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Theme Park in Anaheim, CA

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Disneyland from an engineer's perspective

  • Jul 14, 2009
  • by
I hadn't been to Disneyland for more than 20 years.  I had the opportunity to go recently with my girlfriend and her 5 and 9 year old cousins.   I enjoyed the combination of shows and rides that characterizes the experience, and I had the usual complaints (expensive food, long lines).   As with most people, I enjoyed both the park itself, and also taking kids to the park who were so enmeshed in the experience and so into the entire concept.

A few thoughts from an engineer's perspective:
The kids love having some control over the ride.   The dumbo ride, one of the simpler rides in the park, still had very long waits, because it allows the children to control the height of their flying elephant.    The car ride also was very popular with older kids, who can control the cars.  Similarly, some of the rides that let you spin the vehicle you were in also were disproportionately popular.   This is typical of good UI -- people want to feel in control of their environment.   I would even recommend allowing for control of the color of the vehicle lights in some of the other rides -- anything that allows the kids to exert additional control over the ride.

The amount of process and thought that has gone into the park design is phenomenal, from a traffic control perspective, to keeping the lines and rides moving, to food, to CPR, to policies as simple as whether employees are allowed to take tips (they are not).   It is worth going to the park just to study how they've thought through every aspect of the design of the park and the rides, and the employee interaction with the visitors.  For example, we came late to the final parade, and stood next to the popcorn stand.  The person selling popcorn had a prereahersed phrasing for telling us to watch the parade without interfering with the traffic to the popcorn stand and his ability to sell popcorn.  When a ride broke down, they had an elaborate preestablished procedure for handling the disappointment, giving an estimate of when the ride would be fixed, and handing out tickets to skip the line that were kept under lock and key with manager only access and a known time to fetch them that was immediately echoed to the guests.

The integration of technology, ride design, and an understanding of human nature is phenomenal.  I waited on lines as a normal visitor, and also used fast passes and skip the lines passes.  The newer rides were exceptionally well designed to allow people to effectively board the ride without waiting in the nromal line, without making it obvious to everyone who had waited in the normal line that this was even happening.

Some tips:

If a ride breaks down, they will give you a ticket to skip the line and get on another ride.  When they are handing out the passes, divide into as many groups as possible -- they will give you one ticket per group, and the tickets are good for up to six people.  Not exactly kosher, but all is fair in love, war and line skipping at Disneyland.

The car pool lane on the 5 freeway goes directly to Disneyland, so don't make the mistake we did and worry about being able to get out of the car pool lane in time to make the Disneyland exit.

Disney knows the line length.  If they say a line will take 50 minutes, believe them, even if you can see people getting on the ride from where you are in line.  Many of the lines are deceptive -- much of the line can be buried in a building.  But the estimates are almost always accurate.

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September 18, 2010
I went to the Disney World last summer and I had the similar thought on park's traffic management. Great to read the write-up from engineer's perspective.
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Ari Miller ()
I mostly write about my main obsession, tennis. When I'm not experimenting with new tennis racquets, I love to watch a good movie or read a great book. I'm a fan of both non-fiction (especially books … more
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Disneyland is an American theme park in Anaheim, California, owned and operated by the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts division of The Walt Disney Company. It was dedicated with a press preview on July 17, 1955, in ceremonies led by Walt Disney and opened to the general public the following day. Disneyland holds the distinction of being the only theme park to be designed, built, opened, and operated by Walt Disney.

Currently the park has been visited by more than 515 million guests since it opened, including presidents, royalty and other heads of state. In 1998, the theme park was re-branded Disneyland Park to distinguish it from the larger Disneyland Resort complex. In 2007, over 14,800,000 people visited the park making it the second most visited park in the world, behind the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

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