The Lefts and Rights of Passage

Some Disney tipsters insist that if given the option at a Disney theme park attraction of two separate lines, most people will veer to the right as most are generally right-handed and it’s a psychological instinct to stay to that side. Therefore if you're looking to get through the line quicker, you should choose the left side. I don't know if that's ever been officially supported nor can I even use myself as a test since despite being right-handed, I defer to my left on almost everything other than writing. But it raises an even bigger question on a larger scale…which direction are we inclined to go when visiting Disney theme parks? Are people more inclined to go to the left or the right inMagic Kingdom, Epcot, etc.? In this case, going to the left would follow the natural clockwise progression of a circle whereas going to the right would run counter-clockwise but would appeal to the vast majority’s handedness. However, I don't know that human nature is so in tune with the circular notion of a clock. After all, in America we drive around traffic circles counter-clockwise and sit on the left side of the car!

Does this ancient map hold the key to going left vs. right?

The Magic Kingdom is Disney’s second theme park and is based on the popular layout of Disneyland, which if you didn't know, I'd be shocked that you're reading this blog. While there are certainly enough differences in the two, the basic concept places most of the lands in exactly the same locations around the hub. Since my first visit at 8-years-old, I cannot recall ever visiting and going towards Fantasyland or Tomorrowland first. Walking down Main Street, U.S.A., we would always take that first left into Adventureland. Starting at the Jungle Cruise, our vacations would almost always move clockwise until we left Tomorrowland. Of course, in the early days, my family would head back to the resort at lunch for a dip in the pool and some relaxation before returning to the park at lunch. The next few years with Epcot, we’d even balance the two sometimes alternating. It wasn’t until some later, truncated visits, where my friends and I started moving at quicker paces to fit in as much as possible. Sure we were returning the next day or later in the week, but that just meant riding Big Thunder Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean multiple times!

The first steps towards adventure! Photo Credit: Beaster725

My mind is etched with memories so vivid that I can see the reveal of many of the Magic Kindgom’s lands, rides and icons from only specific vantage points. We always came up to Space Mountain after passing the Indy Speedway on the left. Big Thunder Mountain (and later Splash Mountain) was always revealed after rounding that corner by El Pirata y el Perico. We approached the Haunted Mansion after passing the Rivers of America on the left. In those rare times where we’ve gone against the grain due to FastPass or late-day zigzagging back to favorites, I become virtually disoriented approaching from different angles. (Oddly enough, though, I can see Pirates of the Caribbean from both approaches as our family’s love for the ride often took us there from any angle.) I don’t know if it’s because of the combination of great theming and balance of adventurous rides in both Adventureland and Frontierland, or if it’s just some internal inclination to move clockwise around the hub.

Epcot is a slightly trickier layout to analyze. Its figure-eight layout actually creates an anomaly on the hub-and-spoke design. In Future World, you branch out from the Innoventions Plaza into East and West mini-hubs allowing you to easily branch directly to all of the pavilions on either side. However, it doesn't make for a smooth circular path around the pavilions. You could certainly attempt this but it makes for an awkward flow since neither Universe of Energy nor The Seas are exactly the type of attractions that warrant immediate visiting. Additionally, the proximity of the pavilions to each other lends itself to a zig-zag approach when FastPass strategizing Mission: SPACE and Soarin’.

For many years, we'd kick off at Spaceship Earth before heading, of course, left towards Horizons and World of Motion, a must-see tandem during their heyday. We’d eventually make our way across the central promenade to Journey Into Imagination, then onto The Land and the Living Seas, basically going in order of ride and pavilion preference. The older iteration of Universe of Energy fit in there somewhere but my access to those memories is restricted as I tend to get aches in my feet and pass-out for 45 minutes upon remembering.

The first country to see in World Showcase. Photo Credit: Jason Pratt

In World Showcase there is no hub unless you don’t mind swimming into the middle of Showcase Lagoon, which does not have a partners statue or wait time board. Other than taking a boat across the lagoon, you have to either go clockwise or counterclock wise. In my many years of visiting Epcot, I don’t think I’ve ever once started in Canada and went around counterclockwise. The concept of even doing this is inconceivable to me. In my mind, that is the natural flow of World Showcase, supported by the disparate groups of people I’ve gone to Epcot with. Yet certainly there are guests who do so, roaming until they end in Mexico. How? Yo no se.

Because of the lagoon, World Showcase might be the hardest Disney land or park to hop around. Even with dining reservations, it’s typically smart to keep moving forward or backward. Best to plot out the timing of your circular travels so that you arrive in that country right on time for your meal. Your feet will not last long if you go right from the United Kingdom to Norway and then onto to Japan.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the most unconventional layout of Disney theme parks, skewing from the hub-and-spoke format in deference to a more studios-themed layout. Also, the “lands’ are likely the least associated of all the theme parks. I don’t know many people who plot out their trip to the Studios via lands the way they would say Future World East, Frontierland or Africa.

My first trip to the Studios, back when the Disney was suffixed with MGM instead of Hollywood, there really was nowhere to go but left. Here awaited the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Star Tours whereas heading the other direction off Hollywood Boulevard led you to a Backlot Tour through costuming! Needless to say, we could not make that left hook any faster. Of course, soon thereafter Sunset Boulevard would open which finally gave the right side its due with The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror awaiting at the end of the boulevard. Not only was this now the definitive ride of Disney-MGM Studios, but it was (and still is) one of most highly-anticipated of attractions at Walt Disney World, certainly the type of ride you'd want to beat the lines to. And yet, in my trips since then, we've almost always gone to the left first. It could be that the two-fer of Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is best saved for a more settled stomach and not one still carrying around breakfast. Also, better to time your trip down Sunset Boulevard when the usual afternoon thunderstorm arrives. That type of nature makes for great background scenery in the Twilight Zone.

