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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  • DobbysCloset

    My grandfather was in the souvenir business — he had a shop next to Union Station in Denver for thirty years that put two kids through college — so, like many others, I’m a Mad Souvenir Hunter. Anything created as an Instant Collectible is, to me, abominable. Cue Vinylmation. Vinylmation is just stuff to have. The pins, on the other hand, I think are exceptional, even though they, too, were created for collecting. The best of them are little pieces of art, they take up no space and can be worn outside the park when one needs a bit of Disney to brighten one’s day.

    Napa Rose is exceptional. Best food I have ever had in my life. Actually have a small tattoo of their logo on my leg incorporated into my “Mickey and Pluto visit DL” scene.

    Davy Crockett canoes are exceptional and probably my favorite “ride.” For a few minutes I get to play “Indian,” as long ago the highlight of my early visits to DL were the genuine Indian Village residents who led dances in full regalia…

    The bathroom in Bug’s Land themed as an upside down tissue box and the interactive fountain — exceptional. Nothing like being drenched on a hot day. Splash Mountain and Grizzly MIGHT make that happen, but when one truly needs it, those fountains are a sure thing.

    Fantasmic as a total experience — totally regrettable. Two hours sitting on cold concrete and then can’t see a thing. Haven’t experienced World of Color but I hear it’s just as bad, only worse.

    Tower of Terror as a themed experience is exceptional but I find the ride aspect regrettable.
    Finding Nemo I find acceptable only because it keeps the sub fleet in action, though the ride is pretty lame considering what they could actually do with it. When I see bits and pieces that I remember from the mid-sixties I feel cheated.

    And of course the Single Rider entry — Super Exceptional for one who visits on her own, even though I love the queue decor. Nothing bites like having to wait alone in a long line…

    Thanks so much for offering me a morning’s diversion into fond memories!

  • Saskiwi

    Agree with most of these. We aren’t typical DLR guests: we live in New Zealand but despite the distance and expense, the attention to detail and the ‘exceptionals’ have kept us coming back to DL/DCA over the years. We don’t come often (every 2 years on average) but when we do, we stay for a while – a 14 day pass for our Oct 2011 trip saw us visit the park on 12 of those days, so we tend to be ‘thorough’!

    We are about the visit WDW for the first time in over 20 years(!) on a combined bi-coastal Disney parks visit, so will be interested to compare and check out DCA 2.0.

    Our fave Exceptionals:
    1. The planting at DLR is always a highlight and almost subconscious key to the atmosphere of each land. The transitions are subtle and gorgeous, the bedding plants in Main Street and the Hub are in your face pops of colour and the way you can find beautiful planting even in those little ‘hidden’ corners of the parks always impresses

    2. Performers – from Billy Hill and co, the ‘Aladdin’ cast and the Dapper Dans, through to the young CMs ‘twinkling’ for all they’re worth in the parade or even the current slightly-lame-o ‘street-party-du-jour’ ; we always appreciate the effort, polish and professionalism they exude.

    3. A Bug’s Land: we love a consistently well-executed theme and this has it in spades. Love, love, love the popsicle stick benches, the drinking straw lamps, the garden hose water play area, the tissue box toilets, Heimlich’s scented choo-choo train and the stands of giant bamboo! – (see 1.) – all of it. Our kids are now way past the demographic it is aimed at, but we come back just to hang and take it all in.

    4. New Orleans Square: for the same reasons as 3. the original land which took a theme and ran, ran, ran with it.. now if only we could get non-land-related merchandise the heck out of the NOS stores, we would be happy. Finally got to experience HM Holiday on our last visit – another triumph of theming

    Others have already put it better than I could, but the OSFA approach to merchandising is sad and unnecessary: I don’t want to buy Buzz Lightyear stuff at NOS and so forth – it is a jarring ‘disconnect’ that needs addressing – but it obviously pays, so sadly, it is probably here to stay..

  • brianpinsky

    Don’t forget that Disney only has Carsland Merchandise only in Carsland and Oswald Merchandise at Oswald Gas store and a few hats over in Five and Dime you can’t find any of those items anywhere else in the resort not even WofDisney.

    • Will G

      Sorry, you can get CarsLand merch in Elias and Co.
      Jackets and Piston Cup trophies


  • DisWedWay

    Sam, my “Regrettable” would have to be the closing of the “One of a Kind Shop”, which even Mrs. Lillian Disney always went to and purchased quite a bit from, as a former sales and stock employee of the shop told me. Back in 1980 I had a chance to talk to the older couple who purchased most of the antiques which filled the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Shops and made them magical to discover and explore each time I came to the park. I told them I would take their job if they ever retired and they laughed. Of Course I told John Hench that as well about signing Walt’s signature. The antique buyers did retire not long after that meeting.

