Embracing the Unfamiliar on Theme Park Visits

Dateline: Island of Adventure, Toon Lagoon, Summer 2010

Just across the pond from where I’m standing (in my stylish swim trunks), the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in the process of changing the theme park landscape as we know it. There’s excitement in the air here at Islands of Adventure where crowds have descended on the park at a magnitude not previously experienced. The expression – a rising tide lifts all boats – could not more perfectly describe Universal Orlando at this moment.

We entered the park that muggy July morning expecting to be funneled directly to Wizarding World. Instead, nearly all attractions were already open with zero waits for most everything. After a ride on a Hulk and Spiderman, we would continue to circle the park before coming to the location you see pictured above – Toon Lagoon.

Toon Lagoon is a bit of a dichotomy. The land’s stylistic comic-book design, rich color palette, and visual gags create an immersion that (at some level) rivals the celebrated land we opened this post talking about. On the other hand, the land is home to a cast of characters – Popeye, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-right, etc. – that really have no cultural relevance outside of Islands of Adventure in 2021. I, myself, have some familiarity with Pop-eye, but I’d be lying if I said I know anything about Dudley Do-Right. I didn’t even understand the “Hush a Bomb” reference pictured above until looking it up literally just now.

So, while I have no familiarity or emotional connection with Toon Lagoon, I still love the land. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favorite theme park lands. That said, I can’t really peg this fondness to the land’s attractions. Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges is the best raft-style attraction I’ve ever experienced, but it’s propensity to soak keeps me away from it on most trips. Ripsaw Falls’ finale is visually striking, but the rest of the ride reads feels akin in a poor man’s Splash Mountain.

It really speaks to the design level of Toon Lagoon that the remains as is over twenty years later

No, I really think it comes down to the fact that I can walk through Toon Lagoon and totally buy into the idea that I’m in a dimensionally-realized comic book world populated with characters whose stories impact my experience. What else can you really ask for in the realm of theme park experiences? It really speaks to the design quality that the land remains virtually the same over twenty years after it’s construction. In some ways, I would even say my unfamiliarity with the characters is actually an upside as there’s a sense of discovery for me that doesn’t exist when familiarity is present.

There’s no really planning angle to take away from this. I came across this picture and I was just reminded how under the radar this particular land flies. I suppose that can be expected in a park with Seuss Landing, Jurassic Park, Wizarding World, etc. As a result, it probably means Toon Lagoon is the island at greatest risk for an overhaul relative to the rest of the park. You’d have to assume it’s ripe for the insertion of more familiar characters into it’s line-up.

If their is a planning angle to it, it’s that you might consider throwing your financial support (e.g. buying merch) toward those quality theme park experiences you like, but don’t necessarily make the the marketing headlines. It’s those experiences that seem the most likely candidates for a “makeover” that’s almost never as quality as the original experience. We’ve lost a lot of great theme park experiences over the years due to the perception that guests are unwilling to embrace unfamiliarity.

I’d hate for Toon Lagoon to be added to list.

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