Echo Lake at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo Credit: steve-stevens

Thereafter the park becomes difficult to navigate in a strict clockwise fashion as there are not only so many corridors to intersect "lands" but so much of your visit is dictated by showtimes. It truly is the park most conducive to zigzagging. It may also be Disney’s poorest park layout as well as my poorest example of the left-leaning theory. My disinterest in the Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show and the growing irrelevance of the dwindling backlot tour makes much of the back end of DHS an area I’d be likely to skip (if not for Toy Story Mania) in my next visit. That said, I’m taking that first left and not stopping until I find the AT-AT.

My only visits to Animal Kingdom were before the completion of Expedition Everest so the East side of the park didn’t lend itself to immediacy the way the northwestern part did. Not only is the Kilimanjaro Safari one of the top E-ticket attractions at Animal Kingdom, it also has the added aspect of being a more appropriate ride at certain hours given the animals' social behavior.

So why skip Camp Minnie-Mickey, the first of the lands to the left? Well for one there isn't much there to see, especially for adults. (And the Festival of the Lion King is probably better to catch later on after you hit the big rides.) But it's also oddly located. When you first cross that bridge and land on Discovery Island, your inclination is to keep heading forward and past the Tree of Life. Camp Minnie-Mickey is tucked away in the direction of the exit to the park you just entered!

Much like Tower of Terror, I might still be inclined to build up to Expedition Everest and start off in the architectural wonder of Africa and the serenity of spending your morning with the wild life. Better to seek out the Yeti with a more settled stomach.

When I visited Disneyland in 2006, I first arrived during an early opening where only select lands were open which precluded me from heading to Adventureland on the left as per my internal compass. This meant a very unfamiliar passage around the clock backwards in a park not quite my own. I went against all that is logical to me and visited Tomorrowland first and took Space Mountain as my first ride. (On an empty stomach!) Typically in visits to WDW, Space Mountain was a late day ride, an almost mythical journey that would only let you in once you believed all the other magic first (this is of course, in the later years when I was no longer scared to ride it). And throttling through space is not necessarily the way you want to start your day, lest your equilibrium be thrown askew and make for a suddenly dizzying flight with Peter Pan shortly thereafter! Nevertheless, I survived the experience and continued on to Fantasyland to visit another mountain, the Matterhorn. The benefit of riding two of Disneyland’s most popular attractions quite quickly certainly outweighed the foreign counterclockwise experience. Once the rest of park opened, I crossed the hub and into the arms and torches of the familiar Adventureland. (In subsequent days, I slipped right back into routine winding the clock from 9 onward.)

When I crossed the promenade into Disney’s California Adventure, I also made the rare right turn to ensnare a short wait time on Soarin’ and perhaps grab a FastPass or early ride on Grizzly River Run. While the former was a success, I could not climb the latter as it was closed for renovations that day. Alas, I would not be getting soaked on a chilly February morning. Perhaps it was for the best. I rounded the run and headed back to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot.

The Hollywood Pictures Backlot at DCA. Photo Credit: California Bear

DCA, similar to Hollywood Studios, is a little difficult to navigate as per the usual hub-and-spoke passage. Grizzly Peak and Paradise Bay create more natural areas to circulate than the areas of DHS. However, the Backlot and parts of a bug’s land are dead-ended leaving you no other way to get out but the way you came in. With The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the underrated Mike and Sully to the Rescue and the agelessly-appealing Muppet*Vision 3D in the Backlot, there is much to draw you to the left upon entering the park. While I don’t chagrin DCA the way popular opinion does, it definitely isn’t a park with anywhere near the drawing power of its older sibling across the way. This is mostly due to the fact that Paradise Pier doesn’t do much for a visitor from New Jersey, a mecca for the types of rides and feel that the land succeeds at portraying, which is always what I sought Disney as an alternative for.

Go West, young man? Errr, maybe. Unlike Disneyland, which despite being different than WDW, still is very much the same in basic hub-and-spoke layout, I cannot forge a proper left vs. right analysis of DCA with just one trip there. With an expansion on the way, I pledge to return and see where my internal compass takes me. Though right now, I'd probably be inclined to head to the left, because it really has never let me down.

What say you, dear reader(s)? Does your compass lead your left or do you counter the natural direction of a clock? Or do you think there’s really no pattern and this is just all just whimsical nonsense?


Michael said...

All excellent points! These are things one does not often think about, but I'll bet these behaviors are hard-wired into every die-hard Disney fan.

I, too, have started with Adventureland my entire life. Even if it just meant running to Thunder or Splash after rope drop - this post made me realize that an entire FastPass generation will never know a real, authentic rope-drop stampede.

EPCOT used to be clockwise as well, with UoE put in at random later in the day just because it was so long and we didn't want to start the day with a 45min attraction. Horizons was the first stop, and we proceeded clockwise from there. Nowadays Future World has gotten so sad that I mostly skip it.

But you're so right about Showcase... the idea of starting in Canada is just kinda... unthinkable. The thought of it is totally unnatural.

Studios is a mess, of course, and there's nothing of worth towards the back of the park. And you're so right that it seems odd to go to Camp Minnie-Mickey because you have to backtrack through the jungle.