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The Blessing of Size 11/15

Waltopia“Here in Florida, we have something special that we never enjoyed at Disneyland . . . the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” – Walt Disney

Walt Disney used these words when he presented his Disney World concept to a thrilled public close to his death in 1966. Indeed, at that time, the land that Disney had purchased under several dummy corporations seemed limitless. Still today, there is a scale and largesse in Florida that is seen nowhere in other Disney parks. Yet, through the 36 year history of the property, particularly starting during the Eisner era, there was significant property abuse: poor planning and a cavalier attitude about building have eaten up acres of Florida swamp. This column will be a regular one here at Progress City looking at the Blessing and Curse of Size at WDW, how Disney has used this space effectively and abused it conversely.

But let’s look on the bright side first – the area of the property that uses space most to its advantage – the Phase I Magic Kingdom resort area.

This space is all very reactionary to the clausterphobia of Anaheim, and is the work of an Imagineering department at the top of their game, with Walt tossing around his last ideas prior to his death. In some ways, I believe this area to be the best thing WDI ever did. They use space so much to their advantage for dramatic effect.

First, there are the obvious points: the castle is huge compared to Disneyland, it was designed to be seen from the toll plaza and start anticipation and excitement. There’s a lake in front of the theme park instead of a parking lot! In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, this allows for people to be seperated from their everyday lives. Before the MK resort busses, the only way you could get to the Magic Kingdom was by monorail or ferry. You were already being transported into fantasy before you entered through the park gates. This was a big concept floating around WDI at the time not only with this plan, but with EPCOT (the city) and the failed Mineral King Resort Project in California, where guests would have parked in a subterranian parking deck and been transported up the mountain.

satelliteIn addition to the modes of transportation, you are being surrounded by fantasy with the hotels, an extension themselves of the Magic Kingdom. Unlike the later-built Yacht and Beach Club (much discussion to come) that had no relevance to the park it was butting up against, every hotel constructed or even planned represented a land in the Magic Kingdom – The Contemporary for Tomorrowland, The Polynesian, The Asian, and The Persian hotels for Adventureland, Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge for Frontierland, and the Grand Floridian for Main Street. I don’t exactly know where the never-built Venetian hotel was supposed to fit into this, but I digress.

All of it has purpose, all of it fits together seamlessly. There are no scale issues either. Keep in mind that the Contemporary and Cinderella’s Castle are only 200 feet tall, and the Seven Seas Lagoon is not that large of a lake. Forced perspective of the islands that Disney built along with the lagoon, the scale consistency and lack of any reference point otherwise, makes these icons, or Walt’s term “weenie,” seem larger than life.

In addition, the infrastructure is superb. As you can see from the map, the roadways are not in the way, they’re spare – and when the park opened, there were no traffic lights. The goal was to have none on the property, obviously this changed over time. The Central Shops, power plant, water treatment plant, monorail and train roundhouses, and so on are tucked far beyond the berm and kept from the eye. The monorail was constructed with long straightaways – one for the Asian, the plot that ended up being the Grand Floridian, and one for the Venetian (note the long straightaway from the Contemporary to the TTC).

This is Disney planning and spatial usage at its height. In the future I’ll go into more detail about all I’ve mentioned, and move on to other parts of the properties, and see where things started to go South. Until then, this is Beacon Joe signing off.

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