  • BrerBear

    Exceptional: People Mover. I can recall how cool this ride was when I was younger. Although it isn’t high-tech in today’s standards, but from July 2, 1967 to August 21, 1995 it was incomparable fun. I especially loved the Tron light cycles part at the end, a creative touch that made you feel like you were in Tomorroland.

    Acceptable: Rocket Rods. Don’t know what the imaginears were thinking with this one. Ride capacity was extremely small with only 5 passengers per Rocket; and with limited ride vehicles, the lines for this attraction averaged around 2+ hours. I guess the only good thing that came out of this was the creation of the single rider line.

    Regrettable: The lack of effort put into replacing the eyesore of the track remnants. I hope that something is in the works for Tomorrowland and that the new concept will have a fix for the abandoned people mover track. For now I will continue to walk under the old but not forgotten WEDWay PeopleMover. As of now, Tomorrowland is Disneyland lackluster.

    • Will G

      You know, some of us complain about the abandoned Peoplemover track as an eyesore, but at least they still send someone up there to clean the plex along the track by Astro Orbiter.
      I believe other parks would probably ignore that – or remove it.
      But Disney keeps that abandoned plex clean!


      • BrerBear

        Oh Will G,

        I believe you are missing the point. Yes, Disney sends a cast member up to keep the track clean so it is palatable from the Astro Orbiter view. But the bottom line is that it is still abandoned. Not “complaining” as you so eloquently posted, but pointing out a simple fact. Disney needs to re-energize the Tomorrowland concept and hopefully improve what was once an amazing attraction and land.

        As far as your disgruntled post on the “chill pill”, I hope someone else here can help you understand the importance of a non-compromised theme in each land. It doesn’t make sense to purchase Buzz Light-year products in Critter Country as much as buying themed Haunted Mansion products in Fantasyland wouldn’t make sense.

        Support or defend your views but please stop with the rude posts. This blog was not built for your enjoyment of bashing others opinions.

      • Will G

        Please hold on, BrerBear,
        I know you can’t read the tone in my “voice” but I’m not trying to “rant”
        In fact I find it ironic that my concern about other complaints should be labeled a rant.
        I suppose it depends on your point of view, because the posts about the track don’t strike me as pointing out a simple fact. (and it is pointed out several times), I guess I find some (some) of the posts as unattractive as the abandoned track. So what’s a rant?

        I agreed earlier with the opinion that merch should remain themed to each land the shops are in. I find it disapointing that Disney chooses to offer nearly everything in nearly every shop. In my opinion it tends to make the stores monotonous. It reduces my interest in entering any shop.

        But again, it was not my intention to be rude. I was complaining about those of us who rudely complain about Disney.
        I totally agree that Disney is not above critique. As those who pay the bills, our opinion matters. But kvetching about everything, in what could be described as an increasingly nasty tone, to each other in the hopes that those who make the decisions will be swayed by the complaints, is not a helpful process.
        And, please, I don’t believe everyone is kvetching. But there needs to be balance.
        I’m sorry if that wasn’t understood as my intention. I certainly don’t believe that my ranting is better than anyone else’s ranting.

        Can’t we all get along?

    • Well done!

  • Will G

    There are four entrance/exits to Carsland
    The fourth is between Filmore and Sarge’s homes. It’s a path that connects to the Pacific Warf Cannery Row by Ghirardelli, the Child Care Center and Boudin bakery.

    I guess it’s acceptable in my eyes. No grand entrance experience, but I often apreciate the convenience.

    Regretable – how some Disney Fans can express their opinions as facts.

    I wish the windows on Buena Vista street were still set dressings and not crammed with non-themed merch.
    But I don’t know if I’d enjoy working in those stores if was repeatedly telling people, “I’m sorry we don’t sell those baseball jersies, books, stuff. They’re just props.”
    And I think it’s too bad that they sell pretty much the same thing in most stores (there are exceptions, like the book store on Main Street)

    But this isn’t the unholy tragedy some of us make it out to be.
    You’d think the Kardashians, Justin Beiber and TMZ had taken over. (and that would be bad, but unfortunately very profitable)

    Maybe what merch needs to sell – or First Aid needs – is big a chill pill (and it definitely should come with a AP discount) ;-)

    But I do appreciate your insite and critique Sam


    • Will G

      Sorry, I’d like to make it clear that I do not feel this article was an AP rant.

