Amusement Park Maps Save the Day

Barbara Kerby

Figure 1.  King’s Dominion amusement park in Virginia circa 1992 where I worked in a magic show one summer

Photo credit:

When my son was little, he hated new places because he always wanted to know where everything was around him. Maybe it was because he has Asperger’s Syndrome, or maybe it’s because I don’t have any sense of direction and was always making wrong turns. He hated the local shopping mall until he found the big backlit maps that showed “You are here” with a big red X. That began his love affair with all maps.

Figure 2.  River Country and Discovery Island are abandoned parks within Disneyland, shown on this map from 1979

Photo credit:

His favorite maps have always been the bright cartoon maps of theme parks. They have drawings of the rides, icons for food, medical help, and restrooms. He could find a map of a park before I had the tickets in my hand, and would have mapped out the quickest way to the ride he wanted to go on first, and then design a route that had the least backtracking. He would cross off all the rides that went upside down since they give me migraine headaches, discover where his favorite characters would give autographs, and where there were live shows we could watch so we could take a rest from the rides. Once my son has a map, taking him to an amusement park is like having my own personal guide. 

 The North Face 
 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
     Figure 3. Marine World amusement park opened in Redwood City, CA in 1968 on the site that is now occupied by Oracle’s world headquarters   Photo credit:

Figure 3. Marine World amusement park opened in Redwood City, CA in 1968 on the site that is now occupied by Oracle’s world headquarters

Photo credit:

Amusement parks are big business. Wikipedia lists more than 400 parks in the United States, 300 in Europe, and more in Canada, Mexico, South America, and Jamaica. Information on parks in the Far East is not yet listed, but it is an emerging audience with an expected 10% growth rate according to’s market research paper. Disney already has parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. 

Figure 4.  Frontier Village was an amusement park in San Jose that closed in 1980

Photo credit:

Obviously my son is not the only person obsessed with theme park maps. If you google them, more than 4 million hits come up. The websites include large and small parks from around the world, historic maps, how to make your own, and how to use the apps available for most major theme parks. is one of many websites that offers free downloads of amusement park maps. The map in figure 2 features two parks within the Disneyworld property that are now defunct. Many abandoned parks are still standing, which have their own following and websites. Figures 3 and 4 show maps of amusement parks that have long since closed in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Figure 5.  1958 map of Disneyland

Photo credit:

According to an article on the International Cartographic Association website, the traditional cartoon style map used at most parks today was created by a Disney artist named Sam McKim in 1957. Walt Disney had large scale maps of Disneyland created in 1955 by Herman Ryman for use in getting investors. Everyone who saw them loved the detailed maps, so souvenir postcard maps were sold at the park. Peter Ellenshaw created the postcards and first souvenir brochures, but Sam McKim was tasked with making the large scale maps, which would be sold rolled up in tubes, and were first available for sale in 1958.  An example of one of these early maps is shown in figure 5. His bright colors, accurate placement of the attractions, hidden characters and illusion of movement made the maps a huge hit, and the format is still in use today. The free versions of the maps are popular items to take home but the larger sizes are popular in the gift shops. Disney World in Florida published a special one-day brochure map to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the park on October 1, 2016, shown in figure 6.

Figure 6.  Disney World 45th anniversary map dated October 1, 2016

Now people not only rely upon the paper maps, but also use park apps that estimate wait times for rides, help you get fast passes for the most popular rides, see restaurant menus and make reservations, and list photo ops. However, not all apps are created equal. Many websites use the same fonts as the company logo for amusement parks, but are not affiliated with the company. Their websites often have customer comments reporting that even though the app worked, it didn't include as much information or as many options as the official app. Check out the Six Flags app next time you're heading to Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, or California's Great America in Santa Clara.

For smaller parks or other attractions where it isn’t easy or cost effective to provide a paper map, creating an interactive app is a better option. Trimaps is a company based in Belgium that can take an image of a map and turn it into an interactive app in 48 hours. Customers can download their existing bitmap or vector image, or Trimaps can create the image for the client. The map is geolocation enabled, and clients are sent a link to access the interactive map. Accuracy is usually within 2-3 meters, based on the accuracy of the devise using the app. Customers from around the world have used their services for theme parks, golf courses, music festivals and ski and hiking trails, to name a few.

Figure 7.  California's Great America 2016 park map looks strikingly similar to the 1958 Disneyland map   Photo credit:

Figure 7.  California's Great America 2016 park map looks strikingly similar to the 1958 Disneyland map

Photo credit:

The busy lifestyle of the average person makes a day at a theme park the perfect vacation. The maps are free souvenirs that bring back memories, and can be used as decorations, made into craft projects, or stored away with character autographs and photos in an album. Pinterest even has a whole section on theme park map crafts. You can also trace the changes in fads and favorite rides by looking at the maps as they change over the decades. In fact, last month Disney published a new book, Maps of the Disney Parks, Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghaichronicling its theme park maps. No matter how many changes the parks make, these cartoonish maps, whether printed or electronic, make the day easier to navigate and enjoy.


Fall 2016 Volume 9 Issue 2

Connect with BayGeo on TwitterMeetupLinkedInFlickr PoolFacebookTumblr, and the BayGeo homepage.