Experience Design Masterclass: Disneyland vs Legoland

Last year we visited two theme parks with the kids, Disneyland Paris and Legoland Windsor. Cue a blog post on dissecting the theme park experiences, how the detail really matters and some of the great service design elements that have been deployed to maximise fun and reduce tedium.

Before we go further in my opinion Disneyland wins hands down, it was the superior experience – the Imagineers (as they’re called at Disney) had thought of everything within an inch of it’s life, to make it an unforgettable experience. So let’s take these two parks head-to-head and dig a bit deeper into what makes a fun day.

Arriving at the Park


  • We drove ourselves, following the local road signs which led us in a round about fashion to the park which avoided Windsor town centre and made us join a huge queue. It then took roughly an hour in crawling traffic just to arrive at the car park entrance! The children were not happy.The park team have not factored in an efficient way to get people into the car park and parked quickly, to add to the sub-standard experience the car park itself is part asphalted and part gravel and dirt with few landmarks to help us recall where we parked.


  • Here we arrived by hotel shuttle bus and were dropped off in the car park, traffic flow into the car park was good and it kept moving – albeit it wasn’t summer holidays, there was a Dutch school holiday on, so it wasn’t quiet season either.
  • The car park was clearly labelled, colourful character signage helps to remind visitors visually which area or section they parked in. All of the car park areas were joined together with a central walk way that led directly to the park entrance, using travellators. Pain point alleviated, save your energy for walking in and around the theme park attractions, not to it.

Security & Ticketing


  • Security was handled in an ad hoc manner at tables before the main ticket entrance, this was not well organised and it was easy to lose your family.
  • Nobody pays full price for the Legoland tickets they constantly have offers with partners to give huge discounts, however redeeming this has to be done on the day at the ticket kiosk, this means you have hundreds of families fumbling around with coupons to get discounted tickets – which leads to unnecessarily restricting the flow into the park.More queuing, now we’re already getting queue fatigue. Furthermore the ticketing staff made a number of mistakes and almost over charged us. Buy online you say? Buying online gives you a discount, but restricts you to a particular day, which means you’re committed to going even if the British weather has other ideas.


  • Airport style security before you enter the park area, this was handled well and relatively quickly.
  • We had purchased tickets beforehand because Disney offered a discount for purchasing ahead and getting an extra day for free, so we didn’t have to buy tickets on the day. It wasn’t clear that we had to exchange the print out for actual ticket/passes – we asked one of the many members of staff (cast members in Disneyland lingo) for help and they aptly showed us how to go to the kiosk, scan our print out and receive ticket passes for the turnstiles on entrance. Another win, reduced queuing wherever possible, especially for mundane tasks like entering the park and getting your tickets.

This was just getting into the park! It’s all part of building a great experience, and the anticipation of getting into the park is high, if there are so many speed bumps that diminish this or make it a poor experience – it begins to taint the overall experience from the outset.

Rides / Attractions


  • Queues for rides are long, and if you want to skip the queues you can pay extra, there are different grades of queue skipping. The premium ticket that drops you right at the front is more expensive than the park entrance ticket, this feels like daylight robbery and diminishes the value of the entrance ticket.
  • The queue lanes for the rides also don’t seem to accommodate the volumes of visitors queuing, so queues quickly spill into walkways outside of popular rides, simply seeing queues that long just feels off-putting.


  • Disneyland also operate a queue skipping system called FastPass, it’s open to all ticket holders. You go to the ride entrance – scan your park ticket and choose a preset time later in the day to join a shorter queue. Spaces are limited for each slot, and you can only use it on one ride at a time, but it’s included as part of the core experience for all visitors. Other paid options for queue skipping are available, but there is not a hard sell for these premium services.
  • For parents with small children that can’t go on the larger rides they also operate a ride switcher service, where one parent can queue as normal and go on the ride, whilst the other looks after their kids. Immediately after that parent finishes the ride the other parent can jump the queue and go to the front and also enjoy the ride. This is an excellent example of outstanding service design – identifying pain points for a user group and offering a genuinely great service to alleviate it.


One of the most interesting aspects of where the mechanics of a theme park are tested is during the overall ride experience. To keep a ride going it needs a number of operators – usually to guide people to the queue, onto the ride itself and then finally off the ride.


  • At Legoland it feels like the experience is put in second place and the cost cutting put at the top; by this I mean it felt like rides were heavily understaffed with a single staff member doing everything – it felt more like a fair ground than a multi millions pound theme park experience. This felt like a huge missed opportunity, a few extra staff members would help the flow of visitors along and in turn reduce the queue waiting time.
  • Staff members also felt and look disengaged, it didn’t feel like they were trained to engage with the visitors, but just there to purely operate the attractions.


  • These all ran like clock work, lots of staff at hand throughout the ride, even the queuing experience is factored in with things to generally see whilst you wait in the queue.You want to feel like the rides are organised and things keep moving or at least give the perception of reduced wait time by engaging the visitors in things to see as they wait.


Both theme parks had apps, which in this day and age is essential as most users happily navigate with their phones using GPS to make their way around the park.


  • The iOS app, feels unpolished and more like a HTML5 Webapp than a native experience; its not task focused but an electronic interactive version of the map, it offers little else.The map rendering itself is fine as a paper guide but not as useful in electronic format due to the cartoonish style of rendering which makes drop pins and current locations very vague and not accurate as one would expect when using a phone.


  • Attractions display live queue waiting times, so you can genuinely plan where to go next. This feature reduces disappointment before you set out to go on a ride, so you don’t fall into the trap of trekking across the park to find out at the ride entrance there is a 90 min wait.
  • This app is a great way to go past a simple interactive map experience, it also allows the visitor to maximise their time at the park and pack in all the things they want to do.

The Illusion

The theme park experience is all about having fun and maintaining that illusion of entering into a fantastical world. People go in with a lot of good will and excitement, they don’t want to be disappointed – they just want a fun time and some great memories.

For young children it’s all about the illusion, for adults it’s about making them feel like kids again – so the illusion has to be powerful. Attention to detail in the attractions, and the demeanor of the staff all build this illusion, it takes very little to tear it down – but when the illusion holds it can truly be magical.

We sometimes forget, that for young children they’re not just seeing a man in a space suit, they’re seeing a giant Buzz Light year, Disney really understand this idea and how powerful it can be in building great memories for their visitors.

It’s clear the Disneyland teams have looked at holistic service design and identified the real pain points in a theme park their visitors encounter and sought to alleviate these the best they can whilst still retaining that magic. In my opinion they have genuinely succeeded, so much so that I’d like to return again with the family.