Main Street, USA. It’s the entrance land to every Disney castle park, from Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World to even Tokyo Disneyland (albeit by the name World Bazaar there). As the first land any guest sees when they enter these parks, Main Street USA serves an important role, and sets the town for a day in the park.
I was going to title this “Main Street Throwdown,” but I don’t really know what there is to “throw down” in this case. With the exception of one stand-out, each of these versions of Main Street brings something to the table. Each of them are excellent, and unlike other lands throughout the park, there isn’t as much (at least for a casual observer like me) to critique. I love each of the Main Streets around the globe, and I have a hard time picking favorites. Usually my favorite is whichever one I’m in at the moment.
Despite all of their similarities, there are plenty of differences between the various Main Streets, too. In this post we’ll take a look at the differences, similarities, style, history, and other features of each Main Street. I’ll also offer some critique where appropriate, as well as plenty of photos of each Main Street.
Alright, let’s start walking right down the middle of Main Street(s), USA!
The newest Main Street, USA is closely modeled after Disneyland’s Main Street. While Disneyland is strictly a view of the American Midwest at the turn of the century, Hong Kong Disneyland takes a more expansive view of Main Street, opening it to some European influences both in architecture and cuisine. All of these little things distinguish Hong Kong Disneyland’s Main Street from Disneyland’s, but ostensibly, they’re nearly carbon copies of one another.
Besides these little tweaks and attractions and shops that are located in different places (such as Animation Academy taking the place of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln), this Main Street is very similar to California’s. Most shops and restaurants in the same places have the same architectural style and design, even if they don’t house a shop by the same name. While greater differentiation would have been nice, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing–Disneyland has a great Main Street, and in some places Hong Kong improves upon that recipe.
Over time, many of the Main Streets listed here have become more generic as the thirst for more retail space is quenched. Hong Kong Disneyland is not even 10 years old, but even it has seen this happen with the Victorian Collection sloppily enclosing its West Center Street. About the only other complaint about Hong Kong Disneyland’s Main Street is that in some places it feels less detailed and more formulaic.
It’s difficult to pinpoint specific examples (the Main Street Cinema marquee quality would be one), but that’s my take. Of course, the wrinkles and detail a park can develop over the course of ~10 years aren’t quite what can be built over the course of nearly 60 years. Presumably, over time Hong Kong’s Main Street will develop an interesting “character” of its own.
One of the biggest differences isn’t in terms of the substance of the Main Street itself, but of the feel of Main Street. Disneyland’s Main Street feels quaint, like small-town America from a bygone area. Hong Kong Disneyland’s Main Street, despite being substantively similar, does not have this feeling. Even if you can set aside that you’re in China (a difficult task, to be sure), the Chinese undertone of the park and mountains that loom behind Sleeping Beauty Castle give it an exotic feel.
It’s a beautiful land, but in Hong Kong it feels more expansive (the mountains have a way of doing that) and almost out of place. This isn’t a bad thing–it’s actually great that such a familiar Main Street can evoke such a different feeling–it’s just a difference that isn’t apparently based upon photos alone.
While each of the Main Streets bring something special to the table, making it difficult to rank them, Disneyland Paris’ Main Street is unquestionably the best. The level of detail and depth in Disneyland Paris’ Main Street is almost asinine, and on our one visit to Disneyland Paris so far, we spent more time on Main Street than any other Disney trip. There was just so much to see and do there, and the land was so rich that we could not resist. Rather than being set around the turn of the century, this Main Street is set in the 1920s.
Disneyland Paris’ Main Street probably also has the most interesting history. Originally conceived of as a Prohibition/Jazz-Era Main Street, this plan was abandoned with only beautiful concept art living on. Personally, I think an even further departure from the original Disneyland concept of Main Street into something Jazz-era would be really interesting, but I can understand why Disney chose not to go that direction. Can you imagine a Speakeasy on Main Street? That just seems so right yet so wrong at the same time.
Fortunately, the Main Street, USA that was built in Paris is no slouch. If you were to tour Main Street, USA with an Imagineer who worked on the project, I’m guessing they’d sound like John Hammond and constantly say, “we spared no expense!” It truly feels like the Main Street that had no budgetary constraints, and everything is ornate and detailed as practical. From the brick pavers all the way down the street to the detailed murals and vignettes in the gorgeous arcades to the stained glass light fixtures in every shop, Main Street, USA in Disneyland Paris is the definitive version of Main Street, USA.
Given all of the details and beauty, it’s almost a surprise that the Imagineers managed to retain the humble feel so integral to a small-town Main Street, but they did. That’s mostly because these details aren’t in the form of diamond encrusted street signs, but rather in layers of minutiae and heart that were poured into every square inch of the project. Where you might see nothing on other Main Streets, in Disneyland Paris you see yet another morsel that gives life to the Street or informs visitors as to the types of people and proprietors who would have inhabited it.
Market Street is my favorite area of Main Street. The amount of dimensionality and the number of differing facades, colors, and designs is just astounding to me. To me, this perfectly encapsulates the feeling of a burgeoning small town caught between two eras–the bygone area contained in the design of the town and the period thereafter concerned with the march of progress and commercialism that was, essentially, ushered in by the age of the automobile. I think this is the area most thematically representative of the 1920s-era that this Main Street is supposed to reflect.
The billboards throughout Main Street are excellent. They subtly draw attention to key elements of the time (the billboard featuring both Coca-Cola and baseball is especially on-point) and ground Main Street as a real world type place.
Opposite Market Street is Flower Street. At 1401 Flower Street is Walt’s Restaurant (on the right). If you traveled to Glendale, California, you’d find Walt Disney Imagineering at 1401 Flower Street. Talk about a crazy coincidence, right?!
Of course, we cannot forget Discovery Arcade and Liberty Arcade, the covered passageways on each side of Main Street that provide shelter during inclement weather. Discovery Arcade is loaded with inventions and other tokens of progress, while Liberty Arcade showcases the ties between the United States and France.
In the interest of space, I’ll cut short this discussion of Disneyland Paris’ Main Street, but this just scratches the surface of Paris’ wonderful Main Street, USA. An entire post (or a really long chapter of a book, in the case of Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality) could be written on Disneyland Paris’ Main Street. It’s a brilliant, brilliant land.
Tokyo Disneyland’s version of Main Street is known as World Bazaar, but it’s not all that bizarre or unfamiliar. Some commentators have described it as a cross between World Showcase and Main Street, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch and probably based mostly on the name. In my estimation, it’s a variation of Main Street with a roof, some architectural stylization, and a different name. With the exception of a couple of restaurants, there’s nothing in World Bazaar that in any way makes it an international exposition. Frankly, that would have been a more interesting concept.
Still, World Bazaar is nice in that it’s something unique. While it still generally has a feel of Americana, there is no singular distinct time period represented. It’s mostly Victorian turn of the century, enough so that most guests would probably identify with it as that, but it doesn’t strive for the air of authenticity the other Main Streets possess. It also incorporates other styles, namely some Art Deco(?!) design on the portion of Center Street leading to Tomorrowland. Its Center Street is also interesting in that it is not a dead end, but rather provides access to Tomorrowland on one side and Adventureland on the other.
World Bazaar has a lot of shopping and dining, especially dining. There are six restaurants in World Bazaar (seven if you include the private Club 33). The shopping and dining could have been a good way to convey the supposed international theme, but with the exception of Restaurant Hokusai, ever restaurant and shop here feels American.
The highlights of World Bazaar, I think, are the Penny Arcade, Disney Gallery, and the Magic Shop. The Penny Arcade is filled with antique coin-operated, mechanical arcade games, including old-fashioned pinball machines, baseball games, fortune tellers, and more. Who can’t resist having “Grandma” answer questions for them? Disney Gallery is similarly well done, with a beautiful upstairs gallery and drawing classes. The Magic Shop has tons of magic toys and props, and is just a really cool and unique store.
While it has a number of restaurants and shops, it is the only version of Main Street that lacks a Town Square and a train station. Rather than circling the entire park, the Tokyo Disneyland railroad is an attraction in Adventureland called Western River Railroad that loops through Adventureland, Westernland, and Critter Country before returning to its station in Adventureland.
World Bazaar has its own strengths, but where each of the other Main Streets pull off a warm, comforting atmosphere, World Bazaar seems large and impersonal most of the year. Part of this is probably because it is taller (the buildings are all two full stories), part of it is the large pathways that aren’t given any trimmings with sidewalks or brick pavers, part is probably the lack of texture and detail, and part of it is probably the roof high overhead and its large support beams. If you were to compare the other Main Streets to mini-malls, you’d compare World Bazaar to a big-box retailer. This is not to say either comparison is apt, but that should at least give you some context.
The exception to this is at Christmas. During the Christmas season, a large Christmas tree with warm lights is placed in the center of World Bazaar, and it breathes a sense of life into World Bazaar. Not only does the tree consume an expanse of empty space, but it also beacons guests to World Bazaar, as well-dressed young couple pose under the tree for photos and families stop to marvel at it. The whole scene just exudes happiness and a sense of life often absent from World Bazaar. Serious Disney fans often view holiday decorations as somewhat of a mixed bag, but in the case of World Bazaar at Christmas, I think the Christmas tree definitely adds a lot.
All of this may seem unfairly harsh on World Bazaar, and that might be true to a degree. It should be lauded for its originality, and the detail and maintenance of World Bazaar is superb, as is expected from Tokyo Disneyland. Perhaps the high bar that Tokyo Disney Resort sets works against it in this case.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was the second Disney castle park, and in many ways it feels like the unasked “answer” to Disneyland. Where Disneyland’s Main Street and Sleeping Beauty Castle can be described as quaint and intimate, the Magic Kingdom feels grandiose by comparison. This is not to say it’s impersonal like Tokyo Disneyland. To the contrary, the Magic Kingdom managed to go bigger without taking away the inviting sense of place about its Main Street.
If Tokyo Disneyland’s Main Street is World Bazaar, Magic Kingdom’s could be “America Bazaar.” It subtly incorporates architectural styles used throughout the United States at the turn of the century. The newer areas of The Emporium on Main Street also reflect a more opulent influence from Europe in Edwardian style that were additions made by The Emporium’s proprietor after years of success.
As with all of the Main Streets, things have changed over the years. Many locations, like the Gulf Hospitality Center, Penny Arcade, Harmony Barber Shop, Livery, Champion Cyclery, Chinese Hand Laundry, and New England Clock Shop have either relocated, changed “ownership”, or closed completely. Much like Hong Kong Disneyland, West Center Street was swallowed up by retail space in 2001.
Generic retail space replacing unique shops and attractions has been a common theme on all of these Main Streets, but the Magic Kingdom is perhaps the worst offender, with its Emporium now occupying most of the storefronts on the west side of Main Street, and niche stores and attractions on the right, like the Main Street Cinema, being replaced by more retail.
East Center Street is still a nice, quiet hangout, and a great place to sit while eating a snack. While the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street lacks the brick pavers found in Paris and Hong Kong, the trolley tracks give it texture and the shop fronts all look nice (especially after extensive refurbishments the last few years). Although the inside of these stores are now generic, the exteriors are gorgeous, and the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street is still a pretty place to pass through and a sentimental favorite for me.
Ahhh, the original recipe. Every Main Street, USA that we have described up until this point has drawn heavy influence from Disneyland’s Main Street. In fact, each of these Main Streets have more in common than they have differences. Walt Disney’s vision for the singular entrance corridor to Disneyland was his hometown of Marceline, Missouri, which he felt would set an intimate and friendly tone, but also one where guests could immediately suspend disbelief, as even then, Main Street was set in a bygone era.
Disney constantly struggles with guests’ senses of nostalgia, but even from day 1, Disneyland was meant to tug at nostalgia for the past. While it was inspired by Marceline, it actually has more in common with Fort Collins, Colorado, which was the hometown of Harper Goff. Walt had seen photos of Fort Collins and liked them, so many features of the town were incorporated into Main Street, USA.
Main Street’s shops utilize forced perspective to create the impression that they’re taller than they actually are. The second stories of each building are slightly shorter than the first, and the third stories are even shorter still. Contrary to popular lore, this is not because the Disneyland trains are less than full size. Forced perspective was used around the park to prevent elements from being overpowering and thus destroying the intimacy of the park.
Like all of the parks in this post, the names painted in the shop windows at Disneyland are tributes to some of the Imagineers and other influential people who have made substantial contributions to Disneyland. These typically are made in the form of a fictitious business for the person receiving the tribute, with that business relating to a personal interest of the person being honored. As an unintentional(?) consequence, these windows also read sort of as the opening credits to Disneyland, which fits with the common sentiment that Main Street sets the stage for the “scenes” in the park that follow.
Disneyland’s Main Street has some of the same attractions found at the other parks on this list, with one key addition: Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. One of the most noteworthy Disney attractions of all-time, this is the best Main Street attraction anywhere.
I prefer Disneyland Paris’ Main Street, but it’s almost impossible not to love the original Main Street. It just oozes history and charm, and represents Disney’s humble beginnings as a single theme park in California. It has a great sense of place about it, and it’s just enjoyable to be on Main Street at Disneyland. There’s something special about it that can’t be fully explained, but is understood by just about any Disney fan who has walked down it.
Much has changed on Main Street, USA since 1955. Gone are fan favorites like Upjohn’s and the Wizard of Bras. Too much has changed to cover here (take a look at Disneyland Nickel Tour, Disneyland Inside Story, or one of the many other Disneyland books out there for more on what has changed). For the most part, Main Street looks pretty similar today to what it did then. While details have changed, Main Street looks more reminiscent of its opening day condition than any other park in Disneyland. Given this and that Main Street has been replicated at every castle park since, it was clearly a solid concept.
Well, that about covers our tour of the various Magic Kingdom style Disney castle parks. Obviously, there’s a lot we didn’t cover, but hopefully this was an interesting peak at our take on some of the highlights from around the world.
Which version of Main Street, USA is your favorite? Which is your least favorite? Any particular details you like most on Main Street? Please share you thoughts in the comments!