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Orange Bird Photo Hunt


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Downtown Disney Would Be So Lucky

The on-property out-of-park non-hotel entertainment offerings leave so much to be desired. At least for guys like me who: buy few Mickey-shaped knick knacks, don't wear temporary tattoos, can only handle so many third-rate rain forest animatronics, don't drink, and watch a Cirque show only every five years. (I do, however, love free sample Ghirardelli chocolate squares, Earl of Sandwhich sandwiches, and the occasional bag of powdered sugar + benyas).

Before I get a hundred angry emails saying "Downtown Disney is the best", hear me out. The experience is what it is. But the king of themed entertainment (Disney) could offer an experience that brings every kind of fan back for more and more. Wasn't part of the Eisner Downtown Disney missions to attract local residents? Well it could do that so much better than it ever has. For example... me. And the people around me. I have lived near both Disneyland and Walt Disney World for the majority of my adult life and very few of my neighbors and friends even think of approaching the Downtown Disney areas for a number of reasons. As for tourists, yes everyone goes at least once per trip.

Ok, obviously these shopping/dining districts are doing something right. There is no shortage of people spending money. But allow me to go one step beyond that. Just how much fun is the experience? How well-designed is the experience??

Well anyhow, I envision a shopping/dining experience a little more like the renderings above. (That is if we cannot have this). Look how charming and cozy and well-designed and not-tacky these are. Look at the lack of third-party merchandise kiosks. Look at the comfy slow-moving boat ride! (I must say, the boat ride between the Port Orleans Resorts and the docks of Downtown Disney WDW is something I adore– mostly because it feels like early Lake Buena Vista with the golf, Treehouses, etc. But a boat through the middle of the shopping/dining would be fantastic).


To be fair.........

→ The announced Hyperion Wharf intended to take the place of Pleasure Island looks like it can be great. It would be nice if it was going to be a little more 'Adventurers Club' and a little less 'extension of West Side' though. 

→ The new Trader Sam's at the Disneyland Hotel is an example of how out-of-park experiences can be well-designed, fun, timeless, and "Disney-esque" as they say.

→ Out-of-park themed entertainment shouldn't exceed the in-park experience. It just shouldn't. But it can uphold a similar standard of quality, right?


Hyperion Wharf concept artTrader Sam's concept art

The big question... What are those first renderings??

The first is concept art for "Cloud Lake River Promenade", Chengdu, China. The second is concept art for "The Island at Tropicana", Las Vegas. Both renderings by Gary Goddard Design.


Semi-related posts:

Lake Buena Vista: The Other Prototype City with a Peoplemover
I Love it When They Get Things Right
A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now
ABANDONED DISNEY: River Country [Part 1]


Reader Comments (12)

Another excellent article. I've read your previous article (and others floating around) about the original concept of LBV. Another brilliant idea that we will probably never see. However, like the original EPCOT, I think the area has definite potential that isn't in line with Walt's original vision (though I would LOVE to see the transportation infrastructure, though I say that for the entirety of WDW). Even if we don't see anything resembling LBV, if Disney would just take the concept of "Downtown Disney" to its full potential, the area area could be a fantastic one.

The "downtown" that DD seems to convey right now is a cross between that major cum generic shopping destinations like Rodeo Drive and Michigan Avenue and gaudy tourist traps seen in places like the Wisconsin Dells and Niagara Falls. Disney at its best, as I believe John Hench said, lacks contradiction. It strikes at the heart of something that is found in our collective psyche. It may not exist in such a form in real life, but it resonates with everyone who sees it. The ideal form of downtown is an energetic center that brings people together, chock of full food and retail (chains and great local places you'd never see anywhere else) and outdoor recreational areas, public art, cultural institutions, etc. I think Hyperion Wharf could be a step in the right direction. Only time will tell.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter@ChasonDailey

I too am not into the shopping, dining, drinking or Cirque-viewing options at DDT. However, when I try to identify why I don't go there more the first thing I think of is parking. I find getting into any park (even MK) is less bothersome than trying to park anywhere near your intended destination in Downtown Disney. While I do hope Hyperion Wharf is more than just more of the same - I still won't fight the crowds to check it out. The level of rewards to hassle is off.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

Downtown Disney should be and can be much more, just like Epcot, which needs to update and restore attractions such as Horizons and add countries like Russia, Brazil and Australia.

