View RSS Feed

SAMLAND

Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance Indeed

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 09-07-2011 at 07:22 PM


A few weeks ago I took a look at first impressions and the arrival experience for Epcot. This week, I will turn my attention toward the Magic Kingdom.

Getting to the entrance turnstile at the Magic Kingdom is no easy feat. You can’t just walk up to the front door. You have make decisions on how to get there. This is all by design. Why is this so? Well, we have to visit Disneyland in Anaheim to understand why. So let’s travel back to the beginnings of Disneyland.


For many years, Walt Disney was thinking and dreaming of building a family entertainment facility. To find the perfect location, Walt hired the legendary Harrison “Buzz” Price. Price ran the Stanford Research Institute, which would later become Economic Research Associates (ERA). You can learn a lot more about Buzz Price here and here.

To give Price guidance, Walt laid down only a couple of constraints. He did not want to purchase land that was near the ocean because people would be distracted and it would be more expensive to maintain the park. What he wanted was lots of flat land. He would create his own mountains, valleys, and rivers. After considerable research Price found the perfect property in Anaheim just one hour south of Los Angeles in rural Orange County. Ever the numbers guy, Price calculated that this area would be the center of the Southern California population within 25 years. By 1980, he was only off by 4 miles.

To Price’s trained eye, the Anaheim property had a lot going for it. Adjacent to the property was the right-of-way for the Santa Ana freeway, then under construction. This major highway would connect Los Angeles to San Diego. Price knew the City Manager and he felt Anaheim was a small city with ambition. The city was looking for new industries to balance out the tax rolls.

Walt convinced his brother Roy that he was really on to something with this Disneyland idea and the two of them gave Price the go ahead to purchase as much land as they could afford, which wasn't much. Just as Walt predicted, Disneyland would become an instant hit and millions of visitors would flock to Anaheim. As much as the Disney brothers wanted to acquire more property, they found themselves priced out of the market.


Disneyland in 1956

While speaking to Cast Members at Disneyland’s tenth anniversary in 1965, Walt said, “If we could have bought more land, we would have bought it; then we would have control of it, and it wouldn’t look like a second-rate Las Vegas around here. But we ran out of money, and by the time we did have a little money, everybody got wise to what was going on. We couldn’t buy anything around the place at all.” Former Disneyland President Jack Lindquist noted, “Harbor Boulevard, across from Disneyland, frustrated [Walt] tremendously. He was very disappointed in the city of Anaheim for not exercising greater control of the development that existed outside the park. Less than ten years after Disneyland opened, Harbor Boulevard was an example of ugly urban sprawl at its worst.”

In the early days, the first impression most guests had was not exactly magical. What they found was a jumble of tacky roadway signs that tried to compete with the iconic Disneyland gateway marquee. You turned in to the parking lot line, drove under the high-tension power line towers that crossed the property, paid your fee, and then were efficiently guided to your spot by a friendly cast member. From there it would only a short walk to a parking lot tram (unlike the way the Mickey and Friends parking structure is set up today). The tram would whisk you to the front of the park where you bought your tickets. Once you passed through the turnstiles, you experienced the familiar process of spaces unfolding and the Disneyland experience began.

When Walt decided to set up an east coast operation, he knew he wanted much more control over his surroundings. He had his team secretly purchase 27,258-acres of central Florida land for $5 million through an amazing process of dummy corporations. When he was done, he owned 43 square miles, twice the land of Manhattan, and enough space that the City of San Francisco would fit comfortably within his borders. Walt always said that the Florida Project gave him “the blessing of size.”


Walt knew what he wanted and he instructed his Imagineers to put the theme park at the far north end of the property as far away from the main highway as they could go. This served two objectives. First, the theme park was a familiar concept and it would become the "wienie" that would draw guest in and take them through the property past his real dream - the City of EPCOT. The second objective would be to create an arrival experience that would be far different than the one visitors experienced in Anaheim.

Back when the Magic Kingdom first opened, once guests left the main highway, they had to travel almost six miles. You had to leave the safety of the newly completed Interstate highway and drive north into a vast wilderness. The Imagineers knew that they needed to reassure the visitors that that they were not just driving into a swamp in Central Florida. The solution was Cinderella Castle.

The spires of Cinderella castle are visible up to two miles away. The castle in Florida is more than twice as tall as Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. The original idea for a tall structure came from Walt. He encouraged the idea of a tall iconic design element for Disneyland but the lack of money made that impossible and it was not until the Florida project that the concept could be fully realized.