      As I re-read my comment, I can see how this may have seemed like an attack on Sam.
      It’s not. I really enjoy Sam’s articles.

      It is, I hope, a gentle poke in the ribs to those of us who get very opinionated and very certain of our opinions and very condeming of Disney for transgressing our principles.

      But if any offense was taken by Sam, I apologize.


  • whamo

    Disney merchandise used to have an aura of quality about it. Now it seems to get more expensive and project less quality with each trip to the park. I especially dislike the vinyl dolls. They did so well with the Disney pins, the Disney hats, and the finer items on Main Street. The display windows used to be something to look forward to seeing each trip. The California Adventure windows started off well, but now they’re ugly. What are they thinking? Do they really think we want to buy that cheap junk?

    • jcruise86


      I was at a Disney Store yesterday and saw a bunch of ugly, cheap-looking Bambi stuffed animals. Whoever is approving these products at Disney might need to be replaced for someone who feels a protective love for Disney characters. When I was younger, so much younger than today (2 or 3), I had a Bambi. Later I gave my mom a stuffed Dumbo as a present. The Bambi lasted for over a decade and my mom still has her Dumbo. These stuffed animals were made by MUCH better artists than the ones who made the ones I saw yesterday.

  • jcruise86

    I also love the Carsland entrance via the Monterey Bay (?) Food Court. (Is that what that area is called? Hmm.) We carry our bread bowl meals from the MBFC and eat on that patio to the south of Flo’s V8 Cafe. We had the patio to ourselves last time along with one of the best views in any theme park in America. You have to walk a long way to the entrance of this patio, but it’s worth it. If fact, I hope they don’t add a “more convenient” entrance for the MBFC folks, because this is my “under the Hungry Bear” spot in DCA, and I don’t want it to get crowded. In fact, I’m going to delete this post about ten seconds after you (yes YOU) finish reading this.

    Regarding your first “Exceptional, Acceptable, Regrettable” column–which I just read–we really like Triton’s Carousel in DCA! Like DCA’s indoor afternoon dance party from 1-5pm last summer (which, I think, Dusty & Norm disliked), or like Playhouse Disney, or Bugsland. sometimes you just go with what little kids love & like it because your kids love it. We both love the swings, the Golden Zephyr, that small, colorful drop ride, and the Redwood Creek area.

    I also LOVE these “Exceptional, Acceptable, Regrettable” columns, btw, Sam! Praise be to funny, & eloquent yet unpretentious folks like you and the late, great Roger who will stick their necks out with strong opinions.

  • CCS

    This was a great two-parter, Sam. Can you squeeze another segment out of the topic? BTW, I agree with your wife about the swings. :) Thoroughly enjoy the rousing “William Tell Overture” soundtrack, too. I think that Toy Story Midway Mania is exceptional. Although the queue can be harrowing during busy times, the ride is so much fun that I endure it. The addition of many umbrellas was much needed during warm days. I think that the Carthay Circle and Cove Bar ice cube gimmick is regrettable. When cocktails cost as much as they do, I’d rather not have the potable part of the drink diluted to the point of non-recognition by a gigantic compressed ice ball.

  • Spacepainter

    I think we are all missing the point of this post… What we really should be focusing on is eliminating Duffy before he spreads, like a fuzzy and adorable smallpox, to every corner of the parks. I’m only half-joking, folks! My recent trip to Walt Disney World opened my eyes to the horrors that could befall Disneyland if Duffy is allowed to thrive in California.

    So, the next time your kid begs you for Duffy merch, buy them a Dole Whip instead :D

  • Trumpet

    Great Article Sam

    Cars Land’s entrances are all different and from a Bugs Land, I think the story is that you are growing from Bugs back to people, but that is my own theory. Still, the rock work is amazing, but I think it should have extended where Luigis’ s, as the attraction hs no backdrop.

    I love the SSS, even thiugh it is a carnivl ride. Maybe it is because it is above the water ot the music. It is atypical Disney carnivl ride at a seaside pier. Also, al the work in the park shows how far it has come, especially with the live music is the garden area.

    Also, very are should have unique merchandise!!!

