Archive for July, 2009

DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Liberty Square through Frontierland – The Finale

by on July 12, 2009

Part One is here
Part Two is here
Part Three is here

Of course there is this and much more at SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

I am always amazed when I walk through Liberty Square and Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom. You have to credit the Imagineers for pulling off the impossible. Just like Liberty Square, Frontierland is designed to be a journey through time and distance. The story line will take us from St. Louis in the early 1840s to a ghost town after the gold rush boom in the 1880s. They have created a three-dimensional, immersive environment that moves you through time and space. And most people never even know it as they run to BTMRR or Splash Mountain.

The story of Frontierland begins where Liberty Square ends. Liberty Square is an impression of the idealized vision of Colonial America using design elements from the thirteen original colonies. That provides the eastern anchor for our journey. Frontierland celebrates the great westward expansion that followed the Louisiana Purchase.

The first building we come to in Frontierland is the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon. This is a movie interpretation of a grand show palace that would be common in St. Louis in 1840. St. Louis became known as the western gateway and the starting point for many pioneers.

For the next stop we move west to the Colorado Rockies. The time is now the 1850s. Here we find a northwoods union hall. If you look inside you can see one of my all time favorites, the Country Bear Jamboree. Oh I miss this one at Disneyland. Pooh, puh! While waiting for the show notice the marks on the floor. Those would be bear claw scratches.

As you go west, notice how each building uses the short hand of iconic design elements, materials, and different architectural styles to enhance the time travel story. There are clues to the year many of the building facades were built if you look closely enough. For example, the Town Hall was built in 1867. Pecos Bills Saloon is dated 1878. Texas James Slaughter owned the Frontier Trading Post. He was a real life person and Disney TV character who was famous in the 1870s.

Our journey continues westward to the great desert Southwest of the 1860s-70s. The designers use carefully chosen plant material and Spanish Mission architecture to recreate the cinematic image of a western town. Lots of Zorro influence. You know the use of Spanish influenced architecture wasn’t just serendipity. The designers had a problem they had to solve.

Dial up Google Earth and look at the aerial photo of the Magic Kingdom. You will notice that the west side of the park is basically one giant building with two different personalities. The south side faces Adventureland and the building facades enhance that theme. The north side facades advance the Frontierland theme. There are a couple of spots where you go from one realm to another. The designers have spent a great deal of thought on how to make those transitions very smooth.

In the movies, it is known as the cross-dissolve. A good example of this is the transition from Frontierland to Adventureland.

Pecos Bills Café’s architecture is in the Spanish Mission style, which was popular in the Southwest desert region of that period. However, those same Spanish influenced design cues were also appropriate for El Pirata Y el Perico right across from the Pirates of the Caribbean. If you are going to Pirates, you will be going from North America to a Caribbean island one hundred years earlier. The effect is subtle and not startling. But if they didn’t do it you would notice that something is just not right.

Now we take a little detour from our westward journey to visit the Deep South in the 1860s. This is the setting for Splash Mountain. At Splash Mountain, we can see how the Imagineers try to create a sense of anticipation through environmental design. They do it in a way that would be familiar to any filmmaker.

When you to the movies, before most feature attractions are previews. There is also a preview when you pass by Splash Mountain. The larger path takes you past the drop. This view exaggerates the height of the drop as the logs fall into the Briar Patch. There is another path, a boardwalk that is set beyond the drop. Here, not only can we see the horror on the guests faces as they drop but also we can see the happy payoff as they laugh and feel alive. These pathways help bond the viewers with the participants.

Our final stop on this westward journey is the little mining ghost town of Big Thunder. The peaks of Monument Valley influence the mountains within Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The designers have used forced perspective to make them seem larger.

Since our journey took us from the east coast to the west coast, it is appropriate that the last thing you see in Frontierland is the Disneyland Railroad train station. The Rivers of America and the Liberty Belle are a symbolic link between Liberty Square and Frontierland. This waterway recognizes the importance of rivers and canals to the start of the American expansion. The Frontierland train station represents the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the end to the great expansion.

There is one more design element that is unique in Frontierland. It is the use of multiple pathways to provide variety to your experience. You can walk along the raised wooden plank sidewalk along the building facades. Or you can walk in the street with the herd of people passing through. You can also get a taste of the rural life by walking along the boardwalk at the edge of the Rivers of America. Not only does this provide a set of options for the guests but it creates huge capacity to move people without looking like a giant sidewalk.

I mentioned at the beginning of this series that Liberty Square and Frontierland become a time machine. They take you back to real places at specific times. To take a ride on the Time Machine start on Main Street USA. The time is around 1900. Cross the bridge toward Liberty Square and you go back in time to the founding of the nation. The path toward the west will take you to the 1880s. Get on the train and exit at Main Street. You are back in the 1900s. Talk about the Grand Circle Tour.

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Magic Kingdom’s Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Showing Up in Disney Dining System

by on July 10, 2009

We’ve noticed a couple of instances of the Diamond Horseshoe showing up as an available sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, probably related to the upcoming free dining promotion. Disney is describing the food as “Diamond Horseshoe at Magic Kingdom theme park serves American classics in an all-you-care-to-eat, Western-themed restaurant located in Frontierland. Savory entrees like carved beef and smoked pork loin are paired with tasty sides like herb bread stuffing.” with prices from $15-$36 per person.

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WDW Today Episode 589 – The Worldy Romantic

by on July 10, 2009

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Episode 589 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 588 – Listener Questions

by on July 8, 2009

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Episode 588 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Walt Disney World 2009 Winter Holiday Schedule

by on July 6, 2009

The Magic Kingdom’s castle lights go up November 10, 2009.

Epcot’s Holidays Around the World run from November 27 through December 30, 2009.

