Insights

Just Like Disney . . .

According to Bob McTyre of Apogee Attractions, nine out of ten people that approach him to design a theme park want something ”just like Disney.” What is it that makes Disney so successful around the world, that captures the imagination of adults and children alike, that draws visitors back again and again? Though it seems like magic, states Bob, it’s really a combination of very careful planning and very thorough planning. A former Senior Vice President at The Walt Disney Company and producer of Disney’s record breaking spectacular Fantasmic!, Bob knows what goes into each Disney product. It’s a little bit of inspiration supported by a design package that lays out all the costs, operational details and attraction elements needed to turn that inspiration into a viable concept. Although few people can afford to build a tourist attraction on the scale of Disney World, the process used to create a successful theme park is the same for you as Disney.

 

The Concept Meeting

The first thing that Apogee looks for in a concept is a thread, something that ties it all together. This single element will remain constant as the design team weaves their way through the process. This thread can come from anywhere – a vision, a myth, or a cartoon. After all, Disney built an entertainment empire on the sketch of a single mouse. But you could just as easily draw inspiration from your surroundings. A nearby ocean might inspire a water theme such as the recently completed Atlantis, Paradise Island park in the Bahamas. Water is at the center of that idea and all the park elements reflect it.

Topography also plays a role. For that reason, many concept meetings take place at the proposed site. Something as natural as an uneven terrain could serve as an inspiration. Cliffside bluffs might suggest Olympus, home of the gods. A craggy shoreline might cut into the cliffs and become a dark labyrinth of underworld caves. The site itself lends character to the concept.

For that reason, many first meetings take place at the proposed site. Apogee brings together a team of veteran professionals to walk the area. While Bob McTyre has a notable background in creative themeing, live performance and award winning spectaculars, Norm Doerges, also an Apogee Attractions principal, boasts thirty years experience in theme park management, engineering and construction. Norm played an instrumental role in the development of EPCOT Center at Disney World. He and others on the Apogee team bring an important deep bench knowledge to the project right from the start.

By the time facts are assembled and ideas explored, a point of direction for the project’s high concept is reached. That’s when the real work begins.

A Good Idea, But Is It Marketable?

Theme park design is as much a science as an art. You can’t just build something and hope it flies. A Market Study is the first of several in depth reports that are critical to determining the park’s viability. Apogee works with an economist to establish the market potential locally and with tourists.

How many guests can this site accommodate at any one time? Can they move easily throughout the park? If the attendance is there, what kind of traffic will the site bear? Quite literally, we mean traffic. Are the roads, streets and highways in and out of the park adequate? The last thing you want is traffic backed up for miles with families sitting in their cars waiting to enter the park.

While most themes parks are designed for families, with a mix of children and adult entertainments, some like Legoland, have strong child centered themes. There are a few parks, such as The Cove Atlantis (a section of the Paradise Island park that includes a casino), that are sophisticated in nature and intended for adults. It is essential to know the demographics of your visitors. A theme park is an entertainment medium. And just like a movie, or a book, or a play you must never lose sight of your audience.

The Market Study evaluates demographics and other market conditions, estimates park attendance, provides information on seasonality and helps determine per capita spending. This data has to be interpreted from both the business and the design points of view.

Is the concept exciting enough to draw a crowd? Do the financial projections justify the investment? Through concept development, Apogee brings all these considerations together and realistically evaluates the park’s potential. Then they hone the high concept to fit your park.

 

The Financial Picture

No matter how exciting, theme parks are business ventures. Profitability is built into the design of a workable park. The sketchiest concepts must be grounded in a working knowledge of construction, maintenance and operating costs. At this point in the process, a Financial Feasibility Study is needed to demonstrate the profitability of the venture. As in the case of the Marketing Study, Apogee uses an economist to analyze key financial determinants and provide an overall financial analysis of the project.

Armed with hard facts, a Market Study and an Attraction Program, the design team can create a plan that will help you finalize your finances, secure the site and bring you one step closer to turning your idea into a profit making reality.

Not Just a Theme – It’s a Story

A theme park is an unfolding drama. Major attractions serve as plot points that anchor the story and push the audience further into the experience. Unlike passive entertainments, they bring you physically into the action. No other narrative offers the sheer thrill of plot interaction. Disneyland’s boat ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, floats you into an underground world of brawling pirates and stalls you in the middle of their cross fire. The Indiana JonesAdventure speeds you through a tomb-robbing escapade in an out-of-control mining car. Disney World’s interactive attraction, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, puts a giant insect experience in your own hands. Dark rides, coasters, animatronic characters, interactive experiences or wrap-around immersive theaters such as Universal Studio’s movie experience Shrek 4-D; the type and number of attractions needed to tell your park’s story is determined in the Attraction Program. And as it does, the park takes shape.

A balance is struck between permanent attractions and live entertainment. Theme parks are not a one-time experience. They are created to keep people coming back for more and nothing brings them back faster than a live spectacular. Disneyland Resorts’ Fantasmic! lights up the night sky with an extravaganza that combines live performance, special effects and pyrotechnic displays. The show plays to an audience of thousands. It draws a crowd to the park, even during periods when attendance might otherwise be light. Nighttime attractions extend the guest length of stay in the park and positively influence their spending.

The strength of an Attraction Program rests on the experience of the design team. Apogee works with a broad range of specialists that includes artistic designer, ride/show manufacturers, merchandizing experts and hands-on service management. From this program comes a map of the key attractions and vital park information such as attraction capacity, merchandizing, food and beverage, parking, and size of support facilities and staffing needs.

 

The Presentation Package

The presentation package comes together in a book of words and pictures that bring the park to life. Drawings capture the moment that a coaster bursts into action, water roars down a slide or a ride disappears into a darkened tunnel. A written narrative captures the mood. Each attraction has been reinvented, redefined and customized to fit the concept. Walkways, rest areas, shops, open spaces, even restaurants serve the theme.

Page by page, it takes the reader on an imagined walk through a solid business investment. A Master Plan and Birds Eye offer an objective overview. Park Summaries are broken into categories such as hourly Ride and Attractions Capacities. A Queue Summary determines how long the guests will wait in line for each attraction. A Food Service Summary, Parking and other Facility Summaries demonstrate the parks ability to support peak-in-park attendance. Design budgets and construction costs, laid out and ready for presentation to your prospective investors.

 

A World Class Proposal

Everything you would expect in a design package for a major theme park company, you will find in this presentation. But it won’t be Disney’s world; it will be yours. Uniquely created to suit your land, your market, your theme and, ultimately, your business goals.