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What Does the Perfect Theme Park Queue Look Like?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 10, 2016 at 10:46 AM
What would the perfect theme park queue look like?

One might think that an easy question to answer — "It's empty!" But in practice, an empty queue is an operational disaster. Let's take a look at why, and from that, get a better understanding of why major theme parks are doing what they do with the wait areas for their rides and shows.

Here's the irony — an empty queue doesn't always mean "no wait." Theme parks keep their overall waits to a minimum when its attractions are operating at peak capacity. That means fully-loaded ride vehicles dispatch with minimal load time, and fully-loaded theaters start their shows with minimal wait between performances.

To make that happen, attractions operators need to have a full load for the next ride vehicle (or the next theater) standing right where they will enter it, ready to go, as soon as it is time to load. That way, the full load of people can slide right in and the vehicle or show can get underway.

Ever hear a show attendant tell people to "move all the way to the end of the row, filling each and every available seat"? That person was trying to load a full theater in as little time as possible. Allowing people to walk around, choosing seats, slows the load time for that theater by minutes. Do that for every show all day long, and you've reduced the number of shows the park can fit into the day. Which, in turn, means longer waits for those shows.

That's why so many popular theme park shows have a pre-show area. The purpose of the pre-show area isn't to entertain you with a preview before the main show. It's to gather the next audience in a space from which they can easily and swiftly "slide" into the theater en massefor the next performance. The last thing that show operators want is a stream of people in single file entering the theater. When people enter a theater one at a time, they will naturally pause to wait for the rest of their group to enter, then they will stop to pick a row. Once in the row, without a mass of people pushing behind them, they might leave some empty seats between them and other parties, thinking that they are being courteous and allowing them their personal space. All this slows the flow of people into seats in the theater, and forces people to walk over others to get to remaining empty seats, slowing the load time ever more.

The same problem can happen on rides. When people are dribbling into the load area from an empty queue, operators typically end up holding ride vehicles at load, so that an entire party can catch up and get on the same vehicle. That lowers the ride's hourly capacity, as cars waiting at load are not cycling through the ride. Waiting "just a second" for someone to run to the train, when multiplied by hundreds of such incidents a day, can reduce an attraction's daily capacity by thousands.

When I worked at Tom Sawyer Island, we achieved a 50% increase in hourly capacity by moving around some boxes on the island-side dock, to create a "loading pen" with capacity equal to one raft. Everyone in that pen when the raft docked got go on — sliding onto the raft en masse once it was clear. Anyone outside the pen when the raft docked was asked to wait for the next raft. Without waiting for people to run to the dock, or to pack the raft beyond capacity, we could cycle more rafts — and more people — per hour. (Rafts could cross the river faster when they weren't overloaded, as well.)

So the perfect queue, from an operational perspective, is one that ensures a smooth, consistent flow of people at the load point, so that every vehicle can dispatch and show can start as close to immediately as physically possible, and at full capacity.

Now, where it gets more interesting is considering what should happen in a queue with more people in it that is minimally necessary to assure that smooth, consistent flow of guests at load. Ideally, you wouldn't put those extra people in a queue, but would allow them to be otherwise entertained elsewhere in the park.

This is where systems such as Fastpass come into play. Working perfectly, a ride reservation system fills a queue with just enough people at any given moment to ensure load efficiency... and no more. Everyone else gets to do something more interesting than waiting, elsewhere in the park. Fastpass+ takes this to the next level, enabling people to schedule multiple reservations at once, while allowing the park to steer people to less popular attractions that might struggle to maintain an efficiently loaded queue at all times. That redistribution allows those less popular attractions to increase their effective hourly capacity with more efficient loading, without reducing the capacity at more popular rides, which together increases the park's overall effective capacity.

So when Disney Parks executives talk about Fastpass+ increasing park capacity, this is what they mean.

Of course, parks have built some pretty big queues, which might be much larger than is needed to hold the minimum number of people needed for load efficiency. If there aren't enough attractions, parades, shows, restaurants and other things to accommodate all the people in a park at peak times, the park might need to "store" some of those extra visitors in those big queue spaces, even with a ride reservation system in place. In these cases, the park can improve the quest experience by essentially transforming those excess queue spaces into attractions themselves, adding interactive elements and other distractions that entertain people while they wait to enter the "core" queue area or preshow.