The Studios’ Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights and Animal Kingdom’s Jingle Jungle Parade run from November 27, 2009 through January 3, 2010.

More details can be found in Disney’s official press release.

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WDW Today Episode 587 – Epcot Resort Recommendations

by on July 6, 2009

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Episode 587 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Urban Planner Walk Through Liberty Square To Frontierland – Part 3

by on July 5, 2009

Hello. This is continuation of my walk through the various lands in the Magic Kingdom. This week we see how Liberty Square and Frontierland share a a lot of things in common but remain distinctly different in feel.

For more of this type of stuff I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

To see Part One go Here.
To see Part Two go Here.

From an architectural point of view, Frontierland is nothing special. Covering the basic industrial sheds that house the attractions is a thin veneer of shops. This design technique is called the “decorated shed” and was identified back in the early 1960s by architect Robert Venturi. The decorated shed is a way of adopting the tactics from commercial strip buildings by applying signs, materials, iconic and familiar architectural elements so that you can enrich the symbolic content and create something memorable.

Today you see this everywhere and usually very poorly done. But this was a new idea when Disneyland was first developed and the Magic Kingdom was to take it to the next level. What Frontierland does really well is to take the ordinary – the decorated shed – and use it to create an extraordinary urban environment.

I like to think about Frontierland as a big outdoor room. Posing as the southern wall are the building facades of Frontierland. This would almost be a strip mall if it weren’t for the careful attention to detail. Instead of flat storefronts, each provides depth with uneven surfaces and changing materials. The wooden walkway provides a different sound underneath the feet and they act as a buffer between the hustle and bustle of the main concrete walkway and the private interiors of the stores. The shallow storefronts allow one to peek in and see what is on the back wall. Very inviting. In fact, if we could just line big box stores like Wal-Mart with local goods and services in this manner we would create more livable places all over America.

Our northern wall is Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America. You might even think of this wall as our big window looking out to the frontier. The island shows some development and a lot of life when kids are running around. But it is beautiful open space that has matured into something so much more. Remember this was all by design and planted for certain effect. The water is wide and occasionally the Liberty Belle passes us by on her journey to the backcountry.

Off to the side are the rafts spinning back and forth between the island and the mainland. But it is a lonely river. Only the rafts and the Liberty Belle inhabit this domain. I am spoiled by the addition of the canoes and the Columbia to Disneyland’s river. I miss the tipsy Keel Boats. Progress means traffic.

The east wall is the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon and a corner view of Liberty Square. Liberty Square looks so small when you turn back. This visual effect is another reminder of the American past and the story that links the two lands. The western wall is a path that leads to nowhere and the deflected view of Splash Mountain. Once upon a time this would have been the site of the Western River Expedition.

What is the Western River Expedition you ask? It could have been the next step beyond what was delivered in the Pirates of the Caribbean. When the Magic Kingdom first opened it did not have the big Disneyland hit attraction. The thought was the Caribbean was too close so New Orleans Square or Pirates would not be exotic enough. Instead, the entire area that now contains Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad plus the train station would be under one giant building. This building would be called Thunder Mesa Mountain and contain a dark ride second to none designed by the master himself, the legendary Marc Davis. This light hearted romp through the American west would have been a boat ride featuring Native Americans doing a rain dance that causes it to rain, a bank robbery where even the horses wear masks, the prairie dogs and buffaloes that eventually made it to Epcot, gunfights, and the town of Dry Gulch featured in BTMRR. Oh yeah, the show building would have been covered by the rollercoaster.

Sadly, the early visitors just clamored for Pirates. So the park quickly tossed together the Reader’s Digest version that exists today and only built the rollercoaster. What could have been? Back to our story about the time trip through Frontierland.

Below you are a variety of surfaces that divide this long narrow room into multiple experiences. Earlier I highlighted the way the wooden walkways along the buildings interacted with both the interiors but help frame the boundary of the main walkway. In both Main Street USA and Tomorrowland, the buildings are strictly built out to a certain line. Within Frontierland, the main pathway is framed by the irregular alignment of the buildings and the little median of trees and carts on the other side. This median creates an opportunity for that “path less traveled” with the boardwalk. You might say that the wooden pathways define civilization. In context to the times, the finest roads in America were the plank roads. Within this tight corridor you are provided with three different pathways with very different experiences.

My particular favorite path is the boardwalk along the river. You would think the attraction of water would be so strong as to make this a congested pathway. But whether it is the visual obstruction caused by median of the trees and carts or the way it seems to jog in and out and not look like a short cut, people seem to stay away and follow the rest of the herd on the hot concrete. I love this element. They have carved out a series of connecting small rooms where one can take ownership over their spot even for a few brief moments. Plus you have the water with the Liberty Belle and the action on the other side to entertain you. It is nice on this edge of the frontier.

And this river is the perfect tool to assist us on our journey through time by connecting the original colonies to the westward expansion. The river is always reminding you that you are always on the edge of the wilderness. The story is moved along by the walkways and spaces that are framed by iconic buildings. And the organizing principle for the buildings in both lands is the same which makes this combination of elements unique in the Magic Kingdom.

Next week we will see how the buildings that hide the attractions – those decorated sheds – are used to tell the story of the American western expansion.

We will finish this tour next week.  Thanks for reading.

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WDW Today Episode 586 – A Stitch In Time

by on July 3, 2009

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Episode 586 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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TravelZoo.com Offering Disney Moderate Resorts for $96/Night

by on July 2, 2009

Disney Moderate Resorts at TravelZoo

A tip of the hat to reader Dave L. for sending this in.

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WDW Today Episode 585 – Listener Questions

by on July 1, 2009

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Episode 585 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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