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Tokyo Disneyland: An Example of Great Theme Park Design

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A couple of months ago, my wife and I went on a trip to Japan. Between walking the streets of Akihabara, Harajuku, Osaka, Kobe, and much more, it was truly a trip to remember. However, before we explored the rest of Japan, our first stop on our trip was Tokyo Disneyland. We weren’t sure what to expect at Japan’s version of the famed theme park, so we went in with diluted expectations. What we found was very interesting…

…In that the theme park was laid out almost identically to the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California. Sure, the entrance was an amazing interpretation of Main Street U.S.A., completely enclosed in glass and there were exclusive rides just in Tokyo Disneyland, but overall, the layout of the park was the same. I wondered why, so I took to the internet to find it out.

What I found was really cool AND interesting. Disney’s original park—Disneyland—used a layout model called the “hub and spoke” for the park. What this means is, users would enter the park at one entrance and walk into the “hub,” aka the center of the park, and from there, they could travel along various “spokes” that split off into the different lands. While in each land, visitors could walk around the edge of the “hub” or go back down the “spoke” they came from. It was first used successfully by Walt Disney and is known as one of Disney’s best innovations (theme park operators at the time told Walt this would never work because it would limit the amount of guests he could get into the park at one time).

Another innovation by Walt was that each of the “lands” in his park were their own self contained worlds. Each world had roughly the same mix of attractions, retail, restaurants, and services as the others in the park. People didn’t have to walk all over the place to get the different things. They also had their own significant landmarks and boundaries. People would know where they are and also know they were in a self-contained environment.

Disney has gained all this knowledge over the course of its existence and has refined it to a science. Using this approach has led to success in other states and countries such as Japan. That’s why, when we were walking around Tokyo Disneyland, we felt oddly at home, yet also in a completely different world at the same time.

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