have decreased the size of the dogs just a tad in an obvious effort to improve margins. Also, I liked them more when the corn dogs were sort of an unknown quantity. They were like this secret little gem at the head of Main St. Now Disney depends on everyone wanting the dogs, hence the roped off queuing area.

    California Adventure 2.0. Not perfect, and in some ways, regrettable (see below).


    New Matterhorn boblseds. Simply awful. Uncomfortable seats. Poorly designed and placed handles (just no ergonomic sense at work here, folks). And they slowed the thing down to a crawl in some places.

    Also, The Little Mermaid Undersea Letdown. I loathe this thing. The tech is better than the simple dark rides in Fantasyland, sure, but there’s no cogent narrative or conclusion. Ursula might as well not even be there. No climactic battle. The “Under the Sea” scene is lit too brightly (you can easily see support structures, lighting equipment, etc.), and overall, it was a lot of hooplah for a lame ride that had been gestating for twenty years.

    The new DCA, mostly because while the first incarnation was ridiculous, it was at least attempting to grasp onto some sort of homage to California, and I at least felt that when I was there, as flawed as it was. The new park, while smarter and prettier, could really just be any park. There isn’t a ton to distinguish it in sense of theme or place. And I also look upon Disney’s over-reliance on Pixar properties with a fair degree of trepidation.

    • I agree with your first two regrettables, Mermaid and new Matterhorn Bobsleds. However, I don’t agree that the new DCA is Regrettable. I could see arguing that it is flawed and merely acceptable, but it is miles beyond what the park was (Unforgivable) and I think that both Buena Vista Street and Cars Land are knock-out successes.

      But I do see your point and feel that the park as a whole is still deeply flawed. If they would bring the rest of it up to Buena Vista Street standard, it would be a blowout success.