Where interactive queues fail is when they distract people when they should be preparing to board. That's why pre-show entertainment must end several moments before it is time to enter the theater. And that's why many Big Thunder Mountain Railroad cast members at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom complained when interactive elements in that queue began distracting and slowing people who should have been keeping up with the people in front of them as they approached the loading platform.

So the next time you are waiting in a theme park queue, think about it from an operational perspective. Obviously, many queues are far from perfect. But many are better designed than you might understand at first glance.

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Disneyland Visitors Soon Will Go Off the Track

By Robert Niles
Published: February 8, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Theme park fans in Southern California are about to get their first look at a new (for them) type of ride system that's been winning fans at parks around the world.

When Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters opens in the old "Flying Tires" lot in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure in the next few weeks, it will be the first of Disney's next-generation trackless ride systems to open in Southern California. This trackless ride concept debuted with Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland in 2000, but the new Luigi's will represent the first time that Disney has brought one of these ride systems to the United States. (SeaWorld actually built the first such system in America, with Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which debuted in Orlando in 2013.)

I take a look at the history of trackless rides in my Orange County Register column this week. Disney's first go at automated trackless rides relied on thin guide wires in the ground, but the newest trackless rides rely on wireless positioning systems that allow ride vehicles to cross paths while spinning and "dancing" with one another. The effect is to make each ride on the attraction feel unique, as visitors take a different path with their vehicle on each ride.

Luigi's won't use its ride system in the context of a narrative dark ride, as on Tokyo's version of Pooh, Hong Kong's Mystic Manor or Paris' Ratatouille ride — three of Disney's most popular recent trackless rides. Instead, the new Luigi's will be a landlocked version of Tokyo's Aquatopia ride, a "boat" ride in the Port Discovery section of Tokyo DisneySea.

Disney has not yet announced a specific official opening date for Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, but the ride has been testing behind construction walls for several weeks and its debut is expected sometime this month or next.

Read the Column:

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On the Road to the Wizarding World Hollywood: Ollivander's

By Robert Niles
Published: February 8, 2016 at 11:07 AM
Every witch and wizard needs a wand, and it seems that Universal has sold enough wands to equip nearly all the muggles visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, too. So when the Wizarding World opens at Universal Studios Hollywood, one should expect its version of Ollivander's to become one of its most popular storefronts, as well.

Ollivander'sAll photos of the Orlando version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade

Ollivander's has been selling wands to the witches and wizards selected by them since 382 B.C., in the Harry Potter canon. Harry Potter bought his holly-and-phoenix-feather wand from Garrick Ollivander in the Diagon Alley Ollivander's. And in all of Universal's Ollivander's shops, a young wizard or witch is chosen to re-enact the same "wand choses the wizard" moment depicted in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

But you can buy a wand without seeing the show (and waiting in what can be a long time for it on busy days). Wands are available for sale in the shop accessible from the small room in which the wand-choosing-the-wizard moment takes place as well as from Dervish and Banges.

Wands in Ollivander's

A larger selection of wands is available in Owl Post, located on the Hogsmeade High Street next to Ollivander's entrance.

Owl Post

Visitors will have a choice of traditional or slightly higher-priced interactive wands, which can trigger animation effects in windows throughout Hogsmeade.

Interactive wand

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens officially at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, though soft-openings are expected to start at any time. A limited selection of wands and other Harry Potter souvenirs are now on sale in a special preview store near the front of the park.

Previously On the Road to the Wizarding World Hollywood:

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Peyton Manning Is Coming to Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: February 8, 2016 at 8:57 AM
The Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 last night, so, per tradition (and a promotional deal), one of the winning team's most popular players is going to Disneyland.

Quarterback Peyton Manning will appear at Disneyland in a parade today to celebrate the Broncos' victory. The Orange County Register reports that the time will be noon, though Disney is saying publicly that the time is yet to be determined.

In a 2013 interview with Theme Park Insider, former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist explained how he came up with the idea for the "I'm going to Disneyland" television commercials following a dinner conversation with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Voyager pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The first commercial aired after the 1987 Super Bowl, featuring MVP Phil Simms of the New York Giants, who was filmed on the field immediately after the game saying the now-famous words.

