Disneyland is a TARDIS

Disneyland is a TARDIS. Let me explain.

The TARDIS is Doctor Who’s1 time machine. It is cleverly disguised as a blue police box. TARDIS stands for time and relative dimension in space but that’s just because acronyms are cool and don’t worry about it too much unless you’re asked that question at a trivia competition. The important things about the TARDIS (besides it’s big blue appearance) are twofold: it is a time machine and it is bigger on the inside.

Now while I do think that Disneyland is (or can be at its best) a kind of time machine, transporting someone to the wonder and awe of their childhood, I think the other aspect is more interesting. Disneyland is bigger on the inside.

I was listening to a podcast sometime last year (I wish I could remember which one it was – it was two dudes talking so it could be literally any podcast) and they were talking about some of the architectural design and design constrains of Disneyland. I had heard most of it before (the hub design, using high points in each land for orientation, making sure there was no bleed over between lands, etc.), but the conversation on the podcast then ventured into new territory for me: that some of the rides actually existed outside of the park boundaries (aka beyond the Disneyland Railroad loop). Once I heard this, it was so obvious, but I hadn’t thought about it before. Of course some of the rides went beyond the boundaries. That’s the only place they could go.

I have maintained for some time that Disneyland is superior to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World and one of the main reasons (besides being the original) is design constraints. Design constraints are usually a good thing. They make people more creative. Think about haikus, sonnets, and the 3 minute pop song. Enormous creativity can come out of sometimes harsh or even arbitrary constraints. Disneyland is no exception.

The land that Disneyland sits on in Anaheim is not that big. If you’ve ever run a half-marathon through the park or looked at it on Google maps, you will understand just how small it really is. But when you’re in the park, it doesn’t seem small at all. In the proper context, it is huge and seems to defy normal spatial dimensions. And that’s because it cheats.

Some of the “cheating” is just the normal kind of expected thing. For instance, it is pretty obvious that Pirates of the Caribbean is underground and you can kind of think of that as multiplying available space. But there is something else going on as well – actually extending the park beyond the apparent boundaries.

I have two examples of this. Now, to be clear, this is mostly just speculation on my part

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (or just: the Indiana Jones ride like everyone calls it)

The full line is half a mile long. To put that in perspective, that is basically the same distance as walking from the main entrance plaza (near Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln) to the hub (the Mickey and Walt Disney statue) and back two times. So even if that line is snaking back and forth a lot (which, of course, it is), you are still going quite a distance in that full line and that line is taking you somewhere that is not that close to where you started.

And then the ride itself is quite large. It takes up even more space than the line, probably by a wide margin. And when you try to figure out where exactly that is, well, some of it is going to have to be outside the park boundaries.

Disneyland Google Maps

When you look at the satellite images of the park, it’s even more obvious. There is the big forrested area that is the Jungle Cruise and then there’s Pirates of the Caribbean which is already underground. So the Indiana Jones ride is pushed further out and has to be on the other side of the railroad. There is literally no other place for it to go.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion might also have a similar situation, but my guess is that it is not as much (i.e., not as far outside the park as the Indiana Jones ride is). Obviously, there is the clever downward elevator switcheroo at the beginning2 (which, as a kid, made me feel really awesome when I figured that out). So that gets you underground and then you have to walk a bit and then get on the conveyor belt ride3.

The Rivers of America is preventing too much underground construction in that direction, so it has to go the other way. And the Haunted Mansion isn’t exactly what I would space efficient. It is another large, winding ride and all of that has to go somewhere. And that somewhere is, at least in part, probably outside the park4.


I think it’s great that Disneyland is able to trick our perception of space so much. (And time, too, for that matter – either waiting in a long line or just spending time with family and friends – most of it seems to fly by.) It’s just another interesting aspect of the happiest place on Earth.


  1. For those of you not familiar with Doctor Who, the longest running sci-fi series on television, you should do yourself a favor and watch some of it. The newer seasons are on Netflix. My favorite Doctor is the Tenth (David Tennant). Something about the suit and Converse combo, maybe. 
  2. with no windows and no doors 
  3. The Haunted Mansion is also another example of some of the problems I see with the Magic Kingdom in Florida. They basically copied the design and structure of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion over there, but they didn’t have the same design constraints about it needing to be underground to save space. So it, and a lot of other things, feel a bit out of place because there is so much more space in Walt Disney World. They have basically unlimited space there and so the design constraints are different. 
  4. I think this is also why there are more larger rides on the west side of the park. If you look at the map again, the east side of the park goes up against the 5 freeway and my guess is that they can’t build under that. The park is kind of lopsided. 


Yesterday I spent all day at Disneyland (and California Adventure) with my brother and my two oldest cousins (on my mom’s side of the family). We had SO MUCH FUN. I am so completely exhausted today and my entire body hurts but it was totally worth it. (I also broke my one-day FitBit record yesterday and got 30,000 steps – about 13 miles.) Somehow, with a little bit of planning and a lot of luck and endurance, we were able to execute a nearly perfect Disneyland day. And this is saying something, especially since we went on a Saturday which was also the same day as a 5k/half-marathon at the park and the first weekend of the winter/holiday decorations (and also we got a slow start to the day). We went on 23 rides. That is a lot. We gamed the system a bit, took full advantage of the FastPasses, and were quick and nimble with our decision making.

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