ESCAPE TO FANTASY: Destination Design

Amusement parks have come a long way since Coney Island’s Switchback Railway roller coaster ushered in the ‘gravity pleasure ride’ in 1884. Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates is now the world’s fastest coaster, accelerating to 149 mph in just 4.5 seconds and the Yukon Stricker will be the tallest and longest dive coaster when it debuts at Canada’s Wonderland this spring. In an industry that rises and falls on offering the newest rides, experiences and services to its guests, continual reinvestment is necessary to keep crowds returning year after year and that means an evolution of exciting experiences. 

As such, themed environments are trending beyond a set of rides or exhibits in a single location. Successful parks are targeting an ever-widening demographic by increasing the number of options for guests of all ages with more live entertainment, animal shows, family rides and interactive experiences, along with lodging, shopping, dining and nightlife offerings. To create memorable vacations, themed destinations must transform their attractions from passive amusements into full-on participatory and immersive adventures. And that means managing attrition, introducing new programs and heightening a guests’ immersion in the story of a place.

Helping clients stay at the forefront of this design innovation, EDSA has announced a ground-breaking enhancement in its creative services with a new Themed Entertainment Studio focused on blue sky visioning, operational programming and area development. The Orlando, Florida based specialized team offers a more robust and in-depth expertise in guest-driven, experiential design for themed entertainment environments.

One of the primary reasons for EDSA’s expansion, both today and in the future, is creativity. With a holistic narrative and immersive story of place, the firm now brings to life the entire spectrum of thematic design across all consumer touchpoints for a total 4D experience. Skilled at guest profile analysis, programming and capacity validation, ride/mix creation, IP analysis and integration as well as character creation and ride/show development, this team recognizes the potential for innovation in how people interface with themed environments and contributes layers of dialog, movement and texture to story development and guest engagement.

EDSA’s new Entertainment Studio is working on an exciting array of projects including marine parks, theme parks, athletic venues, port destination islands, waterparks and zoos. Jeff Sugar, formerly Director of Planning with ITEC Entertainment is leading the team. Having yielded optimal outcomes for many clients, he safeguards the creative integrity of a project by focusing on the myriad of details that transform themed ideation into compelling storylines. Joining Jeff in this endeavor are EDSA veterans John Allyn, Danny Bulemore and Lianying Wang. A multi-faceted designer, John brings characters, forms and landscapes to life by unifying imagination, design and technology into enriching experiences. Danny begins every project assignment by deciphering the not-so-obvious of what makes a place feel right and integrates a blended design for sensory engaging outcomes. Likewise, Lianying believes a designer’s influence on the dynamics between space and people are the result of the right combination of detailing orchestrated in a meaningful way. Balancing the core team is Craig Verniel whose technical knowledge and construction documentation provides for the appropriate application and logical use of materials for highly resolved built outcomes.

The new discipline will put creativity to work on an exciting array of projects including aquariums and marine parks, theme parks, sports and athletic venues, port destination islands, waterparks and zoos. According to Doug Smith, EDSA President, “While our clients continue to value our firm’s talents in the hospitality, attractions and entertainment marketplace, the progression in turning themed ideation into implementable designs achieves our expansion desires to be a leader in amplifying the guest experiences. Our team brings heightened imagination, real-life experiences and commitment to building lasting relationships with client organizations in designing compelling works that truly make a difference.”



There is an enduring curiosity about creative ideation – the Eureka! moment, the stroke of genius, the proverbial light bulb and how ideas take shape. In the early stages of concept development, EDSA designers explore numerous imaginative ideas through brainstorming, sketching and artistic collaboration in order to generate a strong thematic narrative and storyline which becomes the creative bedrock for the next stages of design.


With a continued focus on leadership and talent development, EDSA is pleased to announce the promotion of sixteen rising stars. The well-deserved advancements play a key role in supporting the company’s expanding client portfolio and international growth. Congrats to our team, listed from left to right:



Cultural Landscape Transformation

The $100 million expansion of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach not only provides for 35% more gallery space, the complimenting 9,000 square feet of landscape bring art to the outdoors. EDSA provided conceptual design through construction administration in collaboration with Foster and Partners and GGN.



Inside the Design Studio 

Visitors are the ultimate judges of our abilities and our designs must work for them. In the end, their anticipated experiences touch every aspect of a project’s progression – welcoming, transporting and inspiring guests with a series of spaces that are equal parts imagination, education and celebration. Check out our latest Inside the Design Studio video. #storytelling



Guiding Principles – Themed Entertainment

On every project, we prioritize the relationship between and among attractions and their guests. Our philosophy for project success is based on a few guiding principles that artistically and functionally consider the who, what, when, where, how and most importantly the why behind every design decision and its influence on creating an immersive narrative environment.


  1. Be guest centric
  2. Introduce the story
  3. Design for memorable experiences
  4. Celebrate the environment
  5. Excite the senses
  6. Ensure economic viability
  7. Embrace green infrastructure