For what's worth, Simms was the color commentator on last night's television broadcast of the game.

Manning was not the MVP of Super Bowl 50 — that honor went to the Broncos' linebacker Von Miller. But Disney typically tries to get the highest-profile player from the winning team for its post-game in-park appearances and there are few athletes in pro football with more of a public presence than Manning — an 18-year veteran who holds multiple NFL records and is a ubiquitous pitchman for a wide variety of commercial products.

Update: And here he is:

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Walt Disney World Invests in More Cheerleading Events

By Robert Niles
Published: February 5, 2016 at 3:42 PM
If you didn't see enough cheerleaders on your last visit to Walt Disney World, get ready to see even more. Disney announced today that it will build a 286,000-square-foot venue at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to host cheerleading and dance team competitions.

Plans for the venue were revealed in public documents last month, but the facility's purpose was not known until today's announcement. Construction will begin immediately for a planned opening sometime in the middle of next year. The facility will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 spectators and will include space for practice, warm-up and competitions.

The new venue allows Disney to create a single home for cheer and dance events, reducing the need to host them in other venues such as the Indiana Jones stunt theater and various soundstages at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where such events have been held in the past. Cheer and dance events have become another source of big business for Walt Disney World, as groups from all over the country book trips to the resort, thanks to the increasing number of events that Disney hosts. And starting next year, with a large, dedicated facility for cheer and dance events, Disney World will be able to host even more.

"As our sports business continues to grow, we're thrilled to work alongside Varsity Spirit to create a sporting and entertainment venue that will not only complement our existing venues, but will be a model for cheerleading and dance team competitions," Maribeth Bisienere, senior vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports, said in a statement.

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Fulton's Crab House to Close at Disney World This Spring

By Robert Niles
Published: February 4, 2016 at 10:52 AM
One of Walt Disney World's most popular restaurants will be closing soon.

Fulton's Crab House in Disney Springs will close for a long-term renovation in April. More than 200 workers at the restaurant will be laid off, according to a notice filed with the state of Florida. Those workers will be given first dibs on applying for jobs at the new restaurant when it opens in November, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Fulton's is the successor to the Empress Lilly, a riverboat-themed restaurant complex named after Walt Disney's wife that opened in 1976 in what was then the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. When Levy Restaurants took over and revamped the facility as Fulton's Crab House in 1996, the riverboat's smokestacks and ever-churning stern wheel were removed.

Levy's original contract with Disney to run the restaurant was for 20 years, which would mean that the deal is expiring this spring, if no extension or changes were agreed to. (We could not find a record of any.) Last month, the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Disney Springs closed for a long-term refurbishment, resulting in the layoff of more than 400 workers. There has been no announcement from Disney or Levy yet about the future of Fulton's Crab House.

According to the Sentinel, Fulton's Crab House takes in more money than any other independently-owned restaurant at the Walt Disney World Resort, and ranks in the top 20 highest-grossing independent restaurants in the United States.

Our Restaurant Review for Fulton's:

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The 10 Top Things from Other Disney Parks Missing at Walt Disney World

By Robert Niles
Published: February 3, 2016 at 8:28 PM
Now that we've look at what yours truly considers overrated and underrated at the Walt Disney World Resort, let's take the next step — and look at what is missing.

In dreaming up a to-do list for Disney World, we are limited only by our collective imagination... and the Walt Disney Company's budget. Given the increasingly troubled prospects for ESPN, Disney's former cash cow, that second limitation likely will keep the parks from adding much beyond what's been announced already anytime soon.

But it costs nothing to dream. (Well, at least not on Theme Park Insider. YMMV at WDW.) Still, in offering my wish list for the resort, I will consider Disney's ESPN money woes and limit my items to things that already exist at another Disney theme park somewhere in the world. Now, I'm not just listing my top 10 favorite non-WDW Disney attractions. Instead, I've tried to give some thought to providing a list of things — from big rides to small details — from other Disney parks that would enhance the experience of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.

10. Main Street Cinema

Let's start with something that need to come back to Disney World. Disneyland continues to show classic black-and-white Mickey Mouse shorts on its Main Street USA, but Disney World replaced its Magic Kingdom Cinema with a shop in 1998. Yet, as Walt was so fond of saying, "it all started with a mouse," so it would seem appropriate the company should again devote a tiny space on Main Street to show visitors the films that launched the Disney empire.

