It’s rare to find a designer without some level of reverence for Disney. The brand is a household name internationally, and practically every designer yearns for a chance to work on any kind of project with them. (One Omaha-based firm even got the opportunity.) You already know they own the rights to every cool franchise in the universe (except for Aquaman). And you’ve undoubtedly heard the story of their billion-dollar MagicBand. But take it from me, the Disney brand is something that must be experienced in person to truly believe.

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of taking our four-year-old and six-year-old to Walt Disney World in Orlando. We spent a full day at each of the four parks, and stayed “on property” at Disney’s Art of Animation resort. I could write a separate blog post on each separate section of each park, not to mention the impeccably crafted resort. But the one experience I can’t stop thinking about is one I couldn’t have imagined in advance would even register as a blip on the radar.

The massive — and enthralling — Tree of Life at the heart of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

There were loads of great rides. Brilliant fireworks shows each night. But the experience that perfectly captures what Disney is capable of was the “Africa” section of the Animal Kingdom park. In it, they’ve constructed the immersive environment of Harambe, based on an African coastal village in Kenya — complete with three distinct districts: the main town, the old port, and the marketplace.

In this space, Disney’s (brilliantly named) Imagineers have designed an environment that feels just shy of literally being in an African outpost. Every detail has been considered. Every surface has been designed. I could have spent the whole day just in this area, gleefully admiring every nuance, every thoughtfully considered facet.

While two-dimensional photos can hardly do it justice, hopefully this mini-travelogue will give you some sense of the experience.

The abandoned port at the entrance to Disney’s (barely) fictitious Village of Harambe.
Imagineers thoughtfully considered every object on this boat, even though you have to peer over a wall to see it.
Crowds gather in the center of the village to watch African performers.
Buildings in disrepair line Harambe’s streets, as if they’ve been there for decades.
The main entrance into the Harambe Theatre — where the Lion King shows are performed. Even Disney’s “Fast Past” signage (on the right) is in-brand.
Random outcroppings of objects appear throughout Harambe — with no purpose other than to make the experience more “authentic”.
Many of the walls in Harambe are plastered with signs and leaflets — each one lovingly designed in its own right.
No detail has been ignored by the Imagineers, right down to the underdeveloped village’s overloaded power poles.

As a professional designer, it was overwhelming to be enveloped in the power of tending to every aspect of design. Disney is truly second-to-none in the design of environments, and they showcase the value of making sure every last detail is perfect. It definitely sets a high bar that we can all aspire to, no matter our specific field of design.

What specific Disney experiences have you had that other designers need to know about?