Meet Me Down on Main Street

by | Aug 16, 2021

The first place you see inside the gates of both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland might just be the least appreciated. Many walk straight on through Main Street, tantalized by the allure of a giant castle at the end of the avenue and amazing attractions further in. It’s no wonder we pass through because this is what Main Street is meant to be: an introduction. We have all seen this quaint turn-of-last-century town, but maybe it’s time we spent a little more attention on its finer details.

Theme Park Meets Cinema

It’s said that Walt and his first Imagineers were so successful because they viewed their theme park as a movie. The team were all animators after all, trained to look for color and story composition. The design of this entrance to both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland subtly prepares you for the adventure to come.

A rainy morning at the Magic Kingdom makes for some good pictures of Main Street!

As you pass under the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad, you enter a darkened corridor, similar to getting your seat in a darkened theater. Attraction posters line the walls, providing previews. You emerge into the light of Main Street’s Town Square and you smell that movie favorite, popcorn, popping. Music sets the stage and you are transported to a small town around the year 1900.

Regardless of your preferred coast, Main Street USA is a tribute to small towns. Disneyland’s street resembles an ideal version of Walt’s childhood home in Marceline, Missouri, but many of the touches come from Fort Collins, Colorado. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is more of an east coast town, perhaps in the area of Saratoga Springs. That’s New York state, not the resort near Disney Springs!

How It’s Done

Despite the basic difference in themes, the two Main Streets accomplish the same task: welcoming you to the park! The buildings you see are scaled in a classic theme park technique called forced perspective. The base levels are full-scale, but as each floor is added on, everything from the height to the size of windows is reduced a bit. The buildings feel taller than they actually are. When you round the corner to see the castles at the far end, the street feels significantly longer, guiding your eyes to the gigantic edifice at the far end. Even if it’s maybe not so huge in Disneyland’s case!

Main Street, U.S.A., under construction at Magic Kingdom Park in 1971 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Disney)

Both coasts have seen plenty of changes to the lineup of shops and restaurants through the years. As some locations have gone or changed hands, the theme remains the same. When the Emporium at the Magic Kingdom expanded across Center Street, Imagineers designed the connecting building to contrast the buildings around it. A chandelier composed of both gas lamps and electric light bulbs blends styles to illustrate the changing time period. 

Things to Do

The attractions of Main Street also demonstrate this time of change with constant motion. Horse-drawn carriages jostle for space with antique cars, a trolley, and even a double decker bus! Take in your surroundings as you enjoy a leisurely trip to the center of the park. Or take it slow and stroll past the shop windows, enjoying their blend of period displays and Disney dioramas.

MAIN SREET UNDER CONSTRUCTION (1955) Workers prepare to pour cement where the northern edge of Town Square meets Main Street USA.

While you head toward your adventure, take a moment to appreciate the music! The Dapper Dans are a barbershop quartet who sing and entertain guests throughout the day on both coasts. If your family are spending their day at the Magic Kingdom, you might also see the citizens of Main Street, a group of characters who act out scenes and interact with guests. Catch a touch of ragtime music from talented piano players or listen to classic songs performed by marching bands. If none of the live acts are around, there is always a great loop of tunes that surround you with the spirit of Main Street.

Shameless Plugs

Wondering which park does it better? Glad you asked! Check out this classic episode of The Supreme Resort where the gang debate the merits of both streets in excruciating and hilarious detail!

Whether you came to eat, shop, or just pass through, there are plenty of things to see around Main Street USA! The next time you and your family are at the parks, take a few moments to appreciate the environment around you. Main Street is a great way to build anticipation but also slowly return you to normal life on your way out. It succeeds so well in its task of being a transitional device, we rarely notice it. Both the original Main Street of Disneyland and its partner at Walt Disney World remain as pinnacles of theme park design.

If you and your family are excited to get back to the parks, get in touch with one of our expert travel planners today! Our ConciEARS planners have years of experience on both coasts and would love to learn more about your family and your travel needs. Click the links below or give us a call and we can help you get planning today!

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