What would you do? How to improve FastPass and other theme park ride reservation systems
Published: December 8, 2010 at 5:43 PM
Hey, I don't like spending time in boring, unthemed attraction queues, either. But I also don't like having to make two stops at every major attraction: one to pick up the FastPass, and other to use it.
Ride reservation schemes such as FastPass complicate theme park visits, requiring visitors to factor in one more variable. It's not just what you want to see and in what order. Now you have to figure out when and where to pick up FastPasses or other ride reservation tickets, too.
Want to ride Midway Mania in Florida? Get to the park when it opens for a FastPass, or prepare to wait for 40 minutes or longer.
A ride reservation system, like anything else in a theme park, ought to provide real value to visitors in exchange for their time, money or effort. Certainly an effective reservation system could do that, but it would have to be structured in a way that would assure that anyone using it would be able to see more attractions than if the system didn't exist. And without requiring visitors to spend hours trying to master the arcane details of the reservation system in order to make that happen.
So that's my "what would you do?" challenge to you this week: What would the ideal theme park ride reservation system look like?
Personally, I'd like to see a ride reservation system work on two levels:
1) It would prevent me from having to wait in hours-plus lines for hugely popular attractions, without having to go somewhere or wait in line to get a reservation first. If the park has an attraction that is estimated to have a two-hour or more wait time that day, give folks who are interested in riding it a ticket with a reservation time for that ride when they come through the front gate. But don't offer the service for anything with less than an anticipated 120-minute peak wait-time.
Offering reservations on a dozen rides that wouldn't run more than an hour wait, as Disney does, seems unnecessarily complex to me. When you factor in the time and effort required to run around getting FastPasses and keeping track of them, I'm not convinced that the system allows the average visitor to see any extra rides or shows that they would have been able to see with the same effort. Sure, a few hard-core fan experts have learned how to milk the system, but I suspect that they were the type of folks who found ways to maximize the number of attractions they saw at Disney in the days before FastPass, too.
2) It would provide a special perk for a few people who spend extra for it. The model here is Universal Orlando's Express Pass, which gives front-of-line access to anyone staying at one of Universal Orlando's three on-site hotels. The number of passes available this way needs to be limited, though. If too many people get to cut the line, that makes the wait significantly longer for everyone else, which an ideal system should avoid.
I'd love to see Disney offer something similar to Universal Express for its hotel guests. But given the much larger number of people staying on-property at Disney, that system would need to be more limited. Perhaps a Disney hotel guest would be given a limited number of individual skip-the-line tickets, say, just two or three for each day of their visit. One would have to do the math to figure out the exact amount, but such a system would allow for some additional rides for hotel guests, without overwhelming the queues for other visitors.
While Universal does a nice job with its system for hotel guests, it falls down by not offering the first type of system. I know plenty of theme park fans who would have preferred to get a return time ticket for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this summer, so that they could enjoy other rides and attractions at Universal Orlando instead of waiting for hours in the queue to enter that new land.
Disney's been dropping FastPass at more and more attractions here in California, and no one seems to miss it. Wait-times even on busy days rarely exceed an hour or so, and queues on rides that have dropped FastPass seem to me to run more smoothly now than when they had FastPass. (Waiting for Toy Story Midway Mania here is a joy compared to the FastPass game people end up playing to get on it in Florida.)
So what would you do, if you were running Disney, Universal or some other theme park? What would you offer - if anything - for a ride reservation system?