There should be Monorail link to this area from an expanded transportation center at Epcot. One link would go to Hollywood Studios, the Animal Kigdom and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There other link would serve the New Orleans Resort, Key West, the Saratoga Resort area and Downtown Disney. There should be an operational PeopleMover linking the various hotels to the various locations within Downtown Disney.

But shopping, and dining, while extremely important, should not be the only things found here. There should be entertainment. That includes, bringing back some of the nightclubs for the younger generation. Locatng them further to the west would help separate the age crowds. Naturally, standards of Disney decorum

While not in no way at the scale of the four major parks, rides similar to Paradise Pier should be found here, including the World of Color. Most of these rides, including a Hurricane Screamin' wooden coaster, Mickey's Fun Wheel, Mickey's Funhouse, similar to the Coney Island SteepleChase of old, Silly Symphony Swings, the Golden Zephyr, Goofy's Sky School, King Triton's Carousel and a Green Men Parachute Drop could anchor the west end of Downtown Disney, just beyond Cirque du Soleil.

Now, you have a destination that local Floridans would come to, if they did not want to go into the four major parks. Disney has got to attract the younger teen age crowd that they are losing to Universal. These kids are into fast rides, coasters. In Downtown Disney, such a thing can be delivered.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWesley 69

I also agree on the whole parking thing. I don't want to pay money just to park so that I can go shopping. Unless you are going to valet my car. :)

Also, the stuff they sell is the same stuff they sell in the park. And just as expensive. If the prices were a little bit cheeper than in the park, perhaps I would be more willing to buy my souviniers there.

They did have some GREAT live music playing when we went though. Even the sober people were dancing.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdisney obsessor

Another fantastic article Mitch, littered with excellent points. I still don't understand why they worked so hard to put Church Street Station out of business years ago, only to ignore things later like the red-headed stepchild or the son who isn't good at sports. While it is a great place to walk through at least once during a trip, it's Disney and should offer so much more than that.

While I do enjoy many things at The Marketplace (Earl of Sandwich, Ghirardelli, Days of Christmas), I can do without RainForest Cafe' or places where you find a pearl. The West Side needs some assistance as well, which Splitsville seems to be a step in the right direction. While DisneyQuest is a disappointment, House of Blues and Bongos are great for food & entertainment.

Downtown Disney should be nothing less than all the excitiment you'd expect when at WDW. It needs to encourage admiration and awe all throughout, for the once a year as well as the once a week guest. Right now, I don't have high hopes for Hyperion Wharf, unless they find a way to keep at least the Adventurer's Club (and possibly the Comedy Warehouse, which they easily could). A restaurant/tequila bar with a cigar store right near by just doesn't scream family or exciting to me. If those renderings you included in your post were what's to come at DD, it has a very good chance of being something great.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWDWFanBoyBrett

OK, I'll play. Because I do go to Downtown Disney fairly often - even though my main reasons are the same few you mentioned - free chocolate, Earl's sandwiches, and even the occasional boat ride down to Port Orleans. But I didn't know there was anyplace down there where you could get "benyas" (not beignets?)

Oh shoot! I just realized as I was typing that what a dope I was! The benyas aren't at Downton Disney are they? They've got to be down at Port Orleans! Duh! Please tell if I'm right, because when I do go down there and eat, I usually go all the way to the Riverside, instead of stopping at the French Quarter. I may have a new reason for taking that boat ride.

Anyway… I thought I might know what that first rendering was: I thought it might be the Riverwalk in Austin, but I guess not. Beautiful though. You're right Downtown Disney should be so lucky. The second rendering looks more like a nice outdoor gathering spot for the Polynesian Resort.

As for the rendering of the Hyperion Wharf, well first of all, this is the highest resolution version of that artwork I've ever seen. You can really see the images from "Flowers and Trees". Have those always been there? I wonder what that's all about?

Other than that, I've always thought that the key to the success of that concept revolved around whatever is in front of those people sitting in the amphitheater. What are they looking at? Is there a stage? Something in the water? I know some people are hoping for something like World of Color, but even just a simple fountain with some colored lights is at least better than just looking across at the Saratoga Springs Resort. Of course, they are re-thinking this whole concept now. It might turn out nothing like this at all.

The one other thing I like about DD - when the weather is right of course, is just strolling around - even without necessarily popping in anywhere. (I'm sure that's NOT what Disney wants to hear!) I love how much live entertainment there is down there. On a typical night, you can usually see somebody playing the guitar down at the outdoor patio at the House of Blues. Depending on how busy it is, there is sometimes some musicians next to the Vacation Club kiosk on the West Side. Then, the didgeridoo guy has had his spot staked out on the corner near the balloon there for a long time. There's two relatively new stages for live entertainment right now in front of the old Comedy Warehouse. There's usually somebody playing on the outdoor patio at Paradiso 37, and another band playing in front of Fulton's, and sometimes even someone playing all the way down by the margarita bar by the boat docks. (You don't drink at all? Cause I don't mind lingering there over a margarita a little bit.)

