Introducing Disney's 'StressPass'
Published: March 21, 2012 at 10:34 AM
In just a couple of hours on Monday, I saw more obviously stressed guests at the Disney World theme parks than I'd seen over the past several months while visiting the Disney parks in California and Japan. A five-minute hold on the WDW monorail sent one woman into a blue tirade on her cell phone. Another woman stopped complaining to her seatmate at the Beauty and Beast show only long enough to wrestle her children under control, after they'd grown restless trying to get Mom's attention. Men blasted strollers through crowds without concern for others, yelling at the rest of their families to catch up.
And crowd levels on Monday didn't seem anywhere near as bad as they'd been a week ago, according to several cast members. I know that some theme park guests behave badly, but I can't recall seeing this level of stress recently.
Perhaps I've been spoiled by the crowds in Southern California. Most of the visitors to the Disneyland Resort are annual passholders, who know the parks, have a routine, and aren't concerned with squeezing the most from a once-in-a-lifetime visit, since they'll soon be back anyway. And even though the crowds in Japan tore through the parks' entry plazas like runners at the start of a marathon, I never saw stress on anyone's faces. They were simply trying to get into the park quickly. For the rest of the day, everyone in those parks was as polite to one another as the legendary Tokyo cast members were to all of us.
So what's the deal in Florida? Sure, the economy's still pretty weak in the U.S., and people are concerned about getting their money's worth while on vacation. But that's only part of the problem. The big issue, from what I overheard this week, is... Fastpass.
It seemed like every stressed-out person I saw in the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot this week was complaining about the same thing: getting across the park in time to use their Fastpasses. Disney earlier this month began enforcing Fastpass return time windows at the Walt Disney World Resort, and no longer honors the ride reservations after their return-time window. (You can continue to use Fastpasses anytime after their return-time windows at the Disneyland Resort theme parks.)
Years of tour plans and strategies based on using Fastpasses whenever you'd like later in the day have gone into the trash, and that's making some Disney guests miserable as they try to adjust. Any minor delay - a hold on the monorail, a show starting late, foot traffic slowing around the many pinchpoints in an under-construction Fantasyland - disrupts schedules that guests are trying to time to the minute. If you've got a Fastpass in the Magic Kingdom during a parade time, for example, you'd better plan to be on that side of the park before the parade starts, because with the construction in Fantasyland and a parade blocking the hub, there's no way you're crossing the Magic Kingdom quickly.
And now Disney's thinking about introducing a system where guests can schedule all of their rides, shows and meals to the minute?
Forget Avatar. All those blue-faced people in the Disney theme parks will be the guests, screaming at everyone else in their family to hurry up.
Universal's got a huge marketing opportunity here. I can see the commercial now: "Vacations shouldn't have deadlines. Stay at a Universal Orlando hotel and you can skip the lines at theme park attractions whenever you want. With no deadlines." I wonder how many more rooms Universal and Loews could book with a campaign like that. Hey, I go on vacation to get away from the Outlook calendar, not so I can use it throughout a 16-hour theme park day.
Ultimately, I think that Disney's move might be the thing that actually gets more people to give up on Fastpass, as those guests quit trying to hyper-analyze their day. Or perhaps Disney will take the pressure off by expanding the return windows, allowing people windows of 90 minutes or two hours in which to return, instead of the current 60 minutes. Or maybe people will just adapt, and learn to chill.
Whatever happens, though, I saw too many people who weren't enjoying their vacation this week. And that can't be good news, or good business, for Disney.