There are a number of ways to plan for visitor circulation in a theme park, but they often end up as variations on a few basics. The Star Plan uses the rays of the star as walkways all leading back to the same hub. The plan is simple; it keeps themed lands separated and keeps visitors from getting lost. The Wheel Plan adds an outer rim walkway to the Star. It improves the circulation and the even distribution of visitors.
The Loop Plan is yet another basic circulation plan. The Loop plan is commonly found in Universal Studios theme parks, such as Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Singapore. Modified versions of the Loop are also at many other parks. The plan is simple: the entire circulation system is made up of a single walkway loop that passes in front of most major attractions.
The Loop allows for a large body of water to be placed in the center of the park, to be used for water pageants, extravaganzas, and exhibitions. The loop walkway provides an existing viewing area capable of accommodating large numbers of visitors. The themes of the lands remain separate, and the visitors have no trouble finding their way.
The only problem with the Loop is even distribution of visitors and utilization of facilities. With the Loop plan, careful planning is required, but seldom performed. Instead, trial and error has left many expensive mistakes.
First, one must understand some basic visitor psychology: the route is obvious, and the visitor intends to travel in one direction around the route without going back. Studies should be done to determine if there is a preference of direction for visitors to travel. Americans drive on the left, are they more likely to turn left when entering the Loop? At Disneyland the two entrance tunnels at Main Street receive almost identical numbers of visitors; perhaps this will be the case?
The average theme park visitor visits for eight hours. Again, simple psychology; we work for eight hours, we play for eight hours, we eat lunch somewhere in the middle. Looking at the illustration we can see that the park has been divided into eight zones. These zones can represent visiting hours. The majority of visitors enter the park during the first three hours of operation.
For the Loop plan that means that zones 4, 5 and 6 will be under utilized for the first three hours of the operating day. Then, just as lunchtime comes, visitors from two directions will converge on this area, hungry all at the same time. The theme park generally intends to have a sufficient hourly meal capacity to serve the entire park full of visitors in three hours. The food better be there when the guests arrive. Then, all at once, the area is deserted again.
Although my explanation is somewhat simplified, the real experience has been similar. At Islands of Adventure, Seuss Landing is located about where the number 2 is on the illustration. The zone opened with four food facilities, yet three of them are closed most of the time (I believe that Green Eggs and Ham has closed permanently). This was an expensive mistake that could have been avoided with proper planning.
There are many good reasons to consider the Loop plan, but it requires very careful planning to be successful.
The theme park basics discussed here are extremely general. Always consult with experts, regarding your specific needs, before making any significant investment into land and/or design. Feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to assist you in your efforts.