But this brings me to what bothers me most about Downtown Disney: the fact that the biggest, bestest stage down there (on the Marketplace side) is reserved for some goofy DJ Dance Party! I know, it definitely seems to be "for the kids" but this implies that kids don't appreciate talented people who aren't acting like goofballs. Is this true? Couldn't they at least use it for something, you know, a little more "sophisticated" at least a little later in the evening? Or if you want to leave it for the kids, what about a nice show featuring Mickey and his pals?? Would that be so bad?

Anyway, blah, blah, blah. None of this is to say that the whole place couldn't use a more consistent and unique theme. Just because it is a tourist trap, doesn't mean it has to look like tourist trap.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbobd

Your opening sentences really hit the nail on the head! That first rendering looks similar to the San Antonio River Walk. I really hope Hyperion Wharf will be better than PI, but if they fill it with a bunch of third party crap, I dont think it stands a chance.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonnie

I just returned from a 10-day trip to WDW, staying on property at the Bay Lake Tower, and for the first time did not go to Downtown Disney once....I did not feel there was anything worth going to see. I may go on my next trip but only to see "La Nouba" again. I miss the once nice mix of shops with (gasp) non-Disney merchandise and feel sad every time I see what the once proud "Empress Lilly" has been reduced to.

September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTony

duray-I kind of feel like the same person except more time has gone by.I hate to say that I feel like an adult now. I have to admit I wish I was still 18 , After all , even through the time while I was representing taht wild kid ,I really wasn't.I was just living my life . I was just not making movies at the time.-Leonardo --online replica Tag Heuer Aquaracer

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzoro1

As always Disney does things right. Sure the prices are higher but so is the level of service and the quality of the experience. There is always free entertainment going on and if you just need a little Disney fix without paying for a day pass Downtown Disney will do it for you. We didn't have time or reservations to enjoy a beer or dinner at the Irish pub but we will try to take that in the next time.
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January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnie

Hi buddy, your blog’s design is simple and clean and i like it. Your blog posts are superb. Please keep them coming. Greets!

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January 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStkildabh

I am pleased to see these design illustrations being held up as examples of potential upgrade to the more typical Disney fare of late -- meaning -- stick Mickey Mouse ears on it, whatever it is, and "disney-ize" everything. In fact, this is NOT what made Disneyland Disneworld the incredible worlds they were (and are). The idea is always to make each and every project one designs unique to that story -- to that world. When it comes to shopping/dining experiences, we strive to create immersive "worlds" that appeal to the emotional state of the guests when they visit. We want to take them away to a place of comfort and ease, and yet at the same time, offer surprises and delights along the way. The idea is to put people in a positive frame of mind. With regard to the two designs here,these were two separate projects, the first was to be a new kind of shopping experience for the TROPICANA before it was sold and they changed the overall design from Tropical Paradise to Miami Beach. It was to be the opposite of what we did with the The Forum Shops at Caesars -- in place of the classic Roman shopping street, it would be a shopping "paradise" with soft trade winds blowing through, and with a variety of unique "experience areas" that offered island-based atmospheres. The canal image is from a "Riverwalk" experience we created for a project in Chengdu, and again, this was but one area of a much larger retail/entertainment experience. We do everything we can to get away from the soul-less "citywalk" approach of steel, cement, glass and neon - and instead try to create immersive environments that play to all of the senses. When I was at Imagineering, I was most fortunate to be there at a time when it was still a retatively small team -- very family like. I was 23 at the time, in show design, working with Herb Ryman, John Hench, Claude Coates, Al Bertino, Marc Davis, Collin Cambell, John DeCuir Sr., and on on on. For a young show designer it was an amazing time. I soaked up a lot of knowledge -- knowledge that I didn't even realize I was absorbing at the time. I can tell you that we put the principles I learned then into everything we do. I hope that our work always reflects our desire to create unique places -- unique attractions - that offer the guests something they have not seen, or heard, or experienced before. That's always our goal. Anyway, its great to see someone noticed and posted the designs to spur a discussion. I was motivated to make a comment when I happened across it.

July 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergary goddard

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