In Since the World Began, Disney historian Jeff Kurtti said the Imagineers felt it was “critical that Cinderella Castle be seen from afar.” Disney historian Michael Broggie, wrote in Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, that Walt would remind his Imagineers that “this is a magical place. The important thing is the castle. Make it tall enough to be seen from all around the park. It’s got to keep people oriented.” The castle would act as a beacon that could be seen throughout the park and by all of the resort hotels, the monorail, and the ferries in the area. The height of the castle was not just an aesthetic issue. The design process was driven by functionality.



As I stated earlier, getting to the front gate at Disneyland was pretty easy. You either walked from your car or hopped on the free tram. For many of us, we would count the tram as our first ride of the day. For Walt Disney it was all too jarring. There was no transition from the real world to the magical world beyond the gates. Walt hated that. At Walt Disney World, he knew it would be different. This time he had the land.

Getting to the front gate at the Magic Kingdom is a very different experience. The actual entry turnstiles are over a mile away and guarded by the Seven Seas Lagoon filled with bacteria, alligators, and the ever-present Disney security. After you have arrived at the parking tollbooth, you continue to drive a ways to a huge parking lot. The familiar parking lot trams await and you are whisked…to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). Here you buy your tickets and then you are confronted with a decision. Which method of transport do you take to get to the next destination?

In the beginning, you only had one choice. The monorail. However, ferryboats were soon added to accommodate the growing crowds. The monorail was sleek and futuristic. It gave you a preview of the hotels, especially the spectacular atrium of the Contemporary Resort. As one Imagineer said, without the monorail the lobby would resemble “a place where the Goodyear Blimp comes to mate.” Another way to get to the front gate would be by a more traditional old-fashioned ferryboat.

Today, there is yet another option. Resort guests can take a bus to a depot along one side of the theme park. Even the resort buses have a magical moment courtesy of Admiral Joe Fowler, the construction genius for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As the bus gets closer to the Contemporary Resort you will notice how the road dips below a viaduct. If you pay close attention, sometimes you will see the ferry from the Wilderness Lodge passing overhead. The road goes below the connection between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The buses then skirt around the lagoon and drop you off in an exclusive area to the side of the Magic Kingdom’s entrance.

Since people who came from the movies designed the Magic Kingdom, it seems logical that they would unfold the sequence of spaces you have to travel through as if they were storyboarding a film. The show starts with a wide shot that provides a panoramic view of the adventures that wait. From afar, the first things you spot are the spires of Cinderella Castle or the great white dome for Space Mountain. Throughout your journey, the view is constantly deflected and sometimes removed just to tease you and heightening your anticipation.



From the long shot, we move toward a close up of the train station that acts like the movie theater marquee. It also blocks your view of everything behind. Once past the security gates and turnstiles, you step on the red bricks (carpet) of the movie theater lobby. Instead of a curtain hiding the screen, the Magic Kingdom uses the tunnels that go below the railroad tracks to achieve the same effect. As you pass through the tunnel (the curtain rises) the show begins with two quick visuals. The first is the immersive environment of Town Square in Main Street USA. The second comes when you move into the space and see, for the first time, Cinderella Castle from the base to the crown. Throughout your journey you have been constantly teased by the spires and now comes the full emotional pay off. The Imagineers have controlled what you can see and when you can see it. This allows them to unfold the story at their own pace.

Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom would be different from Disneyland in other ways. Disney wanted to make sure that people knew that going to Walt Disney World would be much more than just another visiting another theme park. They were very keen on selling the entire resort or vacationland experience. At the time of the Magic Kingdom’s opening, Disney did not have the rights to build any hotels in California. So the emphasis was always on improving the theme park. In Florida, Disney had a chance to get in to the hospitality business in a major way.




Early promotional materials highlighted the attractions that were unique at the Magic Kingdom including Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Space Mountain, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The materials were also heavy on pushing the amenities such as boating, golfing, and other resort activities.

As you have seen, by design and at great cost, the transition from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom’s front gate is nothing like the Disneyland arrival experience.

What was your first impression when you arrived at the Magic Kingdom?


Introducing My New Book
In October, my new book, WALT and the Promise of Progress City, will be available. Just in time for your holiday gift list!



