It can be pretty easy to forget that things exist, especially in academia. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, when reading theme park scholarship one gets the distinct impression that most of these authors never quite manage to spend much time getting to know a park intimately. There are a variety of reasons for this, which I should probably have avoided bringing up because now I have to deal with it, but the point here is that quite a bit of the research in this field is somewhat disembodied. While the standby sources (industry documents, press, interviews, etc) are certainly informative in their own way, there seem to be few who are willing to assert that a visit might have some research value. While this is troubling from an intellectual standpoint, it also introduces some practical issues, as theme park infrastructure can be a little . . . tough to come to terms with through a screen.
Stepping down from my soap box, I can come to the point by saying that on-site observation is absolutely critical for this particular body of work. There are some difficulties, of course, not least of which is the sheer amount of sensory information that confronts a visitor to any park. Add to this the fact that infrastructural elements are often only obliquely referenced, and we find ourselves in something of an investigative quagmire. In that spirit, I thought it might be interesting to gather some resources for those who might want a little more focused engagement with the parks. Based on my own on-site observations, along with supplemental sources in a variety of formats, I assembled something of a starter kit / field guide for Disney Parks infrastructure (attached below). The guide can be studied ahead of time or consulted at the parks, and it includes introductions to major topics, questions, on-property references and readings/resources. Not so much a planning document, it is really meant to help frame in-person observation and generate research topics. Methods and theoretical context are explained within, as well as elsewhere on this blog, so I hope I can be forgiven for not going into too much detail here. While the guide is far from comprehensive, and equally so from complete (expect updates), it hopefully offers at least a starting point for some interesting projects.
Trust me. What could go wrong?