Engaging All 5 Senses Creates Memory Links

As you approach the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, the anticipated view of Cinderella’s Castle is not there; instead you enter the park through two tunnels under the train station. Even then, your first view is of Main Street, with a visual explosion of color awaiting you. You also begin to notice the smells matching your view: popcorn, cookies baking, etc. You hear music – sometimes coming from out of nowhere, sometimes from a band or parade passing through. Cast members welcome you with a smile. All of these sensory perceptions create memory links that will be recalled for years to come.


Disney takes full advantage of setting in order to enhance and engage the experience by designing for all five senses. People understand their environment and gather impressions through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Each sense offers an opportunity to support and enhance the show created for the Guests.

Engaging all 5 senses creates memory links.

To illustrate this Takeaway, consider the following:


About 70 percent of the body’s sense receptors are located in our eyes, making sight the greatest transmitter of setting. Disney World is designed to display delightful and entertaining views wherever Guests look. Sight lines are a major consideration. What you see and, just as important, what you don’t see, from your resort window or from anywhere on the property is carefully planned.

Color is considered throughout the parks. Many Guests notice the unusual purple-and-red color scheme on the directional signs on the public roads in and around Disney World. As an experiment, flags of different colors were once set out on the property and Guests were asked which ones they remembered seeing. Purple and red were the colors they recalled most often.


The Imagineers are experts in the use of color and have created their own “color vocabulary” which defines how certain colors and patterns act on Guests. According to Imagineer illustrator Nina Rae Vaughn, “if a project wants to communicate “fun,” I will experiment with bright colors, applying the brightest of brights against the darkest of darks. If the idea says “adventure,” I will use colors that shout action and excitement. These are hot reds and oranges, with shades of complementary colors like blues, that make the hot colors even more vibrant.”


Sounds are caused by vibrations of infinitely varying pitch, quality, and loudness. In designing setting, the only vibrations Guests should hear should be good ones. If you have ever found yourself unable to banish from your mind the tune from a Disney attraction you know the power of sound in setting. My personal experience: try riding “It’s a Small World” at 1:00 in the morning during Extra Magic Hours! As Imagineer John Hench says, “People don’t walk out of attractions whistling the architecture.”

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To get an idea of how sophisticated the sound system at Disney is, listen to the parades on Main Street. A single cast member working a mixing board in  room under the Peter Pan ride controls the audio portion of the parades. Speakers on the float are synchronized with 175 speakers along the parade route, so that no matter where you choose to view the parade, you are surrounded by an appropriate audio track. How does the soundtrack move in tandem with the parade? There are 33 sound zones along the parade route and RFID chips embedded in Main Street. As each float triggers a chip, the soundtrack for that float “moves” along with it.


There are about 5 million receptor cells in the human nose and is only a short trip from there to the brain. Smells are stored in our long-term memory. In fact, scientists have found that if you associate a list of words with smells, you will better remember the word. At Disney, smells are used to help deliver magical memories.


The popcorn carts strategically places at the entrance tunnels to the Magic Kingdom? Vendors don’t sell much popcorn at 8:30 in the morning, but the corn is already popping. The smell of popcorn communicates the living movie message of the park. The bakery on Main Street purposely pumps the scent of fresh-baked goods into the street to support the story of American’s small towns.


The skin is the largest organ in the human body and touch is the sense that resides there. Whether is comes through the hands or feet or face, people get lots of data from the tactile properties of the environment and the objects within it. At Disney World, the sense of touch is considered in the walkways, attractions, hotels and restaurants, and throughout the rest of the property.


The touch of water is an integral part of many attractions. In many of the 3D experiences, guests are spritzed in the face with a spray of water. Young Guests love the surprise fountains all around the property. Touch, or the lack of it, is also the sense that Imagineers play to when the elevator in the Tower of Terror drops out from under and plunges thirteen stories. To intensify the experience, the Imagineers created a ride that drops even faster than the speed of free fall.


There are about 10,000 taste buds in the human mouth and each taste bud contains roughly 50 taste cells that communicate data to our brains. Disney World’s eateries cater to as many of those cells as possible with a wide range of dining experiences. To test that out, during one trip my family ate in a different “country” each night at Epcot, and a different type of lunch each day. We also had snacks from yet another country on several nights.


The World Showcase at Epcot is a 1.3 mile tour of global cuisine, where it is just a few short steps from the sushi in Japan to freshly made cannolis in Italy. It was the perfect setup to watching the IllumiNations show – highlighting visual and auditory sensations.

Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – designing and delivering a memorable experience means appealing to all of your Guests’ senses.

How do you engage the senses in your organization?


#6 in a series of #TopTenTakeaways

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