Submit "Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance Indeed" to Digg Submit "Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance Indeed" to del.icio.us Submit "Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance Indeed" to StumbleUpon Submit "Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance Indeed" to Google

Categories
Uncategorized

Comments

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
  1. napamaninsocal's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    My first impression...the Castle is HUGE!
  2. wdwprince's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Did you use the Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom as your source for this article? The book explains it in the exact same way. It's a great book for anyone who hasn't read it.
  3. MrTour's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    My first impression? I love the wonderment of the journey, as well as anticipation. I was only sorry that the other parks don't share the same magic; that they just have the park/tram/gate experience. The roadways in WDW today are like any other LA freeway with one interchange after another. How nice it would be if the roads all were underground and led to one central parking garage and transportation hub. EPCOT could have lived on in that sense!
  4. jpg391's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink


    I'm glad you talked about how Walt and Roy could not afford to buy the land around Disneyland and how the area around it became very tacky, especialy along Harbor Blvd.
  5. toonaspie's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Interesting, I thought that Walt didn't want a large castle for Disneyland because he didn't want it to completely dwarf the rest of the park. It could've been some rumor I read though.
  6. Irving's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Great article Sam!!...Love the part describing the Entrance to the Magic Kingdom, I really felt I was there!
  7. SAMLAND's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I wish I could be there right now!

    Sam
  8. PeoplemoverMatt's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    My first impression: "Familiar...yet different. I know this place, yet I've never been here before."

    Also, how on Earth could the land around DIsneyland be too expensive for the Disney Bros. yet apparently not expensive enough to prevent horrid-looking urban sprawl?
  9. MarkTwain's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Your part about the importance of size reminded me of a particularly amusing quote by Dick Nunis, which I found at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I took a picture of it and copied it here:

    "There were a lot of meetings.... There was one meeting, though, I remember more than any; it was at the studio. And one of our people came in with a very large parcel of land and Walt said, 'Buy it.' And Roy looked up and said, 'Walt, we already own 12,000 acres!' And Walt said, 'Roy is the price right?' -- it was like a hundred dollars an acre -- 'Yes.' 'Do we have the money?' 'Yes.' And Walt said, 'Roy, how would you like to own 12,000 acres around Disneyland right now?' And Roy said, 'Buy it.' "
  10. LuckyJack65's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I was 10 years old in 1975, the day was Thanksgiving, and our little family from rural Indiana had finally arrived at WDW after saving our money since the park first opened in '71. My sister and I were completely silent the entire drive from the interstate to the parking lot, barely breathing (Dad still reminds us of this!) I remembering thinking the tram ride in the parking lot was wonderful! LOL When it came time for us to make a choice of how we were going to get to MK, the family voted on Monorail, but Mom voted on ferryboat, and that's how we arrived. Could that boat have gone any slower?????
    Then we walked up the brick walk, went under the arch at the depot, and I nearly wet my pants. I'm not kidding!! I was frozen, speechless, on Main Street, as my family is walking away. Mom turned around and shouted, "What's wrong with you??" I finally "came to" and shouted, "I have to pee really bad!". To this day, the first thing I do when I go under the depot arch is hit the bathroom!
  11. GoBotDotCom's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    My first impression was how surreal it felt ... like I was at Disneyland, but yet I wasn't. It was definitely an Alternate Universe sensation.
  12. WesternMouse's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    WDW definitely had a surreal feeling for me until I started working there. I lived at 192 and I-4 and it took me an hour to get into the park when visiting. That's way too long. Then I discovered the free parking at EPCOT and I could walk right in. A few months later, WDW installed security shacks at every hotel. Good bye close parking.

    Back to the arrival--yes, it's cool to drive past so many other places to visit on the way to the MK. The size of Cindy's Castle is impressive--until I visited DCA. SBC is much smaller, but as a parent, I fully appreciate DCA's smaller size. I can do more and see more in less time which gives me greater value for my money. The arrival isn't the same, but I'd rather focus on the quality BEHIND the gate.
  13. snowsbeau's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I had the pleasure of visiting the Magic Kingdom once, in December 2004. I took the Monorail to the entrance. Everything went smoothly in buying my passport to learning how to travel around the parks at WDW. I was in awe when I walked into the park and saw Cinderella's Castle completely for the first time. As I made my way down Main Street, I was surprised at how much I felt like a child again.

