Today marks the 50th anniversary of my all-time favorite theme park attraction, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
The ride had an extremely tumultuous development history, spanning two decades, three ride systems, and dozens of conflicting creative visions. Even when it did finally open on August 9th of 1969, the finished project was very much a mish-mash of ideas, particularly when compared to the more focused ride experiences of, say, the Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean.
And yet, this kitchen sink approach has only worked to the ride’s advantage over the years. If you ask famed Imagineer Tony Baxter, he’ll tell you that what sets a theme park experience apart from a film or TV show is that the ‘story’ of a theme park ride is whatever you create in your head, based on the things that you notice while going through it. And the Haunted Mansion is the epitome of that design philosophy. Every room is packed to the gills with detail, so much so that you can ride it over and over again, always spotting something new.
The Haunted Mansion is like that house in your old neighborhood that every kid said was haunted for different reasons… only in this case, ALL the stories are true.
I couldn’t help but make the Mansion the main subject of this month’s thread, but the last two weeks saw another piece of even more header-worthy news: We learned Universal will be opening another, brand-new, 750-acre theme park in Orlando: Epic Universe.
As of now, details beyond the preliminary concept art are extremely slight, but we do know that it will be entirely self-contained, including shops, restaurants, and a hotel (most likely that big guy all the way at the back there).
Universal is also taking a Disney parks approach to this one, making a real effort to fill the park with wall-to-wall immersive, themed lands. If you believe the rumors, among those lands will be How To Train Your Dragon, yet another Harry Potter area (perhaps the Ministry of Magic, nestled in directly southeast of the hotel?), an area centered on the classic Universal Monsters (most likely the purple area in the northwest corner), and even Universal’s highly anticipated Nintendo Land (that ride all the way to the west is a Donkey Kong Country coaster if I’ve ever seen one).
One last bit of news that feels header-worthy: despite my reports last month that Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge was a success, it looks like Disney’s crowd control efforts were just a bit too successful, as park attendance dropped 3% this quarter. It’s worth noting, though, that before now, Disney’s park attendance had been increasing year after year at an almost unsustainable rate, even as the Mouse House consistently raises their ticket prices every winter. They’ll never admit it — and news outlets have gotten quite the kick out of making this seem like a disaster — but I actually think that they’re perfectly fine with this (not least of all because in that same quarter, average spending per guest went UP by a full 10%).
Optional Discussion Questions: What’s your favorite Haunted Mansion story? Is there anything you’re hoping to see from Epic Universe?