    Thanks Again Sam


  • BrerBear

    I fully concur with your point on the generic Disneyland themed products. I always viewed the merchandise in the parks as a direct extension of the showmanship and quality of the area or themed land you were in. Now, as the Disneyland Resort focuses more on the monetary profit and the sheer amount of visitors it can churn through its gates, I fear that we will continue to see more mediocre products. Hopefully Michael Colglazier can impact the decisions of the Florida team and help turn this and other off-putting aesthetic issues around.
    On a merchandising note:
    Exceptional: I loved the Disneyland 40th anniversary trading cards. Albeit you could buy the whole deck at one point during the lifetime of the event, but it was the joy of the hunt for these little gems. They were fun, cheep, and informative about the attractions we all grew up with and love. And they were limited which in turn made the search all the more fun!
    Regrettable: Vinylmation. Enough said.
    Thanks for another fun and entertaining post. I look forward to part three of this.

  • CCS

    Oh, I forgot to mention that replacing Country Bear Jamboree with Winnie the Pooh was utterly regrettable. I overhear people bemoaning its loss most every visit to the park. I also miss the Skyway. :( From what I’ve heard, the development of a passageway behind the easterly shops on Main Street sounds like an exceptional idea.

  • Cyette

    Terrific article and concept, Sam. Brilliant observations by everyone else, as well. Well-said and I couldn’t agree more, but on the debate between Monsters, Inc and Little Mermaid: I’ll have to go with Monsters, Inc. Little Mermaid is my favorite DIsney animated movie and they just didn’t live up to *my* standards in story-telling, I guess. The rushed ending, the over-the-top time spent on “Under The Sea” (yes, with all of its backstage showing) just left me wanting….more.

    Exceptional: The “feeling” of Disneyland itself. My co-worker has two college-aged daughters who worked at WDW this past college program year. They had time to explore WDW from top to bottom and they maintain that nothing surpasses Disneyland in that…….feel. That intangible original-Walt-park-vibe. Kudos to the cleaning staff at DL and DCA, as a whole and the grounds crew. Words fail me in expressing how this place welcomes me home each and every time.

    Exceptional: Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, Five & Dime, Dapper Dans, Coke Corner, Aladdin…et al. The live entertainment is the hot fudge, whipped cream and cherry on each and every visit.

    Exceptional: New Orleans Square, Pirates and the Haunted Mansion.

    Exceptional: Fireworks. The care and concern put into the music and the timing of the fireworks….true magic in the sky.

    Exceptional: Grizzly River Run It’s the only ride we go on with complete strangers and leave as friends. We have met the nicest people here!

    Exceptional: Ghirardelli hot fudge sundaes. Live is worth living again, no matter what else is going down. My humble gratitude.

    Exceptional: The exquisite detailing in Cars Land.

    Exceptional: The new Buena Vista Street.

    Acceptable: Downgrading the exceptional Soarin’ Over California to acceptable only because the screen/film needs work/refurb. It’s distracting to see all the glitches. (But major points for making me tear up at the end each and every time.)

    Regrettable: Tomorrowland Everyone has said it well enough, from the train station stop to everything else. Not even the wonderful Iron Man could get me inside that Innoventions building again. I just do not enjoy my stay in this neglected and forsaken land other than Buzz/Star Wars/Space Mountain. That’s it. It’s just some place I have to grit my teeth and make my way through now.

    Regrettable: Missing the thrill of seeing the Skyway go through the Matterhorn and having the PeopleMover and Monorail operating all simultaneously. I understand these are new times and this will never happen again and I sound like an old coot, but man….they had this one right!!!!

    Regrettable: Changing the theme from Tom Sawyer’s Island to Pirates.

    Regrettable: It’s been said, but one more time: the merchandise on Buena Vista street in the windows. Oh, the humanity.

    #1 takeaway from all this: the jarring sight of mass we-could-care-less merchandise in places they should not be. I have zero desire to shop, other than for edible delights. Disney: you need to replace your merchandise team. You really should.

    • CCS

      Thank you for mentioning The Fireworks! Worth the price of admission….. (not quite, but you get the picture). Fourth of July show is spectacular; holiday show wows and moves you; and I seem to recall there being two shows for New Year’s Eve at one time. When the winds at elevation are too high and the show has to be cancelled, the letdown of the viewing crowd is audible and unanimous.

  • OrangeFlash

    Speaking of the regrettable Peoplemover track in Tomorrowland, my daughter pointed out that in Mike Judge’s dystopic sci-fi movie “Idiocracy” the future world has abandoned sections of freeway because people can’t get it together to fix them.