    Everything was new for me and I drank it all in. Once I was in front of the Castle, my mouth literally dropped open. I felt wonderful to feel so small in front of it. I almost teared up just staring up at it. A CM actually came over and asked if I was ok. I just said. "It's so big!" She smiled and patted me on the shoulder and said, "Welcome to the Magic Kingdom" and walked away. It was a magical moment and I cherish it greatly. I was in Florida on business and could not pass up the opportunity to visit WDW. I was also turning 40 the very next day! The rest of my two day visit was just as wonderful. I felt like a kid the entire time and I received so much attention from the CM's, I really felt like a VIP. Now if I can just get back there!
  14. DisWedWay's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    This reminds me of the 4 present castles of the 5, and all the "Magic" in designing the Kingdoms around them from the chart pack plan layouts, concept models, renderings, and actual in field construction. I love the Dick Nunis quote with Walt and Roy and it reminded me of TDL in 1982 when the same Cinderella Castle was being created. "Do you want your park to be the Best" was a common argument to justify a cost upgrade to OLC. (That was the case on TDS for sure where OLC was asking Disney this time.) On EDL, which has the tallest castle, you always had to justify a cost upgrade before management for approval. Seems like Walt's creative spirit was alive in us all. PD
    Updated 09-08-2011 at 01:34 PM by DisWedWay
  15. SAMLAND's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I find the Magic Kingdom frilly and delicate. I find Disneyland to be solid and rooted to the earth.

    Sam
    SamLand's Disney Adventures
  16. schnebs's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Nice article, Sam!

    The approach to the MK's a great experience, but it always seemed to me like I was one of a very few people who enjoyed it. I often hear complaints from guests - including from some hard-core Disney fans - that they hate having to go through the hassle of parking at the TTC and taking Disney transportation to the park entrance. Apparently, someone listened, because every park built after the MK went back to the familiar "park your car right next to the entrance" setup from Disneyland.

    I'd love to see another park use a similar approach set-up to the MK. Isn't the whole point of going to a Disney park supposed to be that you're leaving the real world behind? The set-up at the MK makes that departure more tangible. It's a pity that we may never see something like that again because the average guest can't deal with delayed gratification.
  17. Dustysage's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Part of the uniqueness of the Magic Kingdom is the building anticipation. You arrive but still have a journey to complete before you actually get there. Arriving at the Ticket and Transportation Center is sort of exciting. You do board your first ride of the day (the Monorail or Ferry) before you ever enter the front gate. I always take the Monorail.

    There is just something about that castle. So tall and majestic. Yes, as a Disneylander, I have castle envy.

    One of my favorite things to do is watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian resort. Even from that distance across the bay, the castle still looms large. They made the right decision in going big.
  18. DisneyResort's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    If you feel transportation shouldn't have to be a huge consideration, and that it should be no more than 15 minutes to set foot inside one of the parks. Then you may prefer The Disneyland Resort.
    For anyone visiting The Disneyland Resort, you park and you're there. The Mickey and Friends parking structure is a 5 minute tram ride to the entrance to both parks. 10 minutes if you feel like walking. If you park at The Toy Story lot, a short bus ride only a 1/2 mile away, not several miles away.
    Once you enter the entrance plaza, that's it. Thinking about additional transportation is over. The entrance to both parks are literally within a stone's throw from each other. And you can spend the day hopping back and forth between the two of them.
    If you stay at a Disney hotel, that too is a short walk to the entrance plaza through Downtown Disney. The monorail is also located at Downtown Disney and it drops you off "inside" the park at Tomorrowland. If you're staying at The Grand Californian, you have the luxury of being at the only Disney hotel with direct access into a Disney park. It's just one step from hotel property onto Disney California Adventure.
    If you stay "off site", it's not as daunting as it sounds. There are 40 "Good Neighbor" hotels around the resort. And none of them are more than a mile away.
    Yes, The Disneyland Resort isn't as big as Walt Disney World. But the "Disney experience" is just as satisfying. You simply have to decide if you want it all in one place, or spread out over 40+ square miles.
    Updated 09-08-2011 at 09:48 PM by DisneyResort
  19. Telpeurion's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Here is an area where I think Walt was wrong. Wanting Anaheim to utilize zoning and eminent domain to favor Disney's friends is something I find rather disgusting. Oh, and those cheap ugly motels? That's where your guests are staying, you know, the ones that can't afford to stay at your hotel? (Or in this case, Disney's buddy's hotel)
  20. PragmaticIdealist's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Telepeurion, no one mentioned eminent domain. I can tell you that some form-based codes would have certainly helped Anaheim, though. And, I don't know what you mean by "favor Disney's friends" because, if anything, improving the public realm of the City of Anaheim would compete with the private realm controlled by Disney and the Wrather Corporation (original developer of the Disneyland Hotel).
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast