Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street
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!
Hong Kong Disneyland
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!
Calling Hong Kong Chinese did not age well lmao
I have not visited any of the parks outside the USA in my twelve years of being alive, but the original Disneyland truly is the “magic” that Disney is all about. My first World Geography assignment in 6th grade was to find a photo of my favorite place in the world and write a caption for it. Of course, my photo and almost paragraph-long caption were of Main Street U.S.A., Disneyland! Although the other mainstreets can come close, nothing can replace the original Main Street.
Disneyland Paris Main Street is by far the best one.
I have to say in reading everyone responses to this article it comes down to castle size for a lot. Although I have only been to the two USA parks I do follow bloggers that go to all the Disney parks and always love to see pictures of the other parks. I love how different each and every one is.
It comes down to size for me. In both the overall park feel (Main Street USA being the main focus) and the nostalgia brought with it and of course the castle at the end.
I am and will always be a classic, original gal. The feel of Main St never gets old to me. I get goose bumps each and every time I walk in the park. The moment I go under the train arch and hit Main St something happens, TEARS spring up and this feeling of being home is overwhelming. There is something about the fact that Walt Disney himself walked this street many times that makes it special and above all the rest.
That pretty pink castle at the end just makes me happy. Its just the right size, it’s not too big and grand so therefore it doesn’t overwhelm you or make you feel small or like you can’t achieve your dreams. You sit and just look at it and enjoy it for what it is. An incredible building structure for the era it was built in and the location (a orange grove in the middle of no where). There is just something about the ORIGINAL to where it all began. Bigger isn’t always better for this girl anyway.
Thank you for the comparisons and pointing out all the detail differences. The over all feeling it promotes was spot on. The rides are great but I always always point out Main Street to my kids and try to impress in them how important all the attention to detail is. They get it after all these years and appreciate DISNEYLAND as the magical place that it is.
I am not a fan of Disneyland Paris – been twice and thoroughly disliked it. However, I think some design choices there are perfect. The castle’s design is sprawling and impressive – for example.
And I feel that it has the best Main Street. Lessons obviously learned as time goes by, as well as the necessary design elements due to the weather.
I didn’t give World Bazaar much thought when I was in Tokyo, but I was surprised how much of a difference it made to me to have a “proper” Main Street in Hong Kong. Maybe that was because the wonderful Center Street that allowed me to get to Monsters Inc. quickly from the entrance also allowed me to bypass the area in a way you really can’t in the other parks. Not entirely of course, but enough to alter the opening statement and the way you perceive the area.
Disneyland’s is my current favorite. It just feels right in a way that I can’t describe (and it definitely looks the best at night!). I hope that on my next trip I’m able to take a few hours and just soak up the atmosphere, because I did enjoy what I experienced. I was especially impressed to see the details on the walls and ceilings, with (mannequins? primitive animatronics?) in many of the shops! I don’t know if the other parks have that and I wasn’t paying attention, but I was not expecting that and it really helped me gain a better appreciation of the land. It really is the perfect opening statement for the park and it will be interesting to see what Shanghai is like without it.
I haven’t seen most of the Main Streets, but I love walking in Disneyland and seeing Walt’s apartment on Main Street. I love seeing it with the light on on the way out as well.
What I really don’t like about Tokyo’s World Bazaar is that the some retail space is too large with minimal theming. It feels like a typical shopping mall experience rather than a theme park experience. One thing I’d like to point out is that Hongkongers =/= Chinese. I hope you can change some of the wordings for the HKDL section. Thank you.
Totally agree about World Bazaar.
As for Hong Kong, it’s not Mainland China, but it’s still a republic of China, with the vast majority of its populace self-identifying as Chinese. What is the appropriate term if not Chinese?
I do understand what Jessica means, but not sure Tom made any mistakes here (at least in this article). My parents lived in Singapore for eight years and there was a very distinct bias (in all of Southeast Asia) against *mainland* Chinese– in fact, ‘mainland Chinese’ was a term we heard often while visiting many SEA countries, always referencing the type of tourist people usually consider Americans to be– obnoxious, loud, rude, ignorant of social customs, etc. It was rather interesting to us that the ‘rude American’ tourist label had been assumed by the Chinese.
When we visited Hong Kong, we spent time with friends who had married Hong Kongers, and I asked them about it after we had another one of these exchanges at Hong Kong DIsneyland. We were literally waiting to board Mystic Manor and the ride stopped for approximately 20 minutes. I asked the ride operator why it had stopped (for genuine curiosity– it was a blindingly hot day and we were enjoying the AC inside) and she replied that someone had thrown trash off the ride, and thus the ride had to stop so they could sweep the floor, run the ride through a few times, and okay it to begin again. I commented that was really rude (there are a ton of garbage cans!) and she smiled and said the Chinese do this quite often and it was very frustrating.
We mentioned it to our friend the next day, and he gave us a little explanation that most Hong Kongers (Hong Kongese) do not consider themselves Chinese– quite distinct from the mainland and essentially a separate country, so when ‘lumped together’ it is offensive. It’s something I wouldn’t think most people realize and we certainly wouldn’t know if it wasn’t for all the time we’ve spent in SE Asia for the past few years. Again this may not be everybody’s feeling, but it was for the people we interacted with.
Anyways, super long response simply to say– yes, Hong Kongers are not Chinese but from my experience the main tourist to HK Disneyland *is* Chinese. If Tom is referring to the general tourist visiting HKDL, then wouldn’t the appropriate term would be Chinese? If referring to the local population, then Hong Konger/Hong Kongese (I’ve heard both used) would be appropriate, no?
I’ve heard the same thing about the reputation of Mainland Chinese, which I assume is why those from Hong Kong wish to differentiate themselves from them. However, they still *are* Chinese. Hong Kong is a republic of China, and the vast majority of its inhabitants are ethnically Chinese. One way or another, they’re Chinese.
I’m from Michigan, and I may prefer to identify as a Michigander, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also an American. Michiganders are just a subset of Americans. Likewise, Hong Kongers (or whatever they prefer to be called) are a subset of Chinese, but they’re still Chinese. Sorta like the idea that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.
At least that’s my understanding, if I’m missing something, I’d be curious to know. 🙂
While you are correct that politically Hong Kong is a part of China, Hong Kong people would find it disrespectful to be referred to as Chinese. In addition to cultural differences, the Chinese government treats Hong Kong citizens differently. They have their own passports and flag. During the Olympics and other international events they are part of the Hong Kong team not the Chinese team.
This is a horrible analogy, but as best as I could come up with: Hong Kong to China is like American Indian nations to the United States. Technically they would be Americans, but most would identify as Sioux, Navajo, Seminole, etc. first.
Thanks for the feedback, Danny. Your analogy actually makes a lot of sense to me (and shows how wrong I am!), and now I understand why it’s a big deal. Thanks! 🙂
Hong Kongers DO NOT identify as Chinese. Look at the polls conducted by local universities. Majority of the population do not identify as Chinese. They identify as Hong Kongers. Calling them Chinese is an offensive statement.
Wow, I really love this post, and I love the idea for more posts comparing elements of all the parks!
“Walking Right Down The Middle of Main Street U.S.A.”! Wow, that brings back childhood memories. My parents always used to play the video to get us excited for a Disney trip!
Great post! The only Main Street I have yet to experience is Tokyo Disneyland, but oddly none of them are really that memorable for me (except for WDW, simply because that’s the park I’ve been to most). Always in a rush to experience the other ‘lands’ or get to the major rides before the lines. I will make sure to take some time and really enjoy Main Street when we visit Disneyland in September!
Paris is definitely my favorite. I think World Bazaar doesn’t work. My least favorite.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it doesn’t work, but I think it doesn’t work as well as the traditional Main Streets. Sill, I’m glad they went that route because it’s something different. I think they could really improve it by replacing the pavement with brick pavers and getting rid of the out of place Art Deco.
I really love your blogs that compare the parks from around the world and this one is no exception! The photos are incredibly beautiful and I love your descriptions of each area parks Main Street – I would love to see more blogs like this one especially comparing the different lands from each park!
If these are something people want to read/see, I’ll definitely do more. Although I expected this to be about 1,500 words, and it ended up being 3,000+. Next time I’ll try to be more succinct.
These type of articles are great!
Lengthy isn’t really bad either. Sometimes a shorter post just doesn’t do a topic justice. I have never felt as though your longer posts were overly wordy, or long just for the sake of being long. You have done a great job having a strong mix of posts, in terms of length and content. Keep up the good work!
I’d like to see other comparisons as well! Although, I’d like to see comparisons between the same named rides at the different parks (i.e. – Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain…any of the Mountain’s really :-))
Having only been to the US parks, I’ll take the cop-out answer and saw I like them both equally. 🙂 Perhaps with the edge to MK because of the bigger castle at the end of the street.
Based on your (lovely) pictures, I’d probably put DLP ahead of both of them. Tokyo would be a distant last place. I hate the roof. To me, it makes Main Street look like a Vegas mall instead of a turn of the century town.
I also prefer Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, but I can’t quite put my finger on why, outside of nostalgia. As I was writing this, I was really grasping for positive things to say about the MK’s. In fairness, just because it was better in 1971 doesn’t mean it’s bad today…