9. Animation Academy

One of Disney's under-appreciated gems closed with the rest of the Animation pavilion in Disney's Hollywood Studios last year and the DisneyQuest version is on the chopping block along with the rest of that facility. Animation Academy lets visitors follow along with a Disney animator, learning how to draw a Disney character on their own. And they get to keep their drawing as a free souvenir to take home. It's a lovely, interactive attraction that continues to win fans in California, Paris, and Hong Kong. Orlando always should have an Animation Academy, too.

8. A "Little Red Wagon" Main Street Corn Dog Cart

"Corn Dog Nuggets" at Casey's just aren't the same as ordering a hand-dipped, full-sized corn dog outside on Main Street, like you can do at Disneyland. Consider this the original food truck. Surely it wouldn't cost WDW too much to bring one to the Magic Kingdom. I'll betcha that fans would love it as much as they do in Anaheim.

7. Railroad Dioramas

Yeah, I know that Disney has dinosaurs in the Energy pavilion at Epcot. But I have yet to meet a Disney World fan visiting Disneyland for the first time who didn't wish that the Magic Kingdom's railroad included something like the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Disney copied the animatronic displays for Tokyo Disneyland and likely could do up something even more impressive for Walt Disney World. If Disney can slap Frozen into every freakin' space on property, it can put an extra set of dinos into the Magic Kingdom, too.

6. The Blue Bayou

When I worked at Pirates in the Magic Kingdom, I lost count of the number of times that guests asked me how to get to the Blue Bayou. Why not just give people what they so obviously want and build them another high-priced table-service restaurant at which to spend their money (or double Disney dining credits)? Yes, the recent addition of the Skipper Canteen might have reduced the demand for another TS restaurant in Adventureland, but I'll bet that guests would still fill the Bayou, if they could.

5. Flavored popcorn

Disclaimer: My visit to Tokyo Disney made me a curry popcorn junkie, and I'm hurting for a fix. So keep that in mind as I make my umpteenth pitch for Disney to bring Tokyo's flavored popcorn varieties to America. Of course, this happening probably would lead to Fastpass+ queues for popcorn stands throughout the WDW parks, so I guess I should be careful what I wish for.

4. Holiday overlays

Tokyo Disneyland has shown what the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay would look like on the Orlando version of the Haunted Mansion, so that's no obstacle to making this happen. And surely the Christmas version of the Country Bear Show remains stored somewhere in the back rooms of the Magic Kingdom utilidors. If WDW managers are concerned that holiday visitors would be upset to miss the "regular" versions of these attractions, why not instead consider that an opportunity to upsell those visitors to a bounceback trip? Disney does this all the time with much flimsier excuses.

3. Sindbad's Storybook Voyage

As far as I am concerned, Disney can never have enough musical animatronic indoor high-capacity boat rides. And with its delightful theme song and classic narrative, Tokyo DisneySea's Sindbad ride would make for a far more welcome (by me, at least) addition to Epcot's World Showcase than a Frozen overlay on Maelstrom.

2. Mystic Manor

Disney World needs a next-generation trackless ride, and Mystic Manor is Disney's best. Where to put it is the big question, but if Disney wants to turn its most critical fans into a bunch of adoring, drooling groupies, the announcement that it would be adding Mystic Manor somewhere in Walt Disney World likely would do just that.

1. A new Epcot entry plaza

Okay, a complete entry plaza that can be plugged immediately in front of Epcot doesn't exist already at any other Disney theme park. But plenty of elements that could be included in a new plaza do exist elsewhere in the Disney parks. Let's acknowledge that the Leave a Legacy Mausoleum is a depressing eyesore that needed to go long ago. Disney knows how Buena Vista Street helped enliven California Adventure and should do the same for Epcot by creating a new entry plaza that celebrates the spirit of discovery that the park was designed to honor. There's plenty to borrow from Tokyo DisneySea, including Fortress Explorations, Port Discovery and the Mediterranean Harbor that Disney could fuse to begin the needed process of transforming Epcot's Future World into a more welcoming visual environment.

If you've visited some of the Disney parks outside of Orlando, what would you like to see Disney bring from them into Walt Disney World?

Previously:

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